Five to surprise in '12: No. 3 RB Thomas Rawls

This series will look at five players who played either little or not at all during this Michigan football season but will be, by the time the end of next season rolls around, names you know

No. 5 -- Chris Bryant

No. 4 -- Josh Furman

No. 3 -- Thomas Rawls

Thomas Rawls entered his freshman season at Michigan the less-heralded of the two running backs in the Class of 2011 as much of the hype went to fellow Michigan native Justice Hayes. But by the time this season rolled around, Rawls started to get attention as a player who could contribute as a true freshman.

It never happened. Hayes redshirted and Rawls burned his redshirt to play in nine games -- seven on special teams and four as a reserve running back. Most of his carries, though, came early in the season when the Wolverines were still trying to decipher their running backs situation before Fitzgerald Toussaint took control as the feature back.

Rawls, though, will play a role in the future.

"I know it's still a crowded backfield but he can contribute with the loss of Mike Shaw for next year," former Michigan tight end Kevin Koger said. "I think he can take on that role."

The 5-foot-10, 219-pound back showed potential in his brief time, gaining 73 yards on 10 carries late against Minnesota. He ended up carrying 13 times for 79 yards his freshman season and while it was somewhat baffling why Michigan decided to burn his redshirt for so few carries, he was pretty close to receiving major time early in the 2011 season.

But next season, look to Rawls to be the guy to spell Toussaint when he needs rest and start to work into the huddle more as he continues to understand the offense.

"His decision-making ... he's not running into as many people with the ball as when he first got here," Koger said. "You see that from younger backs, they don't see the holes as well as other backs and now you don't see him running into offensive linemen."

As he continues to learn, he can only improve -- which provides hope for a productive 2012 season.

Worst-case scenario: Toussaint gobbles up most of the carries and senior Vincent Smith once again comes in during obvious passing situations to block for Denard Robinson and catch screen passes. It leaves Rawls with another wasted year with less than 45 carries.

Best-case scenario: Toussaint still gets a lot of carries, but Rawls provides another strong option for the Wolverines. Offensive coordinator Al Borges goes back to his Auburn playbook, when he had Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown in the backfield, and Rawls ends up gaining 500 to 600 yards as a sophomore and becomes the heir apparent to Toussaint.