August 14, 2022

College Football’s 20 best running backs of 2022

College Football's best returning running backs of 2022

Illinois running back Chase Brown carries the ball during the second quarter against Wisconsin Saturday October 9, 2021 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

They come in all shapes and sizes.

Some are fast, while others are powerful, but what they all have in common is a nose for the endzone. Being a successful rusher comes down to vision, quickness, durability, solid blocking and fumbles are not an option.

Several of these backs get stronger with every carry, and become dangerous out of the backfield by creating mismatches out in space. Regardless, it all comes down to keeping the chains moving and the offense rolling.

These 20 individuals have displayed those qualities, and look to build on their success this fall. Make no mistakes, one of these backs will be taking home the Doak hardware in December.

20. Alton McCaskill, Houston: The Texas native generated 16 rushing touchdowns as a true freshman last season, which tied for 10th in the FBS. It was also second-best in the AAC. McCaskill scored three touchdowns apiece in victories over Rice, South Florida and Tulsa. He went over the century mark in rushing in three different contests, including two conference tilts. The six-foot-one, 210-pounder left a lasting impression when he generated 93 total yards and a score in Houston’s bowl win over Auburn. McCaskill earned second-team, All-AAC honors for his efforts. The cherry on top to his stellar season was being named the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year.

19. Patrick Garwo, Boston College: The former four-star prospect has some power behind his five-foot-eight, 208-pound frame. Garwo made a name for himself in the ACC last season and finished fourth in the league with 1,045 rushing yards. He steamrolled for 160 yards in the win over UMass. Garwo rumbled for a season-high, 175 yards and two scores in the victory over Missouri. The Pennsylvania native displayed workhorse capabilities against Virginia Tech, with a season-high, 30 carries, to go along with 116 yards on the ground. The following week Garwo carved up Georgia Tech’s defense with a 104-yard rushing performance. Garwo also finished 2021 with second-team, All-ACC honors.

18. Will Shipley, Clemson: The former five-star prospect lived up to his billing as a true freshman with the Tigers last season. Shipley rushed for two touchdowns apiece in victories over South Carolina State, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Wake Forest. The North Carolina native went over 100 yards rushing against two conference foes and rival South Carolina. He also had a rushing score against NC State and Iowa State. Shipley’s 11 touchdowns on the ground ranked third among ACC running backs in 2021. So Clemson fans are expecting him to take a big step forward as a true sophomore this fall. That means the 19-year old will likely have to double his 739 rushing yards from last season.

17. DeWayne McBride, UAB: Last season the Florida native finished 13th in the FBS with 1,371 yards and 13 rushing scores. McBride averaged 105.5 rushing yards per game, which ranked 15th in the country. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder’s 6.72 yards per carry was fifth-best in the nation. The former three-star prospect ran for 61 yards on 13 carries against Georgia’s stout defense. His 210 rushing yards, and four touchdowns in the victory over Louisiana Tech were both season-highs. McBride also went over the century mark in rushing against Tulane, Southern Miss, Marshall, UTSA and BYU. For all of his success on the gridiron McBride was awarded with second-team, All-C-USA honors.

16. Rasheen Ali, Marshall: The Ohio native scored a jaw-dropping, 23 touchdowns on the ground last season, which tied for first in the FBS. Ali finished No. 10 in the nation when he averaged 107.8 yards per game and rushed for over 1,400. He scored four touchdowns in the season-opening win at Navy. Ali surpassed the century mark in rushing against East Carolina, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Florida International and Louisiana in Marshall’s bowl game. However, he steamrolled for a season-high, 203 yards in the road victory at Charlotte. Not too shabby for an individual who had no stars behind his name out of high school. The cherry on top to Ali’s amazing season was earning first-team, All-C-USA.

15. Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama: Nick Saban has an interesting situation in his backfield approaching the spring. Leading rusher Brian Robinson Jr. is off to the NFL. No returning Alabama running back had over 72 carries in 2021. Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams are capable of becoming starters for the SEC Champs, but both suffered season-ending injuries in 2021. Meanwhile Gibbs brings experience, production and versatility to the position. He stockpiled 1,206 yards on the ground, 773 through the air and scored 13 total touchdowns over the past two seasons at Georgia Tech. Gibbs also returned a kickoff for a score, and earned second-team, AP All-America honors as an all-purpose player.

14. Devon Achane, Texas A&M: He put up some impressive numbers despite splitting carries with Isaiah Spiller last year. Achane also runs track and averaged seven yards per carry, which was the nation’s best in 2021. The former four-star prospect used that speed to return a 96-yard kickoff to the house in the win over Alabama. The Texas native rushed for 124 yards apiece in victories over Kent State and Missouri, plus he caught a touchdown against New Mexico. Achane rumbled for a season-high, 154 yards in the win over South Carolina. Not to mention he ran for 110 yards and two scores at Ole Miss. Achane finished the season with 910 yards on the ground and nine rushing scores.

13. Blake Corum, Michigan: He split carries with Hassan Haskins last season, but still racked up 952 rushing yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Corum averaged 6.6 yards per carry, which ranked third in the Big Ten and seventh in the FBS. The Virginia native scored eight total touchdowns through the Wolverines’ first three games. Corum rushed for 111 yards against Western Michigan, a season-high, 171 in the victory over Washington and 125 in the win over Northern Illinois. The former four-star prospect also surpassed the century mark in rushing against Northwestern. Corum finished the season with third-team, All-Big Ten honors. With Haskins off to the NFL, Corum will handle the workload in 2022.

12. Tank Bigsby, Auburn: The Georgia native capped off his first 1,000-yard campaign last season. Bigsby is a bigger back, who plays with a ton of physicality behind his six-foot-one frame. He eclipsed the century mark in rushing in each of the Tigers’ first three games, including a 102-yard performance at Penn State. Bigsby rumbled for 140 yards and a touchdown in the victory over Ole Miss. The former four-star prospect rushed for a season-high, 164 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina. Bigsby also had rushing scores against Georgia and Arkansas. With 1,933 yards on the ground over the past two seasons at Auburn, there’s no denying Bigsby is one the SEC’s elite rushers.

11. Zach Charbonnet, UCLA: The former Michigan rusher made an immediate impact in Chip Kelly’s offense last season. Charbonnet scored seven touchdowns through the Bruins’ first five games. He also went over 100 yards rushing against Hawaii, LSU, Stanford, Arizona, Washington, USC and California. His 28 carries and 167 rushing yards in the victory over the Trojans, were both season-highs. The former four-star prospect finished the year with 1,137 yards on the ground, hauled in 24 passes and added 13 rushing scores. Charbonnet averaged nearly 95 rushing yards per game and earned second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. The California native has the potential to perform like a man among boys.

10. Chase Brown, Illinois: The former three-star prospect emerged out of a crowded backfield last season, and solidified himself as the Fighting Illini’s battering ram. Brown’s 1,005 rushing yards were the most by an Illinois running back since 2018. He actually has 1,545 yards on the ground over the past two seasons. Last year Brown went over 200 yards rushing in victories over Charlotte and Penn State. Not to mention his 33 carries against the Nittany Lions were a season-high. He also eclipsed the century mark in rushing in wins over Minnesota and Northwestern. Brown averaged 100.5 rushing yards per game, which ranked third in the league. The Canadian also earned third-team, All-Big Ten.

9. Travis Dye, USC: The Californian had a very productive career the past four years with Oregon. Dye racked up 3,125 yards on the ground, plus 21 rushing scores during that span. He amassed most of that production playing behind CJ Verdell. Last year Dye rushed for 1,271 yards, which ranked second in the Pac-12. Dye also caught 46 passes, and tied for 10th in the FBS with 16 rushing touchdowns. He’s very explosive as they come. Dye’s 6.02 yards per carry was the best in the conference and he scored four total touchdowns in the victory over UCLA. Not to mention he rushed for 145 yards in the win over California, 153 against Oklahoma and 211 at Washington. Now he’s linked up with Lincoln Riley.

8. Lew Nichols, Central Michigan: He led the entire FBS in rushing yards and was named the MAC’s Offensive Player of the Year. Not only did Nichols average 142 rushing yards per game, but he also carried the ball a jaw-dropping, 341 times. The former three-star prospect finished the season with eight 100-yard games, plus two 200-yard outings. Not to mention Nichols tied for tenth in the country with 16 rushing touchdowns. The Detroit native raised eyebrows with his amazing durability when he carried the ball 44 times in the win over Eastern Michigan. Nichols’ 1,848 rushing yards were the second-most in a single-season by a Chippewa, and he earned first-team, All-MAC honors.

7. Tavion Thomas, Utah: The former Juco emerged from the shadows last season and made himself a household name in the conference. Thomas is a big bruiser, with a lot of power in his six-foot-two frame. He rushed for 1,108 yards, and a jaw-dropping, 21 touchdowns for the Pac-12 Champs. His amazing feat ranked first in the league and third in the FBS, plus it was a single-season school record for rushing touchdowns. Thomas eclipsed the century mark in rushing in five games, including four conference tilts. The Ohio native scored four touchdowns apiece in back-to-back weeks in victories over UCLA and Stanford. Thomas earned first-team All-Pac-12 for his monster season in 2021.

6. Braelon Allen, Wisconsin: The Badgers got back to pounding the ball last season, and he was a big reason for their ground production. Allen split carries with Chez Mellusi, but still cranked out the second-best rushing total in the Big Ten. He averaged 6.82 yards per attempt, which tied for first in the league and third in the FBS. The Wisconsin native went over the century mark in rushing in eight games, including a 228-yard outing against Nebraska. Allen also averaged 105.7 rushing yards per contest, which ranked 13th in the nation. The former four-star prospect finished the season with 1,268 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns and earned second-team, All-Big Ten honors as a true freshman.

5. Sean Tucker, Syracuse: The former three-star prospect was originally recruited to play cornerback. Last season Tucker emerged from the shadows, finished first in the ACC and sixth in the FBS with 1,496 rushing yards. Not to mention he averaged 124.7 rushing yards per game, which was fourth-best in the country. The Maryland native ranked second in the league in rushing touchdowns, and yards per carry average. Tucker eclipsed the century mark in rushing in eight games, including a season-high, 207 yards in the victory over Boston College. He was one of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, earned first-team, All-ACC and second-team, AP All-American honors.

4. TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State: The former five-star prospect was a Doak Walker Award semifinalist last season as a true freshman. Henderson raised eyebrows across the Big Ten when he rushed for 270 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Tulsa. He also eclipsed the century mark in rushing against Maryland and Penn State. The Virginia native averaged 6.82 yards per carry, which tied for first in the Big Ten and second in the FBS. Henderson proved his hands were soft, and had a touchdown catch against Minnesota, Maryland, Indiana and Michigan. The Buckeye finished with 1,248 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns on the ground and earned second-team, All-Big Ten.

3. Christopher Rodriguez Jr., Kentucky: He’s one of the most productive backs in the Power Five, with 2,697 yards on the ground and 26 rushing touchdowns over the past three years. Last season Rodriguez finished second in the almighty SEC after he averaged 106.1 rushing yards per game. Not to mention he averaged 6.13 per carry, which was second-best in the league. The former three-star prospect eclipsed the century mark in rushing in nine of the Wildcats’ 13 games, including a 207-yard performance in the victory over Missouri. Rodriguez also earned second-team, All-SEC honors and shocked the College Football world by declining the NFL route and returning to Kentucky for another year.

2. Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State: He averaged 108 rushing yards per game last season as a true sophomore, which ranked ninth in the FBS. Vaughn’s explosiveness took him over the century mark in rushing in nine of the Wildcats’ 13 games. Over Kansas State’s final six contests, the Texas native rushed for 809 yards and scored 12 total touchdowns, including four in the bowl win against LSU. Vaughn caught 10 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma. The former three-star prospect finished the season with 1,404 rushing yards, 49 catches and scored 22 total touchdowns. He’s one of College Football’s best weapons and earned first-team AP All-America honors because of it.

1. Bijan Robinson, Texas: The former five-star prospect had a ton of hype heading into last season and lived up to it. Robinson went over the century mark in rushing through six of the Longhorns’ first seven games, including a 216-yard performance at TCU. He also averaged 112.7 rushing yards per game, which ranked third in the Big 12 and eighth in the FBS. Robinson stockpiled 1,127 rushing yards, caught 26 passes and scored 16 total touchdowns in 10 games. The Arizona native didn’t play in the Longhorns’ final two games because of an injured elbow, but still made a statement to the Big 12. Texas fans have compared Robinson to the likes of Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams, so that’s saying a lot.

Honorable Mention

Cameron Peoples, Appalachian State: He has stockpiled 2,050 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground over the past two seasons with the Mountaineers. Despite splitting carries with teammate Nate Noel, Peoples still managed to garner second-team, All-Sun Belt honors in 2021.

Brad Roberts, Air Force: He led the Mountain West in carries and rushing yards in 2021. Roberts’ 1,352 rushing yards ranked 14th in the FBS. The Colorado native scored 13 touchdowns, and averaged 104 yards on the ground per game, which ranked 17th in the country. Roberts also earned first-team All-Mountain West honors.

Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota: Despite suffering a season-ending leg injury in last year’s opener, he’s still one of the most productive rushers in the FBS. Ibrahim is tough, has two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt and was named the Big Ten’s Running Back of the Year in 2020.

Ellis Merriweather, UMass: The former Juco was the lone bright spot to the Minutemen’ 1-11 campaign in 2021. Merriweather rushed for 873 of his 1,138 yards over the Massachusetts’ final four games. The Georgia native carried the ball 39 times in the victory over Connecticut.

Evan Hull, Northwestern: The Minnesota native capped off his first 1,000-yard campaign last season. Hull rushed for a season-high, 216 yards in the win over Ohio. He also went over 100 yards rushing against Indiana State, Minnesota and Illinois. Hull’s soft hands make him a dangerous weapon out of the backfield.

Blake Watson, Old Dominion: The former two-star prospect was originally recruited as a receiver. Watson averaged 101.1 rushing yards per game last season, which ranked 22nd in the FBS. The five-foot-nine, 193-pounder eclipsed the century mark in rushing six times and finished the year with 1,112 yards.

Nate Noel, Appalachian State: The Miami native led the Mountaineers in carries and rushing yards last season. Noel went over the century mark in rushing in five games. He also finished with 1,126 yards on the ground, scored four touchdowns and earned first-team, All-Sun Belt honors.