It seems like every season brings with it the emergence of a few excellent running backs in the MAC. These players can change the shape of College Fantasy Football seasons. The cold-weather MACtion in late fall and early winter are the greatest conduits to great ground performances on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
This season, some great ones are returning to the conference that are hoping to claim their spot as Weeknight Rushing Royalty: Sieh Bangura, Samson Evans, and Marquez Cooper, to name a few of the major options. There are post-hype guys like Antario Brown and new P5 transfers like Ky Thomas, Gavin Williams, and one other– of whom’s opportunity I’d like to dissect in detail: Keshawn King.
After four years at Virginia Tech, King transfers to Kalamazoo to finally shed himself off a committee backfield and be the lead back for the Broncos. King, a former four-star recruit, spent most of his time trying to emerge from the shadows of Khalil Herbert, Raheem Blackshear, and Malachi Thomas. At every turn, he found himself without the volume (due to injury and in part to competition) to make a significant impact. His usage has been effective within those limitations.
In three seasons on the field, King put up 900 yards on 182 carries and 343 yards on 31 receptions, with a total of eight touchdowns. It’s modest production, but it shows potential for growth if put into a system willing to funnel volume through him and prioritize the run game. Given his pedigree and stepping into a new offense against lower competition, there’s reason to get excited about his arrival on campus.
Western Michigan welcomes Lance Taylor as their new Head Coach this year. Taylor’s most recent role was as the Offensive Coordinator at the University of Louisville for the 2022 season. He quickly earned enough trust to assume some of the play-calling responsibilities from Cardinals Head Coach Scott Satterfield. The team opened up the season 2-3 in their first five games. A crushing loss to Boston College in Week Five ultimately led to Taylor’s increased involvement. It forced a change for the Cardinals, with Satterfield giving him added involvement in calling plays for the offense for the final seven games.
During those final seven games, the Louisville RBs saw their average yards per game rise from 118.2 to 173.6, and their touchdowns double from 0.80 to 1.625. This was partly due to Malik Cunningham’s fragility down the stretch, but the backfield took a huge leap forward regarding their production under Taylor.
Beyond that, the entire offense saw a rise in efficiency despite facing the more difficult portion of their schedule, which included matchups against Pittsburgh, Clemson, Kentucky, and Cincinnati. Now, Satterfield did clarify during the latter half of the season that he was still the “executive play-caller” for the offense. But there’s no denying this offense came alive down the stretch following his relinquishing some amount of control to Taylor.
Taylor’s ground game prowess has roots well beyond his time in Louisville. Before being OC for the Cardinals, Taylor was Notre Dame’s Run-Game Coordinator and RB Coach. At Notre Dame, Kyren Williams had 1,000+ yard rushing seasons in 2020 and 2021 (the final two of Taylor’s three-year stint in that role). Taylor’s resume also includes being Christian McCaffrey’s RB Coach at Stanford and helping develop him into the Heisman Runner-Up. The structure of Taylor’s system has a proven history of success for his starting RB.
Sean Tyler transferred out of the program to join Minnesota this Spring, but King may still have a bit of competition in the form of the returning rusher from the Broncos’ 2022 campaign, Zahir Abdus-Salaam. With King not officially joining the Broncos until after Spring Camp, Abdus-Salaam has the benefit of having the first crack at making an impression with the new staff. He made the most of that with a 75-yard breakaway run in the Spring Game to punctuate his Spring with an exclamation point. That being said, there are serious concerns about Abdus-Salaam’s efficiency after averaging a paltry 2.2 yards/carry last season. King should have every chance to take control of the leading role. The Broncos’ offensive line returns three starters from last year, bringing some much-needed continuity to a unit that saw tons of re-arranging throughout last season.
There is some question as to whether or not King can handle the volume that comes with a leading role in this offense. He never saw more than 79 carries in a season throughout his career at Virginia Tech. However, assuming he can stay healthy, I don’t have any concern that Taylor will be comfortable feeding him all season long as Kyren saw back-to-back 200+ carry seasons with a similar frame (5’9″ 195 lbs for Williams vs. 5’11 180 lbs for King) from 2020-2021.
In PPR leagues, King’s receiving value will be icing on the cake. In addition to the buzz-worthy mention of McCaffrey on Taylor’s resume, Kyren had excellent receiving production with 35 and 42 receptions and an average of 336 receiving yards during his final two years in Taylor’s system (which translated to an extra six fantasy points per game in PPR leagues on top of his rushing production before factoring in touchdowns).
Knowing that King is taking a step down in competition coming to the MAC, I feel more comfortable about him being able to weather an entire season’s worth of physicality. This is still the biggest (and most concerning) obstacle for King to clear on his path to fantasy relevance. If he gets banged up, the volume won’t support his breakout. However, with so much lining up for improved rushing production in Kalamazoo this season, we should all prepare ourselves for the possibility of a new King atop the throne of MAC Rushing Royalty this Fall.