State of College Football: Running Back Position

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State of College Football- Running Back Position

You don’t know what you got, ’til it’s gone–a song made famous by Cinderella. The sentiment expressed applies to the college football running back position. In recent years we have been blessed to see the likes of D’Andre Swift at Georgia, Jonathan Taylor at Wisconsin, Travis Etienne at Clemson, and Najee Harris at Alabama. When we look at the 2022 NFL Draft, we feel a void of top-tier running back talent. I would be surprised if we had a back selected in the 1st round this year. It’s not all doom and gloom. The 2023 NFL draft class appears deep on talent. Be a glass is half-full type of person and think that we get to see these backs in college for a couple more seasons rather than see them rush off to the NFL.

TIER ONE:

1) Bijan Robinson- Texas Longhorns

2) Breece Hall- Virginia Cavaliers

3) Treveyon Henderson- Ohio State Buckeyes

In my mind, Bijan Robinson is as close as you can come to having your own tier. Robinson is one of the most electric backs that we have seen recently. Robinson appears to be a dynamic pass-catcher out of the backfield as well. You can make an argument that Breece Hall is the best pure runner in college football. Hall has the talent, the experience, and the production that checks all the boxes for NFL personnel. If a back can sneak into the 1st round of the 2022 NFL Draft, it’s Breece Hall. I have seen enough of Treveyon Henderson. Even in a small sample size, Henderson belongs among the more elite runners in college football. Do you know how hard it is to jump to the front of the line in the Buckeye running back pecking order as a true freshman? Henderson will electrify college football fans for years to come.

TIER TWO:

4) Tank Bigsby- Auburn Tigers

5) Isaiah Spiller- Texas A&M Aggies

6) Jahmyr Gibbs- Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

7) Zach Evans- TCU Horned Frogs

8) Kyren Williams- Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Tank Bigsby‘s name is an apt comparison for his style of play. Bigsby is a terrific runner who punishes would-be defenders. I expected a better 2021 from Isaiah Spiller than what we have seen so far. There is still time to recover, but Spiller needs to show the playmaking ability from 2020 to avoid slipping further in the runningback rankings. Jahmyr Gibbs is a blur in the open field. Gibbs accelerates as well as any back in the country. Some may be surprised to see Zach Evans so high on this list, but I am a big fan. Evans has the complete package and has shown it on the field in 2021. Kyren Williams is an acquired taste. Some will question Williams’ running ability. Some fall in love with his ability to affect the game as a natural receiver out of the backfield. With the direction the NFL game is going, Kyren Williams would be an asset as a pass-catcher.

TIER THREE:

9) Eric Gray- Oklahoma Sooners

10) Jerrion Ealy- Ole Miss Rebels

11) Brian Robinson Jr.- Alabama Crimson Tide

12) Zach Charbonnet- UCLA Bruins

13) Tyler Goodson- Iowa Hawkeyes

14) Sincere McCormick- Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners

15) Mohamed Ibrahim- Minnesota Golden Gophers

16) Kevin Harris- South Carolina Gamecocks

17) Leddie Brown- West Virginia Mountaineers

18) Jase McClellan- Alabama Crimson Tide

Eric Gray is high on this list based upon potential, which is a scary proposition. Gray is maddening at times. There is no questioning his talent, but he has yet to put it all together on the college gridiron. Two Alabama running backs appear in this tier: Brian Robinson Jr. and Jase McClellan. Robinson Jr. has been the most effective Alabama runner so far in 2021 and deserves top billing. When Robinson graduates, it would not surprise me to see McClellan take off like a rocket ship in 2022. Zach Charbonnet has been a revelation this season. Charbonnet has performed well, week in and week out–elevating his draft stock as much as any player at the running back position. Tyler Goodson is shiftier than he is fast. Great footwork from Iowa back. Goodson has established himself as the top offensive weapon for the Hawkeyes. The injury to Mohamed Ibrahim was such a shame. Ibrahim was the leader of the Minnesota charge against Ohio State on opening night. To provide additional context, if Ibrahim completed this season without the injury, he would have made a case for Top-5 status–that’s how talented he is. 

TIER FOUR:

19) Kevin Marks Jr.- Buffalo Bulls

20) D’Vonte Price- Florida International

21) Max Borghi- Washington State Cougars

22) Kennedy Brooks- Oklahoma Sooners

23) Jarek Broussard- Colorado Buffalos

24) CJ Verdell- Oregon Ducks

25) Ty Chandler- North Carolina Tar Heels

26) Kenneth Walker III- Michigan State Spartans

27) Deuce Vaughn- Kansas State Wildcats

28) Frank Gore Jr.- Southern Miss Golden Eagles

29) Noah Cain- Penn State Nittany Lions

30) Chris Rodriguez Jr.- Kentucky Wildcats

31) Zamir White- Georgia Bulldogs

32) Ronnie Rivers- Fresno State Bulldogs

33) Tyler Allgeier- BYU Cougars

34) Austin Jones- Stanford Cardinal

35) Terion Stewart- Bowling Green Falcons

36) Ulysses Bentley IV- SMU Mustangs

37) Rachaad White- Arizona State Sun Devils

38) De’Montre Tuggle- Ohio Bobcats

39) Camerun Peoples- Appalachian State

40) Xazavian Valladay- Wyoming Cowboys

D’Vonte Price has broken onto the scene at Florida International. Price is a name to watch as we move along in the season. If you are looking for a pure pass-catcher out of the backfield, it will be hard to find a better prospect than Max Borghi. Borghi received some ‘Christian McCaffrey’ comparisons earlier in his career for his knack of catching the football smoothly. Ty Chandler and Kenneth Walker III are two names to file away. Chandler transferred from Tennessee and has filled the void in North Carolina left by Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. Kenneth Walker III was off the radar and has taken the Spartans backfield by storm, making a name for himself in the process.

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I like beer. I like football. Sometimes, both at the same time.

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