The 2,000-yard man?

Omar: Occupation?
Ilene (the attorney): What exactly do you do for a living, Mr. Little?
Omar: I rip and run.

When Kenjon Barner is cruising, he rips and runs. He darts. He bobs, he weaves, he leaves 200-plus pound defenders in the dust, heads twisting like a poor dog cursed with an elusive tail.

He can make an SEC special teams unit look slow (see 6:45 in).

He changes direction at such an alarming pace that the casual observer might express concern over his durability, ‘How could anyone move like that?

A valid question. The senior has never averaged less than 6 yards per carry in his three years at Oregon, but has only eclipsed the 100-carry mark once (152 in 2011).

He’s had six hundred-yard games in his career, but 2012 will be his first full season as the starter. And even now, as the #1, he still must try to make it through a season unscathed, or at least intact — Barner has yet to play a full healthy season.

It might seem unreasonable to assume that he will, especially given the increase in workload, and his (presumably) more important role in an inside running game that was virtually non existent last season, but if he does, it might not seem unreasonable to expect some astronomical numbers.

As has become the Modus Operandi with the Ducks since Chip Kelly has taken over, the backfield is incredibly deep. D’Anthony Thomas is a Heisman contender in his own right and even after the April departure of Tra Carson, Kelly has a stable of able backs.

But what makes Kenjon Barner so special isn’t necessarily locked inside the crystalline cocoon of his career stats. His solid build, his steady improvement, consistent production and his kick-ass mohawk all rock like room-temp bacteria in Chip Kelly’s petri dish of an offense.

13 players have rushed for 2,000 yards in NCAA history, some you’ll remeber (Barry Sanders, LaDanian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams, Marcus Allen, Ray Rice, and Matt Forte) some you won’t (Byron Hanspard, Troy Smith—twice, Kevin Smith), some you’ve forgotten about (Mike Rozier and J.J. Arrington), and some you never could (Rashaan Salaam).

They all ran the ball, but that is about the extent of their similarities. If LaMichael James had stayed healthy through 2011, he would have been the 14th. Kelly’s system is designed so that shifty backs who like to work in space are allowed to be shifty and work in space.

James’ 2011 was a special season — more special than anyone is really willing to recognize — but it was overshadowed by his 2010 Heisman-finalist campaign. His rushing splits tell the story:

2010: 1,731 yards, 21 TDs, 5.9 ypc

2011: 1,805 yards, 18 TDs, 7.3 ypc

Barner, by comparison, ran for 939 yards, 11 TDs and 6.2 ypc last season. James had 294 carries in his junior campaign, 140 more than Barner, and nearly twice the production. But Barner still out-rushed him on a per-carry basis as a junior, and has yet to be the guy in Eugene.

Watch Barner run, and confidently proclaim that he isn’t every bit as explosive as LMJ. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Statistical guarantees retired with Barry Sanders and died with Ted Williams, but if there were a leading candidate to enter the hallowed halls of the 2,000-yard-club in 2012, smart money should be on Barner.



Categories: Features

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