College Football: Top 10 running back units ahead of the 2024 season

2GTXBCG Piscataway, NJ, USA. 2nd Oct, 2021. Ohio State Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson (32) runs for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, NJ. Mike Langish/Cal Sport Media. Credit: csm/Alamy Live News

Ohio State is the easy No. 1: The Buckeyes have two of the top-10 running backs in the country in Quinshon Judkins and TreVeyon Henderson.

UCF places second: The Knights have two of the nation’s 10 leading rushers from last year in RJ Harvey and Peny Boone. 

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Running back is one of the most physically demanding positions in football. The hits they endure every play often caps their career at around 30 years old.

NFL teams, and even colleges, try to limit the wear and tear their tailbacks endure by opting for a committee approach to their backfield instead of relying on one workhorse. With that in mind, here are the top 10 running back units in college football entering the 2024 season.

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Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State is the only school that features two running backs who made the top 10 of my 2024 running back rankings, making it the easy choice to lead this list. Placing second in that ranking is Quinshon Judkins, who transferred in from Ole Miss this offseason. Since 2022, he leads all Power Five running backs in rushing yards (2,726), yards after contact (1,800) and forced missed tackles (154). Those also happened to be his first two years of college football.

TreVeyon Henderson was a surprise returner for his senior year and checked in at No. 6 in that ranking. He earned a 90.0 grade this past season which was seventh among Power Five backs. 

Incoming freshman James Peoples is the cherry on top in that room and was the No. 8 running back recruit in the 2024 class. 

UCF Knights

Outside of Ohio State, UCF has the best running back duo in the sport. It’s the only school with two of the nation’s 10 leading rushers from last season at running back. In fact, no other school even has two in the top 30. 

 It starts with RJ Harvey, who’s my No. 9 running back in the nation heading into next season. He was sixth among FBS backs last year with 1,417 rushing yards and is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball. Harvey’s 17 carries of 20-plus yards were second in the country to only Ollie Gordon II, the Doak Walker Award winner.

The Knights added former Toledo running back Peny Boone from the transfer portal in May. He was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year last season and was eighth in the nation with 1,384 rushing yards. 

UCF also returns Johnny Richardson, who ran for 548 yards last year as its No. 2 running back. The Knights also brought in former Cincinnati tailback Myles Montgomery, whose 90.6 rushing grade in 2023 was fifth among Big 12 backs with at least 65 attempts. Finally, UCF added a four-star running back recruit from the 2024 cycle in Frankie Arthur. 

Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia may have lost its two leading rushers from last year in Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton, but the Bulldogs still have a top-three room in the nation.

They made a major splash in the transfer portal by bringing in Trevor Etienne from its rival, Florida. The younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. tied for fourth among SEC halfbacks in 2023 with a 27% forced missed tackle rate. 

Branson Robinson missed all of 2023 with a ruptured patellar tendon but impressed as a true freshman in 2022 with a 78.1 grade on 118 snaps. He was the No. 2 running back recruit in the 2022 class, so expectations will be high for him in his third season. Roderick Robinson II was a top-10 running back recruit in the 2023 cycle and should contribute more as a sophomore.

Finally, the Bulldogs added three four-star running backs from the class of 2024 in Nathaniel Frazier, Dwight Phillips and Chauncey Bowens. Frazier has the most hype of the three as he was the No. 2 running back recruit and a top-50 player overall.

Penn State Nittany Lions 

For the third year in a row, Penn State’s backfield will be headlined by the duo of Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. Since 2022, Singleton is second among Big Ten tailbacks with 3.7 yards after contact per attempt. In that same span, Allen is second to only Blake Corum with a 92.1 rushing grade. 

The Nittany Lions also added a pair of four-star freshmen to that room in Quinton Martin and Corey Smith. 

Ole Miss Rebels

Even after losing a superstar in Quinshon Judkins to Ohio State, Ole Miss still places in the top five of this list thanks to one of the deeper rooms in the country. 

Ulysses Bently IV will take over as the lead back and was one of the 25 most valuable running backs in the nation last year according to our wins above average metric. That’s despite serving as the No. 2 halfback to Judkins. 

To make up for the loss of Judkins, Lane Kiffin and company added a trio of running backs from the transfer portal. Henry Parrish Jr. was the leading rusher for Miami (FL) last year and led the ACC with 6.3 yards per attempt. Jacory Croskey-Merritt was a stud for New Mexico last year, earning the third-best PFF grade by an FBS tailback (92.7). Former Miami (OH) star Rashad Amos rounds out the room and he was third in the MAC this past season with 1,080 rushing yards. 

Miami (FL) Hurricanes 

Like Ole Miss, Miami (FL) lost its leading rusher to the transfer portal. Unlike the Rebels though, the running back the Hurricanes brought in from the portal was even better than what they had originally.

Oregon State transfer Damien Martinez is one of my top-10 returning halfbacks in college football thanks to his work over his first two seasons. Since 2022, his 1,304 yards after contact are fourth among returning Power Five backs. In that same span, 68 of his carries have gone for 10-plus yards, trailing only Quinshon Judkins among Power Five rushers. 

Behind him, Miami has a rising star in Mark Fletcher Jr.. He forced a missed tackle on 32% of his attempts last year as a true freshman, which was second in the ACC. Ajay Allen is back for his redshirt sophomore campaign after posting an impressive 77.1 grade on 172 snaps last season. The Hurricanes also have a pair of former four-star recruits in Chris Johnson Jr. (2023) and Jordan Lyle (2024). 

Oregon Ducks

The star running back for Oregon over the last couple of seasons was Bucky Irving, who was taken in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While he’s a significant loss, Irving’s two backups are poised to become breakout stars.

Jordan James led the nation last year with a 94.8 rushing grade. He picked up a first down or touchdown on 41.7% of his attempts, which also led the FBS. Noah Whittington missed all but three games last year with a foot injury but ran for 777 yards the year before and was seventh among Pac-12 backs with an 80.3 PFF grade.

Rounding out the room is Jayden Limar and Northwest Missouri State transfer Jay Harris. Limar was one of the top-20 running back recruits in the 2023 class while Harris was seventh among Division II tailbacks with 1,433 rushing yards.

Kansas Jayhawks

Devin Neal has been one of the most productive running backs in the nation over the last couple seasons. Since 2022, the junior’s 2,373 rushing yards trail only Quinshon Judkins and Blake Corum among Power Five rushers. His 25 rushing touchdowns in that span are fourth in that same group to Corum, Judkins and Audric Estime.

The Jayhawks also return their No. 2 running back in Daniel Hishaw Jr., who was one of the nation’s most efficient tackle-breakers in 2023. His 38% forced missed tackle rate was tied for fifth among all halfbacks in the country last year. 

Kansas State Wildcats 

Kansas State has the best running back duo in terms of receiving ability in college football. Among Power Five backs last year, DJ Giddens was fourth in receiving yards (326) while Colorado transfer Dylan Edwards was eighth (299). As just a true freshman last year, Edwards was third in the Power Five with 353 yards after the catch and four receiving touchdowns. 

Giddens is the better pure runner of the two right now, rushing for 1,226 yards a year ago. His 69 forced missed tackles on the ground were tied for 10th among FBS tailbacks as well.

West Virginia Mountaineers

No true freshman had more rushing yards last year than Jahiem White (842). He averaged 7.7 yards per attempt in 2023, which led all FBS running backs as well.

CJ Donaldson Jr. is back for his junior campaign and was fourth among Big 12 halfbacks last season with 11 rushing touchdowns. The only three who tallied more were all among my top-10 returning running backs in the country: Ollie Gordon II, Devin Neal and RJ Harvey.

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