As the 2015-16 college football season draws near CPGM offers a list of the top returning running backs in the NCAA broken down by tiers. Tier 1 is littered with must see T.V. ball-carriers, Heisman hopefuls, and future stars on Sundays.
Ezekiel Elliott – Ohio State/ Junior: In hindsight, with Carlos Hyde being taken in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, it seems almost silly that Ohio State was in a quandary in regards to the starting tail back position headed into last season. Standing at 6’0 feet tall, and weighing in at 225 pounds, Ezekiel Elliott arguably possesses the best blend of size, power, and speed as a running back in the entire nation. The former high school track star ran for 1,878 yards and scored 18 touchdowns during his sophomore campaign with the Buckeyes. He was virtually unstoppable through the last three games of the season/CFP (compiled 696 rushing yards, 5 td’s, 9.76 ypc). Due to his late season heroics, and coming fresh off of a national title, there is no other player in the country entering the 2015 season with more momentum than “Zeke”. With Urban Meyer manning the helm for another year, and the nucleus of the offense still intact, all of the Heisman talk is fully warranted in Columbus.
*Nick Chubb – Georgia/ Sophomore: If it wasn’t for the meteoric rise of Ezekiel Elliott on the Buckeyes magical championship run, the 5 foot 10, 228 pound “boulder-back” would be occupying the top spot on this list. Nick Chubb’s 1,547 rushing yard ranks only second to Herschel Walker’s freshman rushing record at the University of Georgia (1,616 yards). What’s even more impressive is that he only compiled 224 of those yards through the first five games of the season playing second fiddle behind All-American, top ten draft pick Todd Gurley. A four game suspension, and an ensuing knee injury allowed Nick Chubb his opportunity throughout the final eight games and he didn’t look back. Imagine how much more productive he could be as the unquestioned starting RB, with another year of experience, and a full slate of football games to play. Pretty scary thought if you ask me.
Hunter Long, Chubb’s teammate at UGA tweeted the following:
Me “why don’t you ever tweet or Instagram?” Chubb “You ever seen a Lamborghini commercial. don’t gotta advertise.” 😂😂 @NickChubb21
— Hunter Long (@hlong73) June 7, 2015
Derrick Henry – Alabama/ Junior: 6 foot 3, 242 pounds…. You’re thinking prototype middle linebacker, right? Well you’re wrong! In most instances you would probably be correct, but in this instance, we’re talking about a running back, Derrick Henry. He ranks this high on this list based off of flashes of greatness, and potential alone. He broke and now holds the all-time national high school rushing yards record with 12,124 yards (record stood for 59 years). With T.J. Teldon moving on to the NFL, there is no one left on the roster that should impede Derrick Henry from receiving the vast majority of the workload out of the back field. With the quarterback position unsettled Alabama will lean heavily on the run game. This is the perfect opportunity for Henry to seize the moment, and capitalize on the situation and the season that he’s about to embark into.
*Samaje Perine – Oklahoma/ Sophomore: I nick-named Samaje Perine “The Juggernaut” for more than just the symbolic crimson clad uniform and helmet that he’s adorned in on game day. What we have here is a big-bodied, powerfully built ball-carrier blessed with speed and agility; And just like the Juggernaut, once he starts moving forward, he becomes an unstoppable force. While watching film on Samaje Perine, the player who immediately came to my mind was Michael “The Burner” Turner. Like Michael Turner, Perine is a stout, compactly built back with a very strong lower body (5’11, 237 lbs) who will straight out flatten would-be-tacklers. He runs with a low center of gravity, possesses superior leg drive, has the best balance in the country, and has the speed to take it the distance. His physical superiority enabled Perine to run for an impressive 1,713 and 21 touchdowns as a true freshman. Oh yeah… and by the way, he only broke the FBS single game rushing record with a 427 yards pummeling of Kansas.
*Leonard Fournette – LSU/ Sophomore: Some have said that Leonard Fournette was the best high school football player that they had evaluated in a decade, and with players as highly lauded as Derrick Henry was upon his graduation from high school on this list, that’s really saying something regarding Fournette’s young legacy. With that being said, it is fair to say that the expectations that were placed on him for his inagural season at LSU were virtually impossible to meet. Standing 6 foot 2 inches tall, and weighing in at 230 pounds, the Louisiana native started to blossom during the second half of his freshman expedition. His blend of size, vision, athleticism, speed, and power (yes, he has it all) really started to shine through, and reminded everyone why he was held in such high regard in the first place. Running between the tackles, running towards the edges, catching the football out of the back field, or even up the seams… Fournette can do it all. He eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark in 5 out of his last 9 games, and finished the season as the Tigers’ leading rusher with 1,034 yards, 5.5 ypc, and 10 touchdowns. Expect Fournette’s production to take a leap into the upper echelon of running backs this season.