Though two games remain in the Texas Tech football team’s 2023 regular season, fans are already starting to think about what is next for the program. Now, it appears that there will be a huge hole for the Red Raiders to fill next season as Tahj Brooks seems destined to test the NFL waters this offseason despite having the option to return for one final season in Lubbock.
Tuesday, while speaking with the media, running backs coach Kenny Perry essentially confirmed that this will be Brooks’ last season in college football. That’s not a surprise given that Brooks’ star has never been brighter but it is also concerning given the lack of productivity from the rest of the Texas Tech running backs.
In a video shared by KTXT Sports on X, Perry says that he is “sad” because this Saturday’s contest with UCF will be the last home game for Brooks and punter Austin McNamara, both of whom expect to be plying their craft in the NFL next season.
It will be next to impossible for any one player to give this program in 2024 what Brooks has this fall. Thus far, he’s run for 1,166 yards and 8 touchdowns on 225 carries. That’s the 10th-most ever by a Red Raider in one season.
Also, he has cracked the top-10 in program history as far as career rushing yards are concerned. With 2,680 career yards, he sits at No. 8 all-time and he is only 194 yards shy of reaching No. 7.
Of course, what makes Brooks’ season so impressive is that he’s been the driving force behind the offense despite the fact that everyone in the world knows that the Red Raider passing game is compromised with Behren Morton fighting through a sprained throwing shoulder.
What’s more, Brooks has been a workhorse. Not possessing blazing speed, he hasn’t racked up his yards thanks to a ton of 40-plus-yard runs but by hammering away at opposing defenses.
His 33 carries against Kansas on Saturday gave him three consecutive games with at least 30 rushing attempts. What’s more, in three other games, he’s run the ball at least 21 times.
Last year, his season-high was 17 carries, a number he reached twice. What’s more, his former Texas Tech backfield partner, SaRodorick Thompson, never had a 30-carry game in his career.
Now, Texas Tech fans must turn to consider life without Brooks in the backfield. That’s a sobering thought given that no other player on the roster has proven capable of earning this coaching staff’s trust.
Cam’Ron Valdez is intriguing but the speedy back can’t seem to shake the injury bug. This year, he’s managed to carry the ball only 38 times earning 233 yards and a TD.
It doesn’t look like Valdez is built to be a workhorse. Rather, his speed makes him a nice change-of-pace back. However, his productivity has been underwhelming outside of the 111 yards he amassed on six carries against Houston earlier this year.
Other than Valdez, no other Red Raider running back has put up more than the 68 yards Nehemiah Martinez has. So where will the Red Raiders turn for running yards next season?
The obvious thought is that the transfer portal will play a critical role here. Players can begin to enter the portal in early December and there is no doubt that Tech will be looking for help via that avenue of talent acquisition.
There are also some interesting young RBs on the roster who might get a strong look in spring practices. The primary one to watch is Anquan Willis who turned heads in fall camp back in August.
However, the 6-foot-tall, 220-pounder from Wichita Falls will have to prove that he’s ready to contribute in all aspects of the game (especially pass protection) before Tech is ready to entrust him with Brooks’ role. That’s a lot to ask of a player who has yet to appear in a college game.
Meanwhile, Tech is set to add speedy 3-star RB Cameron Dickey from Crockett, Texas in the upcoming signing class. He is one of two RB recruits Tech expects to sign in this class along with 3-star prospect Oliver Miles from El Campo, Texas.
It will be quite difficult, if not impossible, for either Dickey or Miles to give Tech in their first seasons on campus the type of play that Brooks has this year. That’s why the portal is almost certain to bring Tech a veteran running back. Tech hasn’t added a transfer RB, though, since 2019 when Armand Shyne transferred in from Utah before leaving the program without ever making an impact.
Joey McGuire will have to find some help in the portal this year, though. That’s because Brooks is headed to the NFL and he leaves a massive hole in the locker room and on the field. How the Red Raiders fill his shoes will be one of the offseason’s biggest issues to monitor.