Who are the best running backs coming into the 2018 college football season? Here are the projected 30 top college players.
Preview 2018: Top 30 Running Backs
Yes, your favorite running back might not be on this list, and yes, you’re probably dead-on right that he deserves to be. This list could double and there would still be worthy backs left off. But for now, these 30 appear to be on the verge of having the biggest seasons.
This is based on projections for this college season and production – and not necessarily on pro talent and potential. With all that in mind …
30. Jordan Scarlett, Jr. Florida
Back after being suspended all of last season, 2016’s leading rusher for the Gators should come back roaring under Dan Mullen’s ground game. There are a slew of good backs for a rotation – Lamical Perine will have his moments – but after running for 889 yards and six scores two years ago, the 5-11, 206-pound Scarlett should be the main man.
29. Miles Sanders, Jr. Penn State
Oh great, he has to try to follow that. No one’s expecting Sanders to be Saquon Barkley, but the 5-11, 207-pound star kick returner waited his turn, and after a 191-yard, two-score season, the former superstar recruit will get his chance to take over the ground game – if this year’s superstar recruit, Ricky Slade, doesn’t grab it.
28. Patrick Laird, Sr. Cal
Somewhat quietly, the 6-0, 205-pounder put up a passive season for the Bear offense, running for 1,127 yards and eight scores, and rocking as a receiver, catching 45 passes for 322 yards and a score. An academic all-star for a few years, now he’s one on the field, too.
27. Travis Etienne, Soph. Clemson
Just get him the ball already. The 5-10, 200-pounder only got double-digit carries once over the final eight games, and yet he still managed to lead the Tigers with 766 yards and 13 scores. With Etienne combined with Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice, Clemson has the running back talent to put up massive rushing numbers.
26. Tony Brooks-James, Sr. Oregon
Now he gets the Oregon running game all to himself – for the most part. The 5-9, 185-pound flash finished third on the team with 498 yards and two scores, but he had to work behind Royce Freeman and Kani Benoit. Even so, he was an all-star for his season as a kick returner.
25. J.J. Taylor, Soph. Arizona
It might be Khalil Tate’s running game, but the 5-6, 180-pound Taylor will do his part. He’s not going to be a workhorse, but he’ll get his ten touches a game, average over six yards per pop, and will take over a few games as he builds off his 847-yard, five-score rushing season.
24. Kam Martin, Jr. Auburn
This is an assumption that he keeps the starting job going into the fall. He’s not going to be a workhorse like Kerryon Johnson, but the 5-10, 193-pound speedster can power a little bit, averaging over six yards per carry and finishing second on the team with 453 yards and two scores.
23. Darrell Henderson, Jr. Memphis
A devastating piece of the Tiger attack, the 5-9, 200-pounder averaged almost nine yards per carry with 1,154 yards, nine touchdowns, and 24 catches for 226 yards and two scores. He missed the bowl loss to Iowa State, but he was a 100-yard machine in the five games before that, including in the epic American Athletic Conference title loss to UCF.
22. Alexander Mattison, Jr. Boise State
The hope is for the 5-11, 219-pound Mattison to keep growing into the next amazing, next-level caliber Boise State running back. He’s got the all-around skills to be just that, catching 28 passes and running for 1,086 yards and ten scores for the Mountain West champs.
21. Spencer Brown, Soph. UAB
One of the main pieces in the resurgence of UAB football, the 6-0, 220-pounder turned in an amazing season, tearing off 1,329 yards and ten touchdowns with six 100-yard games. He wasn’t exactly consistent, but he’s now the proven back the offense can and will work around.
20. Dexter Williams, Sr. Notre Dame
Projection time. The 5-11, 203-pound veteran only ran for 360 yards and four scores last year, but he averaged over nine yards per carry. There’s a chance he’ll miss a few games for a rumored and reported violation of team rules, but that’s not a sure thing. With Josh Adams gone, someone has to come up with the big runs in the occasionally devastating rushing attack. When Williams is in the mix, watch out.
19. LJ Scott, Sr. Michigan State
The 6-1, 226-pounder might not be the prettiest back – he averaged under five yards per carry – but he’s the effective runner who proved as a sophomore he could be a 100-yard regular, and last year did just fine with 898 yards and eight scores.
18. Jalin Moore, Sr. Appalachian State
Banged up a bit last season, he still ran for 1,037 yards and 12 touchdowns with a rushing score. The 5-11, 207-pound three-year star got healthy in time to close out last year with 474 yards and five touchdowns in his last three games – all wins.
17. Juwan Washington, Jr. San Diego State
It’s asking too much to be another Rashaad Penny or Donnel Pumphrey, but he’s the next back up in the great San Diego State system. Operating behind a fantastic line, the 5-7, 190-pound flash back will be a statistical superstar after running for 759 yards and seven scores as Penny’s backup.
16. Najee Harris, Soph. Alabama
The 6-2, 228-pound former one of ones in the recruiting world will split time with a slew of amazing Bama backs, but don’t be shocked if he busts out of the pack and is too good to not become the next Derrick Henry. The 6-2, 228-pounder has an unfair blend of speed and pop, running for 370 yards and three scores in his limited work, saving one of his best games for the national championship.
15. Zach Moss, Jr. Utah
Being the star Utah running back isn’t the same now under the new offensive style, but Moss will be too good to not keep feeding the ball to. The 5-10, 217-pounder bulked up a little bit after running for 1,173 yards and ten scores, and he can catch, too.
14. Lexington Thomas, Sr. UNLV
Yeah, he’s the real deal – he hit Ohio State for two scores and averaged seven yards per carry. There’s almost no power to his game – he had to bulk up to get to 170 pounds on his 5-9 frame – but just try catching him in the open field. Slippery around the goal line, he finished last season with 17 touchdowns with 1,336 yards.
13. Damien Harris, Sr. Alabama
Alright, ALRIGHT … on talent, he should be higher, maybe even No. 1. Underappreciated by everyone but the NFL scouts, the 5-11, 213-pounder has put together two straight 1,000-yard seasons, averaging well over seven yards per carry with 11 touchdowns last season. In terms of production this year, though, he’ll be great, but he won’t get enough carries to put up the truly massive numbers.
12. D’Andre Swift, Soph. Georgia
It takes a special program to lose running backs like Sony Michel and Nick Chubb and not skip a beat. That might be asking for too much from D’Andre Swift to be as good as those two were, but he’s the real deal with 5-9, 215-pound size and the home run hitting ability as a runner and a receiver. In a limited role, he averaged 7.6 yards per carry with 618 yards and three scores.
11. Benny Snell, Jr. Kentucky
Known mostly, and unfairly, for the way he got booted out of the bowl loss to Northwestern, the 5-11, 223-pound Snell might just have the motivation needed to do a little more. A scoring machine, he ran for 19 touchdowns with 1,333 yards – averaging over five yards per carry – as the SEC superstar you probably didn’t see enough of.