March 2, 2024

Ranking the Big Ten’s best running backs of 2023

Big Ten's best running backs of 2023

Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson lines up before a snap in the fourth quarter against Iowa Saturday October 22, 2022 at Ohio Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

It’s a blue-collar league that has rushers of all shapes and sizes.

Running backs in the Big Ten have to be tough, physical and be able to play their best in cold temperatures come November. In a conference filled with elite defenses, running backs have very little margin for error. So ball security, vision, blocking and pass-catching are all required.

There’s so much rushing talent in the conference that some teams contain backups that would be starters at other Power Five programs. Although the Big Ten lost some talented running backs in Chase Brown, Mohamed Ibrahim and Evan Hull, there’s plenty of firepower returning to make 2023 a highly-anticipated season for these players.

14. Cam Porter, Northwestern: The Cincinnati native was Evan Hull’s backup last season, and finished second on the team in rushing yards. Porter started out with a bang after he carried the ball 10 times for 94 yards and a touchdown in the opening victory over Nebraska. The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder generated 42 yards on the ground and a touchdown against Miami (Ohio). Porter even recorded 40 rushing yards against Southern Illinois and 50 against Ohio State. The Wildcats ranked ninth in the Big Ten, and 98th in the FBS in rushing offense last year. So in order for Porter to make strides this fall, Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian must establish more depth with the big boys up front.

13. Reggie Love, Illinois: The former four-star prospect backed up Chase Brown last season, and finished third on the team in rushing yards. Love made the most out of his opportunities though. He rushed for 46 yards and a touchdown in the victory over Wyoming. The St. Louis native recorded a season-high, 85 yards on the ground, and a score in the win at Northwestern. Love left a lasting impression with 53 rushing yards in the bowl game against Mississippi State. Josh McCray is expected to be in the rotation also. He battled through injuries most of last season, but recorded 549 rushing yards in 2021. It helps that Coach Bret Bielema has a great track history with running backs.

12. Bryce Williams, Minnesota: Coach P.J. Fleck is trying to replace Mohamed Ibrahim, who left as the Golden Gophers’ all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Minnesota has a deep running back room filled with young talent. Williams, Zach Evans, Max Grands, Jordan Nubin, Sean Tyler and Darius Taylor are all battling for carries. Williams finished third on the team in rushing yards last year. He rushed for a season-high, 58 yards and a touchdown against Colorado. Williams also had a rushing score against Purdue and Rutgers. Evans put together a promising performance in the spring game, and recorded a touchdown. Expect more passing in the offense this fall. 

11. Jaylin Lucas, Indiana: The New Orleans native averaged 5.5 yards per carry as a true freshman last season. Lucas found the endzone against Penn State. He left a lasting impression with a season-high, 100 yards on the ground and a touchdown against Purdue. Josh Henderson is also in the rotation after he finished second on the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in 2022. The former four-star prospect generated a rushing score against Maryland and Penn State, and in victories over Idaho and Western Kentucky. The Hoosiers need better blocking up front for Lucas and Henderson to make strides. After all, Indiana ranked 112th in the FBS in rushing offense last year.

10. Kyle Monangai, Rutgers: The former three-star prospect led the Scarlet Knights in rushing yards last season. Monangai rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown in the opening victory at Boston College. The following week he generated 58 yards on the ground and a score in the win over Wagner. Monangai carried the ball 24 times for 162 yards at Michigan State, which were both season-highs. The New Jersey native has stockpiled 680 rushing yards and six touchdowns over the past two seasons. Monangai didn’t play in Rutgers’ spring game, but it showcased more talent in the backfield. Aaron Young led all rushers with 76 yards, and Al-Shadee Salaam had 55, to go along with a touchdown.

9. Jalen Berger, Michigan State: The 21-year old led the Spartans in rushing yards in 2022. Berger rushed for a season-high, 120 yards in the opening victory over Western Michigan. The following week against Akron he generated 107 yards on the ground, and a season-high, three rushing scores. Berger also found the endzone against Wisconsin and Rutgers. The New Jersey native put on a stellar performance for Senior Day against Indiana, and recorded 119 rushing yards. Despite Berger’s solid numbers, Michigan State still ranked 12th in the Big Ten, and 111th nationally in rushing offense. More pressure will be put on Berger and the rest of the backfield with wideout Keon Coleman gone.

8. Kaleb Johnson, Iowa: The former four-star prospect led the Hawkeyes in rushing yards and touchdowns on the ground as a true freshman last season. Johnson rushed for 103 yards, and two touchdowns on just seven carries in the victory over Nevada. He generated 109 yards on the ground and a score against Nebraska. The six-foot, 212-pound Johnson had a season-high, 22 carries for 200 yards and a touchdown in the win at Purdue. The Ohio native also recorded a rushing score against Michigan and Wisconsin. Johnson has the potential to be a battering ram for the Hawkeyes, but they have to block better up front. Iowa ranked dead last in the Big Ten in rushing offense in 2022.

7. Anthony Grant, Nebraska: Last season he rushed for 915 yards, which were the most by a Husker since 2018. Grant started out on fire, with 191 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the opener against Northwestern. The following game Grant registered a season-high, 189 rushing yards and two scores in the victory over North Dakota. The former Juco followed up that performance with 138 yards on the ground, and a touchdown against Georgia Southern. Grant had a season-high, 32 carries, for 136 yards in the win over Indiana. Not to mention he generated 115 rushing yards against Minnesota, and found the endzone against Purdue. Now Grant is poised to become a 1,000-yard rusher.

6. Devin Mockobee, Purdue: Last season he rushed for 968 yards, which were the most by a Boilermaker since 2008. Mockobee rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown in the victory at Minnesota. He generated 107 yards on the ground and a score at Wisconsin. The former three-star prospect rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown against Illinois. Mockobee registered 99 rushing yards and a score against Indiana. The six-foot, 195-pounder had a season-high, 30 carries for 178 yards and a touchdown in the win over Nebraska. Mockobee also tallied rushing scores against Indiana State, Syracuse, Michigan and Maryland. The Indiana native displayed soft hands and caught 32 passes.

5. Roman Hemby, Maryland: The former three-star prospect had a breakout campaign last season, and rushed for 989 yards, which were the most by a Terrapin since 2018. Hemby rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the opener against Buffalo. He recorded 151 yards on the ground and a touchdown against SMU. Hemby rushed for 107 yards and a score in the victory at Indiana. The six-foot, 200-pound Hemby generated a season-high, 179 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the win over Northwestern. The Maryland native also tallied three rushing scores against Rutgers. Now Hemby is poised to become the Terrapins’ first 1,000-yard rusher this fall since Anthony McFarland.

4. Nicholas Singleton, Penn State: The former five-star prospect rushed for 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns as a true freshman last season. Not only did Singleton earn third-team, All-Big Ten honors, but he was also named the league’s Freshman of the Year. After all, the 19-year old went over 100 yards rushing against Ohio, Auburn, Maryland and Utah. Singleton even returned a 100-yard kickoff for a touchdown against Rutgers. Kaytron Allen will also be in the mix after he rushed for 867 yards and 10 scores as a true freshman. The Virginia native had 111 yards against Central Michigan and 117 against Rutgers. Singleton and Allen form one of the best running back tandems in the Big Ten.

3. TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State: The Buckeyes have a three-headed monster in the backfield for the fall. Henderson is a former five-star prospect, who rushed for 1,248 yards and scored 19 total touchdowns in 2021. He battled through injuries and missed the final five games last season, but still finished third on the team in rushing yards. Henderson rushed for a season-high, 121 yards against Wisconsin, and 118 at Michigan State. Miyan Williams led the team in rushing yards and rushing scores last year. The Cincinnati native eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Rutgers, Northwestern and Indiana. Dallan Hayden tallied 553 yards and four scores as a true freshman.

2. Braelon Allen, Wisconsin: The 19-year old is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns. Allen is a bruiser and a load for defenders to bring down. He uses his six-foot-two, 240-pound frame to bulldoze over would-be tacklers. Last year Allen generated a season-high, 165 yards on the ground and a score against Ohio State. Allen recorded three rushing touchdowns against New Mexico State. The Wisconsin native eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Northwestern, Michigan State, Maryland and Oklahoma State. Allen capped off the year with second-team, All-Big Ten honors. With 2,510 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns over the past two seasons, no doubt Allen is the real deal.

1. Blake Corum, Michigan: The Virginia native rushed for 1,457 yards through 11 games last year. Corum went over 100 yards rushing in seven Big Ten games. His 18 rushing scores ranked second in the league and fifth in the FBS. The former four-star prospect earned first-team, AP All-American honors, and was named the Big Ten’s Running Back of the Year. Corum’s five rushing scores against Connecticut, and 243 rushing yards against Maryland were both season-highs. The 22-year old has rushed for 2,415 yards and 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Donovan Edwards did some damage too. He rushed for 173 yards against Penn State, 216 against Ohio State, 185 against Purdue and 119 against TCU.