B/R CFB 150: Top 27 Running Backs

Bleacher Report College Football StaffFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2017

B/R CFB 150: Top 27 Running Backs

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    Texas RB D'Onta Foreman
    Texas RB D'Onta ForemanCooper Neill/Getty Images

    Bleacher Report's CFB 150 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Authors David KenyonBrian Pedersen and Barrett Sallee have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list down and sorted by position. Today, Sallee presents the top 25 running backs.

    Other CFB 150 Positions

    It was a strange year for the position. Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey entered as Heisman hopefuls, only to see injuries derail their seasons, Donnel Pumphrey capped off his college career by setting an FBS record in career rushing, and no running back made the trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist for the first time since 2012.

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

    Think we're missing someone or don't agree with how we've ranked them? Give us your thoughts in the comments section.

27-21: Freeman-Webb

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    Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb
    Vanderbilt RB Ralph WebbScott Cunningham/Getty Images

    27. Royce Freeman, Oregon

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 168 carries, 945 yards, nine touchdowns; 23 catches, 144 yards, one receiving touchdown

    Freeman was banged up as a junior and got overlooked as the Oregon Ducks sputtered to a 4-8 record. But he still managed to lead the team in rushing and nearly broke the 1,000-yard mark for the third straight season. A weapon on the ground and as a receiver, Freeman should return to stardom as a senior under first-year head coach Willie Taggart. 

        

    26. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 125 carries, 812 yards, 11 touchdowns

    Bo Scarbrough wasn't the primary back at Alabama for the majority of the season, but he came through when the lights got bright. He rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the national semifinal win over the Washington Huskies and then two more touchdowns in the title game against the Clemson Tigers before a broken leg ended his season. When he had the chance, he proved he is one of the best players in college football.

        

    25. Phillip Lindsay, Colorado

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 244 carries, 1,252 yards, 16 touchdowns; 53 catches, 493 yards and one receiving touchdown

    Lindsay played a big part in Colorado's return to college football glory. His ability to keep the chains moving on the ground, his big role in the passing attack and his willingness to stand tall in pass protection made him one of the best all-around tailbacks in the country. And he did it on a week-in, week-out basis.

          

    24. Damien Harris, Alabama

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 146 carries, 1,037 yards, two touchdowns; 14 catches, 99 yards and two receiving touchdowns

    In his first season as the primary running back at Alabama, Harris stabilized the Crimson Tide offense from the moment toe met leather in the opener. A versatile back who can take punishment between the tackles and work as an edge threat, he provided the perfect weapon in the Tide backfield as quarterback Jalen Hurts eased into the starting role.

        

    23. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 103 carries, 596 yards, nine touchdowns; 40 catches, 392 yards and four receiving touchdowns

    Alvin Kamara didn't play the starring role in the Tennessee Volunteers' running game for the majority of the season. That belonged to Jalen Hurd before he decided to bail on Oct. 31. But Kamara would have won the Oscar for supporting actor. One of the most electric players in the country, Kamara was a force when he got the ball no matter how it was delivered. The reason he isn't higher on this list is because he only had a cup of coffee as the primary back on Rocky Top.

        

    22. Nick Chubb, Georgia

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 224 carries, 1,130 yards, eight touchdowns; five catches, 86 yards and one receiving touchdown

    In 2016, Chubb roared back from his 2015 knee injury to become one of the more reliable backs in the country. With track-star speed and the 5'10", 228-pound frame of a bruiser, Chubb carried the load for the Bulldogs en route to an 8-5 record and a Liberty Bowl win over the TCU Horned Frogs. What's more, he'll return for his senior season and further cement his legacy as one of the best running backs in program history.             

        

    21. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 250 carries, 1,283 yards, 13 touchdowns; 21 catches, 166 receiving yards 

    Ralph Webb packed a mean punch for the Vanderbilt Commodores in 2016. The 5'10", 202-pounder runs violently, has a proven track record of success behind less than stellar offensive lines and was the driving force behind Vanderbilt's push to its first bowl game since 2013.

20-16: Wales-Williams

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    Arkansas RB Rawleigh Williams III
    Arkansas RB Rawleigh Williams IIIWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    20. Anthony Wales, Western Kentucky

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 237 carries, 1,621 yards, 27 touchdowns; 30 catches, 323 yards, two receiving touchdowns

    Playing for the high-octane Western Kentucky offense, Anthony Wales posted one of the top seasons in college football from a running back. The 5'10", 195-pounder led the nation in rushing touchdowns, averaged 6.84 yards per carry and provided balance to a scheme that is known for its passing prowess.

          

    19. James Flanders, Tulsa

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 258 carries, 1,629 yards, 18 touchdowns

    What, you don't know who James Flanders is? That's a shame because he was one of the most productive running backs in the country in 2016 despite playing in the shadow of other stellar "Group of Five" backs who received more publicity. A 5'10", 203-pound stud who was great in space as well as in traffic, Flanders took advantage of his shot as the top Golden Hurricane back and capped off his college career in style.

          

    18. Jeremy McNichols, Boise State

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 314 carries, 1,709 yards, 23 touchdowns; 37 catches, 474 yards, four touchdowns

    Running back success has been a trademark of the Boise State Broncos program, and Jeremy McNichols solidified himself as one of the program's best in 2016. A workhorse on the ground and a reliable weapon out ofthe backfield, he made the offense click this season and kept his team in the division title race.

        

    17. Wayne Gallman, Clemson

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 232 carries, 1,133 yards, 17 touchdowns; 20 catches, 152 yards           

    Gallman capped off his final college season with a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the national title game win over Alabama. A tireless worker and a hard-nosed runner who was one of the best running backs in the county in pass protection, Gallman was one of the unsung heroes of Clemson's rise to the top.

        

    16. Rawleigh Williams III, Arkansas

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 245 carries, 1,360 yards, 12 touchdowns; 15 catches, 220 yards, one receiving touchdown

    Rawleigh Williams stormed back from a scary neck injury to become one of the SEC's most reliable running backs in 2016. Behind an offensive line that was a work-in-progress, Williams bobbed, weaved and powered his way to a stellar season for head coach Bret Bielema's Razorbacks and set himself up for a potential Heisman run in 2017.

15-11: Perine-Williams

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    BYU RB Jamaal Williams
    BYU RB Jamaal WilliamsKirk Irwin/Getty Images

    15. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 196 carries, 1,060 yards, 12 touchdowns; 10 catches, 106 yards, one receiving touchdown

    Samaje Perine took more of a supporting role behind Joe Mixon in 2016, but he still shone. He posted his third straight 1,000-yard season, provided more of a power threat to the offense for the Big 12 champions and kept the Sooners in the College Football Playoff mix.         

          

    14. Myles Gaskin, Washington

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 237 carries, 1,373 yards, 10 touchdowns; 19 catches, 137 yards, one receiving touchdown

    The Huskies passing game got the publicity, but Myles Gaskin's ability to produce results on the ground was the biggest reason Washington made the push to the College Football Playoff as the No. 4 seed. The balance he consistently provided to the offense opened passing lanes for quarterback Jake Browning and took pressure off the passing game.

          

    13. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 187 carries, 1,274 yards, 10 touchdowns; 37 catches, 538 yards, five receiving touchdowns; 21 kickoff returns, 494 yards, one special teams touchdown

    Despite his off-field issues, you can't deny that Joe Mixon is an ultratalented running back. The sophomore was more of the feature back in Norman, Oklahoma, this year. He was a weapon out of the backfield and a special teams ace in 2016.

        

    12. Brian Hill, Wyoming

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 349 carries, 1,860 yards, 22 touchdowns; eight catches, 67 yards

    The Wyoming Cowboys surprised the college football world and earned a Poinsettia Bowl berth this year, and Brian Hill was the biggest reason why. Hill tied San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey for the most carries in the nation, was reliable in pass protection and will move on to the NFL as one of the best players in program history.

        

    11. Jamaal Williams, BYU

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 234 carries, 1,375 yards, 12 touchdowns; seven catches, 80 yards

    Jamaal Williams missed the entire 2015 season because of personal reasons but rebounded to be one of the nation's best running backs in 2016. He averaged 5.88 yards per carry on a Cougars team that went through an abrupt quarterback change and played one of the toughest schedules in the country.

10. James Conner, Pittsburgh

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    Pitt RB James Conner
    Pitt RB James ConnerAdam Hunger/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 216 carries, 1,092 yards, 16 touchdowns; 21 catches, 302 yards, four receiving touchdowns

    James Conner inspired the masses as a college football player after he recovered from Hodgkin lymphoma in the offseason and didn't miss a beat as one of the nation's top running backs. A true all-purpose back who is a weapon as a receiver, he stabilized the running game and allowed the Pittsburgh Panthers offense to thrive around quarterback Nathan Peterman.

    He will go down as one of the all-time greats for the program and will move on to the NFL with his legacy already cemented.

    "I don't know if mere words can adequately express how I feel about James Conner," head coach Pat Narduzzi said, per the school's website. "His strength, his courage and his kindness have impacted all of us beyond measure. I'm forever grateful for the opportunity to be part of his life these past two years. 

    "James and I have had many conversations about his dreams and aspirations, both in football and life. We know he will continue to make us all proud as he takes this next step to the NFL." 

9. Leonard Fournette, LSU

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    LSU RB Leonard Fournette
    LSU RB Leonard FournetteWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 129 carries, 843 yards, eight touchdowns; 15 catches, 146 yards

    No running back ranking would be complete without Leonard Fournette, but unfortunately, he reinjured his ankle in the season opener against Wisconsin. He never fully recovered, which marred his season. Despite that, fans did see glimpses of the Fournette of old.

    He rushed for 284 yards in the win over Ole Miss, crushing safety Deontay Anderson in the process, and he had four 100-yard games. The Tigers running back would be higher on this list (and possibly at the top) had he stayed healthy in 2016 and cemented himself as one of the all-time greats at LSU.

    "I want everyone to know that I will forever treasure my experience as a Tiger," he wrote in his declaration for the NFL draft. "I will take with me the many valuable lessons that I have learned here and the love that you have shown me throughout the years. I will forever be an LSU Tiger. Thank you."

8. Aaron Jones, UTEP

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    UTEP RB Aaron Jones
    UTEP RB Aaron JonesJohn Weast/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 229 carries, 1,773 yards, 17 touchdowns; 28 catches, 233 yards, three receiving touchdowns

    Aaron Jones was quietly one of the best running backs in 2016.

    Playing in Donnel Pumphrey's rather large Group of Five shadow, Jones finished third in the nation with 147.75 yards per game, averaged a whopping 7.74 yards per carry and left a year early to test his wares at the next level.

    He's not higher on this list because of the relatively weak competition that he played. But there's no doubt that he deserves to be in the top 10 based on his production, his explosiveness and the reliability he provided for the UTEP Miners in 2016. 

7. Derrius Guice, LSU

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    LSU RB Derrius Guice
    LSU RB Derrius GuiceJoe Robbins/Getty Images

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 183 carries, 1,387 yards, 15 touchdowns; nine catches, 106 yards, one receiving touchdown; 11 kickoff returns, 223 yards

    For the second straight season, Derrius Guice led the SEC in yards per carry. This year, though, things were different.

    Guice averaged 7.58 yards per carry in 2016 but did so in more of a starring role thanks to the season-long ankle injury that plagued star Leonard Fournette. Guice, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native, showed off his jets often, proved that he can be an every-down back and laid the groundwork for a potential Heisman Trophy campaign in 2017.

    His 1,387 rushing yards were the fourth-most in a single season in program history, he was a force on special teams when teams would actually kick to him, and he proved the post-Fournette era at LSU will be just fine.

    "I can't wait for next year," Guice said after earning MVP honors in the Citrus Bowl, according to Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Louisiana (via WWLTV.com).

    We can't either, Derrius. We can't either.

6. Kamryn Pettway, Auburn

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    Auburn RB Kamryn Pettway
    Auburn RB Kamryn PettwayButch Dill/Getty Images

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 209 carries, 1,224 yards, seven touchdowns

    Auburn lost three running backs in the offseason and desperately needed somebody to be the workhorse for head coach Gus Malzahn's run-based spread attack.

    Kamryn Pettway was that guy.

    He had carries in just nine games but averaged 136 yards in those contests. His emergence as a star in the middle of the season was one of the primary reasons Auburn reeled off six straight wins and earned a berth in the Sugar Bowl. When he got banged up late in the season, it's no coincidence the offense sputtered.

    The 6'0", 240-pounder is deceptively shifty in space and has the power to fall forward on virtually every run.

    Had a hamstring injury not hampered him, he'd likely be higher on this list. 

5. Saquon Barkley, Penn State

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    Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
    Penn State RB Saquon BarkleySean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 272 carries, 1,496 yards, 18 touchdowns; 28 catches, 402 yards, four receiving touchdowns

    There's no other way to put it: Saquon Barkley is a video game cheat code.

    The 5'11", 223-pounder is deceptively dangerous in space, moves like a little guy and runs like a bowling ball between the tackles. 

    Here's what head coach James Franklin told reporters about Barkley at the Rose Bowl media day:

    ... He's going to have a checkmark in most of the boxes -- body type, size, strength, power, vision, balance, speed, durability. He's going to have a lot of those characteristics and traits that you're looking for if you had the opportunity to build a running back. They're hard to find. You can find a guy that's undersized. He has great quickness, change in direction and speed, but can't run for power. He can really do both.

    The only reason he's not higher on this list is because there were so many good running backs in college football this year. Ranking them was like choosing between $50 steaks at a nice steakhouse.

4. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State

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    San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey
    San Diego State RB Donnel PumphreyKent Horner/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 349 carries, 2,133 yards, 17 touchdowns; 27 catches, 231 yards

    Pumphrey capped off a sensational career by setting the FBS career rushing record in the Las Vegas Bowl. He finished his career with 6,405 yards, ahead of former Wisconsin running back and 1999 Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne.

    During his senior season, Pumphrey's 349 carries tied for the most in the nation. He also solidified the fact he can be a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield and did so with all of the attention focused on stopping him.

    Had he played for a Power Five school and had the same success, he would likely be at the top of this list. But the top five is not a bad consolation for one of the best running backs in college football history. 

3. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

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    Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
    Stanford RB Christian McCaffreyEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 253 carries, 1,603 yards, 13 touchdowns; 37 catches, 310 yards, three receiving touchdowns; 96 punt return yards; 318 kickoff return yards

    It would have been nearly impossible for Christian McCaffrey to match or surpass his 2015 season in which he set the single-season record for all-purpose yards. He tried his best, though.

    Fighting through a midseason injury that limited him against Washington State and kept him out of the Notre Dame game, McCaffrey still managed to lead the nation in all-purpose yards per game (211.5). McCaffrey's ability to avoid big hits, weave his way through traffic and run away from defenses that he gets behind has been apparent for two years and should lead him to NFL success after he jumped early.

    Here's what McCaffrey wrote in his farewell letter, per the team's official website:

    I love Stanford more than anything. It will be extremely hard to leave. I feel humbled and inspired every day by the peers who surround me. I came to Stanford because I wanted to be challenged more than I ever have in my life. And that desire is shared by everyone who walks on this campus, by people who literally will change the world.

2. Dalvin Cook, Florida State

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    Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
    Florida State RB Dalvin CookMarc Serota/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 288 carries, 1,765 yards, 19 touchdowns; 33 catches, 488 yards, one receiving touchdown

    Dalvin Cook perpetually found himself sitting in the shadow of other great backs. Last year, it was Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. This year, it was D'Onta Foreman. Despite that, he set the program record at Florida State with 4,464 career rushing yards.

    In 2016, behind an offensive line that was average at best and Deondre Francois—a redshirt freshman quarterback who was easing into the role—Cook shone brighter than ever before.

    A 5'11", 213-pounder who hits like he's 250 and has feet like a ballroom dancer, Cook proved he was one of the most complete running backs in the country throughout his three-year career.

    Why isn't he No. 1? It's hard to argue there wasn't one player who was better based solely on his 2016 performance.

1. D'Onta Foreman, Texas

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    Texas RB D'Onta Foreman
    Texas RB D'Onta ForemanChris Covatta/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 323 carries, 2,028 yards, 15 touchdowns; seven catches, 75 yards

    D'Onta Foreman was "the other Foreman" during the recruiting process, but he stepped to the forefront in the race to be the nation's best running back in 2016. 

    The lone bright spot in an otherwise lost season at Texas, Foreman had 30 or more carries in six games this season, including 51 in the loss to the Kansas Jayhawks in November.

    "I feel like I was overlooked, and I wanted to be right there next to him," Foreman told Bleacher Report. "Unfortunately, I wasn't. But that gave me a different approach for the game, and I want to prove a lot of people wrong. That provided fuel for the game."

    That fuel kept Foreman's legs churning when others gave up. It kept him working when others thought about quitting. That will lead him to the NFL after a stellar junior season.

    Texas didn't live up to expectations in 2016, but it wasn't Foreman's fault.

    Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com, and recruiting information courtesy of Scout.