Virginia has options to replace Taquan Mizzell


Virginia fans have their share of complaints about Bronco Mendenhall’s first season, but one thing the Cavaliers head coach did accomplish last fall was reestablish the ground game.

The Wahoos haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Kevin Parks in 2013. Parks was the first Virginia player since Alvin Pearman in 2004 to reach that milestone. Virginia had former 5-star recruit Taquan Mizzell in the backfield for four years; however, in Mizzell’s first three years, the coaching staff struggled to capitalize on his talents.

That changed a bit last year with Mendenhall and the new staff. Mizzell and Albert Reid combined for nearly 300 carries and more than 1,500 yards. Mizzell accounted for 940 yards himself.

But that pair of senior running backs is gone, leaving UVA with an inexperienced group in 2017. Senior Daniel Hamm and junior Jordan Ellis combined for 65 yards on 17 carries last season but were among the stars of Virginia’s final spring scrimmage.

Hamm rushed for three touchdowns, and Ellis two. Both players showed a surprising amount of speed and ability to shed tackles.

Ellis, at 5-11 and 220 pounds, might be the most powerful and physical back on the Virginia roster. He should get plenty of work in short-yardage situations.



READ MORE: Virginia lands two key OL commitments



However, the two fell out of the hunt for significant touches late in their careers for a reason. Because of that, some younger players might challenge for playing time this fall.

One intriguing name to watch is freshman Lamont Atkins, who enrolled early and participate in spring drills.

The 3-star prospect made some big plays in the scrimmage, including a touchdown run of more than 70 yards.

That’s nothing new for anyone who followed high school football in the Washington, D.C., area last fall when Atkins rushed for 1,905 yards and 31 touchdowns. He averaged more than 12 yards per carry for Lake Braddock High, scoring a touchdown roughly every five times he toted the rock. That yielded him Gatorade Player of the Year honors in Virginia.

In terms of size and ability, Atkins is similar to former BYU running back Jamaal Williams. After Williams started his college career playing for Mendenhall, the Green Bay Packers selected him in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Atkins doesn’t come in with as much hype as Mizzell once did. But he has an opportunity to be a similar kind of four-year contributor.

That should help replace some of Mizzell’s production this fall.