First Team All-American
1. James Conner, Jr. Pitt
Conner is coming off a season for the ages at Pitt, and now he should be able to do even more despite the new coaching staff. The Panthers’ battering ram out of the backfield smashed Tony Dorsett’s single-season school rushing and scoring records, en route to being named the ACC Player of the Year. Conner was remarkably consistent, despite his offense’s lack of diversity, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns on 298 carries. At 6-2 and 250 pounds, with excellent leg drive, he requires more than one tackler to drag him down, and he relishes opportunities to barrel over or stiff-arm opposing defenders.
2. Nick Chubb, Soph. Georgia
While the world was waiting for Todd Gurley to be healthy, and come off suspension, and then get hurt for the year, and then leave early, Chubb was busy coming up with all-star production turning into a next-level back on his own. The 5-10, 220-pound bowling ball stepped in as a true freshman and was every bit as productive – at least as a rusher – as Mr. Gurley would’ve been if he had stayed in one piece, tearing off 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns averaging 7.1 yards per pop. With a tough running style through the interior, and with enough speed to hit the home run, Chubb was dynamic whenever he had the ball in his hands. When the team needed him the most, he ripped off eight straight 100-yard rushing days to close out the season, finishing off with a phenomenal 33-carry, 266-yard, two score day against Louisville in the bowl win. He has the hands to be used more as a receiver, and he has the build to be a workhorse who carries the mail 30 times or more when he has to. He’ll be part of a rotation to stay fresh, but the ability and talent are there to be in the Heisman hunt if he can build off his outstanding debut.
3. Leonard Fournette, Soph. LSU
The No. 1 recruit in the nation last year, LSU was able to keep him home, and found the new star of its ground game. It took a little while before he became the lead dog, but he finished with a team-high 1,034 yards and ten scores, coming up with five 100-yard games closing out with 146 against Texas A&M and 143 on just 11 carries against Notre Dame. All the NFL tools are there right out of high school with 6-1, 230-pound size, power, and enough speed to hit the home run when he gets into the open. Always going forward and always getting positive yards, he’s both a downhill runner and a slasher – he can do it all. He might not have elite quickness or feet, but he makes up for it with good vision and cutback ability. Best of all, he has the attitude of a franchise back. This is the year he’ll show it.
4. Ezekiel Elliott, Jr. Ohio State
Somehow he escaped Missouri and turned into a Buckeye legend. At 6-0 and 225 pounds, he has good size and brings decent power, but his game is about speed. A Missouri high school champion sprinter, he showed off his wheels throughout last year averaging 11 yards per pop against Wisconsin and 11.5 yards a crack against Alabama to finish with 1,878 yards and 18 scores – and a national title. While he’s banged up a bit, suffering a wrist injury and needing surgery, he plays hurt and showed the toughness to be a workhorse with 20 carries or more in seven of the final 12 games. He won’t have to carry the entire workload by himself, but he can, coming through with an epic three-game run with 220 yards and two scores against Wisconsin, 230 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama, and 246 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon. He’ll be expected to do that every week, but he’ll likely be saved to produce when the team needs him the most.
5. Samaje Perine, Soph. Oklahoma
6. Derrick Henry, Jr. Alabama
7. Paul Perkins, Jr. UCLA
8. Corey Clement, Jr. Wisconsin
9. Devontae Booker, Sr. Utah
10. Kareem Hunt, Jr. Toledo
11. Donnel Pumphrey, Jr. San Diego State
12. Devon Johnson, Sr. Marshall
13. Russell Hansbrough, Sr. Missouri
14. Alex Collins, Jr. Arkansas
15. Jarvion Franklin, Soph. Western Michigan
16. Elijah McGuire, Jr. Arkansas State
17. Nick Wilson, Soph. Arizona
18. Marcus Cox, Jr. Appalachian State
19. Shock Linwood, Jr. Baylor
20. Kenneth Dixon, Sr. Louisiana Tech