College Football RBs Who Can Score from Anywhere on the Field

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2014

College Football RBs Who Can Score from Anywhere on the Field

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    The best offenses in college football are machines.

    Teams like Florida State and Oregon break a defense's will in systematic rhythms: They take what they're given, pick up small chunks of yards on every play, move the chains, control the clock and eventually punch in a touchdown.

    But doesn't that just seem like too much effort?

    Why go through such methodical motions when a touchdown could be one play away? Why risk fumbling or having the momentum curtailed with a holding penalty when certain running backs can take a carry to the house...from anywhere?

    Big plays are a keystone part of college football, more so in the passing game than the running game but not endemic to one and not the other. There are tailbacks throughout the country who have proven the ground game to be nearly as explosive.

    These following eight are the shiniest examples.

8. Steward Butler, Marshall

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    The most sparingly used player on this list, Marshall running back Steward Butler received just 87 carries as a sophomore in 2013, taking but eight of them for 20 or more yards.

    From there, however, Butler was nearly unstoppable. Six of his eight carries that went for 20-plus yards also went for 40-plus yards, and four of them went for more than 50. Both of those totals put Butler in the top five nationally last season, despite the meager workload.

    With lead back Essray Taliaferro gone in 2014, Butler stands to see even more touches and to emerge as one of the nation's preeminent home run threats, not unlike Dri Archer at Kent State in 2012.

7. Derrick Henry, Alabama

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    When you think of a running back who can score from anywhere on the field, you think of a sprightly, slender specimen—of a sprinter wearing shoulder pads. You do not think of a 6'3'', 238-pound mountain of a man who was also recruited to play linebacker.

    But Derrick Henry is not your average mountain.

    After not seeing touches for most of his true freshman season, Henry, who is the leading rusher in the history of high school football, broke out in a big way against Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, scoring two long touchdowns and generally making one of the best defenses in America look like a group of plodding JUCO players.

    It remains to be seen how many touches Henry will get this season, as his partner in crime, T.J. Yeldon, is a shiftier back with a more classical big-play skill set. However, there is little doubt which tailback will instill more fear in Alabama's 2014 opponents. 

    Everyone was watching that Sugar Bowl.

6. Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State

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    For the most part, this list made an effort not to speculate—i.e., not to list players who are labeled home run threats but have not yet proven it at the FBS level. That seems fair to the players who already have.

    But this kid cannot be ignored.

    Tyreek Hill was the No. 3 JUCO player and No. 1 JUCO running back on the 247Sports composite this cycle, and at 5'8'', the reason for that is simple: speed. Also a sprinter who specializes in the 100- and 200-meter dash, Hill might already be the fastest player in college football, and a practice video released (but since deleted) on Thursday did not belie his reputation.

    Before listing someone on this ranking, I decided I needed visual confirmation that they could outrun FBS defenders in a helmet and shoulder pads. Hill passed that test with flying colors.

5. Keith Marshall, Georgia

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    This one is risky, coming on the same day Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph reported that Georgia coaches are still considering giving Keith Marshall a redshirt as he recovers from a torn ACL last October.

    He's back participating in a limited role this spring, however, which has me encouraged, so I refuse to take Marshall off this list. And if he does indeed play next season, there will not be many more explosive running backs in the country.

    As a true freshman in 2012, after all, Marshall had three rushes of 60-plus yards and two rushes of 70-plus yards, both of which put him in the national top 10. He is the lightning to Todd Gurley's thunder, and if allowed to play in 2014, he will remind people why "Gurshall" was a thing in the first place.

4. Duke Johnson, Miami

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    Duke Johnson missed the last five games of the 2013 season, and even when he did play, he was battling nagging injuries. He can be forgiven for not repeating his success from one year prior.

    That success saw Johnson finish with six plays of 50-plus yards as a true freshman in 2012, tied with an impressive group of players—Kent State's Dri Archer, Duke's Jamison Crowder and West Virginia's Tavon Austin—for fourth most in the country.

    Especially in the absence of quarterback Stephen Morris, Johnson will be counted on to carry the lion's share of the offense in Coral Gables this season. He's good enough to be an every-down back and move the chains with consistency, but his potential to take one to the house from anywhere is, and always will be, Johnson's most valuable skill.

3. Mike Davis, South Carolina

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    Mike Davis proved right from the season's opening game that he would be a force in the South Carolina backfield, taking the run in the video above 75 yards to the house in the Gamecocks' win over UNC.

    From there it was more of the same, as Davis went on to rush for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns, posting five runs of 40-plus yards, three runs of 50-plus yards and two runs of 70-plus yards in the process and helping lead South Carolina to a No. 4 finish in the final AP rankings.

    Quarterback Connor Shaw is gone this season, and even though new starter Dylan Thompson has experience, Davis should take over as the big-play leader of this offense. It's hard to say he hasn't earned it.

2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin

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    The No. 1 player on this list is a running back from the Big Ten...just not the one you'd expect. Instead, Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin checks in as the runner runner-up.

    It's close, however, and perhaps Gordon is more deserving of a 1b ranking than a No. 2. He was the only running back to post three gains of 70-plus yards last season, tying him with a group of six receivers with the most in the country.

    This year, Gordon finally assumes the role of No. 1 running back after two years behind Montee Ball and James White. Behind him, another player who might one day grace this list, Corey Clement, should help give Wisconsin one of the nation's best and most explosive rushing tandems. (In other news, the sun rose in the east.)

1. Tevin Coleman, Indiana

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    Tevin Coleman is not a household name, but he should be. After this year, I predict that he will. The talent is that remarkable.

    Other than Utah receiver Dres Anderson, no returning player in college football had more plays of 30-plus yards than Coleman's eight last season, and the list of underclassmen who equaled or surpassed Coleman's mark then declared for the NFL draft—Allen Robinson, Davante Adams, Brandin Cooks, Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins—is not the worst company to keep.

    Crazier still, Coleman didn't even play the whole season! He finished near the top of the explosive player rankings despite missing the final three games with an ankle injury. What besides health is keeping him from topping the list in 2014?

    It may not be much.


    Note: All numbers, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of