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Buffs Film Room: Will Alton McCaskill be Colorado's next great running back?

Jake Schwanitz Avatar
May 19, 2023

Rashaan Salaam, Eric Bieniemy, Chris Brown and Phillip Lindsay headline a long list of Colorado running back greats.

The Buffs may have their next in Alton McCaskill.

The former Houston Cougar was one of the best true freshmen in the country during the 2021 season as he produced 1074 all-purpose yards on 210 touches for 18 touchdowns. While he was only ranked the 27th best running back according to 247Sports 2021 Composite rankings, it took him two games before he took over as Houston’s starting running back.

McCaskill sat out the 2022 season after suffering a torn ACL during spring practice before entering the transfer portal and committing to Colorado. Now he’s fully healthy and adding him to Coach Prime’s roster gives Colorado one of the best running back rooms in the Pac-12 coming into the 2023 season.


From the moment McCaskill committed to Colorado, he became the Buffs’ lead back ready to contribute in every facet of the offense.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds on Houston’s 2022 roster, McCaskill was also a track star at Oak Ridge High School running a 10.91s 100-meter dash. He has a special combination of size, speed and strength that not only make him a force when running or catching the ball but also when asked to block in the pass or run game.

This is Alton McCaskill. Patience to hit the hole, a burst to daylight while breaking arm tackles along the way and forcing the defense to tackle him with multiple players.

While he is a disciplined, patient runner who allows plays to develop, McCaskill also has great vision and instincts to bounce runs outside the intended hole instantly.

Houston had a great team in 2021. Their offensive line does the majority of the work on this play but McCaskill has the ability to rip off large chunks of yardage on any given play. In 2021, he had 29 explosive runs (runs of 10+ yards).

This was McCaskill’s first career touchdown. I’ve got to mention the great play design by Shannon Dawson who is now Miami’s offensive coordinator. Colorado’s newest running back shows a great play fake and then natural hands down the field to stroll into the end zone untouched.

Want him to be your lead blocker on a jet sweep or end around for Dylan Edwards or Jimmy Horn? McCaskill can do that for offensive coordinator Sean Lewis, no problem.

How about staying in the backfield to protect Sheduer Sanders against the blitz so the offense can go downfield? He checks that box as well.

Colorado fans would like to see McCaskill keep his head up if he’s going to block faceup, but when you’re a 215-pound back you’re used to absorbing contact with ease.

Whatever the situation or play call may ask for, Alton McCaskill can be relied on to be on the field for Colorado at any point in 2023. He is a true, complete three-down back.

“McCaskill breaks free!”

Watching McCaskill run the football makes you hold your breath, waiting to see what else he is capable of and if the next play is when he is let loose.

2021 was Houston’s best season since 2015 and McCaskill’s playmaking ability was a huge reason why. That year McCaskill set a Houston freshman record for touchdowns in a season with 16.

The stop-start ability and patience McCaskill displays behind the line of scrimmage is not only a prime showcase of #22’s discipline and natural ability, but it’s also how he can turn a short gain into a touchdown. The left side of Houston’s offensive line flat-out loses at the line of scrimmage but it gives McCaskill a crease to slam on the gas and score.

Houston is just trying to keep the clock running so they can get out of Louisiana and on their way back to Texas but McCaskill’s strength and contact balance keep him upright to allow his speed to take another run to paydirt.

This play probably results in a negative gain for most freshman running backs. McCaskill finds the hole regardless and sprints through multiple arm tackles for a house call against Tulsa.

East Carolina already knows another McCaskill run is coming on first down as they commit hard to the top of the screen off of Houston’s inside zone action. But McCaskill immediately diagnoses the flow of the defense and cuts back before bulldozing his way into the end zone in what would be the game-winning touchdown.

He may not be as fast as Dylan Edwards or Jimmy Horn, but if you give the former Cougar an alley to run through, McCaskill can turn on the burners and erase angles.

Long story short for these two teams in 2021; UConn was awful and Houston was pretty good. That McCaskill kid is pretty good too.

The latest starting offensive player added to Colorado’s roster is a game-changer. The pieces are there for Sean Lewis to create and lead one of the Pac-12’s most lethal offenses this fall. Now that Colorado has a dynamic, all-conference running back in McCaskill along with the threat of the passing game with Sheduer Sanders, Travis Hunter, Jimmy Horn, Xavier Weaver and company; the improvement in the Buffs’ offensive talent this upcoming season compared to last year’s is astronomical.

Short yardage monster

At this point, it goes without saying, McCaskill will lead the way for Colorado’s power-run game moving forward.

It’s not just his size, strength and burst but his patience, vision and football intelligence that makes him so reliable. Sure, he could be a very good short-yardage back by utilizing his size and bowling ahead for as many yards as he can physically get. But watch how deliberate he is when he breaks for the line of scrimmage in the cut-up below.

It’s evident in all the runs above, but the final run of the cut-up proves how smart and natural of a football player McCaskill is.

Colorado has a trio of hardnosed running backs who will scratch and claw for every yard in McCaskill, Kavosiey Smoke and Anthony Hankerson. It’s worth noting that despite his stature, Charlie Offerdahl also fits this bill. Those three backs all could provide short yardage and goal-line duties for Colorado’s running game but the Houston native is clearly different.

How does McCaskill change things on offense for Colorado?

Thanks for being a DNVR Diehard! Enjoy the analysis below and each and every one of Alton McCaskill’s touchdowns from 2021. This a gentle reminder that his 18 touchdowns were only three less than Colorado’s team total for touchdowns in 2022.

Alton McCaskill is now Colorado’s starting running back, so how does this affect the other running backs and Colorado’s offense in general?

Kavosiey Smoke seems like the player that comes to Buff Nation’s mind first. He made himself clear earlier in the off-season that he was only verbally committed to Colorado when news broke that Micah Bernard was visiting Boulder after Smoke visited and committed. Bernard came and went on his visit with Coach Prime then withdrew his name from the portal to return to Utah.

Despite that, Smoke still fits into Colorado’s backfield alongside McCaskill well. The Cougar-turned-Buff will be the feature back, but limiting his carries to a degree would only be in Colorado and McCaskill’s best interest. Smoke only had 302 touches in his five years at Kentucky but averaged 5.6 yards per touch. He’s got plenty of tread on the tires and has shown enough as a runner, receiver and blocker as a Wildcat to be an excellent sidekick to McCaskill.

Dylan Edwards had a fantastic spring proving that he could be an impact player as a true freshman for the Buffs. His ability to slice through the defense and rip off massive gains on a daily basis with his world-class speed was obviously Pac-12-ready. But if we go back to what Coach Prime said on signing day and the recent posts on Edwards’ Twitter, we should see the four-star speedster splitting out wide and being used as an all-around offensive weapon.

Considering we only saw a slight glimpse of Sean Lewis’ playbook in April’s spring game, I would bet that Edwards has a role similar to what Jimmy Horn had at USF last year and what Tyreek Hill did for Kansas City his first few seasons in the NFL as a jack of all trades. Definitely expect to see Edwards tote the rock out of the backfield this fall but I expect plenty of designed touches in the pass and run game for Colorado’s dynamic young star.

Anthony Hankerson was the Buffs’ freshman standout back in 2022 and not only survived but stood out and clearly earned his spot during Coach Prime’s rebuild. While he battled injuries prior to and during the season last year, it was clear the Buffs have a player in the young Florida native. He backed that up with an impressive showing throughout the spring and in April’s spring game. While McCaskill’s addition surely clouds his role for 2022, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get multiple series or drives per game where we see Hankerson pound away at opposing defenses.

Charlie Offerdahl feels like the odd man out now. While he has become a fan and DNVR favorite, Colorado has four better players in front of him. This isn’t to say that we won’t see Offerdahl have multiple carries in a game next year, but those opportunities are becoming harder to find for the hometown kid. Regardless, you can never have too many running backs and Offerdahl earned his way onto the 2023 Buffaloes and will be heard from on the football field again this season.

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