B/R CFB 250: Top 29 Running Backs

Bleacher Report College Football StaffFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2015

B/R CFB 250: Top 29 Running Backs

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    Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R experts Matt Miller, Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, Brian Pedersen presents the Top 29 Running Backs.

    Other CFB 250 Positions

    It's fair to say 2015 was the year of the running back in college football. From Heisman Trophy candidates to school record-setters, it seemed like almost every notable team had at least one big-time playmaker in the backfield who could pick up those key yards when needed. And many just kept on running after that, some ending up the focal point of their teams' offenses.

    At the beginning of this season we had 29 ball-carriers listed among our top 250 players in college football. We've got that same number after the regular season has finished, though not all of the same guys from before are still ranked. Some projected rushing stars didn't live up to expectations—or, unfortunately, suffered an injury that knocked them out for more than half the season—while others broke out and had big years, warranting their inclusion in this ranking.

    The following rankings are based primarily on players' skills as a college player, rather than how they'd fare in the NFL. Though they may be using this time to develop their game for the pro level, their primary goals are centered on helping their teams succeed.

    Ratings are based on a tabulation of four different categories (power, vision, hands and speed) and based on evaluations made by our writers in conjunction with Bleacher Report football experts.

     

    NOTE: Any ties in overall grade were broken based on which player would give a hypothetical college all-star team the best chance to win. Some statistics were obtained through the writer's own research.

29-26. Warren, Jones II, Ervin, Rose III

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

      29. Mike Warren, Iowa State

    81/100

    Power: 21/25; Vision: 19/25; Hands: 19/25; Speed: 22/25

    New Iowa State coach Matt Campbell is well aware of what Warren is capable of, since the freshman had his first career 100-yard game against Campbell's previous team (Toledo) in September. His 1,339 yards in 2015 were more than the Cyclones' top three runners combined the previous season.

      28. Ronald Jones II, USC

    82/100

    Power: 20/25; Vision: 20/25; Hands: 19/25; Speed: 23/25

    USC hasn't had a young running back as promising as Jones since Reggie Bush. Despite not much use in the season's first half, he still led the Trojans in rushing, and with a full offseason to get bigger and stronger, he's poised for a breakout sophomore year.

      27. Tyler Ervin, San Jose State

    82/100

    Power: 20/25; Vision: 20/25; Hands: 22/25; Speed: 20/25

    A fifth-year senior who waited for his turn, Ervin had the biggest single-game rushing performance of the 2015 season when he ran for 300 yards against Fresno State. His 263 yards against New Mexico was the sixth-best tally.

      26. Larry Rose III, New Mexico State

    83/100

    Power: 19/25; Vision: 20/25; Hands: 22/25; Speed: 22/25

    The first reason to watch New Mexico State football in years, Rose has rushed for more than 2,700 yards in two seasons despite being on a very bad team. Just 5'11" and 184 pounds, he has four career 200-yard rushing games.

25-22. Hood, Dixon, Breida, Thomas

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

      25. Elijah Hood, North Carolina

    83/100

    Power: 21/25; Vision: 20/25; Hands: 20/25; Speed: 22/25

    Quarterback Marquise Williams drove North Carolina's offense into the ACC title game, but if not for Hood's production, this season wouldn't have been as successful. The sophomore will be the focal point of the Tar Heels attack in 2016.

      24. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech

    84/100

    Power: 22/25; Vision: 20/25; Hands: 22/25; Speed: 20/25

    One of the most prolific scorers in FBS history, Dixon is almost as good a receiver as he is a ball-carrier. The senior had 83 career touchdowns, including 13 via the pass on 82 catches.

      23. Matt Breida, Georgia Southern

    84/100

    Power: 20/25; Vision: 21/25; Hands: 20/25; Speed: 23/25

    Georgia Southern's spread-option run attack gave opponents fits for a second straight year, with Breida leading the way. In two seasons at the FBS level, he's averaged better than eight yards per carry.

      22. Jahad Thomas, Temple

    84/100

    Power: 19/25; Vision: 20/25; Hands: 22/25; Speed: 22/25

    A threat as a rusher, receiver and kick returner, Thomas was a key piece of Temple's best team in more than 35 years. He scored at least one touchdown for the Owls in 11 of 12 regular-season games.

21. Justin Jackson, Northwestern

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    Jon Durr/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He's exactly what they need. I don't think this is an offense that wants more from its back. You have a back like this that grinds six- or seven-minute drives. That's a formula that's made Northwestern so successful."

    —Adam Kramer

     

      Power


    21/25

    At 5'11" and 195 pounds, Justin Jackson doesn't have the bulk to be able to plow through piles, yet Northwestern's offensive style has him doing that quite a bit. His numbers might be better if he had more room to work, but despite not being very big, he's often able to keep moving after contact.

      Vision


    22/25

    The holes are often slow to materialize for the Wildcats in the run game, which requires Jackson to bide his time before heading upfield on a lot of plays. When he dances but continues his forward momentum, he's able to time his move very well.

      Hands


    21/25

    The passing game isn't a big part of Northwestern's offense, but with that in mind Jackson is as involved as anyone. If the ball comes right to him, he'll grab it without a problem.

      Speed


    21/25

    Jackson is fast enough to get through the hole and the first wave of defenders, but he's not going to outrun many people. Only 10 of his 298 regular-season carries went for 20 or more yards.

      Overall


    85/100

    Players with a per-carry average of less than five yards aren't usually considered stars at the college level, but in Jackson's case it makes him the perfect weapon. Northwestern wants to eat up clock but also keep the drive moving; Jackson fits the Wildcats' needs.

20. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

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    Jackson Laizure/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He was great in an offense that was decidedly run-based for the first half of the year, and on top of that he had to split carries with his quarterback and Alvin Kamara. He's a Derrick Henry-type closer. He's not going to juke you out of your shoes, but he'll make one cut and get upfield. They've used him right considering the weapons he had."

    —Barrett Sallee

     

      Power


    23/25

    Jalen Hurd's running game has the kind of strength and force you want from a between-the-tackles runner, but he's been known to toss in a fierce stiff arm when cutting outside. He benefitted from not having to take all the carries, but in games when he was used more, he didn't wear down.

      Vision


    20/25

    Hurd is still working on figuring out where to go after getting through the first level. Because he can plow through tackles, he's not yet spent much time developing his vision, but that figures to be the next thing Tennessee's coaches will work with him on.

      Hands


    22/25

    As a receiver, Hurd can get yards if he's in position to run after making the catch. Some of his receptions started off slowly in 2015 because he hadn't secured the ball well enough to get moving.

      Speed


    21/25

    Alvin Kamara is the faster of Tennessee's two running backs, with Hurd known more for being able to maintain his pace as he cuts rather than just being able to sprint past defenders.

      Overall


    86/100

    He's good enough to be playing every down at plenty of other schools, but Hurd fits a perfect Volunteers role as a reliable clock- and yard-eater who helped them have one of the SEC's best run offenses in 2015.

19. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "It's the wrong time to be a great running back at a non-marquee school. A phenomenal talent, a guy that is explosive and really his entire team's offense. He's been wonderful for them."

    —Adam Kramer

     

      Power


    19/25

    Donnel Pumphrey might be the smallest every-down runner in college football today, and he's managed to do this by avoiding contact as much as possible. At 5'9" and 180 pounds he's not built to break through crowds, relying more on his footwork to get away from traffic.

      Vision


    21/25

    The lack of overall size and strength puts Pumphrey in a position of needing to be very adept at seeing what's ahead. He hasn't been as effective at this as in 2014, but he's still able to find openings where it might not look like one exists.

      Hands


    23/25

    Pumphrey has caught more than 20 passes in all three of his seasons at San Diego State, and not just as an outlet receiver. Because of his size he has to take extra care to secure the ball since there's no place to hide it on his body.

      Speed


    23/25

    As is the case with most smaller ball-carriers, Pumphrey has the kind of speed and elusiveness that makes him hard to grab a hold of. For him, it's not just straightaway speed but also a shiftiness that he uses to sidestep defenders without slowing down.

      Overall


    86/100

    On a team that passes for less than 150 yards per game, Pumphrey has been a huge weapon. He's shared carries this season with Chase Price but still produced, and if he returns for his senior year, he'll challenge Marshall Faulk's school career rushing record.

18. Wayne Gallman, Clemson

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He carried that offense for a while. When they'd struggle, he would deliver the big play. He's the first true running threat they've had in a long time. If not for Dalvin Cook, this is a guy we're talking about more in the ACC."

    —Adam Kramer

     

      Power


    22/25

    Wayne Gallman has a well-proportioned frame that works well both in eluding tacklers and taking on contact. He's strong enough to bounce off attacks from the side and keep going, and when faced head-on he pushes through. Or, as was the case against Appalachian State, he bulldozes through.

      Vision


    21/25

    In his freshman year, Gallman spent too much time bouncing around and hoping a hole would open up in front of him. This season he's taking the initiative and finding his own seams, which has enabled him to read the road ahead and pick a path for big yards.

      Hands


    21/25

    Gallman is a reliable safety valve for dump-off passes and screens, though he doesn't do anything special in this area. He's had a few fumbles, but nothing that stands out as a serious issue.

      Speed


    22/25

    Clemson is overloaded with fast players, which sometimes makes Gallman seem not as swift. But then he splits defenders and often extends his lead on them down the field.

      Overall


    86/100

    Though a valuable Tigers asset all season, Gallman was especially huge early on when Clemson was bringing Deshaun Watson along slowly. Now that Watson is running more, it has turned Gallman into someone who can eat up clock but also break off a big play when needed.

17. Jordan Howard, Indiana

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He runs with power; he's a great downfield guy. I was surprised at the speed he had to pull away. He's going to blow up."

    —Matt Miller

     

      Power


    23/25

    One of the more physical runners in the game today, Jordan Howard barrels ahead with his full force on every carry. At 6'1" and 230 pounds, he puts every ounce of himself into the run and continues to push once contact arrives.

      Vision


    22/25

    Howard relies more on strength than observation when going through the tackles, though when cutting outside he has shown a knack for making better reads that will put defenders in a bad position.

      Hands


    21/25

    Receiving is an underutilized part of Howard's game; he hasn't been asked to catch the ball much in his career, either at Indiana or in two years before that at UAB. On rushes, though, he keeps the ball secured and hasn't had much of an issue with fumbles.

      Speed


    21/25

    Overall he's not particularly fast, but Howard's speed pops up most often as he gets further down the field. Defenders aren't prepared for someone of his size to be able to maintain a swift pace for that long, and it enables him to break off long runs.

      Overall


    87/100

    When healthy, Howard was a workhorse Indiana maximized to the fullest. He had six games with at least 20 carries, including 35 against Michigan, but injuries limited him or knocked him out of several other contests.

16. Saquon Barkley, Penn State

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "This is a kid who does a little bit of everything. For an offense that lacks much explosion, he's doing a lot. To me, he's the best freshman running back we have."

    —Adam Kramer

     

      Power


    21/25

    Saquon Barkley has a very solid lower body that enables him to muscle through tackles by keeping the legs moving, but where he showed his power most often in his freshman season was in the way he could leap. On several occasions Barkley would hurdle a defender, pushing off with those strong legs to get enough clearance, and still remain upright to keep running.

      Vision


    22/25

    Penn State's offensive woes continued this year, so Barkley often had to make holes for himself. He showed a strong instinct for what was coming up ahead, and he figures to only get better.

      Hands


    21/25

    Barkley became more of a factor as a passing option later in the season, after he'd returned from injury, though it wasn't an area Penn State went to often.

      Speed


    23/25

    That strong lower half is able to generate great momentum, which enabled Barkley to propel forward faster than you'd expect. He often would come out of a gap faster than he entered it.

      Overall


    87/100

    A 1,000-yard rusher who saw significant action in only nine games this season, Barkley appears to have a bright future. What will be key for him and the Nittany Lions is building up his stamina and making him more durable, since injuries were an issue.

15. Aaron Green, TCU

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "I know [TCU's] system is a little funky, but he seems like he has it all. He's very slippery even though he doesn't have great open-field speed. He's such a good receiver too."

    —Matt Miller

     

      Power


    21/25

    Aaron Green is more of a finesse player than one who relies on strength to get his yards, which often led to TCU's going away from him near the goal line. His style isn't one that works well in a phone booth.

      Vision


    21/25

    An instinctive runner rather than one who spots deficiencies up ahead, Green sometimes finds himself running into contact instead of away from it. His 5.35 yards-per-carry average was strong but far below the 7.15 rate as a junior.

      Hands


    22/25

    He didn't catch many passes, but Green might have made the biggest grab of the season in late September when he hauled in a tipped throw in the back of the end zone to beat Texas Tech.

      Speed


    23/25

    Though he won't outrun most players, he's fast enough to pick up big chunks if he's given a little room to work with.

      Overall


    87/100

    Green was sometimes a forgotten weapon this season, particularly in games when TCU had to play from behind. When given a chance to perform, though, he helped take pressure off Trevone Boykin and made for a very explosive force.

14. DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech

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    John Weast/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "I think he is held down by the system, but the way they spread the ball out, to have a scatback like that, he's great. He's always kind of jumping off the screen."

    —Adam Kramer

     

      Power


    22/25

    Texas Tech's offense is all about finesse and athleticism, but DeAndre Washington packs a decent punch for a 5'8" running back. Though he benefits from defenses' not expecting the run, as well as wide offensive line splits, he isn't taken down on first contact all the time.

      Vision


    21/25

    Both as a ball-carrier and a receiver, Washington often has space to work with. Once he gets into a crowd, though, he isn't as effective.

      Hands


    23/25

    The Red Raiders' run game has been deceptively productive under Washington, who swallows the ball into his body on handoffs and keeps it well protected. He's a great outlet as a receiver as well with 117 career catches.

      Speed


    22/25

    Even with big gaps to work with, Washington still has to be fast enough to split defenders at the line. He does this almost every carry, resulting in an impressive 6.52 yards-per-carry average during his senior season.

      Overall


    88/100

    Back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons hadn't happened for a Texas Tech back since the mid-1990s. The system has impacted this, but Washington wasn't just in there to keep defenses honest.

13. C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "This is a guy who was recruited as a safety but played as a receiver, and now he's the featured running back. He's like a spark plug to me. It's staggering how natural it all looks to him."

    —Adam Kramer

     

      Power


    21/25

    C.J. Prosise spent his first two seasons at Notre Dame as a slot receiver, but his 6'1", 220-pound frame made him a perfect candidate to cross-train at running back. This paid off when the Fighting Irish got thin in the backfield, though Prosise excelled more because of his athleticism than through the strength you'd normally expect from a runner his size.

      Vision


    21/25

    This is still a work-in-progress area for Prosise, though his experience playing in space paid off by being able to anticipate what's coming up ahead. On the outside he rarely took the wrong angle, though on interior runs he showed his inexperience.

      Hands


    23/25

    One of the great benefits of converting a receiver into a ball-carrier is he comes with a built-in set of soft hands. Prosise fumbled five times this season, which tied for the second-most of any running back in FBS (per TeamRankings.com), but that came on 183 touches, including 26 receptions.

      Speed


    23/25

    Slot receivers aren't normally the type that blow past defenders, but Prosise has a gear that's unlike most players of his ilk. He showed off this skill quite a bit out of the backfield, resulting in 37 carries that went for at least 10 yards, thanks to his ability to get to full speed before getting past the line of scrimmage.

      Overall


    88/100

    Not having Prosise at full strength over the regular season's final month had a major impact on Notre Dame's offense. He proved a weapon that few other teams have, blending the skills of both a running back and a receiver into one package.

12. Alex Collins, Arkansas

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He's showing more of who he is this year; what he's been asked to do has grown. He's a complete back. He's not just a slasher, although that's his forte. That bodes well for his future because there were some concerns for his durability."

    —Barrett Sallee

     

      Power


    22/25

    Alex Collins was considered the lightning to Jonathan Williams' thunder last year in Arkansas' backfield, but Williams' preseason foot injury put the bulk of the work on Collins in 2015. He responded better than expected, showing the ability to run inside when that wasn't asked of him during his first two seasons.

      Vision


    22/25

    No longer able to rely on being the change-of-pace back, Collins became more dependent on his line to help create holes for him to run through. He struggled with this at times but eventually developed a knack for predicting how defenders would approach him.

      Hands


    22/25

    For as much as Arkansas' passing game improved this year, this didn't translate to increased involvement for the running back. Collins has only 27 career receptions in three seasons, but that might also be due to fumble issues that became more prevalent this year with increased carries.

      Speed


    22/25

    Collins didn't look as fast when he wasn't being compared to another Arkansas rusher, so he's been downgraded a bit in this area. His best attribute in this area is in being able to change direction without much of an effort.

      Overall


    88/100

    Given the chance to be the featured back, Collins enhanced his reputation as a more complete player. He has far less wear on his body for a junior, which could either make for a big senior year or an enticing draft choice depending on which direction he takes.

11. Shock Linwood, Baylor

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    Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "The NFL isn't that big on Baylor running backs, but he's the best of that bunch they've had. He's very versatile. He's a three-down back. The biggest question will be durability. Being short can be helpful, but I worry about his frame."

    —Matt Miller

     

      Power


    23/25

    At 5'9" and 200 pounds, Shock Linwood is one of the strongest little rushers in the game, but it's not something he relies heavily on. Baylor's offensive scheme is meant to create space for the running backs, which lessens Linwood's need to bang around and push through piles.

      Vision


    22/25

    With opponents so concerned about the Bears' passing attack, the holes were always there for Linwood to get his first few yards without much effort. After that, though, it was on him to anticipate the moves of the second level, resulting in a spectacular 6.78 yards-per-carry average.

      Hands


    21/25

    Baylor receivers are rarely thrown the ball because there are plenty of better options, so Linwood hasn't had the chance to show his skills as a pass-catcher. He rarely fumbled on handoffs, though.

      Speed


    22/25

    Linwood had the luxury of being able to build up speed, thanks to the space he had to run with at the line, but his quickness was most evident in the ability to make a quick shift to one side or the other that would put a defender off balance. His career-long 79-yard touchdown run against Texas Tech was a perfect example.

      Overall


    88/100

    He started to wear down late in the year, and the injuries began to pile up, but when at full strength, Linwood was on pace to set the single-season school rushing record. A big bowl game could make him the all-time Baylor rushing leader.

10. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He has probably the best balance in the country. He manages to keep his feet. For such a big back, it's shocking to see."

    —Adam Kramer

     

      Power


    24/25

    You aren't going to find many running backs who dish out as much at the point of contact as Samaje Perine. On several occasions this season he put a defender on his back and kept going, and when met with multiple tacklers, his thick, powerful legs enabled him to keep moving.

      Vision


    21/25

    He set the single-game FBS rushing record in November 2014, rushing for 427 yards against Kansas and rarely getting touched. Oklahoma's move back to the Air Raid drastically lessened his use this year, but at times that made him more productive because he had more space to work with.

      Hands


    21/25

    Lincoln Riley's offense involved the running backs a fair amount, but not Perine. He had only 13 catches when on the field in passing situations, as Joe Mixon was trusted more as a receiver.

      Speed


    22/25

    Perine's speed is derived from his ability to run downhill and put power behind his strides. He can be chased down from behind but often will still outrun defenders because they don't expect him to move that quickly.

      Overall


    88/100

    Perine was the unfortunate victim of a major change in offensive scheme—one that paid off big for the Sooners as a team but not when it came to the sophomore's production. He might have been the country's most untapped offensive resource through much of 2015.

9. Paul Perkins, UCLA

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He has good hands; he has agility in space. Really good vision, probably the thing that stands out about him the most. He's got that Frank Gore thing; he always falls forward, doesn't lose yards."

    —Matt Miller

     

      Power


    22/25

    Paul Perkins put on extra bulk during the offseason, which translated into a stronger push through tacklers at the line. His rushing numbers were down this year, but that was more because of a change in the offensive scheme than his ability. When it came time for a bruiser near the goal line, Perkins was the best option.

      Vision


    22/25

    After having to deal with a porous offensive line in 2014, Perkins learned to find his own openings rather than rely on the blockers. His vision on stretch plays was impressive, particularly when he'd alter his footwork just enough to throw off defenders' timing.

      Hands


    22/25

    Perkins' use as a receiver seemed to depend on the game this season, though when asked to haul in a pass out in the flat, he's usually able to get yards.

      Speed


    23/25

    Not previously known as much of a long-distance runner, Perkins showed off improved speed in 2015 that enabled him to outrun defenders. It only took him a few steps on an 82-yard touchdown run against Colorado to get to where he was racing past cornerbacks and safeties.

      Overall


    89/100

    Having Perkins there to carry the load when needed heavily added freshman quarterback Josh Rosen's development. He was banged up at times in 2015 but still put together another solid season.

8. Devontae Booker, Utah

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    Ryan Kang/Associated Press

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He reminds me a lot of Doug Martin when he was coming out of Boise State. He's just such a good receiver, just understands where to be. He catches the ball really cleanly."

    —Matt Miller

     

      Power


    23/25

    As far and away Utah's most reliable offensive option, Devontae Booker spent nearly all of his two seasons with the Utes taking constant punishment from defenses that were geared to slow him down. He logged 560 carries in 23 games, yet his 5'11", 212-pound frame managed to power through all that work until he needed knee surgery in mid-November.

      Vision


    23/25

    Booker's eye for what's ahead of him stood out best when he was catching passes. When in the backfield he wasn't as skilled at finding a hole, with most of his yards coming more from pushing through than finding space.

      Hands


    23/25

    As Utah's best pass-catcher, Booker served as quarterback Travis Wilson's perfect safety valve when Wilson couldn't find an open man downfield. He caught 79 passes in two years—more than all but one other Utes player during that time span.

      Speed


    22/25

    Booker's between-the-tackles running style didn't call for much speed, but as a receiver he would surprise defenders by how quickly he could turn upfield and get some momentum.

      Overall


    91/100

    Utah averaged 33.4 points per game before Booker was injured, and without him it scored 29 total points in two contests. His 30.5 offensive touches per game were the most of any player in the country in 2015.

7. Royce Freeman, Oregon

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    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He's gotten so much better, and I love when they use him in the passing game. He's not Marshall Faulk, but he's got great hands. Every single game he has meaningful contributions."

    —Adam Kramer

     

      Power


    24/25

    One of the most physical runners in the country, Royce Freeman takes on defenders head on and just pushes right through them. When approaching contact he doesn't brace for impact but rather prepares to attack it so he can keep his momentum going forward.

      Vision


    22/25

    When Oregon was without quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. for several games, the only thing that kept its offense going was the run game. Freeman was facing stacked boxes, yet he had some of his biggest games, thanks to the ability to find the tiny hole or the best angle. Going for 246 yards (against Washington State) doesn't happen without vision.

      Hands


    23/25

    The care Freeman takes with the ball on handoffs carried over to the receiving game this season, resulting in nine games with at least two catches.

      Speed


    22/25

    Oregon has faster running backs it turned to as a change of pace all season, leaving the more physical running to Freeman. But when he needed to turn on the burners, he displayed great agility and quickness for a 230-pound runner.

      Overall


    91/100

    After setting the school freshman rushing record a year ago, Freeman can break LaMichael James' single-season mark in Oregon's bowl game. His workload went way up this season and so did his production, showing he's getting better as time passes.

6. Nick Chubb, Georgia

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    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He can run you over, and he's a legitimate track star. He was playing in an offense that was sort of one-dimensional by necessity, which speaks to how good he is because of the success he had. If he comes back 100 percent, he'll be one of the best running backs in the country."

    —Barrett Sallee

     

      Power


    24/25

    What Nick Chubb lacked in overall size, he made up for in strength, running like a bowling ball straight into defenders and knocking them in all directions. Before he went down with a season-ending knee injury, Chubb was among the FBS leaders in yards gained per rush after contact (per ESPN).

      Vision


    23/25

    A very patient runner who would wait for the hole to open before heading upfield, Chubb also had the ability to create his own space by spying the upcoming defenders. This came out most often when he'd turn a corner and get around it with an angle that prevented those upfield from getting a bead on him.

      Hands


    22/25

    Chubb only caught four passes in his six games this season, used even less out of the backfield than as a freshman. Sony Michel had 13 receptions after taking over the starting job, indicating pass-catching wasn't Chubb's specialty.

      Speed


    22/25

    This is an area that could be greatly affected by Chubb's knee injury. As a high school track star, his ability to cut and run was one of his best traits, and if he can't come back to full speed, it will show when trying to get around the edge.

      Overall


    91/100

    There's little doubt Chubb would have been right out in front in the Heisman discussion had he not been hurt. Georgia might not have made a coaching change either. He'd been on a string of 13 straight 100-yard games before the injury, and we can only hope he's able to return healthy enough to start a new streak in 2016.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "His vision is good at the second level. He can make guys miss on his own. I want to see him become a better receiver, but he's a great blocker."

    —Matt Miller

     

      Power


    23/25

    When Ohio State chose to turn to him—which seemed to fluctuate by the week—Ezekiel Elliott was one of those rare ball-carriers whose final runs were more powerful than those earlier in the game. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in the first half of games in 2015 and 7.38 YPC in the second half.

      Vision


    23/25

    One of the country's most instinctive runners, Elliott didn't fare as well in this area as he did last season. There were quite a few occasions where he seemed to get impatient and attack an area where he thought a hole would be only to have it not materialize. This could have been the product of his fluctuating use.

      Hands


    22/25

    Elliott played much of last season with a broken hand, which limited how he carried the ball, though it had no effect on his production. With a full set to work with in 2015, he continued to be solid in this area, though his use as a receiver all but disappeared in the latter part of the season.

      Speed


    22/25

    There are plenty of running backs with better straight-line speed than Elliott, but he doesn't need to be lightning-quick because of his strength and lateral quickness.

      Overall


    91/100

    Elliott's infamous postgame rant about not getting enough touches in the loss to Michigan State was construed by some as selfish and by others as passionate. Either way, there's no denying his value to the Buckeyes, which first manifested during the national title run last winter.

4. Derrick Henry, Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He's definitely the complete package. He's a lot better in space than he'd shown in previous seasons. He's a little more nimble than he'd shown in previous seasons. That threat of a slight move and defenders bounce right off him."

    —Barrett Sallee

     

      Power


    24/25

    A steamroller wearing a helmet and shoulder pads, Derrick Henry can run through any tackler who stands in his way. Though he's become more adept at avoiding contact and bursting through holes, he still takes on all comers with great force.

      Vision


    23/25

    When he was part of a rotation of runners, Henry would rely on brute force to get to the next level. But as the season went on, he started showing more of a knack for anticipating what defenders would do, thus getting himself further upfield before drawing contact.

      Hands


    21/25

    Henry takes great care of the ball on his rushes, but that hasn't translated into being much of an option as a receiver. He's rarely on the field in obvious passing situations, and if he is it's to block for Jake Coker.

      Speed


    23/25

    This was an area of great improvement for Henry, who had to develop the ability to elude and outrun tacklers in order to hold up to all of the work. His speed was most noticeable in those moments between getting to the hole and suddenly being through it.

      Overall


    91/100

    The most productive running back in Alabama history has been as essential to his team as quarterback Blake Sims was a year ago. The complaints to have the Crimson Tide "run the dang ball" have grown silent this season because of Henry's play.

3. Leonard Fournette, LSU

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He's got the speed of Adrian Peterson; he's got the power of a bruiser. He's got everything you want in a running back. I don't think the end of his season should take away from that."

    —Barrett Sallee

     

      Power


    24/25

    To understand how hard it is to take down Leonard Fournette, just ask Auburn defensive back Blake Countess, who might still have cleat marks on him after getting run over by the 6'1", 230-pound sophomore. Though he started to get taken down later more often in the season, it still rarely happened on the first try.

      Vision


    22/25

    Fournette's power and surprising speed make it so he doesn't have to seek out open space to get his yards. This came back to bite him when LSU started facing tougher defenses, however, since he'd often run into tacklers instead of searching for a route around them.

      Hands


    22/25

    LSU's passing game remained a big problem in 2015, but when Fournette began to struggle on the ground he was able to participate more as a receiving option. These were mostly dump-off passes that didn't require being great at catching.

      Speed


    23/25

    It seems almost unfair that someone of Fournette's size is able to run with as much speed as he did. Very often he outraced his defenders who didn't realize they needed to take an angle on him, resulting in 15 carries of 20 or more yards.

      Overall


    91/100

    Fournette was the country's most unstoppable force for the first two months of 2015 before hitting a wall in November. Faced with stacked fronts he struggled down the stretch, providing him with areas to work on for next season.

2. Dalvin Cook, Florida State

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "He's the most explosive player in college football. In terms of carry to carry, that human highlight, he is the guy. Any play can become a touchdown. Seventy-five yards looks like nothing to him."

    —Adam Kramer

     

      Power


    22/25

    If not for some nagging hamstring injuries that caused him to miss time here and there, Dalvin Cook's improved power might have stood out even more this season. The sophomore became a more physical runner and often seemed to get stronger late in games, though overexertion sometimes contributed to the injury.

      Vision


    24/25

    There isn't an FBS back who anticipates better than Cook. He has a knack for making the cut or altering his speed a split second before a defender has a chance to react, thus allowing him to slip through a hole that didn't seem there a moment earlier.

      Hands


    23/25

    Cook had some key fumbles in his freshman year, most notably in the Rose Bowl game against Oregon. He vowed to fix that, and the hard work has paid off with much better care in 2015. His use as a receiver has also picked up, serving as a great outlet early on when Everett Golson was still trying to figure out the offense.

      Speed


    23/25

    Considering his hamstring issues, it's amazing to see how fast Cook still managed to be throughout the year. Few players made it down the field on long runs as quickly as he did.

      Overall


    92/100

    Cook kept Florida State's young offense from stagnating this season, carrying it in several games when the pass attack didn't work or the line wasn't holding up. What could have been a rebuilding year proved to be another solid one for the Seminoles, with Cook as responsible as anyone.

1. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

      B/R Expert Scouting

    "I loved him before the season began because you saw glimpses last year of all the ways they could use him. What's most impressive to me is that he doesn't get tired. When you watch him, you get a sense of what his overall value is."

    —Adam Kramer

     

      Power


    22/25

    Christian McCaffrey won't blow through defenders with his 6'0", 201-pound frame, but he still possesses the strength to fight off a tackler. His ability to keep the legs moving when he takes on contact can get him extra yards or help him push through if the hold isn't strong enough.

      Vision


    24/25

    Because he's not very big, McCaffrey works extra hard to get in situations where he can run free and avoid contact. He's able to plan his second cut before the first has happened, something that aids him not just running the ball but as Stanford's top receiving target and its best return man.

      Hands


    23/25

    If the Cardinal could give the ball to McCaffrey on every play, they would, and at times it seems that way because of his reliability. Nowhere does this stand out more than in securing the ball, either as he pulls it into his body on a reception or when protecting it from defenders on a run or return. There's a reason he's targeted more than any other Stanford option in the pass game.

      Speed


    23/25

    McCaffrey's speed stands out most when he gets near a hole and is then suddenly through it before defenders have a chance to react. His ability to shift his weight from one foot to the other as he cuts keeps him from losing velocity, and he ends up getting faster as he goes further down the field.

      Overall


    92/100

    The sophomore has completed changed how Stanford operates on offense, since it looks to find as many ways as possible to get him the ball. Only the third player in FBS history to gain more than 3,000 all-purpose yards, he's been as valuable to his team's performance as any player in recent memory.