Four on the Forty is a four-part series that covers a different draft-eligible Texas Longhorn football player every week. The article gives a player profile, summary, NFL comparison and key strengths and weaknesses for each individual player.
Before D’Onta Foreman became well, D’Onta Foreman, the consensus All-American was playing second fiddle to now-junior running back Chris Warren. Many remember Warren for his freshman season record-breaking 276-yard performance against Texas Tech. Due to injury, however, his name has since quietly fallen by the waist side. But with Foreman now playing for the Houston Texans, the spotlight is back on the Warren.
During his freshman season, Warren made strides late in year, starting the final two games of 2015. He put up the historic performance against the Red Raiders, then followed it up with a 106-yd showing against Baylor. Warren’s freshman season put the country on notice going into the 2016 season. Sadly, though, his sophomore year lasted only four games, three of which he totaled 95 rushing yards or better. After suffering a knee injury against Oklahoma State, his 2016 campaign was terminated.
The hope was to get Warren back to 100% during the offseason, but his spring was ultimately cut short by an injured hamstring. Longhorn fans are just hoping these injuries are coincidences instead of a forming pattern.
Warren is a BIG running back, listed between 6’2 and 6’4. He’s probably on the lower side of those numbers, but 6’2 is still very tall for a running back. That height at his position would’ve been discouraged as recently as five years ago, however with the influx of the transformer-sized tail back, demonstrated by a few teams (think James Conner, Bo Scarborough, formerly Jaylen Hurd, etc.), the massive running back is all the rage in college football.
While Warren isn’t as big as the two previously mentioned athletes, his size compares him similarly to Matt Forte and Le’Veon Bell. Warren is also a very muscularly defined athlete with plenty of mass. At 250+ lbs., Warren is a humongous person that doesn’t look anywhere near his weight. He’s basically as rocked up as humans can get and nothing short of workout warrior.
His career 6.3 yards per carry is striking for a player who has the task of touching the ball almost solely coming down hill. If he were to keep his average the same over the workload of an entire season, Warren would be a surefire Heisman candidate.
When it comes to film study, though, his tape gives the same impression that his imposing stature warrants. He’s a very physical person who’s not afraid to run over defenders. His extremely strong lower body allows him to churn his legs in traffic and get extra yardage. His height also allows him to see the field extremely well, as he hardly makes a bad cut when faced with a decision.
Though he is tall, Warren runs with a nice low center of gravity. He keeps his hips down and doesn’t arch his back. With this positioning, he can either make an explosive cut or run over a defender. Usually tall backs run very high, allowing them to be easy targets to be flipped, but Warren has taught himself how to ideally run to get the best results.
Warren’s biggest utility, however, just might be his speed. Bear in mind, Warren will never run against Usain Bolt in the Olympics, but for a man of his size, his speed and quickness are extremely deceptive. While his first-step burst isn’t quite to the level of D’Onta Foreman’s, his straight-line speed is faster. Expect a few very, very long runs from Warren this year.
Chris Warren has one large, glaring weakness; his inability to stay healthy. Evidenced by his season-ending knee injury and spring hamstring injury, Warren’s biggest problem isn’t on the field, it’s getting on the field. His style-of-play doesn’t make it easy on his body, but hopefully with proper conditioning and a little bit of luck, Warren will be able to step on the field during every game this year.
Another area that Warren could work on is his receiving out of the backfield. Over the course of his career, Warren has only totaled 5 catches for 13 yards. Maybe it was the lack of offensive identity the past couple of seasons for the Longhorns, but those numbers have to go up if he wants to be known as a versatile player.
The final area where I think Warren could improve is his footwork. Too often his feet drag a little too long and he’s not able to get good drive out of steps. Occasionally, his lower half lags behind his upper which lets him get tackled by people that shouldn’t ever tackle him.
NFL Comparison: Derrick Henry
This one is so easy it almost feels like cheating. However, that does not mean it’s the wrong answer. When you look at the landscape of the entire NFL, few running backs possess the imposing height and sheer mass that Warren does. And of the few that do, some don’t match Warren’s running style. For instance, Le’veon Bell is similar physically but their on-field style-of-play are far from the same.
But that’s why the Tennessee Titans‘ running back is such a good comparison. Not only do they look similar physically, they both play downhill hard-nose football that, when faced with the option, would rather run over you then around you.
Their speed compares favorably to each other as well. Both can break away from the pack and put distance between themselves and would-be tacklers. However, neither guy could dodge you in a closet like some of the smaller backs in the NFL, but that’s not the mindset they have when given the football.
Warren and Henry are just two big, tough, physically imposing guys that aren’t afraid of contact or the weight room. And while Warren may not be on Henry’s level, he has a real chance to make quite a name for himself.
2017 prediction: 261 rushing attempts, 1,383 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per rush, 7 rushing touchdowns, 17 receptions, 150 receiving yards, 8.8 yards per receptions, 2 receiving touchdowns
If Warren can be as durable as everybody hopes, he has the chance to put up monster numbers and make Longhorn fans forget all about D’onta Foreman. And a nice showing by Warren along with some other key members of the team could make Tom Herman’s first year at Texas one to remember.