Ranking Top Running Backs in College Football

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistNovember 21, 2018

Ranking Top Running Backs in College Football

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    While the 2018 college football season hasn't featured much star power at running back, the position still boasts an impressive group of top talent.

    From returning standouts and small-school stars to breakout sensations, big-play weapons have emerged all over the country.

    The following ranking is based on total production and efficiency. Team success is not a major influence heading into the final week of the 2018 regular season.

    This isn't a list of the most talented running backs. Otherwise, players such as A.J. Dillon (Boston College) and David Montgomery (Iowa State) would be included.

10. Karan Higdon, Michigan

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    Karan Higdon isn't the most explosive back, nor is he a short-yardage powerhouse. He is, however, a reliable runner.

    Michigan has leaned on the senior in 2018, giving him at least 20 carries in six contests. Higdon has responded with 100-yard showings in eight appearances, topping out at 156.

    "Karan deserves a lot of credit," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said, per ESPN.com's Dan Murphy. "He's gotten tough yards and yards after contactyards more than what the play is blocked for."

    Higdon is the first Michigan running back to hit 1,000 rushing yards since Fitzgerald Toussaint in 2011.

9. Joshua Kelley, UCLA

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    In what has otherwise been a middling year for UCLA, Joshua Kelley provided some hope for the future.

    The junior college transfer mustered only 27 yards on 11 carries in his first two appearances this season. After that, he became a star.

    In UCLA's first win of the season, Kelly had a 157-yard, three-touchdown performance to dispatch Cal. He also shredded rival USC for 289 yards and two scores this past Saturday.

    Kelley has posted six 100-yard games this season. As long as he returns for 2019, he'll be UCLA's featured back.

8. Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic

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    A third-team Associated Press All-America choice in 2017, Devin Singletary has assembled another superb year despite Florida Atlantic's struggles.

    The junior has scored in 10 of his 11 appearances, highlighted by a five-touchdown outburst against Bethune-Cookman. Singletary has surpassed the 100-yard mark six times, too.

    Heading into the regular-season finale, the Doak Walker Award semifinalist has run for 1,260 yards and 22 scores.

7. Jermar Jefferson, Arizona State

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    Oregon State still isn't a contender in the Pac-12, but it uncovered a gem in Jermar Jefferson.

    The true freshman exploded for 238 yards and four touchdowns in his second career game. In the ensuing few weeks, Jefferson added a 250-yard explosion and another four-score showing.

    "That one's going to be a pain in the butt," USC head coach Clay Helton said in reference to Jefferson, according to Blake Richardson of the Los Angeles Times. "And he is. He's a good runner."

    Only three players have notched more gains of 40-plus yards than Jefferson, who has rattled off eight such runs in 2018.

6. Benny Snell Jr. Kentucky

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    Benny Snell Jr. enjoyed a tremendous start to the 2018 campaign, leading Kentucky to a surprising 7-1 record.

    Along the way, he reached 165 yards three timesincluding 165 with four touchdowns when the Wildcats dismantled Mississippi State. Snell also pounded Central Michigan for 125 yards and two scores.

    A recent stretch against Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee slowed Snell and proved to be UK's undoing, but the junior has notched his third consecutive 1,000-yard season.

    Next up is presumably the NFL.

5. Travis Etienne, Clemson

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    Just imagine the numbers Travis Etienne would have if Clemson ever needed him during the fourth quarter. Despite his mere 18 carries in the final frame, the sophomore has 1,158 yards and 17 scores.

    Etienne is a special back.

    The speedster has broken off 18 runs of 20-plus yards, the second-most in the country. His 8.5-yard average is the fourth-best among players averaging at least 10 carries per game.

    In addition to a trio of three-touchdown games, Etienne has accumulated 100-plus yards five times, topping out at 203.

4. Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M

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    Trayveon Williams has only one 50-yard scamper this season, but he frustrates defenses 10 yards at a time.

    This season, only three players have more carries of 10-plus yards than Williams (42). 

    "With that guy behind you, all you have to do is give him a little sliver and he's going to make the best of it," tight end Trevor Wood said, per TexAgs' Olin Buchanan.

    Williams' propensity for breaking off small chunks has allowed him to run for a career-high 1,326 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also has 26 catches for 280 yards and another score.

3. Eno Benjamin, Arizona State

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    Eno Benjamin can be a nightmare to defend.

    Through 11 games, the sophomore has eight 100-yard games, including five with at least 149. Benjamin obliterated Oregon State for career-high marks of 312 yards and three touchdowns in late September.

    Benjamin mustered only 86 yards on 37 combined carries against Michigan State, San Diego State and Stanford. However, more than half of his season-long pass-catching production happened in those games.

    Arizona State is inconsistent, but it has always been able to count on Benjamin this season.

2. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

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    As a true freshman, Jonathan Taylor fell only 23 yards shy of reaching 2,000 for the season. He should easily surpass that mark in 2018.

    Taylorwho has cleared the 200-yard barrier on four occasions and recently obliterated Purdue for 321needs only 131 rushing yards in Wisconsin's final two games of the campaign. 

    "The first guy almost never makes the tackle," said offensive lineman Michael Deiter, per Jason Galloway of the Wisconsin State Journal. "Watching him do what he does, it's unreal to see."

    Taylor finished sixth in 2017 Heisman Trophy voting and is destined for another top-10 finish in 2018.

1. Darrell Henderson, Memphis

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    Not only is Darrell Henderson the most explosive running back in the country, he's one of the most versatile, too.

    As the regular-season finale approaches, Henderson has the most receiving yards of any 1,000-yard rusher. He's turned 15 catches into 283 yards for a stunning 18.9-yard average, which would be the nation's 18th-highest per-reception clip if he qualified.

    But that's only the side note.

    Henderson ranks second nationally in yards (1,521) and touchdowns (17) and has recorded the most gains of 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. There isn't a more dynamic player at his position.


    Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.