Top Returning Big Ten Running Backs For 2017


The top returning Big Ten running backs for 2017 feature both star power and an abundance of depth.


Big Ten backfields are going to be loaded in 2017, so opposing run defenses better brace for the onslaught of churning legs and sudden shifts into daylight. Of the nine 1,000-yard rushers that the conference produced last year, six are back to gobble up more real estate. While Penn State’s Saquon Barkley begins the season in the pole position, there can be no letup to remain there. The list of runners hoping to crack the top 5 include Michigan State’s LJ Scott, Maryland’s Ty Johnson and Michigan’s Chris Evans.

Top Returning Big Ten Running Backs

5. Rodney Smith, Minnesota

Smith is the prototypical Golden Gopher back, a workhorse who trades flash for production. As a sophomore, he toted the ball 240 times for 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns, second most in the Big Ten. Smith has just enough wiggle to make people miss, and his ability to spin out of trouble results in yards after contact. First-year coach P.J. Fleck is inheriting two feature-caliber backs in Minneapolis, because Shannon Brooks has also proven himself over the last two seasons.

4. Akrum Wadley, Iowa

Wadley is the kind of back who drives defenders crazy, because he’s so hard to hit cleanly. The senior, who contemplated leaving school early, is a whirling dervish with the ball, spinning and juking his way out of trouble. Wadley averaged 6.4 yards a carry, joining teammate LeShun Daniels as 1,000-yard rushers, and finished second on the Hawkeyes with 36 receptions. Now that Daniels and QB C.J. Beathard are out of eligibility, Wadley is poised to become the undisputed offensive focal point in 2017.

3. Mike Weber, Ohio State

The Buckeyes needed a successor to Ezekiel Elliott in 2016, and Weber stepped up in his first season of action. He rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging six yards a pop, to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Weber motors with excellent balance and determination, and his low center of gravity and thick legs boost his yards after contact. If Ohio State elects to increase his load this fall, the sophomore will be up to the challenge.

2. Justin Jackson, Northwestern

What will it take for Jackson to earn more attention outside of the Big Ten? He’s been ultra-consistent in Evanston, rushing for at least 1,100 yards in each of his three seasons, including a league-high 1,524 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2016. Jackson gets the most out of his ability, and he’s unafraid to take on bigger defenders. He rushed for 397 yards and six scores in last year’s final two contests, which is going to serve as a proper catapult into 2017.

1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Barkley used his sophomore season to showcase why he’s the league’s premier running back, earning Offensive Player of the Year. In 2017, he turns his attention to conquering broader landscapes. Barkley possesses as much all-around talent as any back in the country, rushing for 1,496 yards and scoring 22 total touchdowns a year ago. His Rose Bowl performance versus USC, 306 all-purpose yards and three scores, may wind up being a precursor of things to come this fall.

MORE: Top Returning Running Backs In College Football For 2017