football Edit

Which program is Running Back U?

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

Now that we’ve determined that Florida State is Quarterback U, at least since 2010, based on college and NFL success, it’s time to turn our attention to Running Back U.

In my column this past spring I awarded Georgia that designation, but it was more of an educated guess rather than a well-researched opinion. It turns out, despite the success of Todd Gurley and now Nick Chubb, that the Dawgs weren’t even close, which I found shocking.

The Criteria: Starting in 2010, we looked at how many first- and second-round NFL Draft picks a college produced, how many running backs from a school rushed for more than 1,700 yards in a college season, how many running backs from a school had more than 1,200 yards rushing in an NFL season and threw in intangibles like Heisman Voting, NFL MVP winners, All-Pro selections, Pro Bowls and pure subjective opinion.

RELATED: Florida State: QB U


Derrick Henry (Getty Images)

The Crimson Tide are the clear top choice at running back, with Derrick Henry, Eddie Lacy, Trent Richardson and T.J. Yeldon all making their mark at the college and/or NFL level since 2010. And this doesn’t even include Mark Ingram winning the Heisman in 2009 but it, of course, does include his first-round draft status in 2011.

Focusing on Henry, Lacy, Richardson and Yeldon, though, Henry won the 2015 Heisman Trophy after leading the nation in rushing yards, which helped him get drafted in the second round this spring. Richardson finished third in the 2011 Heisman voting and was picked third overall in the 2012 Draft, but he has flamed out quickly in the NFL. Lacy has had the most NFL success of the group so far. After being drafted in the second round in 2013 he was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year with Green Bay. Finally, Yeldon, who was selected in the second round in 2015 by Jacksonville, showed flashes of potential for the Jaguars during his rookie season.

Damien Harris looks to be the next in line to keep this train rolling. The college success of Henry, Richardson, Lacy and Yeldon outweighs some other programs who have had better balance between college and the NFL, but not the depth of four big-time backs in such a span.


LaMichael James (Getty Images)

While most people think of Oregon’s passing attack when images of their high octane offense come to mind, the Ducks have churned out a number of productive running backs since 2010. Royce Freeman, Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James have all utilized their athleticism to thrive in the Ducks’ open offense. This was especially true for James, who was in the top 10 of Heisman voting twice after finishing first and second in the country in rushing yards in 2010 and 2011.

Once James left, Barner also finished in the top 10 for the Heisman after finishing sixth in the country in rushing. Now it is Freeman’s turn, who finished fourth in the country in rushing last season and is primed for a huge season in 2016. Oregon had a 1,700-plus yard rusher in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015. That’s pretty amazing. Like Alabama, NFL success didn’t need to factor in much here, but Freeman could have another monster season to keep them up near the top.


Melvin Gordon (Getty Images)

The polar opposite of Oregon’s high octane offense is Wisconsin’s hard-nosed rushing attack, which not surprisingly has been very effective in producing high-level running backs. Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball both dominated college football, and while their NFL success is still a work in progress, their accomplishments in Madison can’t be denied.

Gordon finished second in the Heisman voting in 2014 after being the second leading rusher in the country. This led to his first-round selection in the 2015 Draft. He followed Ball, who led the nation in rushing yards in 2011 and was third in 2012 en route to a second-round selection. Corey Clement has yet to reach those levels in Madison for the current Badgers, but expectations are high for him in 2016.


Adrian Peterson (Getty Images)

While Adrian Peterson’s accomplishments in the NFL almost single-handedly put the Sooners on this list, the play of DeMarco Murray for one season at least in the NFL and now Samaje Perine in Norman helped solidify their standing. Throw in former five-star Joe Mixon and you could see OU moving up soon.

Peterson has long been thought of as the top running back in the NFL and has backed that up by rushing for over 1,200 yards four times in his last five seasons, including 2,097 yards in his 2012 MVP year. Murray had a huge 2014 season in Dallas, but failed to duplicate that after a move to Philadelphia last season. Perine rushed for over 1,700 yards in 2014, which was eighth best in the nation.

Oklahoma has the best combination of college and pro stars in the top four, but just not as many huge seasons as the others in college.


Marshawn Lynch (Getty Images)

This one may come as somewhat of a surprise, but with Marshawn Lynch dominating the NFL in recent years and Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen also making their mark in the league, the Golden Bears comfortably made this list. Lynch rushed for over 1,200 yards four times since 2010 while helping Seattle to two Super Bowls. The surprising emergence of Forsett in Baltimore, which included finishing fifth in the league in rushing in 2014, was a nice feather in the cap for the Golden Bears.

Best and Vereen were drafted in the first and second round in 2010 and 2011. Best struggled with numerous injuries and has since retired, while Vereen originally made his mark in New England and is now doing the same with the New York Giants. You don’t think of Cal immediately when it comes to RBU, but perhaps you should.


Ezekiel Elliott (Getty Images)

Just missing out on the top five are Stanford, Ohio State, LSU and Boise State.

A great deal of Stanford’s recent success on the field has been due to their powerful offensive line and running game. So just as with Wisconsin, it should not come as a surprise that players like Tyler Gaffney, Owen Marecic and now Christian McCaffrey have experienced a great deal of success in Palo Alto. Also worth mentioning is that Toby Gerhart finished second in the Heisman voting in 2009. That doesn’t factor in here, but his second round NFL Draft selection in 2010 does.

For Ohio State, a majority of their running back success has recently come from Ezekiel Elliott, but don’t forget about Carlos Hyde, who was drafted in the second round in 2014.

LSU is now all about Leonard Fournette, and rightfully so, but with Jeremy Hill and Stevan Ridley also making their mark in the NFL, the Tigers have proven themselves as a consistent producer of top-level running back talent.

Finally, Boise State’s inclusion may come as a surprise, but Doug Martin’s success first with the Broncos and then in Tampa Bay, followed by the collegiate success of Jay Ajayi, makes them a worthwhile addition.

As for Georgia, Gurley was a first-rounder but fell short of the 1,200 yard mark during his impressive rookie season mainly due to early injury. And Chubb had one 1,700-yard season before that awful injury last year. However, with all the talent flocking to Athens at running back and with Gurley (not to mention sleeper Keith Marshall) in the NFL and Chubb as well as Sony Michel all expected to be there soon, perhaps Georgia will jump near the top soon.