We’ve finally reached the top 10 in our countdown of the top 25 players on the 2013 Notre Dame football roster with one of the tougher players to project – running back George Atkinson.
Originally recruited as a wide receiver, George Atkinson, the son of the former NFL great with the same name, moved to running back shortly upon arriving on campus two summers ago. As a freshman, Atkinson ignited the Notre Dame kick return game for the first time in years with two kickoffs returned for touchdowns – against Michigan State and USC.
A year ago, Atkinson started to make an impact as a running back as Notre Dame’s 3rd running back behind seniors Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. As a sophomore Atkinson became a home run hitter for the Irish averaging 7.1 yards per attempt while rushing for 5 touchdowns including a 56 yarder against Navy and a 55 yard touchdown jaunt against Miami. On the season, Atkinson ran the ball 51 times for 361 yards.
As Atkinson enters his junior season, the top spot on the Notre Dame depth chart at running back belongs to him although there is plenty of competition behind him working to knock Atkinson from that perch if he is not able to be an every down back.
Why George Atkinson could be ranked higher
As the top running back heading into the season, Atkinson will have every opportunity to be a focal point of the 2013 Notre Dame offense in the same way Theo Riddick was last year and Cierre Wood was the year before. Atkinson also has the big play ability to put up some big performances this year with more carries.
It’s not likely that Atkinson will be able to replicate his 7.1 yards per carry average with an increased workload but his impressive average from a year ago is a testament to what he is capable when he gets in the open field. The key for Atkinson will be becoming more of a consistent runner in between the tackles and running with a low pad level – something he’s struggled with in the past.
If Atkinson can get his pad level down and pick up the tough yards on top of the highlight reel quality ones he’s made on the perimeter, he has the potential to have a huge season for Notre Dame this fall.
Why George Atkinson could be ranked lower
Up until now, Atkinson has not shown that he can be an every down back on a consistent basis. He has shown that he can outrun any defense once he’s on the perimeter and in the open field, but to be the every down back Notre Dame needs him to be, he is going to have to show that he can run between the tackles. In the Blue-Gold game, he got absolutely lit up by Carlo Calabrese because he was still running too upright. If he keeps doing that this season, that’ll happen a lot more and he’ll have a hard time staying healthy.
Atkinson starts the season as the #1 back, but there is a lot of talent, albeit unproven, behind him which means he won’t have a long leash this year if he isn’t able to show that consistency the staff is looking for.
Even if he does improve his style and gets that pad level down, there is so much talent in the backfield that carries are going to be divided regardless. Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel, and freshman Greg Bryant are going to get carries this fall. Will Mahone and Tarean Folston could as well which could make it difficult for Atkinson to put up huge numbers even if he stays atop the running back depth chart all season long.
What would a successful 2013 season be for George Atkinson?
It’s tough to project a successful statistical season for Atkinson this year since there are a lot of variables at play. Will Notre Dame rely on the run as much this year as they did last year? How will the carries be split up amongst the running backs?
Theo Riddick ran for 917 yards last year as the top back for the Irish and two years ago both Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray would have topped 1,000 yard each had Gray not been hurt on senior day. Even if Atkinson has a great season though, its possible that he won’t reach those numbers given the depth the Irish have at running back.
All that said, anything less than 800 yards for Atkinson likely means that he lost the starting role at some point of the season or the entire Notre Dame ground game was ineffective. It will be tough for Atkinson to improve on his touchdown total much though considering that Riddick crossed the goal line as many times as Atkinson did with nearly three times as many carries in 2012.
The one area that Atkinson will need to see considerable improvement for a successful season is in the receiving game. Atkinson has just three career receptions during two seasons at Notre Dame. Notre Dame needs Atkinson to be more of a threat in the passing game in order for his season to be a success. He doesn’t need to be as big of a threat at Riddick was since Riddick was one of the better receiving running backs to play for Notre Dame in a while, but they will need at least 20+ receptions out of him this season.