College News & Analysis

Five best college football running backs in the transfer portal

Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores running back Ray Davis (2) gets away from a tackle attempt by Florida Gators linebacker Ventrell Miller (51) during the first half at FirstBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt’s Ray Davis: The senior is the top running back in the portal after producing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the nation.

Ball State’s Carson Steele: The sophomore led the nation this season with 1,161 yards after contact, which should make his next school ecstatic about his future.

Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins

With more than 1,000 college football players in the transfer portal, it can be difficult to parse through all the talent. But PFF's advanced stats for 354 teams ranging from the FBS to Division III aim to do exactly that.

After going over our top 25 players in the transfer portal as well as our All-Transfer Portal team, here are the five best running backs searching for new homes.


1. Ray Davis (Vanderbilt Commodores)

Transfer Destination: Undecided

Vanderbilt’s offensive line earned the worst run-blocking grade in the Power Five (44.4) this season. Even with that unit doing him no favors, Ray Davis still produced.

The senior ranked fourth in the SEC this season with 1,044 rushing yards. Impressivel, 737 of those yards came after contact, the third most in the conference.

2. Carson Steele (Ball State Cardinals)

Transfer Destination: Undecided

Steele led the country with 1,161 rushing yards after contact this season. His 94 forced missed tackles trailed only Texas’ Bijan Robinson, this year’s Doak Walker Award winner and a first-round prospect on PFF’s 2023 NFL Draft big board.

Steele's 88.8 grade tied for the third-best mark in the Group of Five among running backs and ranked 12th overall in the nation. And he did it all as just a true sophomore.

3. MarShawn Lloyd (South Carolina Gamecocks)

Transfer Destination: Undecided

Like Ray Davis, MarShawn Lloyd’s offensive line didn’t create many holes for him to run through. The Gamecocks finished with just a 50.8 run-blocking this season, which ranked eighth worst in the Power Five.

Because of that porous front five, 78.8% of Lloyd’s yards came after contact, which was the third most in the country. The redshirt sophomore also forced a missed tackle on 35% of his attempts, the eighth-best rate in the Power Five.

The former top-50 recruit should look to land with a school that will do him more favors up front, enabling him to truly shine. 

4. Dillon Johnson (Mississippi State Bulldogs)

Transfer Destination: Undecided

It’s hard for a running back to stand out in Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense, which is likely why Johnson is transferring. The Bulldogs ran the ball on only 31.4% of their plays this year, the lowest rate in the country by six percentage points.

Despite the lack of opportunities on the ground, Johnson still made an impact by being one of the best receiving backs in the nation. The junior’s 399 yards after the catch ranked third among FBS running backs, and his 78.9 receiving grade placed fourth. 

5. Blake Watson (Old Dominion Monarchs)

Transfer Destination: Undecided

We sound like a broken record, but Blake Watson was another running back who had to fight for every yard he gained in 2022. 

The redshirt junior ranked top five in the country in both forced missed tackles per attempt (0.38) and yards after contact per attempt (4.6). A total of 78.9% of his rushing yards came after contact this year, the second-highest rate in college football. Not to mention, Watson recorded a 78.3 receiving grade this year, the fifth-best mark for FBS running backs.

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