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The running backs stood up and starred last year with Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman taking off for over 2,000 yards. The talent is still there this year – especially in the SEC – with the top ten college football running backs of 2015.
1. Nick Chubb, Soph. Georgia
While the world was waiting for Todd Gurley to be healthy, and come off suspension, and then get hurt for the year, and then leave early, Chubb was busy coming up with all-star production turning into a next-level back on his own. The 5-10, 220-pound bowling ball stepped in as a true freshman and was every bit as productive – at least as a rusher – as Mr. Gurley would’ve been if he had stayed in one piece, tearing off 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns averaging 7.1 yards per pop. With a tough running style through the interior, and with enough speed to hit the home run, Chubb was dynamic whenever he had the ball in his hands. When the team needed him the most, he ripped off eight straight 100-yard rushing days to close out the season, finishing off with a phenomenal 33-carry, 266-yard, two score day against Louisville in the bowl win. He has the hands to be used more as a receiver, and he has the build to be a workhorse who carries the mail 30 times or more when he has to. He’ll be part of a rotation to stay fresh, but the ability and talent are there to be in the Heisman hunt if he can build off his outstanding debut.
2. Leonard Fournette, Soph. LSU
The No. 1 recruit in the nation, LSU was able to keep him home, and found the new star of its ground game. It took a little while before he became the lead dog, but he finished with a team-high 1,034 yards and ten scores, coming up with five 100-yard games closing out with 146 against Texas A&M and 143 on just 11 carries against Notre Dame. All the NFL tools are there right out of high school with 6-1, 230-pound size, power, and enough speed to hit the home run when he gets into the open. Always going forward and always getting positive yards, he’s both a downhill runner and a slasher – he can do it all. He might not have elite quickness or feet, but he makes up for it with good vision and cutback ability. Best of all, he has the attitude of a franchise back. This is the year he’ll show it.
– 2015 LSU Preview
3. James Conner, Jr. Pitt
Conner is coming off a season for the ages at Pitt. And to think that he’s just two years removed from high school. The Panthers’ battering ram out of the backfield smashed Tony Dorsett’s single-season school rushing and scoring records, en route to being named the ACC Player of the Year. Conner was remarkably consistent, despite his offense’s lack of diversity, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns on 298 carries. At 6-2 and 250 pounds, with excellent leg drive, he requires more than one tackler to drag him down, and he relishes opportunities to barrel over or stiff-arm opposing defenders.
– 2015 Pitt Preview
4. Ezekiel Elliott, Jr. Ohio State
Somehow he escaped Missouri and turned into a Buckeye legend. At 6-0 and 225 pounds, he has good size and brings decent power, but his game is about speed. A Missouri high school champion sprinter, he showed off his wheels throughout last year averaging 11 yards per pop against Wisconsin and 11.5 yards a crack against Alabama to finish with 1,878 yards and 18 scores – and a national title. While he’s banged up a bit, suffering a wrist injury and needing surgery, he plays hurt and showed the toughness to be a workhorse with 20 carries or more in seven of the final 12 games. He won’t have to carry the entire workload by himself, but he can, coming through with an epic three-game run with 220 yards and two scores against Wisconsin, 230 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama, and 246 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon. He’ll be expected to do that every week, but he’ll likely be saved to produce when the team needs him the most.
– 2015 Ohio State Preview
5. Samaje Perine, Soph. Oklahoma
Perine was a nice recruit for the program, but he was hardly any sort of jaw-dropping, program-changing get who was going to make anyone forget about Adrian Peterson. But suspensions and injuries helped put him into the No. 1 role as a true freshman, and he showed just how fantastic he could be once he got his chance. At 5-11 and 237 pounds, he’s a very big, very tough workhorse back with great quickness, balance and vision, rolling for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns averaging 6.5 yards per pop. He can catch the ball a little bit, making 15 grabs, but he was at his best when he got into a lather with the ground attack, blowing up on West Virginia for 242 yards and four scores on 34 carries in the win, and going on a 100-yard roll over the second half of the season, hitting the mark five times in the final six games highlighted by his NCAA record-setting day against Kansas with 427 yards and five touchdowns. Don’t expect the same sort of numbers with several other good backs in the rotation, along with a change in offensive styles, but he’s still going to be special whenever he gets the chance.
– 2015 Oklahoma Preview
6. Donnel Pumphrey, Jr. San Diego State
If it’s possible to be a glamour position player in a grinding rushing attack, the star of a Rocky Long offense is it. Pumphrey doesn’t really fit the type of a grinding back, though, at just 5-9 and 170 pounds, but he was able to handle the workload with 300 touches on the year with 1,873 yards and 20 touchdowns to go along with 160 receiving yards. Extremely quick, he’s able to slide through the holes and avoid taking the big shots, and he proved to be durable with 20 carries or more in ten of the last 11 games. On the season he managed 267 yards and three scores against San Jose State, and 246 yards and two touchdowns against New Mexico to make up for a poor passing day from the offense. Slippery around the goal line, he ran for four scores against UNLV and came up with two or more scores six times. A blazer, the former Gatorade Nevada Player of the Year was also a special sprinter with state champion-level wheels in the 100 and 200 – he’s devastating in the clear.
– 2015 San Diego State Preview
7. Paul Perkins, Jr. UCLA
When the 2014 season began, UCLA was pining for a consistent running threat to take some of the heat off QB Brett Hundley. Perkins answered the call in a big way, rushing for a Pac-12-leading 1,575 yards and nine touchdowns on 251 carries. He also caught 26 passes for 201 yards and two more scores, displaying the soft hands that’ll benefit this year’s new starter under center. The 5-11, 198-pound Perkins became the first Bruin in 13 years to lead the league in rushing, taking care of business in a focused, workmanlike fashion.
– 2015 UCLA Preview
8. Corey Clement, Jr. Wisconsin
He waited his turn, just like Melvin Gordon did behind Montee Ball, and almost all other top Badger backs have had to do over the years, but he has the talent to take the running game over by himself. He showed what he could do as a freshman running for 547 yards and seven touchdowns, and last year ran for 949 yards and nine scores, and caught 14 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the rotation. Mostly used in garbage time, he ripped off 100 yards three times including 105 on just 15 carries in the bowl win over Auburn getting the start. At 5-11 and 217 pounds he has the right size and breakaway speed – he’s built for the job.
– 2015 Wisconsin Preview
9. Devontae Booker, Sr. Utah
Booker’s decision to forego the NFL Draft generated a sigh of relief out of Salt Lake City. He’s the Utes most important athlete, a game-changing playmaker who runs as if he’s channeling his inner Tiki Barber. Booker is decisive between the tackles, always churning for additional yards and deft as a receiver out of the backfield. The 5-11, 212-pound workhorse was named First Team All-Pac-12 for rushing for 1,512 yards and 10 scores on 292 carries, while catching 43 balls for 306 yards and two more scores.
– 2015 Utah Preview
10. Kareem Hunt, Jr. Toledo
The expectations were high after running for 2,685 yards and 44 touchdowns as a high school senior, and he started out his career well with 866 yards and six touchdowns. And then the 5-11 215-pounder found his groove last year, ripping off 1,631 yards and 16 scores, averaging close to eight yards per carry, despite missing three games banged up. Not only did he run for over 100 yards in every game, but he saved his best for last running for 271 yards and five touchdowns on 32 carries in the bowl win over Arkansas State. Built well, he has good size, great balance, and the ability to handle the ball 30 times a game if needed. Now he has to hold up, getting hurt in each of his first two seasons – he’ll be part of a rotation, but it’ll be too tempting not to keep feeding him the ball.
– 2015 Toledo Preview