Best Dual-Threat Running Backs in College Football
With the dominance of spread offenses in college football, a premium has been placed on speed and versatility at all positions, especially running back.
No longer can backs simply take handoffs, lower their shoulders and blast forward. Lateral speed, route running, catching and field vision are all must-have qualities in a modern back.
Last year saw West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin blossom once he began taking more of a running back role. Meanwhile, Kent State's Dri Archer and Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas went the other direction and took on receiving roles in addition to their regular posts in the backfield.
We're going to take a look at some similar dual-threat stars who can do it all out of the backfield.
10. D.J. Foster, Arizona State
Arizona State has put up immense numbers all season long under head coach Todd Graham's high-octane offense.
D.J. Foster has played a major role for the Sun Devils as a running back and receiver.
At 5'11" and 199 pounds, Foster has prototypical running back size but also has great hands. The sophomore already has 334 receiving yards and a touchdown this year, as well as 100 rushing yards.
As a freshman last season, the Scottsdale, Ariz. native posted more than 1,000 yards between rushing and receiving and six touchdowns.
Look for Foster to become a household name next year once star running back Marion Grice graduates.
9. Dan Vitale, Northwestern
Dan Vitale isn't just a running back, he's a superback.
That is his official position as a hybrid tight end/fullback in the unique Northwestern offense.
Vitale is one of the most important players in the Wildcats' offense, as he serves as a blocking fullback and a receiving tight end on the outside.
On the year, he has 205 receiving yards and a touchdown. Last year, he had 288 and two scores.
Just a sophomore, Vitale has plenty of time to continue to blossom into a truly dominant force.
8. Ryan Timmons, Kentucky
Kentucky's Ryan Timmons isn't listed as a running back or receiver, but as an athlete. Many players are recruited as an athlete, but most shed that distinction and are slotted at one position once they arrive on campus.
Not Timmons, though. The true freshman has logged eight carries for 88 yards, plus 20 receptions for 209 yards and a touchdown.
UK is just at the beginning of its rebuilding process, but it is clear that first-year head coach Mark Stoops knows what he's doing on the recruiting trail.
If the Wildcats continue to pull in talented prospects like Timmons, they'll be competitors in the SEC in no time.
7. Akeem Hunt, Purdue
It has been a rough year for Purdue as a whole, but despite the Boilermakers' many issues, they know they have a great player in Akeem Hunt.
The junior is a skilled kick returner, running back and receiver. He has two career kick returns for touchdowns, as well as four scores receiving and four more on the ground.
This year, the Covington, Ga. native has 205 rushing yards off 71 carries plus 203 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 21 receptions.
If Hunt were on a better team, he would be one of the most well-known skill players in the nation.
6. Tony Pierson, Kansas
Tony Pierson has been one of the most important players on the Kansas offense all three of his years in Lawrence.
The junior has more than 1,200 career rushing yards, including 760 a season ago. The last two seasons, he has seen an increased receiving role as well.
The speedy East Saint Louis, Ill. native has amassed 618 receiving yards and three scores, including one touchdown and 327 yards this year alone. Pierson has the highest per game receiving average of any running back in the country with 81.8 yards per contest.
He said earlier this year that he wants to be just like former Big 12 star Tavon Austin from West Virginia. He has a long way to go to make it to Austin's level, but he's on his way.
5. Josh Ferguson, Illinois
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is the big-name player in the Illinois offense, but there's no questioning who his best playmaker is.
Running back Josh Ferguson is a true dual-threat star with more than 300 yards receiving and rushing already this year.
The sophomore has logged 310 rushing yards and 344 receiving yards—which leads all running backs—and four total touchdowns. He has had at least 25 receiving and 25 rushing yards in every game this season and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground and through the air.
The Big Ten isn't a conference known for its skill players, but it has one of the best dual-threat backs in Ferguson.
4. Dri Archer, Kent State
Dri Archer has been in and out of the lineup this season, leaving his numbers far below expectations.
However, there's no denying what he has done in the past. Last year, Archer ran for more than 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns while also eclipsing 500 receiving yards with four scores.
He is nearing 2,000 rushing yards and has more than 1,000 receiving yards for his career thanks to his 146-yard three-touchdown season thus far.
The senior is also an elite returner with four career kick return touchdowns. When it comes to versatile talents, they don't come much better than Archer.
If he can stay healthy, he'll be a success at the next level as well.
3. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
Similar to Archer, injury has limited Oregon's star speedster De'Anthony Thomas this season.
The junior has missed the last three games but still has almost 400 yards between rushing and receiving and six touchdowns.
Thomas ran for 700 yards and tallied 445 receiving yards last season, finding the end zone 16 times. His freshman season brought 595 rushing yards, 605 receiving yards and 16 scores.
While injury has limited DAT this season, all signs point to him returning soon and helping Oregon on its national title bid.
2. Tre Madden, USC
It has been a rough year for many at USC, but not for Tre Madden.
The sophomore has been outstanding as a runner and while catching passes out of the backfield. He has already tallied more than 600 rushing yards and three scores, while also catching 13 passes for 198 yards and four touchdowns.
With at least one reception in every game and five games with more than 15 carries, USC has followed a simple philosophy: Good things happen when Madden has the ball in his hands.
After downing Arizona in interim coach Ed Orgeron's first game, USC is poised for a turnaround, and Madden will be a major player as the Trojans look to bounce back.
1. Marion Grice, Arizona State
Arizona State started this list with a talented back in D.J. Foster, and it will end it with an even better one in Marion Grice.
The senior has been incredible for ASU this season and has shown a better nose for the end zone than any other player in the country.
He ranks No. 1 nationally with 15 total touchdowns and it isn't close. Only Grice and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks have more than 10 scores, with Cooks at 12.
The senior leads all running backs with five receiving touchdowns, while his other 10 scores came on the ground. In addition to his ridiculous scoring numbers, he has also racked up some solid yardage: 395 rushing and 265 receiving.
If this production keeps up, the 6'0", 204-pound Houston native will be an All-American with some healthy NFL draft stock at season's end.
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