We’re now just about a month and a half away from the kickoff of the 2017 college football season (thank god), so I figured it was a good time to whip up my latest piece for the upcoming college football season. I took a break from grinding the early 2018 NFL Draft film and instead shifted my focus to the most exciting position on the gridiron: the running back.
Instead of ranking individual players like we’ve already read over countless times throughout the past few months, I instead decided to rank backfield units. The factors in which played a role in determining these rankings were: talent, production, depth, offensive scheme/roles and mostly projecting their success during the 2017 season.
We’ve seen the evolution of the running back position in recent years as these athletes seem to get bigger, stronger and faster with every year that rolls by. This doesn’t exclude fresh high school graduates entering the college ranks – most of whom would tower over guys like me and you if we were to stand side-by-side. I mention this because a handful of talented freshmen were outlined in this piece.
You know guys like Derrius Guice and Saquon Barkley are ranked 1-2 in just about every RB list you glance your eyes on, but are their talents enough to lead their backfields into those respective slots on this list? The Alabama Crimson Tide seem to boast the top backfield every single year, but will they end up on top in 2017? Teams such as Georgia, Washington and Auburn present among the best 1-2 tandems in the nation, but do they have the depth necessary to find themselves above other teams? You will just have to keep reading to find out.
- Arizona State Sun Devils
- Florida Gators
- Iowa Hawkeyes
- Northwestern Wildcats
- Ohio State Buckeyes
Saquon Barkley’s lateral agility is disgusting. pic.twitter.com/FmZzr7TzsH
— Alex Reno (@alex_reno) July 1, 2017
10. Penn State Nittany Lions
- Saquon Barkley
Outlook: Something you’ll notice about this particular listing that stands out among the other teams is that only one running back is listed for the Nittany Lions. That running back is none other than Saquon Barkley, who is widely considered the best tailback in all of college football, and perhaps the premature #1 prospect of the 2018 NFL Draft class.
A Heisman favorite entering the season, Barkley was 2nd in the Big Ten in rushing last season as he racked up nearly 1,500 yards on the ground and led the conference with 18 rushing TDs. His production wasn’t limited on the ground. Barkley stood out as a receiver as well with over 400 receiving yards and another 4 TDs while averaging an astounding 14.4 yards per catch. Barkley is the total package. He’s got the speed, deceptive power, vision, agility, smooth running style and whatever else you can think of. He’s the most polarizing running back in all of college football, and there’s a reason why he’s getting top prospect hype.
If Penn State had a capable runner as the spell guy, the Nittany Lions could’ve found themselves as high as #1 on this list – that’s how much weight a guy like Barkley holds. Expect to see the combination of Andre Robinson and Mark Allen relieving Barkley at times during the season. In 2016 both running backs totaled 29 carries as they combined for 156 rushing yards and 6 TDs. Robinson is a thick-built running back who accounted for 5 TDs last season; he will be the scavenger inside at the goal-line.
9. Michigan State Spartans
- L.J. Scott
- Gerald Holmes
- Madre London
Outlook: The Michigan State Spartans seem to reload their stable of running backs with the best of them. L.J. Scott looks like the next best thing out of that backfield since Le’Veon Bell. With Scott poised for a breakout year, he is joined by the likes of Gerald Holmes and Madre London. One of the early frontrunners to be named 1st Team All-Big Ten, Scott led the Spartans with 994 rushing yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
Scott is a big back at 6’1”/230+ pounds, but you wouldn’t think that based on his game speed. Scott possesses intimidating power, yet is creative to find the open lanes and make guys miss in the open field. Scott is a punisher who runs with physicality and surprising elusiveness. Even at roughly 230 pounds, he has the speed to win the corner and breakaway for the long TD run. After scoring 11 TDs as a freshman, his production dropped to 6 this past season. Projecting his numbers in 2017, Scott is due for a 1,000 yard/10 TD+ season.
While not as polarizing a runner as Scott, Gerald Holmes enters his redshirt senior year as the spell back to Scott. Another big, powerful back at 6’0”/225+, Holmes provides the Spartans with another punishing back off the bench. In the past two seasons he has finished 2nd on the team in rushing yards – compiling 971 rushing yards and 13 TDs over that span.
Now for one of the most underrated running backs in the nation, Madre London. Last year he was limited to only 28 carries and struggled to eek out a consistent role. However, whenever I’ve seen him in a live game, he’s flashed. As a redshirt freshman back in 2015, he cracked 500 yards. London provides a nice change-of-pace off the bench as he offers more speed than both Scott and Holmes. If he can solidify a solid role on Michigan State’s offense, the St. Thomas Aquinas product will “wow” some people. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest bit to see him finish over Holmes by season’s end. London is very skilled.
Of all the running back units on this list, Michigan State has arguably the most cohesion and playing experience. They have their premier guy in L.J. Scott, along with nice complimentary depth guys in both Holmes and London. With an inconsistent passing game, you know Mark Dantonio is going to look to pound the rock – this Michigan State backfield could see uber production in 2017 as Scott establishes himself as one of the best in the nation.
8. Florida State Seminoles
- Jacques Patrick
- Cam Akers*
- Zaquandre White*
Outlook: Dalvin Cook is gone, and yet, Florida State still finds themselves on this list. The Seminoles did a tremendous job of reloading their backfield as they were able to bring in top RB recruit Cam Akers, along with another 4-star Zaquandre White. That alone could’ve warranted consideration here, despite the tandem not even playing a single college snap. When you factor in the veteran of the bunch in Jacques Patrick, this squad undoubtedly has the best rushing attack in the ACC.
While Patrick is expected to be the headman and take most of the carries, Cam Akers will be the playmaker and could even emerge as one of the best backs in the nation when the 2017 season is all said and done. He’s that special.
Jacques Patrick is a former 4-star recruit. A bruising power back at 6’2”/231, Patrick packs a punch and makes it extremely difficult for opposing defenses to bring him down as he possesses the strength and power to carry the pile. He’ll be the guy to start games and wear down the opponent, paving the way for the youngsters. In a limited role last season, Patrick was impressive as he averaged 5.7 yards per carry and reached paydirt 4 times.
Akers was a man amongst boys in high school pic.twitter.com/SoQp0dbLRE
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) May 14, 2017
Now onto the fun part. In preparation of this article, I delightfully caught my first glimpse of Akers, and boy is he a treat to watch. Finishing with the Spring Game, you know Akers is poised to be a star in college. He tore up the mixed Florida State defensive unit and finished with over 100 total yards. Watching his high school tape, Akers was a man amongst boys. He was the mainline of a creative offensive scheme and even took snaps under center as the quarterback, where he made some “wow” throws as well; but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Akers seemingly found the endzone every time he ran the ball. He has the power, breakaway speed, suddenness, vision, cutting ability and explosiveness to be an elite college tailback.
Overshadowed by fellow freshman and the aforementioned Akers, Zaquandre White is a great running back in his own right. The North Fort Meyers native has a swagger to his running style. He’s shifty, yet a punishing, physical runner who finds his ways out of piles and will remarkably finish to the house.
By the time Akers and White reach their junior years, they very well could be the best tandem in all of college football. Give this backfield a year to mesh and prove themselves, and they could enter the 2018 season as the best rushing attack in the nation. Without a doubt the most upside of any group on this list.
7. Auburn Tigers
- Kamryn Pettway
- Kerryon Johnson
Outlook: The tandem of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson are the epitome of your classic “thunder and lightning” combination, with Pettway being the thunder, and Johnson the lightning. The duo accounted for monster production in the SEC last season, combining for 2,119 rushing yards and 18 TDs.
Pettway is a big, imposing bruiser at 6’0”/235 pounds and looks like a Mack truck coming at you upfield. Last season he led the SEC with 124.8 yards per game during the regular season. He finished the season as a Doak Walker Award semifinalist and was the first Auburn running back since Bo Jackson in 1985 to eclipse 150 rushing yards in four consecutive games. Pettway looks to truck over defenders almost effortlessly and has deceptive straight-line speed when he gets into the 3rd level of the defense. A pure weapon at the goal-line.
Now for the lightning of this tandem. Kerryon Johnson is a killer athlete who not only produces as a runner, but is also an effective kick returner and receiver. Auburn loves to utilize him in wildcat packages as well. Last season Johnson led the team with 11 rushing TDs. Deadly in the open field with his speed, vision, balance and elusiveness, Johnson is the perfect compliment to a guy like Pettway.
Last season the Auburn tailbacks split starts, and it will likely be very much of the same in 2017. Pettway is the prototype running back when it comes to wearing down opposing defenses, which will make the job of Kerryon Johnson much easier. Finally with some stability under center at quarterback in transfer Jarrett Stidham, it will be much more difficult to gameplan against Auburn. Expect both Pettway and Johnson to earn All-SEC honors this season as the Tigers finally become competitive in the conference.
6. USC Trojans
- Ronald Jones II
- Aca’Cedric Ware
- Dominic Davis
- Stephen Carr*
Outlook: Finally, the backfield in Southern California belongs to Ronald Jones II. With guys like Justin Davis and Tre Madden graduating, Jones is set to be the starter in 2017. However, he isn’t alone as the Trojans boast tremendous depth back there with the likes of Aca’Cedric Ware, Dominic Davis and stud freshman Stephen Carr.
Despite splitting carries with upperclassmen Justin Davis this past season, Jones led the Trojans with 1,082 rushing yards with a team-leading 12 TDs to boot. Jones possesses a sparkly running style. He sprints for the USC track team which is a testament to his getaway speed on the gridiron. Jones hits the hole at top gear, and if the defense gives him a crease, he’s gone. A dynamic athlete leading USC’s backfield with tremendous running instincts.
The man likely to spell Jones is junior Aca’Cedric Ware as he’s poised to have a more extensive role for the Trojans in 2017. Last season Ware was 3rd on the team in rushing with nearly 400 yards on the ground while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Like Jones, a former high school sprinter who possesses a similar skillset, although not as explosive. Still, Ware is a more than capable #2 who should see a productive third year in Los Angeles.
You guessed it, yet another sprinter on USC’s track team. In limited time last season, Dominic Davis flashed as he averaged 5.7 yards per rush on 23 carries – 2nd on the team, trailing only Jones. His 85 yard run in week 7 against Arizona was the team’s longest gain on the ground this past season – so he’s capable of the big play. Davis provides yet another dynamic athlete in the Trojans’ backfield.
Size, speed, power, elusiveness. Carr is the total package and has the makeup to dominate the Pac-12. pic.twitter.com/CSXnnmjb0H
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) May 16, 2017
The most prized commit of their loaded 2017 recruiting class, Stephen Carr was widely considered a 5-star recruit and one of the best high school running backs in the nation. Arguably more talented than Jones, Carr should get a good bit of exposure as a true freshman. Listed at 6’0”/203 on ESPN, Carr’s size is noticeable on his high school tape. Along with his size, he blends that with breakaway speed, power, cutting ability and finishes runs with relentlessness – he has the total makeup to be a dominant college running back. Depending on how USC utilizes him as a true freshman, Carr has a serious shot to be 2nd on the team in rushing yards and will likely be named to the Pac-12’s All-Freshman team.
With a potential #1 pick at QB in Sam Darnold, USC’s dynamic backfield completes what should be the best offense in the Pac-12. Ronald Jones could very well lead the conference in rushing yards and be named a Pac-12 1st-Team All-American, while guys like Ware and Davis provide solid, athletic compliments off the bench. As if that wasn’t good enough, Stephen Carr puts this unit over the top – I’m extremely excited to see his talents on display this season.
5. LSU Tigers
- Derrius Guice
- Darrel Williams
- Nick Brossette
- Lanard Fournette
Outlook: Who was LSU’s leading rusher last season? I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t Leonard Fournette. Derrius Guice emerged as one of the best running backs in the entire nation last season as he led the Tigers with 1,387 rushing yards to go along with a team-leading 15 TDs and a whopping 7.6 yards per carry. All marks which led the SEC. He also racked up over 100 yards through the air.
For those who aren’t avid followers of college football, you may think the loss of Fournette will regress LSU’s rushing attack, but Guice is more than suitable to take over the lead role, as he proved this past season. Some will even argue that he is a better player than Fournette. Guys like Darrel Williams, Nick Brossette and even Lanard Fournette offer solid depth.
Widely considered one of the best running backs in the nation and top NFL prospect, Guice will likely repeat and be named 1st Team All-SEC. The former 5-star recruit has more than lived up to the hype thus far. A dominating presence, Guice’s running style is reminiscent of Fournette as he is a violent, physical runner, who also compliments that with breakaway speed as he displayed this past season on a 96 yard TD run against Arkansas.
At 5’11”/212 pounds, Guice is deceptively smooth in the open field with natural speed. His style is extremely fun to watch as he’s a threat to score on every touch and create a “highlight reel” run. Guice is undoubtedly the best back in the SEC and a Heisman favorite entering the year. Throughout the season we’ll here the “Barkley or Guice” talk when discussing the top RB draft prospect.
The 1st Team All-SEC RB enters 2017 as one of the best RBs in the country and a Heisman favorite pic.twitter.com/vmPhWqRPHI
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) May 18, 2017
While studying these LSU running backs, Darrel Williams was a guy who intrigued me. Having rarely watched him, I was interested in seeing how the new backup on LSU looked on film. Now a senior, Williams is expected to secure the backup role behind Guice, along with a healthy workload. Early on while watching Williams, his power was on full display. To match, he has the outside speed to win the edge and nimble feet to work through traffic. With Fournette gone, Williams is poised for 100+ carries this season, and he will surely make the best of them. I expect his hype train to gain steam as the year goes on and he could even be selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Louisiana high school record holder for rushing TDs (118) enters the season as the ghost of the LSU backfield. Brossette, a former 4-star recruit led the Tigers with 9.7 yards per carry last season (not a typo) in limited appearances. With Williams providing the power off the bench, Brossette brings a dynamic change-of-pace with his long speed and big play ability; as he showcased last season with a 60 yard run against Missouri. Like Williams, another guy who will place himself on the national radar this season as he could emerge as the team’s lead back in 2018 with both Guice and Williams gone.
Based on the name recognition, Lanard Fournette is another guy to watch for. The younger brother of arguably the best running back in LSU history, Lanard carried the ball 5 times last season but managed just a miniscule 13 yards. If he can resemble even half the player of his older brother, the Tigers staff will be a happy group.
With arguably the best back in the country leading the charge in Derrius Guice, the Tigers undoubtedly have a top 5 backfield in the country. Both Williams and Brossette have flashed while offering different skillsets. Williams is that sturdy, powerful presence while Brossette brings that spark with speed. Fournette doesn’t bring production, and while he is a wildcard, the upside and bloodlines are intriguing. With an inconsistent passing game, although Danny Etling brought more reliability and should continue to develop, the LSU backfield should be among the most productive in the nation.
4. Oregon Ducks
- Royce Freeman
- Tony Brooks-Jams
- Kani Benoit
- Taj Griffin
Outlook: It was a disappointing season for the Ducks last season as they stumbled to a 4-8 record. However, things are looking up in Eugene as Justin Herbert looks like the real deal at QB as he enters his sophomore season. Not only that, but the backfield fully reloads as the quadruplet of Royce Freeman, Tony Brooks-James, Kani Benoit and Taj Griffin all return for another season together. The rushing attack for the Ducks has been their bread and butter for years. If you’re familiar with what Willie Taggart was able to accomplish on the ground at USF, the possibilities are endless in his transition to Eugene.
Royce Freeman’s start to his college career couldn’t have been any better. During his first two seasons he accumulated 3,203 yards on the ground with 35 TDs. As for his junior year, he wasn’t quite able to match the production in the previous years as he failed to eclipse the century mark and didn’t break double-digit TDs. Still, “Rolls Royce” remains one of the most prominent running backs in the entire nation.
You know all about Freeman’s monster production as a freshman and sophomore; but where does he rank in Oregon history? What other accolades has he hauled in? To start, Freeman is the 2nd leading rusher in Ducks’ history. In both 2014 and 2015, he finished 1st Team All-Pac 12 and was even the Offensive Freshman of the Year in ’14. During that span he led all Power 5 players in rushing. In 2015 he ranked 4th in the nation in rushing yards and was the only FBS player to accumulate 100 yards or more from scrimmage in every game.
A big back at 6’0”/230, Freeman possesses the power and raw strength you would expect. However, he couples that with capable elusiveness in the open field to make guys miss. Not only that, but he has the capable speed to breakaway from the last tier of the defense and finishes runs. After what is considered a down year, Freeman is poised to re-stamp his elite level production in a new scheme.
Oregon’s Tony Brooks-James averaged 5.10 yards after contact, per carry in 2016 – tops among returning Pac 12 running backs. pic.twitter.com/Frg4o28Zk4
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) June 29, 2017
I’m sure you all remember LaMichael James; the speedy back and program’s all-time leading rusher. James played for the Ducks from 2009-2011 and went on to be a 2nd round draft pick. While the Ducks don’t currently have a speed back of his caliber, Tony Brooks-James isn’t too much of a step down. Last season Brooks-James was 2nd on the team in rushing yards with 771 yards and led the team with 9 TDs – while averaging an electric 7.6 yards per carry. Last year he also broke 100 yards in three games while spelling Freeman. Brooks-James finished 2nd Team All-Pac 12, while Freeman was an honorable mention.
A coveted 4-star recruit out of high school, Brooks-James is also a talented track star. With sprinter speed, Brooks-James is the next best speed back for the Oregon Ducks, as he proved last season in a backup role. With Freeman’s premier back capabilities, Brooks-James is a tremendous back off the bench with lightning speed and playmaking ability.
Now entering his fifth year on campus, Kani Benoit is the most tenured Duck in the flock. While he has never seen a big role out of this Oregon backfield, Benoit has been a steady producer over the past two seasons as he’s combined for 664 rushing yards and 6 scores while averaging nearly 6.5 yards per rush. When you watch Benoit, his skillset doesn’t necessarily standout. However, he’s a relentless basher who will always fight for the extra yardage. Benoit runs with tremendous balance and is the perfect depth piece with his ability to wear down defenses and pave the way for the guys in front of him.
Perhaps the guy we should be most excited for out of this backfield is Taj Griffin. A top 5 RB out of the 2015 class is one of the fastest guys in the nation as he ran a 4.31 upon graduating from McEachern high school in Powder Springs, Georgia. After a standout freshman year in which he rushed for 570 yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry, he was then hampered by a knee injury most of his sophomore campaign which ultimately forced him out for the rest of the season.
Rated by some recruiting sites as a 5-star recruit, Griffin not only has devastating speed, but he is incredibly skilled and will surely vie for a large role, even in this crowded Ducks backfield because he’s just too good not to play, as he proved in his freshman year.
With Willie Taggart coming in and instilling the same offense which he used to lead USF to a top 5 rushing offense in the nation last season, just imagine what this more talented unit can be capable of. With a blossoming star in Taj Griffin, along with another speedster in Tony Brooks-James and a reliable producer off the bench in Kani Benoit, a premier back like Royce Freeman is the icing on the cake. If Freeman is able to regain his 2014-2015 form, this backfield could be the best in the Pac-12 and produce a couple guys to the All Pac-12 teams, like last year.
Fast, speedy, elusive, tough and scrappy just about sums up the game of Myles Gaskin pic.twitter.com/aX6baRhhxb
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) May 26, 20173. Washington Huskies
3. Washington Huskies
- Myles Gaskin
- Lavon Coleman
- Jomon Dotson
Outlook: Boosting Washington all the way into the College Football Playoff this past season was none other than their prestigious defense. However, their offense didn’t receive nearly enough credit, particularly their backfield. Myles Gaskin comes off consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and is one of the best players in the country. One of the best kept secrets in all of college football is Lavon Coleman. After the 1-2 punch of Gaskin and Coleman is a solid depth piece in J0mon Dotson.
Since looking like a freshman phenom in 2015, Gaskin continued to build on that prowess as he again eclipsed 1,300 rushing yards and amassed double-digit TDs while also finishing 1st Team All-Pac 12. Heading into the year, Gaskin is poised to make a run at the Heisman trophy. Despite his size, Gaskin is a scrappy runner who packs a punch. He has the speed, power and feature back capabilities, as his production would indicate. While Jake Browning receives most of the glamour as he engineers that offense, it all runs through Gaskin.
Lavon Coleman is one of the most underrated players in the entire country. I have no idea why he gains no buzz, but that is sure to change this season. Last season Coleman led the Huskies and set a school record with 7.5 yards per carry while also accumulating 852 rushing yards and 7 TDs. Coleman proved he is a more than capable backup to Gaskin, but also another starting caliber running back on the Huskies’ roster. Along with Gaskin, Coleman can give UW two 1,000 yard rushers this year.
Rounding out this trio is Jomon Dotson. Now a redshirt junior, Dotson was able to scrape up some carries last year where he compiled 260 yards and a score. With Gaskin and Coleman in front of him, don’t expect a huge impact from Dotson as he will only carry the ball about 50 times or so, although he did start two games last season.
The two-headed monster of Gaskin and Coleman is among the best running back tandems in the country which catapults the Huskies up this list. Both players should be up for All-Conference honors and both could even eclipse 1,000 yards depending on the distribution out of the backfield. While Jake Browning is a fine college QB, the loss of John Ross negates an element in that passing game, which should open up even more opportunities for the talented duo.
2. Georgia Bulldogs
- Nick Chubb
- Sony Michel
- Brian Herrien
- Elijah Holyfield
Outlook: For both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to return to school was shocking, but the fans in Athens aren’t complaining as they retain the duo which headline one of the best backfields in the nation. As you are probably aware, Chubb has struggled to stay healthy, although he did appear in all 13 games this past year. Michel has picked up the slack when Chubb has missed time and has established himself as one of the best in the SEC, along with his counterpart. Brian Herrien gained much needed experience last season as he led the top 3 RBs with 5.8 yards per carry. Elijah Holyfield adds even more depth and has a huge ceiling – expect a larger role from him this year.
After a monster freshman season where he rushed for 1,547 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and 14 TDs, Chubb has since been considered one of the premier running backs in all of college football; the only problem has been a nagging knee injury. While he was able to play in all 13 games last season, he suffered a bit of a regression as his yards per carry average dropped to 5.0 on the year – 2+ yards less than his previous low.
When you look at the film, Chubb looks noticeably different now than when you compare to his freshman year. With another full offseason to recover, looking at his knee development will be worth monitoring. Still, Chubb displays a tremendous combination of speed and power with a quick jolt to the top gear whether he’s running straight-line to the redzone or trying to win the corner. Chubb is due for another All-SEC season, and will likely break 1,000 yards for the 3rd time in his career.
Even without Chubb, the Bulldogs would still have a prominent backfield because of Sony Michel. When Chubb has been out, Michel has been the guy to carry the load, and he has done an exceptional job. Now with both Chubb and Michel fully healthy, Georgia has arguably the best backfield in the entire nation – as they proved this past season.
Back in 2015 when Chubb missed half the year, Michel led the team with 1,161 rushing yards and 8 TDs – he also caught 26 balls and scored 3 TDs through the air and was named the team’s Offensive MVP. Michel brings more of a “firecracker” running style compared to Chubb’s power and burst. Michel is speedy, elusive and excels at weaving his way through traffic in the open field, but also combines that skillset with solid power and trucking ability.
The reserve back behind Chubb and Michel last season was true freshman Brian Herrien. The Douglasville, Georgia native was 3rd on the team with 363 rushing yards as he averaged 5.8 yards per rush. Herrien’s skillset isn’t the most overpowering, but he has the size and balanced game to be effective off the bench with fresh legs.
Now onto the wildcard of the bunch. Elijah Holyfield was a highly coveted, 4-star recruit out of Georgia. While he didn’t play much as a freshman, his upside is arguably the highest of any running back on the team. Although, a marijuana arrest in May didn’t help his cause as he vies for more playing time.
Elijah Holyfield’s skillset on full display on this play off the catch pic.twitter.com/uPjlju14VH
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) June 2, 2017
After watching his high school tape, consider me on the Elijah Holyfield bandwagon. A complete package, Holyfield brings everything to the table with speed, power, strength, size and cutting ability, among other traits. Holyfield very well could be the most purely talented running back on this roster, but it may be difficult for him to secure a consistent role in this crowded backfield as he only scrounged up four carries last season. Still, Holyfield’s ceiling is through the roof and you would have to think Georgia figures out more ways to implement him into the offense.
If not for the team in front of them which is a juggernaut year after year in almost every positional group, Georgia would have the top backfield in the nation. Still, finishing #2 on this list is clearly a tremendous spot to be in. Led by arguably the best 1-2 punch in the nation in Chubb and Michel, the Bulldogs also feature a high upside sophomore in Elijah Holyfield along with a steady, reliable depth producer in Brian Herrien. As freshman phenom Jacob Eason continues to progress into his sophomore year, and with this talented backfield, Georgia will have one of the best and most balanced offenses in the nation.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
- Damien Harris
- Bo Scarbrough
- Joshua Jacobs
- Najee Harris*
Outlook: Despite seeing guys like Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake and T.J. Yeldon all get drafted in recent years, the Alabama Crimson Tide lead this list with the top backfield in all of college football. Entering 2017, the Crimson Tide return all 4 of their top rushers from last season in Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Joshua Jacobs, the other being QB Jalen Hurts. Not only that, they receive a boost with the recruitment of 5-star phenom Najee Harris.
To start, we’ll talk about the team’s leading rusher and current starting RB on depth chart according to Ourlads.com. Damien Harris was a 5-star recruit and widely considered the top RB in his class. Last season Harris led ‘Bama with 1,040 rushing yards and averaged a team-high 7.2 yards per carry. Alabama’s rushing game didn’t miss a beat with Harris leading the charge, despite the absence of Heisman winner Derrick Henry.
When you watch Harris, the first thing that stands out is his burst. This guy gets to top speed immediately following the handoff and jets into the 2nd level. Harris blends power and speed quite well. He has the breakaway speed to break off the big runs at anytime, yet the power to barrel over defenders in the 2nd level. Possessing a compact frame, Harris looks like a bowling ball running down the field. An underrated back as Scarbrough tends to receive most of the recognition, Damien Harris remains one of the most underrated players in the nation heading into the 2017 season.
Speaking of Scarbrough, he is a beast of a man at 6’2”/228. Like Harris, another 5-star recruit and elite RB prospect. Scarbrough has had his run-ins with knee injuries, but if he can stay healthy in 2017, not only will he be one of the best running backs in the country, but also one of the best draft prospects at the position as well.
Bama’s Bo Scarbrough edged out teammate Joshua Jacob, averaging 4.75 yards after contact, per carry in 2016 – tops among returning SEC RBs. pic.twitter.com/EsbTfE7Q75
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) June 29, 2017
Scarbrough is your typical Alabama running back. He’s a tremendous power guy who packs a punch, but also possesses that deceptive speed and athleticism to make the big play. Last season he was 2nd on the team with 812 rushing yards and 2nd with 11 rushing scores. While Harris led the team in rushing, you could make the case that Scarbrough is the more vital piece to this backfield due to his imposing size and skillset. Staying healthy will be key for him this season, although he has all the upside in the world. Sometimes you’ll watch him play and can’t help but compare him to former Heisman Trophy winner and teammate, Derrick Henry.
The forgotten man of this backfield is Joshua Jacobs who comes off an impressive freshman campaign. Jacobs isn’t the speediest runner, but he has some power to him. A great example of that is last year in the Iron Bowl where he carried seemingly every defender for additional yardage. Jacobs fits the bill in Tuscaloosa with his size and strength. What is most impressive about his skillset is his smoothness in the open field and how nifty he can be at creating for himself. Jacobs could start for plenty of other teams in the nation, but finds himself 3rd on Alabama’s depth chart entering the season as their depth in the backfield is always the strength of their offense.
As if having arguably the best backfield in all of college football wasn’t enough, the Crimson Tide were able to lure power recruit Najee Harris down to Tuscaloosa. While he won’t be the feature back just yet, Harris is arguably the most talented running back in the stable, and even presents Heisman and 1st round potential by his junior season. Like most high school recruits of his prowess, Harris made it look way too easy in high school; whether he was out-running everyone on the field, barreling over defenders or zig-zagging his way into the endzone, his elite traits were on full display.
While it’s always fun to talk about the stout defenses the Crimson Tide seem to reload year after year, their running back stable always seems to be among the nation’s best – and it’s no different this year. Bo Scarbrough is a polarizing runner, and Damien Harris is no slouch either. Plus, when you have a guy like Joshua Jacobs as your 3rd option on the ground, you know that backfield is going to be among the best in college football. Najee Harris is just the icing on the cake for this unit. Like every year, Alabama will again appear in the College Football Playoff, and their rushing attack will be the main source of production on that offense.