1. Dalvin Cook – Florida State: An amazing player and why he wasn’t one of the leading vote receivers in the last Heisman race is almost unbelievable. Cook finished his junior year and also his last in the college ranks, rushing for 1,765 yards and 19 Touchdowns. A lot of his runs were of the incredible variety and at 5-11, 215 Cook can run between the tackles as well as outside. Cook reminds somewhat of the incredible Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs. They are just explosive. He finishes up in three years as the Seminoles all time leading rusher. Cook is a little bigger and stronger than Charles, but he is just as fast with that same breathtaking style. If Cook is
not the first Running Back taken in the 2017 draft there is something wrong.
2. Leonard Fournette – LSU: Fournette didn’t have a great season because of injuries and then he
skipped his team’s bowl game because he wanted to get ready for the NFL Combine and Draft. It’s hard to blame the players for the new trend which I hate and Fournette is definitely a talented Running Back. Last season, he would have probably been the top Running Back pick. The beefy, 6-1, 235 junior from New Orleans only ran for 843 yards as a junior but over his career he ran for 3,830 yards with his sophomore season being his best.
3. Christian McCaffrey – Stanford: Over the past two seasons, nobody in the history of college football has done more than Christian McCaffrey. Last season, he broke Barry Sanders all time all purpose yardage record. While at Stanford, McCaffrey returned punts and kicks as well as his job at Running Back. He is a threat to go all the way on any given play as a receiver, a return man, or a Running Back. As a sophomore, he rushed for over 2,000 yards and he only rushed for 1,603 yards and 13 Touchdowns. Like Fournette, the 6-0, 200 McCaffrey sat out his team’s bowl game.
4. Saquon Barkley – Penn State: After his amazing Rose Bowl run, Barkley could be considered about as good as anyone. Barkley is a tight, compactly built 5-11, 225 and with reportedly sub 4.4 speed and I am not sure I would argue that. As a sophomore, Barkley ran for just under 1,500 yards on the season and 18 Touchdowns. He’s an excellent receiver out of the backfield and he caught 28 passes for 402 yards and 4 more Touchdowns. Barkley should be the best back in the country in the
5. Derrius Guice – LSU: Barkley could be the best if he can beat out Derrius Guice. With Fournette injured for most of the season, Guice had his opportunity to shine and he was almost unbelievable. Guice is just a tough runner that hits the hole with a lot of anger and hostility. He just refuses to be tackled and fights for every yard. As the primary Running Back for some of the year, Guice responded with 1,387 rushing yards and 18 Touchdowns. Guice is fearless and has no problems throwing himself around. Fournette will barely be missed by Tiger fans next season.
6. D’Onta Foreman – Texas: The biggest and most productive back on this list. He’s no burner at 6-1, 250, but he’s had two Touchdown runs of around 90 yards. He ran for 2,028 yards and 15 Touchdowns. Foreman has had some issues hanging onto the ball, but he has more than made up for that with his yardage totals. He has declared for the NFL draft and probably goes in the late 1st to 2nd round.
7. Wayne Gallman – Clemson: Gallman, and the Clemson offense in general, didn’t have the greatest of seasons compared to last year. But, Gallman still managed to break the 1,000 yard barrier again. Gallman is about 6-0, 215 with great quickness and acceleration. He runs well between the tackles and outside. He’s a very talented Running Back that declared for the NFL, but came back to play in the playoff games.
8. Samaje Perine – Oklahoma: You have to like the talents and the size of Perine at 5-10, 235. As a freshman, he was actually bigger at 245 and he ran for 1,713 yards and 21 Touchdowns that season. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops changed his offense since that season bringing in Lincoln Riley from East Carolina and throwing the ball more with Baker Mayfield. Perine is still an almost perfect power back for those teams that want to run the football. Perine broke the legendary Billy Sims school
career rushing record and then declared for the NFL Draft.
9. Donnel Pumphrey – San Diego State: Speaking of breaking records, Pumphrey broke Wisconsin Running Back Ron Dayne’s career rushing record in his team’s bowl game win. NCAA Rushing Leader Pumphrey is small at 5-9, 180 but he is one of those super speedy smaller guys. In case you overlook Pumphrey because he played at San Diego State, I will remind that Marshall Faulk played at the same school and he was great at the college and NFL level
10. Nick Chubb – Georgia: It was shocking to hear that Chubb was coming back for his senior season, but that was a smart move for him. Chubb did his best to come back from a serious knee injury that occurred during the Tennessee game in 2015. As a true freshman in 2014, Chubb was the best young Running Back in the SEC even over Leonard Fournette of LSU. It appeared that Chubb was all the way back in their opener against North Carolina when he ran for 222 yards and 2 Touchdowns. On the season, he ran for 1,130 yards and 8 Touchdowns while sharing time with Sony Michel. Chubb is definitely a guy to keep a close eye on next season.
11. Mark Walton – Miami: Sophomore Mark Walton surprised last season by replacing returner Joseph Yearby as the starter at Running Back in Walton’s true freshman season. Walton is a compact back at 5-9, 205 with some really good speed and decent power for his size. He’s also a good receiver out of the backfield. This season, he ran for 1,117 yards and 14 Touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 240 yards and another score. Look for big things out of Miami if they can get past the loss of 3 year starter Brad Kaaya at Quarterback who is moving on to the next level.
12. James Conner – Pittsburgh: How can anybody not admire James Conner after everything he has been through the past year, or two. First, he went down in his first game of his junior year. Then, he was diagnosed with cancer. He is a really tough and fierce warrior and beat cancer just as he had beaten defenders on the football field. The former Defensive End recruit from Erie, Pa has been a tough guy to bring down on the football field and he ran for over 1,700 yards as a sophomore. This past season, Conner bounced back after missing the entire 2015 season and he ran for 1,092 yards and 16 Touchdowns. Down from 250 pounds to 235, the 6-2 Conner is one of the better power backs in the country and he has made himself available for the NFL Draft.
13. Elijah Hood – North Carolina: Hood did not have the greatest of junior seasons running for over 800 yards after running for over 1,400 in 2015. But, he missed a couple of games and got very few
carries in a few others. The 6-0, 220 Hood can catch the ball well out of the backfield and he has plenty of power. Teammate TJ Logan is the Tar Heels designated speed back, but Hood isn’t exactly slow, either.
14. Joe Mixon – Oklahoma: Mixon is not rated higher because of character issues, but he is one of the faster backs in the country and he’s 6-1, 225. Oklahoma actually started using Mixon about as much as Perine this past season and Mixon responded by leading his team in rushing with 1,274 yards compared to Perine’s 1,060.
15. Royce Freeman – Oregon: The 5-11, 230 Freeman fell just short of a 1,000 yards rushing this season with only 945. But, the entire team struggled and there were 4 freshmen starters in the Offensive Line and their Quarterback was a true freshman. It was enough to get head coach Mark Helfrich fired. Freeman had to fight through injuries during his junior season. As a freshman, he ran for over 1,300 yards and in 2015, Freeman ran for over 1,800. He’s obviously got plenty of power and strength at 230 pounds, but he also has some really good speed especially for his size.
16. Kamryn Pettway – Auburn: This sophomore from Montgomery, Alabama is one of the nation’s better power runners at 6-0, 240 and he ran for 1,224 yards this past season. Pettway is one of the country’s bigger surprises because he was a Fullback last season as a freshman and moved to Running Back for 2016.
17. Ralph Webb – Vanderbilt: The Commodores finally qualified for a bowl game under Derek Mason this season after winning 6 games. Webb has been a big part of their offense for the past three seasons and he runs tough for a 200 pound Running Back and he has some good speed when he breaks into the open field. There was some controversy last season when one of his Offensive Linemen said he would rather have Webb than their next opponent’s Running Back, Nich Chubb. He may not be better than Chubb, but he is really good and durable.
18. Sony Michel – Georgia: In the 2014 recruiting class, Michel was one of the highest rated Running Backs but he has been overshadowed by Nick Chubb for three seasons. Michel also surprised by announcing he was returning for his final season. When Chubb was injured in 2014, Michel stepped up and ran for 1,161 yards and 8 Touchdowns. This past off season, Michel beefed up to around 220 to 225 pounds and is really ripped. He shared time with Chubb and he ran for 840 yards and 4 Touchdowns. Both players could improve their draft standings by returning.
19. Myles Gaskin – Washington: One of the quicker football players in the country, Gaskin just accelerates with the ball in his hands like few others. Alabama shut him down, but they shut down most people and the Huskies had a really young Offensive Line that will continue to improve. Gaskin came in with Quarterback Jake Browning last year and both started as true freshmen. He ran for over 1,300 yards in each of his first two seasons in college football. He is also one of the smaller backs on
this list at 5-9, 190.
20. Corey Clement – Wisconsin: Finally, Clement gets to live up to expectations that passed him by as a replacement for the great Melvin Gordon in 2015. In the 2014 season, Gordon ran for over 2,500 yards and Clement was his back up gaining and impressive 949 yards on his own. 2015 was supposed to be Clement’s year, but injuries held him back with only 221 yards on the season. Clement was back this season and making up for lost time with 1,375 rushing yards and 15 Touchdowns.
Ronald Jones II – USC:
Joseph Yearby – Miami
TJ Logan – North Carolina
Matthew Dayes – NC State
Justin Crawford – West Virginia
Marlon Mack – USF
Rawleigh Williams III – Arkansas
Stanley Boom Williams – Kentucky
Aaron Jones – UTEP
Jamaal Williams – BYU
Brian Hill – Wyoming
Jeremy McNichols – Boise State
Kareem Hunt – Toledo
Jarvion Franklin – Western Michigan
Ryan Nall – Oregon State
Devine Redding – Indiana
LJ Scott – Michigan State