My early choices for the top returning backs for the 2018 season. These are liable to change by the spring games, or the early season.
1. Bryce Love-Stanford: Everyone was shocked when Bryce Love decided to return to college for his senior season. After living in the shadows of Christian McCaffrey, Love just exploded and ran for well over 2,000 yards to lead the Cardinal to the Pac 12 North championship. Love has everything you want in a top running back except for size. He has great speed and moves and when he sees a running lane, he’s gone in a flash.
2. Jonathan Taylor – Wisconsin: Amazing freshman from New Jersey that broke all the true freshmen rushing records. Taylor has that strong build that coaches love at about 5-11, 215 and he has great speed as proven by his track times in high school when he won state. College football will only get to enjoy Jonathan Taylor for 2 more seasons. He runs with a great mixture of power and speed and is a hard player to bring down. Most of all, he is in the perfect offense to breed great running Taylor
backs with their huge offensive line and style of play.
3. Cam Akers – Florida State: The number one rated running back in last year’s class, Akers had his struggles as a true freshman. But, even with the offensive line problems and losing their starting quarterback, Akers was able to break the 1,000 yard barrier as a true freshman in 2017. Akers was a quarterback in high school and will be used to throw the football some in trick plays. He’s of the same build as Taylor at about 5-11, 215 and with the same kind of speed and explosiveness. Akers will only get better under new head coach Willie Taggart. Akers
4. Myles Gaskin – Washington: Another blue burner, Gaskin might be the quickest running back in the country. Like Bryce Love, Gaskin isn’t a big back at about 5-10, 190 but the guy more than makes up for his lack of size with outstanding quickness. Coming back for his senior season, Gaskin has already run for over 4,000 yards in 3 seasons as a starter. His game is primarily built around speed and getting to the hole quickly.
5. Damian Harris – Alabama: One other player that surprised at least me by coming back was Damian Harris. The 5-11, 225 Harris played very little as a freshman and then broke the 1,000 yard barrier the past couple of seasons. Alabama divides up their carries quite a bit, but Harris has been the principle ball carrier the past 2 seasons. Harris brings a lot of things to the table as a power runner. He has strength and toughness, while bringing pretty surprising quickness.
6. D’Andre Swift – Georgia: The true freshman, Swift, was good enough to get a lot of playing time as a true freshman with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel coming back for their senior seasons last year. Swift has that classic power runner build at 5-9, 215 and he brings some speed to the table as well. He ran for over 600 yards with Chubb and Michel still around and he’s a great receiver out of the back field. Expect Swift to step up and replace the mighty departed duo and fight off the challenges of
new super star backs in Zamir White and James Cook and Cook just happens to be the younger brother of Dalvin Cook. If Swift can hold those two off, he has a chance to be a super star.
7. JK Dobbins – Ohio State: Speedy true freshman back from Texas had an early break out season going for over 1,400 yards. Because of injuries to last season’s redshirt freshman running back, Mike Weber, Dobbins worked his way into the lineup in the first game. At 5-10, 210 Dobbins isn’t little, but he runs like a smaller back using his quickness to hit the hole quickly and deliver a big play.
8. Justice Hill – Oklahoma State: Hill is another super fast smaller back at about 5-10, 185. But, he makes up for lack of size with outstanding speed. As a freshman, Hill ran for 1,100 yards and then he stepped up the spast season to earn 1,400 yards on the ground. Hill has a lot of big play potential and can take it the distance at just about any opportunity.
9. AJ Dillon – Boston College: Maybe the freshman surprise of the season was Dillon from Boston College. The true freshman from New London, Connecticut is pretty quick for a 6-0, 240 physical freak. Dillon came through big for the Eagles and ran for almost 1,600 yards. As long as Dillon can stay healthy, he helps Boston College remain competitive with the rest of the field.
10. Najee Harris – Alabama: One of the very top running back recruits in the country in the 2017 class. He’s another big back at 6-2, 230 and he rushed for only 370 yards last season. But, it was a crowded back field with Damian Harris, Najee Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Josh Jacobs. Najee Harris should step up this season and be more productive. He’s got so much potential with his size and speed that he should be a great one before he is done at Alabama.
11. Benny Snell Jr – Kentucky: Ohio native Snell Jr came in as a freshman in 2016 and ran for over 1,000 yards. Snell has good size at 5-11, 225 and is a good, strong runner. Snell really had a good season as a sophomore and ran for over 1,300 yards. The nephew of New York Jet running back Matt Snell. Benny Snell Jr
12. Travis Etienne – Clemson: Purely as a runner, Etienne is really good. His pass protection might need a little work, but that will come with time, coaching and experience. Etienne is Clemson’s most explosive running back and can take it the distance with great speed from about anywhere. Etienne is about 5-10, 200 and one of Clemson’s top offensive players right now.
13. Jacques Patrick – Florida State: A big and powerful runner that’s a little faster than you’d expect
for a back that’s 6-3, 235. The quicker Akers has taken over the starting job, but Patrick will always be available for short yardage situations. In spite of size and the poor offensive line play by the Seminoles in 2017, Patrick still averaged well over 5 yards per carry. He ran for 735 yards and it would seem they would have handed him the ball more.
14. Rodney Anderson – Oklahoma: Lose Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, no problem. Anderson stepped up and rushed for over 1,000 yards. He’s not super fast, or super big at 6-2, 220 but Anderson is a solid all around back that is more than fast enough. Baker Mayfield is gone, but people may be surprised by his replacement, Kyler Murray. Don’t write off Oklahoma just yet and Anderson should have another big year in 2018.
15. LJ Scott – Michigan State: Far from a burner, but the 6-1, 230 Scott is a power runner. He has yet to run for over 1,000 yards in a single season and his best season came in 2016 when he finished just 6 yards short. Scott is physically strong and reliable while dishing out punishment to defenders. Look for Scott to finish out strongly and finally break 1,000 yards in his last season.
16. Kam Martin – Auburn: The cousin of Jamaal Charles doesn’t have Kerryon Johnson to deal with anymore and the 5-10, 185 Martin is super quick and a threat to go the distance at any time. Although, Martin only ran for 453 yards last season, he should have a chance to take it to another level in 2018.
17. Karan Higdon – Michigan: After a really bad freshman season and 400 yard sophomore season, Higdon was able to have something of a break out season in 2017 while running for nearly 1,000 yards. Higdon showed flashes of outstanding speed and moves while running for big gains. He should be Michigan’s big ground gainer in 2018.
18. Travis Homer – Miami: Mark Walton was the starter at Miami as the 2017 season began, but he
was injured so Homer played a good portion of the season. Homer ran for nearly 1,000 yards and appears to be a very good prospect for the 2018 season. His biggest problem could be incoming recruit Lorenzo Lingard who was one of the top running backs in the nation.
19. Rodney Smith – Minnesota: Smith and his teammates struggled somewhat under first year coach P.J. Fleck. But, things should pick up in the 2018 season for everyone involved with the Gopher program. Smith topped the 1,000 yard barrier as a sophomore in 2016. But, this past season he came up just short with 977 yards. The 5-11, 210 Smith, from Jonesboro, Georgia no doubt expects to have a huge senior season and I am a believer.
20. Miles Sanders – Penn State: Sanders is a guy that I have liked for a while and he will have to earn the starting position. He’s been one of the back ups for Saquon Barkley for the past two seasons. Sanders was one of my favorite recruits from a couple of years ago. He’s had little chance to show what he can do, but I am predicting that 2018 is the year that Miles Sanders explodes onto the national scene.
Aeris Williams – Mississippi State
Morgan Ellison – Indiana
Mike Weber – Ohio State
Tavien Feaster – Clemson
Darrell Henderson – Memphis
David Montgomery – Iowa State
Devin Singletary – FAU
Ricky Slade – Penn State
Zamir White – Georgia
Maurice Washington – Nebraska
Stephen Carr – USC