Ranking 10 Best Running Backs in College Football
Jonathan Taylor is the only running back realistically in contention for the 2019 Heisman Trophy, but the position features plenty of other standout talents across the country.
Granted, the definition of "best" running backs is open to interpretation. Some may believe it's a measure of individual talent, while others view it from a statistical perspective or NFL draft lens.
This ranking is a combination of the first two elements.
While an NFL future may be mentioned, 2019 performance is the greatest factor. Game situations are taken into account, so a player with lesser production might still be included if his team―Alabama or Clemson, for example―rested first-stringers in a blowout.
10. Travis Etienne, Clemson
2019 stats (six games): 84 carries, 589 yards, five touchdowns; 11 receptions, 93 yards, one touchdown
Travis Etienne is a perfect example of why the "best" running backs don't necessarily have the biggest stats. Clemson is 6-0, yet the speedy junior has three total carries in the fourth quarter.
Yes, only three.
The game-situation qualifier helps Etienne sneak into the rankings despite a quiet end to September. Still, he's riding a three-game touchdown streak and has four games of 100-plus yards from scrimmage. Etienne's brightest moment came in the opener when he thrashed Georgia Tech for 205 yards and three scores.
And as Clemson inches closer to a fifth straight College Football Playoff berth, Etienne will slowly reclaim the spotlight.
9. Rodney Smith, Minnesota
2019 stats (six games): 118 carries, 675 yards, four touchdowns; three receptions, 34 yards
After a relatively quiet opening to 2019, Rodney Smith has made a major impact in Big Ten play.
The senior ran for 115 yards at Purdue and then scampered for 211 against Illinois and 139 opposite Nebraska. He scored once in every game, helping Minnesota win all three and improve to 6-0.
Minnesota's level of competition will rise dramatically in November―Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin all await―but Smith gives the Gophers a reliable runner for those key games.
8. LeVante Bellamy, Western Michigan
2019 stats (seven games): 123 carries, 764 yards, 10 touchdowns; 11 receptions, 37 yards
Although the Broncos have alternated wins and losses all season, LeVante Bellamy has been a consistent source of production.
Bellamy's best performance was a 192-yard, three-touchdown day against Georgia State. He's scored in six of Western Michigan's seven games and topped the 100-yard mark four times.
In the Week 7 victory over Miami (Ohio), Bellamy became the eighth player in program history to reach 3,000 career rushing yards.
7. AJ Dillon, Boston College
2019 stats (six games): 144 carries, 745 yards, six touchdowns; seven receptions, 138 yards, one touchdown
Only one player in the country handles more volume than AJ Dillon, who's logged 24 carries per game. Of the nine running backs at 20 or above, though, he has the third-highest per-carry average.
Shouldering a heavy load is important, but Dillon's efficiency makes him an exceptional talent.
The junior collected 90 yards from scrimmage in the season opener and hasn't recorded fewer than 140 in five outings since then. He's totaled seven touchdowns for a Boston College team trying to lean on him and secure bowl eligibility.
6. Najee Harris, Alabama
2019 stats (six games): 74 carries, 451 yards, one touchdown; 12 receptions, 123 yards, four touchdowns
Entering the season, Najee Harris seemed like a one-trick pony, Still, the 6'2", 230-pounder is a physically imposing player whom Alabama could give 15 to 20 carries each week.
Turns out he's a little more than that.
In his first two years, Harris managed 10 catches for 52 yards over 25 appearances. The junior surpassed that yardage total with 87 receiving yards at South Carolina alone, scoring twice through the air in that game. He's since caught a touchdown in two other games.
Beyond his improved complementary skills, Harris has a pair of 100-yard rushing performances this season despite notching only 12 carries in the fourth quarter so far.
5. D'Andre Swift, Georgia
2019 stats (six games): 89 carries, 573 yards, five touchdowns; 12 receptions, 155 yards, one touchdown
The timing is bittersweet; Georgia recently dropped a shocker at home in double overtime to South Carolina. D'Andre Swift has put together an excellent junior campaign, though.
He diced Vanderbilt for 147 yards before racking up 143 yards and two scores on only 15 combined carries in blowout wins over Murray State and Arkansas State. Swift totaled 100-plus yards against Notre Dame, Tennessee and South Carolina, too.
Prior to Week 7, he'd tallied a mere five touches in the fourth quarter. Swift's production, relative to his playing time, is superb.
4. Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
2019 stats (six games): 95 carries, 726 yards, seven touchdowns; 25 receptions, 237 yards, one touchdown
Patrick Taylor Jr. returned for his senior year to replace Darrell Henderson―who piled up 2,204 scrimmage yards last season―but a lower-limb injury has sidelined Taylor for five games.
Thanks to Kenneth Gainwell, the offense is thriving anyway.
Gainwell totaled 118 yards alongside Taylor in the opener and has crossed the century mark in all six games so far. He posted a career-high 251 scrimmage yards against Louisiana-Monroe and followed it up with 204 at Temple despite Memphis losing.
The freshman's 7.6 yards per carry ranks third nationally among players averaging 10-plus rushing attempts.
3. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
2019 stats (six games): 116 carries, 826 yards, six touchdowns; seven receptions, 44 yards, one touchdown
As a freshman, J.K. Dobbins scampered for 1,403 yards at a blistering 7.2 yards per carry. Though he cracked the 1,000-yard barrier last season, he managed only a 4.6 rate.
Playing next to a mobile quarterback sure has its advantages.
The junior has enjoyed a prolific start alongside Justin Fields, who's provided 283 yards and eight scores as a runner. Fields' mobility has helped Dobbins return to a highly efficient 7.1 clip.
Beyond his 166 combined scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in blowouts over Florida Atlantic and Miami (Ohio), Dobbins boasts an FBS-best four games of 140-plus rushing yards.
2. Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
2019 stats (six games): 162 carries, 1,094 yards, 13 touchdowns; five receptions, 22 yards
The first to surpass 1,000 yards in 2019, Chuba Hubbard flew past the milestone behind a trio of 200-yard performances. And he nearly cracked 300 against Kansas State, settling for 296.
Yeah, he's doing all right.
Hubbard has at least one touchdown in all six appearances, scoring three apiece against Oregon State, Tulsa and Texas Tech. Throw out his eight-carry showing in OSU's 42-point blowout of McNeese State, and Hubbard's worst game of the season is 121 yards.
He's not a real threat to win the Heisman Trophy unless Oklahoma State somehow surges to nine or 10 wins. But at this rate, Hubbard is poised to receive more than a handful of votes.
1. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
2019 stats (six games): 129 carries, 825 yards, 14 touchdowns; 15 receptions, 136 yards, four touchdowns
Although the NFL is moving away from drafting running backs early, Jonathan Taylor is making a pretty convincing first-round case. His elite combination of vision, patience, physicality, quickness and speed is obliterating defenses.
Highlighted by a 203-yard demolition of Michigan, Taylor has crested the 100-yard mark five times. He's scored a rushing touchdown in every game to help Wisconsin reach 6-0.
Also notably, Taylor has added a pass-catching element to his game. He entered 2019 with 16 career receptions for 155 yards and zero touchdowns; he already has 15 for 136 and four scores.
Taylor is set to become only the 25th player in FBS history to rush for 5,000 yards in his career.