College News & Analysis

Top 10 returning running backs in college football for the 2022 season

Houston, TX, USA; Kansas State Wildcats running back Deuce Vaughn (22) rushes past LSU Tigers safety Todd Harris Jr. (4) for a touchdown in the third quarter in the 2022 Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

It’s officially time to reset in college football

We are on to the 2022 season, where teams across the country will compete for a chance to play for the College Football Playoff National Championship at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.


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There’s still a lot to be figured out between now and then regarding team rosters and depth charts — the transfer portal deadline is months away — but the 2022 NFL Draft deadline is approaching for eligible prospects, so we now know which of college football’s top talents will be leaving and returning for next season.

Below are the top 10 running backs who are returning to college football for the 2022 season. Please note that NFL potential was not considered for these rankings.

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1. DEUCE VAUGHN, KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Vaughn quietly earned a top-three PFF grade (91.1) among running backs this season. Between his work as a rusher and a receiver, the 5-foot-6 back was responsible for 59 total plays that resulted in a gain of 10 or more yards — the most among Power Five running backs. His 93.4 rushing grade ranks second at the position while his 78.8 receiving grade finished in the top 10. Overall, he was the most valuable running back in the country, according to PFF Wins Above Average (WAA).

2. BIJAN ROBINSON, TEXAS LONGHORNS

No running back was more elusive in 2021 than Robinson, as his 0.40 missed tackles forced per attempt figure led all FBS running backs. Robinson’s elusiveness showed up in the passing game, too, as he broke eight tackles on 26 receptions while averaging 10.7 yards after the catch per reception.

3. BLAKE CORUM, MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

While Corum’s final game of the season against Georgia’s vaunted run defense didn’t go as he hoped, it shouldn’t take away from how dominant the Wolverines back was all year. He was one of four Power Five running backs with at least 100 carries who averaged at least 6.5 yards per attempt. Corum was also one of six among that group to accumulate at least four 50-plus yard runs. He has outstanding speed, which helped him to an impressive 91.1 rushing grade and the highest rushing yards over expectation (RYOE) this season.

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4. TREVEYON HENDERSON, OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

Henderson was the 2021 class' top-ranked running back recruit, per 247Sports, and he definitely looked the part. The Buckeye converted 18.6% of his carries into a gain of 10 or more yards — the eighth-highest rate among Power Five running backs. His five 20-plus-yard touchdown runs also tied for second among that group.

5. ZACH EVANS, OLE MISS REBELS

Evans had a roller coaster recruitment process. At one point, he signed with Georgia, but he eventually landed at TCU — a program that wasn’t even on his radar to start. Now, the talented five-star is taking his skillset to Ole Miss.

This past season, Evans averaged 7.3 yards per carry, 4.8 yards after contact per attempt, 29 explosive (10 or more yards) runs and 40 broken tackles from 146 carries. He also made an impact as a receiver, recording 1.81 yards per route run. The former Horned Frog is an exceptional all-around athlete and should be one of the more valuable transfer additions from this offseason.

6. DEVON ACHANE, TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Achane was an explosive play waiting to happen in the A&M backfield, as he converted 20.8% of his runs into 10-plus-yard gains and 37.7% into a first down or touchdown, which ranked second and fourth overall, respectively, among Power Five backs. Considering Achane is also an All-American track star for the Texas A&M track and field team, his big-play ability shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

7. BRAELON ALLEN, WISCONSIN BADGERS

The former four-star recruit — who turns 18 years old this week — decided to skip his senior year of high school and reclassify for the 2021 class. He joined Wisconsin early to play safety or linebacker, but instead, he found a home at running back — and he is already among the best rushers in the country. Allen led all Power Five backs in yards after contact per attempt (4.5) in 2021. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound back has strong contact balance and takes on defenders like a Mack Truck. He’s a star in the making.

8. JAHMYR GIBBS, ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Gibbs was the most valuable running back in the ACC as a part of Georgia Tech‘s backfield in 2021 thanks to his elite pass-catching chops, as his 91.5 receiving grade was the highest among all FBS running backs this season.

Gibbs was no slouch in the run game, either, earning a solid 86.2 rushing grade. In addition, Gibbs also produced a top-10 return grade. After shining for the Yellow Jackets, the dynamic weapon will take his talents to Alabama in 2022.


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9. ZACH CHARBONNET, UCLA BRUINS

Charbonnet was one of the five most valuable running backs during the 2021 college football season, and his 91.9 rushing grade was the third-highest in the FBS. The Michigan transfer ranked top five nationally in missed tackles forced per attempt (0.34) and was one of four running backs in the Power Five who finished with at least 200 carries and zero fumbles.

10. TANK BIGSBY, AUBURN TIGERS

Bigsby will be looking for a bounce-back season in 2022 after a disappointing true sophomore season in 2021. He went from generating 0.24 WAA in 2020 to -0.08 this past season. For reference, that’s the difference between the 96th and 25th percentile among FBS players at the position. A shift in offensive philosophy under the new regime could have played a part in that — Bigsby ran a zone concept on 76% of his runs in 2020 to just 52% in 2021. The Auburn star has every bit of a chance to become a first-team All-American in 2022.

SLEEPER TO WATCH: TIYON EVANS, LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Evans is moving to Louisville after one season with the Tennessee Volunteers. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound back was one of the top recruits from the 2021 JUCO class. He shined early for the Vols before getting injured against South Carolina in Week 6. Prior to the injury, Evans ranked fourth among SEC running backs in both rushing grade (88.9) and explosive runs (16).

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