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Duke football 2020 positional preview: Running backs

<p>Deon Jackson will lead Duke's running game in what will be his final season as a Blue Devil.&nbsp;</p>

Deon Jackson will lead Duke's running game in what will be his final season as a Blue Devil. 

With the 2020 season right around the corner, The  Chronicle breaks down each of the eight major position groups for the  Blue Devils: Quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends, offensive linedefensive line, defensive backs, linebackers and specialists.

There’s no hiding it. Duke’s running game last year was sub-par. This was due in part to the lack of downfield passes, which made the 2019 offense extremely one-dimensional. Head coach David Cutcliffe will be taking over the play-calling this season, which could potentially revitalize the offense. Along with a new quarterback, these changes could be enough to rejuvenate an offense that was in the bottom half of the ACC in most statistical measures. Because the change will not be coming from a large turnover in running back personnel this offseason, the improvements will have to come from the returning players.

Players lost: Brittain Brown

The main change between this year’s group and last is the loss of backup running back Brittain Brown, who transferred to UCLA in the offseason. Before his season-ending injury, Brown played in three games, totaling 56 yards on 12 rushes for an average of 4.7 yards per carry. In the passing game, he contributed two receptions for 13 yards. Most notably, against Alabama’s second-ranked defense in the nation, Brown broke away for his season-long 16-yard run. In his three year Duke career, the running back out of Canton, Ga. rushed for 1,126 yards with 10 TDs in 25 games.  

Projected starters: Deon Jackson, Mataeo Durant

The familiar face of Deon Jackson will be leading off the rushing attack for the 2020 season but is hoping for different results. In the 2019 season, Jackson played in all 12 games, rushing 172 times for 641 yards and six touchdowns. This number was down from the previous season, where Jackson rushed for 847 yards and seven touchdowns on 11 fewer attempts. It is possible that the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft Daniel Jones had something to do with Jackson’s production in the 2018 season, with the passing game being much more successful than it was in 2019. The change in play-calling could allow for both aspects to open up, leading to a strong senior year for Jackson.  

After the injury to Brown, Mataeo Durant took over the role of the second back. Looking to reprise that role, Durant will be looking to improve on last season as well. Playing in 12 games, Durant rushed for 461 yards on 97 attempts. While these totals are respectable for a backup rusher, they could certainly be improved. Like Jackson, Durant will be looking for more openings as the offense tries to become less one-dimensional in 2020.  

Dark horse: Jordan Waters

Despite not seeing much playing time in 2019, the former safety turned running back could break out in the 2020 season. Unfortunate season-ending injuries to potential third-string back Jaylen Coleman and Marvin Hubbard III could pave an opening for Waters to see more time this year. In a 75-play scrimmage at Wallace Wade Stadium in the preseason, Jackson led the way with nine carries for 50 yards and two touchdowns. However, Waters carried the ball 12 times for an impressive 88 yards. Expect to see Waters featured much more in a depleted Duke backfield.  

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