August 14, 2022

Ranking the Big Ten’s best running backs of 2022

The Big Ten's best running backs of 2022

Wisconsin running back Chez Mellusi takes a handoff from quarterback Graham Mertz in the second quarter against Wisconsin Saturday October 9, 2021 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

The conference has a plethora of talented rushers, who come in all shapes and sizes.

Some are speed burners, who can take it to the house from anywhere on the field. Others are bruising workhorses, who get stronger with every carry and wear down defenses. Great talent comes with great responsibility, and fumbles are not an option.

From taking handoffs, to catching balls out of the backfield and providing blocks in pass protection, these rushers have to multitask on the gridiron. The position is filled with star power in the top half of the Big Ten, but there are several other backs looking to make a name for themselves in 2022.

14. King Doerue, Purdue: The Texas native led the Boilermakers in carries and rushing yards last season. Doerue’s numbers don’t jump out on paper because Purdue is all about slinging the ball. However, he does his part with the pigskin in his hands. Doerue carried the ball 21 times for 95 yards against Minnesota, which were both season-highs. He punched the ball in the endzone in victories over Connecticut and Michigan State. The former three-star prospect also displayed nice hands, with six catches apiece in back-to-back games, plus 60 receiving yards against the Spartans. Not to mention Doerue rushed for 255 of his 533 yards against Big Ten West opponents. The Boilermakers ranked last in the league in rushing offense, so look for Doerue to contribute and become more of a weapon in their aerial attack.

13. Al-Shadee Salaam, Rutgers: Coach Greg Schiano may have a running back by committee approach with replacing Isaih Pacheco this fall. Salaam, Aaron Young and Kyle Monangai will all be at the dinner table battling for carries. Although Salaam didn’t see any action last season, he still made the most out of his opportunities throughout the spring. The former three-star prospect dazzled in the Scarlet Knights’ spring game, and carried the ball five times for 71 yards. Monangai was Rutgers’ third-leading rusher in 2021. The five-foot-nine, 200-pounder generated three touchdowns on the ground, including two in the opening win over Temple. Young didn’t participate in spring ball due to an injury. He was the Scarlet Knights’ fourth-leading rusher, who scored six total touchdowns, including three in the last four games.

12. Colby McDonald, Maryland: The former three-star prospect was the Terrapins’ third-leading rusher as a true freshman last year. McDonald carried the ball 15 times for 99 yards in the victory at Rutgers, which were both season-highs. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder generated a rushing score against Howard and Virginia Tech. McDonald looked solid in Maryland’s spring game, with 101 yards on the ground and 42 through the air. He’ll be battling Challen Faamatau for carries in fall camp. Faamatau is a former walk-on, who started one game in 2021 and was Maryland’s third-leading rusher. He combined for three touchdowns in back-to-back games against Indiana and Penn State. Faamatau had a season-high, 71 rushing yards at Ohio State. The Hawaii native injured himself on the first carry of the spring game.

11. Shaun Shivers, Indiana: The former four-star prospect is a super senior, considering he was originally from Auburn’s 2016 class. Over the past four seasons with the Tigers, Shivers has rushed for 1,020 yards and eight touchdowns. He also displayed soft hands, with 22 catches, including a 19-yard touchdown in the victory over Akron in 2021. The speed and physicality of the Big Ten should be similar to what Shivers experienced in the SEC West, which is arguably the toughest division in all of College football. Shivers only stands five-foot-seven and weighs 190 pounds, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for with power and elusiveness. Indiana finished 13th in the Big Ten and 113th in the FBS in rushing offense last year. So Shivers should be able to provide an immediate impact in the backfield this fall.

10. Keyvone Lee, Penn State: The Florida native was the Nittany Lions’ leading rusher last season, despite splitting carries with Noah Cain. Lee is a load to bring down for defenders, standing six-foot and weighing 239 pounds. He carried the ball 20 times for 88 yards against Michigan, which were both season-highs. Lee found the endzone against Ohio State and Rutgers. Not to mention he rushed for 293 of his 530 yards over Penn State’s last five games. Lee also caught 15 passes out of the backfield. Over the past two seasons with the Nittany Lions Lee has steamrolled for 968 yards on the ground and six rushing scores. Unfortunately Coach James Franklin hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Mile Sanders accomplished that feat in 2018. Now that Cain is gone, Lee’s numbers should flourish in year two of Mike Yurcich’s offense.

9. Gavin Williams, Iowa: The former three-star prospect is poised to replace 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Goodson this fall. Williams was the Hawkeyes’ second-leading rusher last season. He’s a bruising, downhill runner, with some power behind his six-foot, 211-pound frame. Not to mention Williams rushed for 265 of his 305 yards over Iowa’s final six games. Williams had 56 rushing yards apiece against Illinois and Michigan. The Des Moines native left a lasting impression in Goodson’s absence, with a season-high, 98 yards on the ground in the bowl game against Kentucky. After a strong spring, Williams will try to revive Iowa’s rushing attack this fall. The Hawkeyes finished 11th in the Big Ten and 102nd in the FBS in rushing offense last year, and will be fielding a young offensive line up front.

8. Rahmir Johnson, Nebraska: The New Jersey native was the Huskers’ second-leading rusher despite missing two games last season. Johnson’s soft hands and quickness gives him the ability to hurt defenses on the ground and through the air. He carried the ball 19 times at Michigan State, which was a season-high. The next game Johnson rushed for two touchdowns in the victory over Northwestern. The following week against Michigan, he hauled in six passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. Johnson rushed for a season-high, 88 yards and two scores at Minnesota. With Offensive Coordinator Mark Whipple installing a new scheme, Johnson’s numbers could improve in 2022. However, Markese Stepp, Gaber Ervin and Jaquez Yant are the other running backs, who’ll be battling Johnson for carries in fall camp.

7. Jarek Broussard, Michigan State: The Dallas native has led Colorado in rushing for the past two seasons. During that span Broussard has stockpiled 1,556 yards on the ground and seven rushing scores. He was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2020, and earned first-team, All-Pac-12 after he rushed for 895 yards through six games. The former three-star prospect followed up that stellar season with a solid campaign in 2021. Broussard carried the ball 24 times for 151 yards in the victory over Oregon State, which were both season-highs. The following week he rumbled for 108 yards on the ground at UCLA. Not to mention Broussard had six 100-yard games over the past two seasons with the Buffaloes. Now he has reunited with Mel Tucker, who helped Kenneth Walker win the Walter Camp Trophy.

6. Evan Hull, Northwestern: The Minnesota native capped off his first 1,000-yard campaign with the Wildcats last season. Hull is very elusive and has soft hands to go along with his durability. He steamrolled for 126 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over Indiana State. Hull registered 107 yards on the ground and hauled in a touchdown pass against Minnesota. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder also caught a touchdown against Iowa. Not to mention Hull rushed for a career-high, 216 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Ohio. The rusher also found the endzone against Michigan and Purdue. Hull left a lasting impression with a season-high, 32 carries for 101 yards and a score at Illinois. Now he’s trying to become Northwestern’s first back-to-back 1,000-yards rusher since Justin Jackson this fall.

5. Blake Corum, Michigan: The former four-star prospect split carries with Hassan Haskins last season, but still stockpiled 952 yards on the ground and 11 rushing scores. Corum is a very physical runner, who averaged 6.6 yards per carry, which ranked third in the conference and seventh in the country. Not to mention Corum scored eight total touchdowns through Michigan’s first three contests. Corum rushed for 111 yards against Western Michigan, 125 against Northern Illinois and 119 against Northwestern. The Virginia native had 171 rushing yards in the victory over Washington, which was a season-high. Corum capped off his stellar campaign with third-team, All-Big Ten honors. Now that Haskins is in the NFL, Corum’s numbers could be even better this fall, and that’s a scary thought for Big Ten defenses.

4. Chase Brown, Illinois: Last season he became the Fighting Illini’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Corbin accomplished that feat in 2018. Brown emerged out of a crowded backfield and established himself as Illinois’ battering ram. His 257 yards on the ground in the victory over Charlotte was the most by an Illinois rusher in a single game since 1990. Not to mention Brown solidified he’s a workhorse, with a season-high, 33 carries in the overtime win at Penn State. He also generated 223 rushing yards against the Nittany Lions. The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder had 147 rushing yards against Minnesota and left a lasting impression with 112 on Senior Day against rival Northwestern. Brown averaged 100.5 rushing yards per game, which ranked third in the league, and he earned third-team, All-Big Ten honors.

3. Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota: He’s the only returning Big Ten rusher with two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. Ibrahim was considered one of the best running backs in the country before he suffered a season-ending injury in the opener against Ohio State last year. Not to mention Ibrahim was named the Big Ten’s Running Back of the Year in 2020. The Golden Gophers’ rushers suffered from the injury bug  last season, but the unit will be a strength in 2022. Ibrahim has a jaw-dropping, 11 100-yard games in his career. He also surpassed the 200-yard rushing mark three times. All the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder needs this fall is 1,516 yards on the ground and eight rushing touchdowns to become Minnesota’s all-time leader in both categories. So if he’s anywhere back to normal, the rest of the Big Ten better beware.

2. Braelon Allen, Wisconsin: As a true freshman he split carries with Chez Mellusi last season, but still generated the second-best rushing total in the Big Ten. Allen averaged 6.82 yards per attempt, which tied for first in the conference and third in the country. The former four-star prospect went over 100 yards rushing in eight games, including a 228-yard performance in the victory over Nebraska. Allen also averaged 105.7 rushing yards per contest, which ranked 13th in the FBS and earned second-team, All-Big Ten honors. His teammate Mellusi is just as deadly and has a punishing running style. Mellusi eclipsed the century mark in rushing against Penn State, Eastern Michigan, Illinois and Purdue. Allen and Mellusi form arguably the best running back duo in the country, and both rushers could surpass 1,000 yards in 2022.

1. TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State: His 1,248 rushing yards as a true freshman in 2021, was more than Maurice Clarett’s campaign in 2002. Not only was Henderson a Doak Walker Award semifinalist, but the former five-star prospect capped off his spectacular campaign with second-team, All-Big Ten honors. Henderson averaged 6.82 yards per carry, which tied for first in the conference and second in the nation. Henderson rushed for 270 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over Tulsa. He also had 100-yard games in wins over Maryland and Penn State. The 19-year old has arguably the best hands of any running back in the conference. There’s no denying that when he caught a touchdown in four different Big Ten games. So opposing defenders have to pick their poison when matching up against Henderson.