The Stars have left themselves thin at running back after releasing Jordan Scarlett. Matt Colburn and Darnell Holland both were banged up and missed time last year. Chris Rowland however has run the ball quite often in his football career. He could in theory be your “4th” running back.
A position that just became extremely valuable given the news that Darnell Holland has been placed on the injured reserve list just a week before the season begins. While the possibility is out there that the Stars go and re-sign Paul Terry, or Jordan Scarlett both who were recently released, but they also have Chris Rowland on the roster, in a deep wide receiver room. Why not utilize Rowland in more ways to get the ball in his hands more creatively?
The Stars got creative with their depth last season as well using Chris Rowland as a runner. They for many weeks carried Maurice Alexander as their de facto backup quarterback as well. What many might not be aware of is how many carries Rowland actually had before the 2023 season. The high school running back was utilized in college as a runner early and often with great effectiveness, and last season in a pinch, the Stars again used Rowland as a runner at times.
Career as a Rusher
Before Chris Rowland moved full time to wide receiver in college he played running back in high school as well. According to maxpreps.com, so take it with a grain of salt, Rowland racked up 134 carries in 17 games. Producing 729 yards and 10 touchdowns with two 100+ rushing yards games. That was strictly his junior and senior season on varsity.
In forty career games at Tennessee State Rowland carried the ball 52 times for 309 yards and 1 touchdown he held a career average of 5.9 yards per carry. He went to the Stars in 2022 and added 3 more carries for 25 yards averaging 8.3 per carry. In 2019 he managed to score a receiving touchdown, a rushing touchdown, a kick and a punt return all in a single season. This showcases exactly why you need to simply find ways to get the ball in his hands and watch him work.
Size Stands in the Way?
While he isn’t the type of guy you want to give 20 carries a game, lining him up in the backfield in passing situations more often in lieu of Darnell Holland, who is now injured isn’t a bad idea. Especially if you give him 1-2 carries a game. When the man has averaged over 5 yards per carry all the way back to high school why not lean on that side of his game a little bit more? This doesn’t even factor in how creative you can get in sending him out on routes from the backfield, allowing him to potentially get open a lot quicker off the snap as well.
At 5’8 185 pounds I can see the coaches concern with running Rowland more, he is one of the most explosive players on the team right now, and could be asked to fill the Maurice Alexander role as the return man as well. If he is in fact called upon to return kicks and punts as well he instantly becomes a huge loss if ever injured. Suddenly you’re losing a player that serves as many as four roles for your team whether it be as a receiver, a runner, or returning kicks or punts. However, you don’t buy a bright red Ferrari to let it sit in the garage.
You take it out, and let it do what is was made to do. Chris Rowland is that bright red Ferrari who was just waiting for the right time to stretch his legs, and show what he can really do on a football field. Even during his time on the Atlanta Falcons he wasn’t used as a runner, but saw time in the return game. This struck me as odd, because the players that typically find success in the return game, are the same guys that we have traditionally seen NFL teams find ways to incorporate on offense.
Using Jet sweeps, and screens to get Rowland into open field so he can use his speed to burn defenses, is not a new thought process. In fact this dates back to long before this analyst was writing articles. Dante Hall carried the ball 54 times in his career and he retired way back in 2008, Devin Hester, entered the NFL as a cornerback, but moved to offense collecting 36 carries during his career, in 2006 the Titans even tried to involve Adam “Pacman” Jones a career cornerback on offense due to his abilities in the return game.
While he hasn’t been used much in the return game since entering the professional realm, this is still a guy who had 71 kick returns in college, averaging over 23 yards per return. He collected 1,637 yards and 1 touchdown on kick returns alone in college. In the punt return game, Rowland managed 43 punt returns for 512 yards and 1 touchdown as well. This amounted to an 11.9 yard average per punt, an amazing number for any return man.
Elite Athleticism is Dangerous in the Open Field
As you can see above Chris Rowland is an elite athlete. Running the 40 yard dash in 4.48 seconds he reached 21.7 mph. But it’s that 10 yard split number that is more important. That’s the number you want to look at when determining how explosive he can be in short areas, and this is one of the best parts of his game. His burst off the line and within the first 20 yards is actually better than his end result.
This is why Rowland is so effective on screens, jet sweeps, and other plays that allowed him to get a head of steam before he is touched by a defender. When you think about it, Rowland really isn’t much smaller than Darren Sproles. At 5’6 190 pounds, Sproles stands just 5 pounds heavier than Rowland. He also had nearly identical numbers in the 40 yard dash including his splits.
The Generals last season used Kavontae Turpin a player regarded as a wide receiver as a runner 23 times for 129 yards and 1 touchdown last season. I’m not suggesting Chris Rowland is the same as either of these players but their athletic profiles are similar. Turpin doesn’t win MVP if you don’t look at the complete picture and simply cast him as strictly a receiver. Could Rowland be an MVP level performer if given the opportunity to be used in the same manner Turpin was: as a runner, receiver, and return man to best suit his play making ability?
I’ll leave you with a quote from Mr. Rowland himself when asked if he would welcome more touches as a running back he replied: “I’d be fine with that. Darnell is a great back and losing him this early hurts. But, I’m more then comfortable then just helping out in the backfield. It’s another opportunity for me to get the ball in my hands and also showcase my ability to pass protect. I take pride in being a versatile player and with my skill set, I believe I can be productive no matter the position or situation.”
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