On Friday, Cincinnati RB Michael Warren II announced that he was foregoing his final year of eligibility to declare for the NFL Draft. Warren becomes the first football player in UC history to declare for the NFL Draft by leaving early.
Blessed, Thank You Bearcat Nation ❤️ pic.twitter.com/b48WSTs698— MWII (@MikeWarrenII) January 11, 2020
Warren finishes his career with 599 carries, 2,918 yards (5.2 yards per carry), and 34 touchdowns. He racked up 14 games with 100 or more yards rushing. Warren also had 51 catches for 442 yards and 3 touchdowns. His 2,918 yards are 6th all-time on the UC list and his 34 touchdowns are 2nd, just three behind Demarco McCleskey. Warren would have likely jumped to #2 on the all-time rushing yards list had he stayed.
He managed to have a lot of success, despite playing behind a suspect offensive line and playing in a weaker offense in 2019. QB Desmond Ridder had a lot of struggles this past season, mostly with accuracy, and despite defenses stacking the box and playing the run, Warren still managed to find holes and run hard. Imagine what kind of success he can have behind an NFL offensive line, with stronger QB play?
With him as a focal point of the offense the last two seasons, Cincinnati went 22-5 and won 2 bowl games and appeared in the conference championship game this year. Warren deserves a ton of credit for helping turn around a program who was dead in the water and coming off back-to-back 4-8 seasons, when he emerged as the lead back in 2018 and broke through with 3 touchdowns rushing against UCLA in week 1 of the 2018 season.
Quite frankly, Warren leaves the school a legend. The way he approached and played the game, his personality (which was evident every time UC posted a victory celebration video from the locker room), and how he helped elevate the offense makes him unique and a player that coaches, teammates, fans, and media will not soon forget.
While this announcement is no doubt disappointing, it is 100% the right decision by Warren and based on the early returns on social media, the majority of fans seem to understand and respect that. The shelf-life for running backs is not very long and Warren has already put a lot of tread on his tires and taken a lot of hits in his career. In my opinion, his value is as high as it will get, regardless of what he would have done in 2020.
Warren is projected to be a mid-round pick, I could see him being drafted in rounds 4-5 area. But running back is a unique position, in that guys in later rounds always seem to have value to teams. It’s a position that sometimes goes 3-4 deep throughout a season. There’s no doubt Warren will have plenty of opportunities to be successful playing on Sundays.
What’s Next for UC
The offense was built around Warren and his skill set the last two years. With him gone, the running back responsibilities will fall to Gerrid Doaks and Charles McClelland.
Doaks will be entering his senior season in 2020. He led the team in rushing with 513 yards in 2017, missed 2018 due to an injury, and returned in 2019 to run for 526 yards despite mostly playing behind Warren. Doaks had 5 rushing TDs in 2019 and 1 receiving TD.
McClelland missed 2019 with a torn ACL. In 2018, he ran for 485 yard (averaging 7.7 yards per carry) and 4 touchdowns.
Durability is going to be the biggest question and concern in 2020. Both Doaks and McClelland have recent injury histories and in 2019, Doaks had 10 or more carries just 5 times (17 was season-high). McClelland hit double-figures just once (Alabama A&M) and has just 63 career carries.
Other options will include Ryan Montgomery, who would currently be slated as RB3 and Ethan Wright, a true freshman who is part of Cincy’s 2020 class and was recruited as an athlete, could transition to running back full-time.
Another option is Tre Tucker, who took snaps out of the backfield throughout the season and can play RB or WR. It’s more likely that Cincinnati continues to use him all over the field, as opposed to having him play RB full-time.
Bottom line is while losing Warren hurts, this team is well-equipped to make up for the loss. Luke Fickell and this coaching staff have failed to let us down so far and it’s hard to believe they won’t have a full plan ready to compensate for this loss.