My first foray into this years College prospects sees me covering the top 10 Running Backs. Those that you need to be keeping your eyes on throughout this College football season.
Todays Backs come straight out of college and having instant impact at the next level. Gone are the days where rookies would sit and soak up stuff from the pros. They are expected to step straight in immediately. For those drafted in the first couple of rounds they are often expected to take on the RB1 position and produce immediately.
Recent success stories have come in the forms of Saquon Barkley, Nick Chubb, Jonathan Taylor and J.K. Dobbins. With a shorter shelf life than most other positions Running Backs need to make their mark early. At a position where it is accepted, even by the pros, that you won’t make “generational wealth” as you can at other positions an instant impact equals that big second contract.
Alex has already covered the Cornerbacks here and I’d urge you to go give that article a read!
1. Breece Hall (6’1 – 215lbs) – Iowa State Cyclones – Junior
There must have been some considerable thought given to entering the Draft last year by Breece Hall. A season where he ran for 1,562 yards on 280 carries makes people take notice. 5.6 yards per carry whilst adding 8.2 yards per reception for 23 total touchdowns makes people take notice. That Hall did this as a Sophomore is impressive but not totally unexpected after his Freshman year.
With much the same O-line and a year more experience there is no reason to think this can’t be repeated. Hall was a wrecking ball last year. Coming in at 6’1 and 215lbs he has the size to play the three down role. What we need to see this year is further evidence of passing game ability. 22 receptions last year is good college production but we need this and more again. It is also worth noting that at this time he doesn’t have a huge route tree. There will be plenty of teams eager to see what Hall brings this year. He has the skills to be far and away the best back in this class and there is already potential Heisman talk circulating following his 6th place finish last year.
Hall runs angry, he hits a hole hard and more often than not makes it out the other side. Hall went off between weeks 2-8 last year. 7 games, no fewer than 133 rushing yards a game and 14 touchdowns in those games. David Montgomery was the last Cyclone Running Back to enter the league of any note, Hall has the talent to blow past him production wise at the next level.
2. Isaiah Spiller (6’1 – 225lbs)- Texas A&M Aggies – Junior
The reason Spiller is at 2 in this list is and not 1b is the new faces on his O-line. He has a Freshman Right Guard and a Transfer Left Tackle to meet. 2 years into his college career, Spiller looks the part of a 3 down NFL back. He has the size to run between the tackles as well as the speed to get to the edge. His size means that he rarely gets stopped on first contact, he put up an average of over 3 yards after contact last year.
He has fairly decent hands, 20 receptions last year for over 9 yards per reception indicate he can be useful if not prolific. Spiller is also in possession of above average pass protection ability, a necessity if he is going to earn that coveted 3 down role. There is every chance that Spiller makes his way to the RB1 prospect by the time the draft comes around. It will be a two horse race between Hall and himself.
Isaiah Spiller has 1,000 yards as the minimum expectation this year. He will be the focal point of the Aggies offense and I wouldn’t be surprised if he eclipses 1,500 yards on the ground alone this year. Teams like Miami will be watching with interest to see whether this Aggies back is the answer to their RB prayers next year come Draft time.
3. Chris Rodriguez Jr (5’11 – 224lbs) – Kentucky Wildcats – Redshirt Junior
Rodriguez really excites me. He states that growing up Marshawn Lynch was his idol and I can see some of that in how he runs. He puts his head down and he runs, hard. With an average of nearly 4 yards after contact we can see it is not often that he is stopped at first contact or in the hole. What will hold Rodriguez back from the RB1 of this class is his lack of receiving ability.
With a grand total of 1 reception of 2 targets last year it is clear that 3rd down work is not on his career horizon. Pass blocking is not a strength but it is not a weakness. Rodriguez offers a team looking for a hammer to use on first two downs a great option. He would have been a 1,000 yard rusher last year had he not missed two games due to Covid issues.
Whilst not a receiving back, this hammer has speed. He ran for a career long 79 yard touchdown last year against South Carolina. Rodriguez would work well as the lead guy i n a committee, much like Josh Jacobs will do this year in Vegas. Rodriguez should be able to show this coming year that he has the skills to warrant early round consideration come draft time. If you enjoy watching a guy put his head down and run through people you could do worse than watch Kentucky games this year.
4. Jerrion Ealy (5’8 – 190lbs) – Ole’Miss – Junior
Jerrion Ealy is the first of the backs in this list to have legitimate high quality hands and puts himself forward as a probably a smaller receiving back first and foremost. He wasn’t hyper targeted last year but came away from the season with an average of over 10 yards per reception. He is undersized for the role of the hammer as played by Rodriguez above. Ironically enough the two would probably make a very useful committee at the next level.
Continuity in front of Ealy is pretty good, the only new guy is Centre Orlando Umana, a Transfer Senior. Athleticism is what marks Ealy aside form the other guys on this list. Last season he averaged over 29 yards per return, taking one over 110 yards to the house against LSU. He offers the Rebels a multitude of ways to use him in the scheme.
It should be noted that he is coming off shoulder surgery however he forwent the 2021 baseball season. This is a sport that he was a one-time first round lock for, to focus on recovery for the coming football season. Ealy should be ready to go for the end of August and he will be a lot of fun to watch. He possesses above average burst, shiftiness and elusiveness and has some of the quickest feet you will see this year. I would also fully expect to see Ealy line up in the slot at times this year, much in the way Lane Kiffin used Reggie Bush all those years ago.
5. Tyler Allgeier (5’11 – 220lbs) – BYU Cougars – Redshirt Sophomore
If Yards per attempt are your thing then you could do far worse than Allgeier. His 7.6 average last year lead all backs who are returning to college this year and who had over 100 carries. He waited his turn during his first two years at BYU, receiving only 26 carries over the two years. Last year however that changed. Alongside newly minted Jets QB Zach Wilson, Allgeier received 149 carries. This never dropped below 12 carries a game after week 8. Allgeier has the size to be a 3-down back although his pass blocking could use some work. The tools are there to bring this up however.
Allgeier started his college career as a Linebacker but his breakout last year showed firmly that a change of position was the best thing for him. 1,130 yards (8th in the nation) later and Allgeier can focus on another huge year to set himself up for the Draft next April. The chance will be there as BYU will be blooding a new QB.
If they decide to lean on Allgeier to lighten the load as said new QB develops, he could see a huge workload. More than 200 carries is definitely in the realms of possibilities for him. If he receives the carries I can see him blowing past 1,500 yards and 12-15 touchdowns. If he can do that then the top 3 rounds are not out of reach for Allgeier by any means.
6. Kennedy Brooks (5’11 – 209lbs) – Oklahoma Sooners – Redshirt Junior
To be able to sit out a year and still rank this highly says much about Brooks, and some about his school. In the last year that he played, 2019, he racked up over 1,000 yards despite not really becoming the featured guy until half way through the season. Had he received the average workload of his last 6 games of 2019 throughout the whole year he would have be on course for 234 attempts, 1,360 yards and 9 touchdowns. This is why people are excited about this guy. His 2018 season was even more impressive. In only 5 games that year did he have double digit carries. He still achieved 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Whilst there are backs who have produced bigger numbers than Brooks, he has achieved his in a stronger Division. Committees have also played a part in holding him back slightly, hopefully he is past these. One thing to note is the arrival in Oklahoma of Eric Gray, a transfer from Tennessee. Gray collected just over 2,000 yards in two seasons there and figures to eat into some of Brooks work.
Brooks has a patient style of run but this produces results. His yards per carry are averaging about 7 for the last two years he played. During the 2019 season 21.9% of his carries went for longer than 10 yards, that’s crazy! He may not possess elite speed but he is elusive. In the real world that is far more important. Break away speed may get you the 80 yard touchdown but being elusive will get you far more first downs. Having DeMarco Murray as his coach will certainly also help!
Brooks is not known for his receiving prowess and I would expect Gray to see much of this work this season. If Brooks can produce as he did in 2018 and 2019 then expect to hear his name called early come April 2022.
7. Bijan Robinson (6’00 – 222lbs) – Texas Longhorns – Sophomore
The second RobI told myself this article was for those likely to come out next year, not for those who have just finished their true freshman season. I also told myself to qualify you needed to have had over 140 carries last year. Bijan Robinson and the end to his first year has made that hard to do. His first 7 games of his college career went well. 351 yards on 68 carries is fine for a Freshman. Then came his last two games… in only 19 carries he racked up 354 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s crazy, especially at the business end of any season.
A 5 star prospect out of Tucson, Arizona, Robinson promised a lot. He wasn’t the 15th overall prospect in the nation without reason. Texas have to be delighted with what they have though. As part of a committee last year Robinson shone, One of those members has left, Keontay Ingram, transferred to USC for his senior season. I can’t help but feel that Robinson’s emergence will have played a part in that. Roschon Johnson remains but I can’t see a role other than back-up for him this year. Bijan Robinson is going to have a huge year.
If we are looking for any issue, there is the small matter of a Freshman Centre this year however the rest of the line is experienced enough to be able to hold up. Robinson’s receiving skills aren’t to be ignored either. He only had 15 receptions last year but these went for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns. There are times when you write reviews like this that some players excite you more than others. Bijan Robinson is a guy I will be watching religiously this year. You heard it here first, this kid is special.
8. Brian Robinson (6’1 – 228lbs) – Alabama Crimson Tide – Senior
This is a tough one as I have a lot of faith in Jase McClellan to impact Alabama’s run game. Robinson has waited for his chance though and is sure to be given the majority of the work, at least early on. Having watched Najee Harris get the lions share of the workload last year Robinson knows this is his chance. If he can put up a season as is expected then a lot of people will take notice. The fact he doesn’t have a tonne of carries to date will possibly even work in his favour for those teams who believe that the less tread on the tires, the better. It didn’t hurt Josh Jacobs when he came into the league at all.
Robinson will need to put the work in though. There is an expectation that the ‘Bama RB1 will get somewhere close to 1,500 yards if all goes to plan. Najee Harris ran for 1,464 this last year and 1,224 the year before. The year before that, 2017 a 3 way committee racked up 2,299. Yards are there if you’re capable of getting them. The job is Robinson’s to lose. He has come back for his fifth year in order to get out of Harris’ shadow. If he doesn’t produce quickly though there are a number of other backs snapping at his heels.
Let’s assume he does though. Robinson is a one cut runner, getting north/south quickly is how he works. He’s a bigger back and will be able to get those all important yards after contact. last year averaging over 4 yards.
He has good feet however what he does lack is top end speed. He possesses average receiving abilities at best and it is for this reason I can see JaseMcClellan eat into Robinson’s work from almost the get go. There is a world where Robinson doesn’t live up to the opportunity however Nick Saban will do all he can to get one of his longest tenured leaders into the NFL. Playing at a big school helps, he will be in the national spotlight weekly. 1,000 yards+ and 8+ touchdowns will see this man drafted.
9. Sincere McCormick (5’9 – 200lbs) – UTSA Roadrunners – Junior
Another smaller back, McCormick didn’t let that stop him last year. Trailing only Breece Hall and Najee Harris in the nation McCormick put up 1, 462 yards last year. 5.8 yards per carry is the sort of figure to make teams take notice. Coming from a smaller school McCormick is going to have to work harder to be noticed. He receives regular looks in the pass game with 19 receptions for 125 yards in 11 games last year.
McCormick showed last year that he can handle the workhorse role. He averaged nearly 23 carries a game last year, up form 16 a game the year before. Having amassed 2,446 yards in only 25 games at UTSA, McCormick is an ascending player who should use this year to firmly place himself in the shop window to NFL teams. If there is a knock on him, his ball security needs work, 4 fumbles in two years won’t endear him to the league at all.
McCormick pulls his weight when it comes to pass blocking. On 114 pass blocking snaps he only allowed 7 QB pressures. If he can refine these skills further then he becomes even more attractive as that 3 down back. In reality, his size is likely to ensure he does not assume a true workhorse role at the next level. That said if he can find a way to add 20lbs without losing any of his burst then who knows. This guy is a sleeper and could well be the next small school back to take the league by storm.
10. Kyren Williams (5’9 – 195lbs) – Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Junior
Coming into the 2021 Kyren Williams has high hopes. Notre Dame uses it’s running backs a lot and Williams effectively held of 5 star recruit Chris Tyree last year. Between all of those who ran the ball last year there were 475 attempts. Leading the team was Williams who ran for 1,124 yards on 211 carries. Much the same size as McCormick above, Williams is a back who appears to have a lot of the skills needed to be a 3 down back at the next level. To add to his 1,124 yards he caught 35 balls for a further 311 yards. He totalled 14 total touchdowns for the year.
Running behind the line that he did last year made his life easy. Having lost four fifths of that line, Eichenberg, Banks, Kraemer and Hainsy, it remains to be seen whether the rebuilt line is as effective. What Williams did show last year was a shiftiness, and burst that allowed him to hit holes quickly. His vision is great and that will be needed this year as the lanes for him won’t be as obvious at times. Whilst Tyree will not go away and figures to pick up more work, Williams will be the starter. To remain such he will need to work on a couple of things.
Again, much like McCormick above, fumbles were not his friend last year. 5 fumbles is concerning and could easily be what makes a decision should the choice be Williams and another back. The major issue that will restrict Williams from the 3 down role is his poor pass blocking. He will need to work on this if he is to be able to truly establish himself on all 3 downs at the next level.
Should he be able to do this, working in a scheme that features the running back, Williams has a chance to push himself firmly into consideration for the early rounds come April 2022.
- Ulysses Bentley IV – SMU Mustangs
- Mo Ibrahim – Minnesota Golden Gophers
- Camerun Peoples – Appalachian State
- Zamir White – Georgia
- Mataeo Durant – Duke
- Tank Bigsby – Auburn Tigers
For the Future
- Chris Tyree – Notre Dame
- Jase McClellan – Alabama
- Deuce Vaughn – Kansas State
- Jarek Broussard – Colorado
So that’s it, the 10 guys (and others) to watch out for this year. I am sure by week 5 loads more will have put themselves firmly ahead of some of these just to spite me. Until then I stand by this being the ultimate top 10 of who’s who in the college Running Back world.
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