This is the rating that ESPN gave the Running Backs class of 2014. Notice that even such a tremendous class of talent that only a few of them actually made a difference at the college level.
1. Leonard Fournette – LSU: After a disappointing injury plagued junior season, Fournette declared for the NFL. It was the obvious choice and he should be either the first or second Running Back taken. 2016 was an interesting season for the LSU Tigers and long time coach Les Miles was fired and replaced by Ed Orgeron. The Tigers finished up 8-4 with Fournette only rushing for 843 yards. In spite of the frustrations, Fournette still finished his days as a Tiger with 3,830 yards rushing. Fournette should go pretty early in the NFL Draft and he will be fun to follow at that level.
2. Sony Michel – Georgia: The heralded Michel has been second fiddle to Nick Chubb most of his
time at Georgia. Saying that, Michel has also been good in his own right. When Chubb went down in 2015, Michel stepped up to rush for over 1,100 yards. For his career, Michel has 2,411 career rushing yards for the Bulldogs and he is returning for his senior season.
3. Dalvin Cook – Florida State: The Seminoles have had a lot of great players over the years, but Cook may be the best. With outstanding speed, Cook was a threat to go all the way with the football during every carry, or reception at Florida State. After just surpassing the 1,000 yard barrier as a true freshman, he smashed it during his sophomore and junior years with 1,691 rushing yards and 1,765 rushing yards. After his junior season, Cook declared for the NFL finishing his college career with 4,464 yards rushing.
4. Joseph Yearby – Miami: Cook and Yearby played high school football together and they shared the backfield. Yearby backed up Duke Johnson as a freshman and ran for 509 yards. As the starter in 2015, Yearby ran for 1,002 yards. Mark Walton started ahead of Yearby this past season and Yearby still ran for 608 yards. After the season was over, Yearby declared for the NFL. In three seasons as a Hurricane, Yearby ran for 2,119 yards.
5. Racean Thomas – Auburn: Thomas ran for 214 yards as a true freshman and then 261 yards as a sophomore before transferring to Jacksonville State. In his first season at Jacksonville, Thomas ran for 803 yards.
6. Joe Mixon – Oklahoma: Mixon was suspended his first season in Norman because of a serious off field issue. But, there’s no denying his talent. Splitting time with power back Samaje Perine, Mixon ran for 753 yards and 7 Touchdowns. This past season, Mixon ran for 1,274 yards and 10 Touchdowns demonstrating outstanding speed and Mixon is up to 225 pounds. Like so many others, Mixon has declared for the NFL.
7. Nick Chubb – Georgia: The Bulldogs were very fortunate to sign both Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb ran for 1,547 yards as a true freshman. He was injured as a sophomore after he had already run for 747 yards. Both Chubb and Michel have busted the 1,000 yard barrier and Cubb id it again this past season with 1,130 yards. For his 3 seasons at Georgia, Chubb has 3,424 yards rushing. Chubb and Michel
8. Jalen Hurd – Tennessee: Hurd is a big, big back at around 6-4, 240. Hurd ran for 899 yards as a true freshman before exploding for 1,288 yards and 12 Touchdowns. This past season, Hurd quit right in the middle of the season with 451 yards rushing. Supposedly, he will reappear somewhere at
possibly Tight End.
9. Elijah Hood – North Carolina: After getting off to a slow start in 2014, Hood cranked it up in 2015 and established himself as one of the nation’s top backs. In 2015, Hood ran for 1,463 yards and 17 Touchdowns. The 6-0, 220 Hood slipped to 858 yards rushing. Hood has also declared for the NFL.
10. Royce Freeman – Oregon: Shocking the nation in 2014 with an impressive performance as a true freshman. He ran for 1,365 yards and 18 Touchdowns. He followed that up with a very impressive 1,836 yards and 17 Touchdowns. But, last season, Freeman ran for only 945 yards and 9 Touchdowns. Oregon started 4 redshirt freshman in the Offensive Line and finished with a losing season and fired their head coach. Freeman has announced he is returning for his senior season with 4,146 career rushing yards. The 6-0, 230 Freeman has plenty of power and speed.
17. Samaje Perine – Oklahoma: I wrote in 2014 before either Joe Mixon or Samaje Perine played a down, that Perine was the better Running Back. As a true freshman, Perine came in at 245 pounds and then did nothing but break the single game rushing record and ran for 1,713 yards and 21 Touchdowns. The following season, he dropped 15 pounds and ran for 1,349 yards and 16 Touchdowns. This past season, Perine ran for 1,060 yards and 12 Touchdowns as Joe Mixon got more carries. Perine has also made himself available to be drafted.
21. Nick Wilson – Arizona: Wilson may have been the biggest surprise in this class when he ran for 1,375 yards in 2014. But, the Arizona Wildcats and Nick Wilson have run on to hard times since then. In 2015, Wilson only played in 9 games and ran for 725 yards. Last season, it was even worse with Wilson only playing in 5 games and getting 320 rushing yards. Wilson is back for his senior season, but this Wildcat team may not be any better.
25. Jonathan Hillimon – Boston College: After a promising rookie season that saw him run for 860 yards, Hillimon looked to have a bright future. He still may, but he missed all of the 2015 season before coming back last year with 542 rushing yards to lead the Boston College Eagles in rushing.
26. Marlon Mack – South Florida: Mack was one of the class of 2014 that few talked about. As a true freshman, Mack ran for 1,041 yards. Again, in 2015, Mack was plugging away and ran for 1,381 to lead his team in rushing. This past season, he was not the Bulls leading rusher. But, he still gained 1,187 yards while Quarterback Quinton Flowers ran for 1,530 yards. Mack declared for the NFL
31. Justin Jackson – Northwestern: Jackson just has that knack. He’s not overly speedy, or powerful, but he is just an effective runner. During his surprising freshman season, Jackson ran for 1,187 yards. In 2015, he was active again and he ran for 1,418 yards. This past season, Jackson ran for 1,524 yards. Unlike most on this list, Jackson is returning for his final season. With 4,129 yards to his credit, Jackson will become one of the all time rushing leaders with a good 2017 season.
43. Demario Richard – Arizona State: Richard came in and ran for 478 yards as a true freshman at Arizona State. During his sophomore year, Richard ran for 1,104 yards. He is a good sized back at 5-10, 220 with good speed, but the Sun Devils have other issues which caused Richard’s rushing
totals to drop to 593 yards as a junior. With some possible help at Quarterback, Richard could have a nice senior season and attract some attention.
58. Vic Enwere – California: The Cal Bears have been hit and miss over the past few seasons and they fired their coach, Sonny Dykes after their most recent season ended. Hiring unproven Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox may, or may not, work out for them. Enwere is a great sized Running Back at 6-1, 240 and able to pick up good yardage, but Cal didn’t use him that much. His best season so far was in 2015. Enwere
76. D’Onta Foreman – Texas: Foreman was a very lightly recruited high school Running Back and the schools that did recruit him were trying to sign his brother as a packaged deal. D’Onta has far surpassed his Wide Receiver brother, Armanti. This past season, Foreman put up more numbers than anyone on this list including the highly recruited backs from all over the nation. He ran for 2,028 yards and 15 Touchdowns. He’s not blessed with outstanding speed, but at 6-1, 250 he almost the perfect Running Back. Foreman has also declared for the NFL which is a huge loss for college football.
77. Darrel Williams – LSU: Williams has been surpassed by Derrius Guice as Leonard Fournette’s main back up, but Guice is a superior talent. Williams will be a senior next season at LSU and don’t rule out an NFL career for Williams. There are several LSU back up Running Backs in the NFL and Williams is a good back and sturdy at 6-1, 235.
98. Qadree Ollison – Pittsburgh: After running for 1,121 yards in 2015, Ollison has been passed on the depth charts at Pittsburgh. But, with James Conner leaving for the NFL, Ollison may work his way back into the starting lineup in 2017. He’s a good power back at 6-2, 230.
Christian McCaffrey – Stanford: McCaffrey was listed as an Athlete by recruiting services. I am sure some of that was prejudice because of skin color, but McCaffrey proved everyone wrong by having an incredible college career at Stanford. Now, like most of the top guys, McCaffrey has declared for the NFL after brilliant playing days for the Cardinal.