It’s time to ramp up the preview for the 2022 college football season as Week 0 is just over a month away.
The 2022 PFF College Football Preview Guide has just dropped and in conjunction with that is an expansion of PFF’s preseason positional rankings that will be rolled out over the next couple of weeks.
Below are PFF’s picks for the top-25 running backs entering the 2022 college football season along with some superlatives at the end, including the biggest projections and sleepers.
(Note: This has nothing to do with pro potential.)
The Top Dog
Vaughn is a 5-foot-6 jitterbug who is one of the best ball carriers and receiving backs in the country. His 91.1 overall PFF grade in 2021 was a top-three mark at the position in college football. Between his work as a runner and a receiver, Vaughn was responsible for 59 plays that resulted in a gain of 10 or more yards — the most among Power Five running backs. His 93.4 rushing grade for the season ranked second at the position while his 78.8 receiving grade finished in the top 10. Additionally, he was the most valuable running back in the country for 2021, according to PFF's wins above average (WAA) metric. Vaughn is arguably the best returning player in the Big 12 this fall.
Ward’s feet and shiftiness play a big part in him being a breakaway threat. The former walk-on didn’t have enough attempts to qualify, but his 2.24 rushing yards over expectation in 2021 would have beat out every running back in the country. The 5-foot-10, 192-pounder’s 25.3% explosive run rate would have also ranked No. 1. He has established himself as a top receiving option in the passing game, too — his 71.7 receiving grade in 2021 ranked third among ACC running backs. With former Seminoles running back Jashaun Corbin now in the NFL, Ward will look to turn those flashes into consistent production as Florida State’s lead back in 2022.
Miller previously served second-fiddle to five-star Zach Evans in TCU's backfield but is now taking over the lead spot due to Evans transferring to Ole Miss. Miller's flashes from his time on the field last year make him a promising candidate to break out in 2022. In 2021, he averaged 5.06 yards after contact per attempt and 2.68 rushing yards over expected — both of which would have been the best in the Power Five had he played enough to qualify.
It’s hard to tell just how much run Williams will get in 2022 with Treveyon Henderson leading the backfield, but even in a No. 2 job, he’s one of the top backs in the country. On 81 career attempts, Williams has totaled 19 explosive runs, 40 broken tackles and 4.64 yard after contact per attempt. The 5-foot-8, 225-pound running back will take advantage of every opportunity he gets.
McBride is indisputably the best returning running back at the Group of Five level. Since arriving in Birmingham in 2020, he ranks third in the entire FBS in rushing grade (94.0), first in broken tackles per attempt (0.39) and first in yards after contact per attempt (5.2).
Brown is the Illini’s most important player, and it’s not particularly close. He is also Illinois’ most valuable returning player overall in 2022. Brown showed some boom-or-bust tendencies in 2021, producing multiple elite-graded games (90.0-plus grades) mixed in with a few poor marks below 60.0. Consistency will be key for Brown in 2022, but Illinois' offensive line also needs to do its part. Even still, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound back averaged 5.7 yards on non- perfectly blocked run plays last year — a top-five mark in the FBS.
Brooks is coming off a career-high 89.0 rushing grade in 2021, when he averaged 3.3 yards after contact per attempt and broke 33 tackles from 116 carries. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound back isn't a breakaway threat, but he is reliable (zero fumbles on 380 carries) and will fill the void left by Tyler Allgeier behind a standout BYU offensive line.