A running back for Texas football that is starting to get more and more attention ahead of the 2022 season is the former under-the-radar blue-chip recruit and sophomore Jonathon Brooks. The Hallettsville product had a solid showing during his true freshman campaign, albeit with a limited workload.
Last season, Brooks registered 143 rushing yards on 21 carries (6.8 yards per carry), one rushing score, and 12 receiving yards on one catch with no touchdown catches. He finished second on the team last season in yards per carry and ranked fifth in rushing yards.
But I fully anticipate that Brooks is going to see a significant uptick in his usage this season compared to last year.
What will make Brooks such a solid running back for head coach Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns to rely on this fall has to do with how efficient he is on literally every rushing attempt. You could see glimpses of what Brooks could become in terms of his efficiency on the ground last season.
That was evident in the fact that Brooks ranked among the top five true freshmen running backs in rushing grade last season, along with some of the other more detailed metrics he mustered.
For example, Brooks racked up nine first downs, five runs of 10 yards or more, 11 missed tackles forced, 100 yards after initial contact, and an elusive rating of 281.4.
If you break the number of yards after initial contact down per carry last season, Brooks actually led the Big 12, with 4.76 yards after inital contact per carry. That number was also good to rank among the three best freshmen running backs in the Power Five last season.
Another metric that you can break down by carry that shows how effective Brooks was each time he touched the ball last season was avoided tackles. Brooks averaged more than .50 missed tackles forced per carry last season, which was more than good enough to lead the Big 12.
That’s pretty crazy that he outpaced star junior running back Bijan Robinson last season in terms of missed tackles forced per rushing attempt.
Last but not least, it’s worth noting that Brooks’ elusive rating of 281.4 was good to lead the entire country last season. That’s the advanced metric that really illustrates just how difficult Brooks was to bring down last season.
Texas football RB Jonathon Brooks bound to be an analytical darling in 2022 while improving his total body of work
One reason why I really think Brooks will break out this season in terms of his overall production and efficiency is the potential improvement along the offensive line. Due to struggles at left tackle for much of last season, Brooks was much more effective running the ball to the right side of the line of scrimmage.
He roughly doubled his number of yards per carry, yards per carry after initial contact, and carries of 10+ yards when running to the right than he did to the left side of the line of scrimmage last season. But if Texas can move senior offensive tackle Christian Jones to the right side of the line while seeing true freshman Kelvin Banks locking down the left tackle position, there should be more balance on the outside of the offensive line compared to last season.
Jones was a very adept run blocker when taking snaps at right tackle in the last two seasons. In fact, the best blocking grade of his career came while taking run snaps as a right tackle.
With Brooks running behind either Banks or Jones, he should have a lot more lanes that open up each time he gets the ball on the ground. That will only improve his efficiency each time he touches the ball this fall.
Another reason to believe that Brooks will continue to trend up in terms of his efficiency is the simple fact that he’s spent another season in this offense. Brooks was originally recruited by former Texas head coach Tom Herman and former running backs coach Stan Drayton coming out of Hallettsville High School during the 2021 cycle.
Sark’s offensive system is obviously much different than that of Herman’s, as it emphasizes getting athletes out in space and setting the tone with the ground game first to start layering in other concepts with the offense. Instead of focusing mostly on power runs up the middle and quick RPOs, Brooks can now hone in purely on his running style and elusiveness in the open field.
That will encourage Brooks to really focus on improving his speed and lower-body strength so that he can continue to become a more difficult ball carrier to bring down at the point of initial contact. Brooks can also continue to work on his vision to really use his underrated cutting ability to his advantage.
One very underrated aspect of Brooks’ game is his cutting ability once he’s able to find a lane. Brooks’ first cut allows him to find the gap at the line of scrimmage and hit the hole to get through multiple levels of the defense.
It’s also worth mentioning that with more weapons around him in this offense in 2022, Brooks should be able to have even more space to run when he does get the ball in his hands this season.
Combine these three factors of the improved talent along the offensive line, the second season for Brooks in this system, and the improved skill position talent around him, and it’s easy to see why Brooks could be destined for a breakout season in 2022. I would also bet that Brooks will continue to be an analytical darling this fall, as he was while seeing a limited workload last season.
The icing on the cake that should prove that Brooks is in line for a big 2022 season has to do with just how impressive he was throughout fall camp. Brooks was definitely one of the biggest risers of fall camp for the Longhorns, which is bound to earn him even more reps this season.
Texas finished up last season with a record of 5-7 (3-6 Big 12), missing out on bowl season for the first time since 2016. Brooks and the Longhorns will open up the 2022 regular season at home on Sep. 3 against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, with kickoff time set for 7 p.m. CT.