College Football: Top-10 running back units in the country

2NJ51H4 BLOOMINGTON, IN - OCTOBER 08: Michigan RB Blake Corum (2) during a college football game between the Michigan Wolverines and Indiana Hoosiers on October 8, 2022 at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

  • Michigan leads the way: The Wolverines are the easy choice for first since they have the best running back in the country (Blake Corum) and the best No. 2 back in the nation (Donovan Edwards).
  • Ohio State comes in second: The Buckeyes have two top-15 running backs in the country in TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams with a great third option in Dallan Hayden.
  • Penn State rounds out the top three: The Nittany Lions have the best chance to lead this list next year since both Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen are true sophomores.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

While the position is becoming more devalued in the NFL, running backs are still incredibly important in college football. 

Since it’s such a physically demanding position, more programs are opting for a committee approach to their backfields rather than riding a workhorse. Here are the top-10 running back units in college football heading into the 2023 season.

1. Michigan Wolverines

As was the case for our quarterback room rankings, the best running back unit in the country features the best running back in the country. Blake Corum’s 96.2 grade in 2022 didn’t just lead all FBS players, it was the highest by a Power Five player since PFF began charting college football in 2014.

Highest-graded seasons by a Power Five player in PFF College era (since 2014)
Name School Position Season Grade
Blake Corum Michigan RB 2022 96.2
Kyle Pitts Florida TE 2020 96.0
Chase Young Ohio State EDGE 2019 96.0
Quinnen Williams Alabama DI 2018 96.0

The Wolverines also have college football’s best No. 2 back in Donovan Edwards, who’s a top-10 running back in the nation. He led all Power Five backs with 7.1 yards per carry while the sophomore’s 87.0 grade was tied for fifth in that same group. When Corum went down with a knee injury late in the season, Edwards stepped up when it mattered most. Against Ohio State, Purdue in the Big Ten Championship Game and TCU in the College Football Playoff semifinal, he ran for a combined 520 yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. 

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State’s duo trails only Michigan’s as the best in the country. As a true freshman in 2021, TreVeyon Henderson’s 6.8 yards per carry led all Power Five running backs. A broken bone in his foot forced him to miss five games as a sophomore, leading to Miyan Williams taking the reins. Among Power Five running backs this past season, he was fourth in forced missed tackle rate (38%), yards after contact per attempt (4.4) and first down/touchdown rate (38.3%). 

To top it all off, true freshman Dallan Hayden earned an 80.6 grade on 215 snaps in 2022 as well.

3. Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State has the best chance to lead this list next year with two stud sophomores leading the way. As a true freshman, Nicholas Singleton’s 4.6 yards after contact per attempt in 2022 were the second-most in the Power Five. He’s my No. 7 running back in the country heading into this season. Kaytron Allen forced a missed tackle on 28% of his attempts this past season, the fourth-best rate in the Big Ten. 

Minnesota transfer Trey Potts will be the No. 3 back and rushed for a combined 1,029 yards over the past two seasons.

4. Georgia Bulldogs

The first of two schools on this list that lost its leading rusher from a year ago, Georgia still has plenty of enticing alternatives at running back.

Daijun Edwards had 24 carries that went for 10-plus yards in 2022, tied for ninth among SEC running backs. Kendall Milton averaged the fourth-most yards per attempt among Power Five backs with at least 85 carries (6.9 yards). Branson Robinson earned a 78.1 grade on 113 snaps in his true freshman campaign and was the No. 2 running back recruit in the 2022 class. The Bulldogs also bring in a top-10 running back recruit from the 2023 cycle in Roderick Robinson II. 

5. Alabama Crimson Tide

Jahmyr Gibbs was a top-15 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and leaves some massive shoes to fill in Alabama’s backfield. However, the Crimson Tide have a number of options to fill them.

Jase McClellan is the leading candidate after picking up a first down or touchdown on 34.2% of his attempts in 2022, second among SEC running backs. Roydell Williams earned a 78.3 rushing grade as the Crimson Tide’s No. 3 back. Jamarion Miller was fourth on the depth chart last season as a true freshman and was the No. 4 running back recruit in the 2022 class. Alabama also brings in two top-four running back recruits in 2023 between Justice Haynes and Richard Young.

6. Ole Miss Rebels

While Singleton and Allen were stars, neither of them was the best true freshman running back last season. That title belongs to Quinshon Judkins, who’s my No. 2 returning back in college football. The former three-star recruit was a true workhorse for the Rebels, ranking in the top 10 in the FBS in rushing yards, yards after contact and forced missed tackles. Judkins also recorded 91 combined rushing first downs and touchdowns, the fourth most in the country.

Behind him is Ulysses Bentley IV, whose wrist injury limited him to just six games this past season. The year before at SMU, the redshirt senior’s 90.6 rushing grade was 11th among FBS running backs with at least 275 snaps. The Rebels also added Kedrick Reescano to the mix, one of the top-10 running back recruits in the 2023 class.

7. Arkansas Razorbacks

Despite being a bigger back at 237 pounds, Raheim “Rocket” Sanders still had the second-most 20-plus yard carries in the Power Five (16) while having the sixth-most rushing yards (1,466). The rising junior is my No. 3 returning running back in the country.

Arkansas also returns the remainder of its top-four running backs from a year ago in AJ Green, Rashod Dubinion and Dominique Johnson. While not a running back, KJ Jefferson is one of the rushing quarterbacks in college football. The redshirt junior has rushed for 1,221 yards after contact over the past two seasons, the second-most among all quarterbacks in the country. The Razorbacks also bring in a four-star recruit in Isaiah Augustave.

8. Oregon Ducks

Bucky Irving was one of the most electric backs in the country this past season. The sophomore’s 43% forced missed tackle rate was second in the country and was the fifth-best single-season mark in the PFF College era.

The Ducks also return Noah Whittington, who picked up a first down or touchdown on 36.4% of his attempts in 2022 (seventh among Power Five running backs). Oregon also welcomes two four-star recruits in Dante Dowdell and Jayden Limar into the fold.

9. Florida State Seminoles

Earlier, I mentioned how Oregon’s Bucky Irving posted the fifth-best single-season forced missed tackle rate in the PFF College era. Last year, Trey Benson broke the record at a 51% clip. His 79 forced missed tackles ranked third in the Power Five to Bijan Robinson and Chase Brown. Both of those players had over 100 more carries than Benson. He’s currently the top running back prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft according to PFF’s lead draft analyst Trevor Sikkema.

Highest single-season forced missed tackle rate by an FBS RB in PFF College era (Since 2014, min. 100 attempts)
Name School Season Forced Missed Tackle Rate
Trey Benson Florida State 2022 51%
Javonte Williams North Carolina 2020 48%
Travis Etienne Clemson 2019 44%
Jordan Mason Georgia Tech 2019 44%
Bucky Irving Oregon 2022 43%

The Seminoles also return Lawrance Toafili, who paced all ACC running backs last year with 268 receiving yards. Jaheim Bell transfers in from South Carolina and while he’s primarily a tight end, he was used as a running back for the Gamecocks at times. His 257 rushing yards last season led all FBS tight ends by over 100 yards. 

10. Wisconsin Badgers

Braelon Allen has been a workhorse for Wisconsin ever since he stepped onto campus in 2021. Over the past two years, Allen’s 415 carries and 2,500 rushing yards lead all returning Power Five running backs. Even more impressively, he’ll only be 19 years old for the entirety of his junior season.

Chez Mellusi enters his third season as the Badgers’ No. 2 back. Since 2021, he’s rushed for 1,293 yards with 731 coming after contact.

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