Is It the Year of the Running Back in College Football?


Unlike most positions in football, there isn’t a strict body type or player profile that outlines whether a running back will be successful or not. There are great running backs who come in a variety of sizes and athletic profiles. As much as running back is a physical position that requires the player to take the brunt of a ton of punishment, there is also a ton of mental preparation and intelligence required to truly be great. A player’s ability to read the defense and make quick decisions is just as important as their ability to explode through a hole or run over an opposing defender.

Unlike most years, this year there appears to be a plethora of running backs in college football that seamlessly intertwine the mental and physical nuance of the position with a high degree of success. This has led to the thought that this year could be the year of the running back with the number of running backs dominating the field on Saturdays.

The first player that you have to discuss in regards to running backs playing at a high level is the Heisman Trophy front-runner Leonard Fournette. The LSU running back has exploded onto the scene with 99 carries for 864 yards, 8.7 yards per carry, and 11 touchdowns. Fournette has utilized a dizzying area of power and deceptive speed to dominate opposing defense. He hasn’t run for less than 159 yards this season and he appears to be getting better week-by-week. While casual fans are in awe of his size and power, the more keen football viewer is impressed with how much his football intelligence has improved since his freshman campaign. He has been more patient as a runner and has improved leaps and bounds with decision-making and vision.

While Fournette has taken college football by storm through the first month of the season, Georgia running back Nick Chubb has quietly been exhibiting excellence for the Bulldogs. Chubb has run for 100 yards in a Georgia-record 13 straight football games. Some analysts even say that Chubb’s skill set translates better to the NFL than Fournette’s does. Since Todd Gurley got injured last season, Chubb has shown an incredible running back. Not only can Chubb win with power between the tackles, but he has ankle-breaking elusiveness in the open field. He shows the ability to read defenders at every level of the defense and he exhibits the ability to manipulate defenders to get the most out of his blockings.

Unfortunately for fans of NFL teams in need of a running back, Chubb and Fournette won’t be eligible for the NFL after this season because of the NFL’s rule on eligibility for the NFL draft. Luckily for those same fans, there are a ton of other extremely talented running backs who are draft eligible at the culmination of this season.

The name atop of most rankings is Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot. The junior running back displays the ability to organically generate power unlike any other running back in college football. He is always attacking opposing defenders, which allows him to wear down defenses throughout the game. However, he isn’t just a pounder who grinds through defenses without any threat of a big run as he showcased last week. Elliot had three touchdown runs of over 50 yards against Indiana, where he displayed the explosive qualities that are coveted in the NFL.

After Elliot, Alabama’s Derrick Henry is the next player on most lists. Out of all the running backs mentioned thus far, Henry is the one that relies most on his physical gifts to have success on the field. At 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, Henry is an extremely difficult player to bring down. On top of that, Henry has electric speed, which allows him to destroy defenders’ pursuit angles and generate a ton of force on contact. Oftentimes, you will see defenders scared to tackle Henry, which allows him to rack up even more yards throughout games.

After Henry, it depends on your taste as to which player you want to mention next. Utah running back Devontae Booker is one of the most well-rounded running backs in the nation who is adept at blocking, receiving and running the ball. Baylor’s Shock Linwood is a silky smooth scat back who is a touchdown waiting to happen every time he gets the ball in his hands. UCLA’s Paul Perkins may be the most underrated running back in the nation with his impressive balance and excellent vision. Arkansas’ Alex Collins is another running back who exhibits impressive power and agility to slash through opposing defenses.

Furthermore, there is a ton of other draft-eligible running backs, such as California’s Daniel Lasco, Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon and Oregon State’s Storm Woods, who will make an impact in the NFL. Also, sophomores like Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Miami’s Joseph Yearby and Oregon’s Royce Freeman, show that there will be a ton of talent at the running back position for years to come.

This brings up the question of whether this is the year of the college running back and does this mean we are about to see a resurgence of the running game in college football and the NFL? With the trend of smaller and quicker defenders permeating defenses to defend the plethora of spread offenses in the NFL, teams will revert to the running game to take advantage.

Get ready folks, the resurgence of power football is on the horizon, whether you like it or not.




About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and