April 23, 2024

College football’s 20 best running backs of 2024

College Football' best running backs of 2024

Oklahoma State running back Ollie Gordon carries the ball during the first quarter against Kansas Saturday October 14, 2023 at Boone Pickens Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

Running backs come in all shapes and sizes.

Some rushers have blazing speed, while others have brute strength. Being a successful rusher comes down to vision, quickness, durability, and solid blocking. Getting stronger with every carry is vital, and fumbling is not an option.

Although the position is becoming less of a value in the NFL, College football is where running backs excel and are appreciated. These 20 individuals are all looking to pick up where they left off from last year as we approach a new season.

20. Corey Kiner, Cincinnati: The former LSU Tiger went back to his hometown, and had a breakout campaign with the Bearcats last season. Kiner got off to a hot start with 105 rushing yards against Eastern Kentucky in the opener. The following week he rushed for a season-high, 153 yards and a touchdown in the victory at Pittsburgh. Kiner also generated a rushing score against Miami-Ohio. The five-foot-nine, 212-pounder turned it up a notch in Big 12 play, with 129 yards on the ground against Baylor, 114 against UCF, 129 against Houston and 106 against Kansas. Kiner needs to catch more passes out of the backfield, but is one of six 1,000-yard rushers returning to the Big 12 this fall.

19. Jamal Haynes, Georgia Tech: The Georgia native made a name for himself with the Yellow Jackets last year, and helped them win seven games for the first time since 2018. Haynes used his explosiveness to average 6.09 yards per carry, which ranked 24th nationally. He rushed for 1,059 yards, and earned third-team, All-ACC honors. The former three-star prospect rushed for 113 yards, and a touchdown in the opener against South Carolina State. Haynes generated 119 rushing yards and a touchdown at Virginia. The five-foot-nine, 180-pounder had 104 rushing yards at Clemson. Haynes even left a lasting impression, with 128 rushing yards in the bowl victory over UCF.

18. Jarquez Hunter, Auburn: The 21-year old led the Tigers in carries, rushing yards and touchdowns on the ground last season. Hunter rushed for a season-high, 183 yards and two touchdowns in the victory at Vanderbilt. He also generated two rushing scores, to go along with 91 yards on the ground against Ole Miss. The former three-star prospect rushed for a touchdown against Samford, Georgia and LSU. Not to mention he recorded 144 yards on the ground against Mississippi State, and 109 in the win at Arkansas. Hunter did some damage in the Iron Bowl, with 93 rushing yards. The 5-foot-10, 209-pounder capped off his solid campaign with second-team, All-SEC honors too.

17. LeQuint Allen, Syracuse: The New Jersey native filled Sean Tucker’s shoes, and finished with 1,059 rushing yards last season. Allen also caught 38 passes out the backfield, and earned second-team, All-ACC honors. He started his campaign out with a bang, and recorded 107 rushing yards, and a touchdown in the opener against Colgate. The following week he generated three rushing scores against Western Michigan. The former three-star prospect had 104 yards on the ground and touchdown against Army. He also eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Florida State, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Allen even caught a  touchdown against Clemson.

16. Kaytron Allen, Penn State: The former four-star prospect split carries with Nicholas Singleton last season, and still finished with 902 rushing yards, and scored seven total touchdowns. Allen rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown against Delaware. He also had a rushing score against Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland. The Virginia native generated a season-high, 137 yards on the ground, and hauled in a touchdown pass in the shutout victory over Michigan State. For his heroics on the gridiron, Allen capped off his campaign with second-team, All-Big Ten honors. It’s no mystery that Allen and Singleton will form one of the best running back tandems in the Big Ten, and FBS again.

15. Gavin Sawchuk, Oklahoma: The Colorado native split carries with Tawee Walker last season, but caught fire down the stretch and led the Sooners in rushing yards. Sawchuk rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown at Oklahoma State. The following week he recorded a season-high, 135 yards on the ground against West Virginia. The next game Sawchuk rumbled for 104 yards and a score in the victory at BYU. The former four-star prospect rushed for 130 yards, and a season-high, three touchdowns in the win over TCU. Sawchuk left a lasting impression, with 134 rushing yards, and a touchdown in the bowl game against Arizona. Not to mention he had a rushing score against Tulsa and UCF.

14. Quinton Cooley, Liberty: The 22-year old was a big reason why the Flames won 13 games in 2023. Cooley’s 1,401 rushing yards ranked seventh nationally. He finished 13th in the FBS in yards per carry. Cooley rushed for 106 yards against New Mexico State. The five-foot-seven, 210-pounder had 102 yards on the ground at Florida International. The next game he rumbled for 106 yards and a score against Sam Houston. Five days later he rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns at Jacksonville State. The following week he generated a season-high, three touchdowns against Middle Tennessee, and added three rushing scores in the Conference-USA Championship Game.

13. DJ Giddens, Kansas State: The former two-star prospect rushed for 1,226 yards last year, despite splitting carries with Treshaun Ward. Giddens was lightning in a bottle with his explosiveness, and big-play ability. The Kansas native finished 19th in the FBS in rushing yards. Giddens ranked 26th nationally in all-purpose yards per game. He rushed for 128 yards in the opener against Southeast Missouri State. Giddens had 30 carries for 207 yards, and four touchdowns in the victory over UCF, which were all season-highs. He rushed for 115 yards and, caught a touchdown against Baylor. Giddens even eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards in each of the Wildcats’ final five games.

12. Donovan Edwards, Michigan: He played behind Blake Corum last season, so he didn’t get the opportunity to put up jaw-dropping numbers. However, Edwards showed what he was capable of down the stretch of Michigan’s 2022 season. That’s when he rushed for 173 yards against Penn State, 216 against Ohio State, 185 against Purdue and 119 against TCU. Edwards finished with 497 yards on the ground, and five scores last season for the National Champs. The six-foot-one, 210-pounder also displayed soft hands, and caught 30 passes out of the backfield. Edwards left a lasting impression, with 104 rushing yards, and two touchdowns in the National Championship Game against Washington.

11. Damien Martinez, Transfer Portal: The 20-year old rushed for 1,185 yards and nine touchdowns through the Beavers’ first 12 games. Martinez averaged 98.8 rushing yards per game, which ranked 19th nationally. He also finished 22nd in the FBS in yards per carry. The former three-star prospect rushed for 145 yards in the opener at San Jose State. Six days later he had 104 yards on the ground, and a score against UC Davis. Martinez eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Colorado, Stanford and Washington. His 146 rushing yards, and four touchdowns in the victory over the Cardinal were all season-highs. For his heroics, Martinez capped off the year with first-team, All-Pac-12 honors.

10. Kyle Monangai, Rutgers: The former three-star prospect was a big reason why the Scarlet Knights won seven games for the first time since 2014. Monangai led the Big Ten, and finished 17th in the FBS in rushing yards. He also earned second-team, All-Big Ten honors. Monangai rushed for 165 yards and a score against Temple. The following week he generated 143 yards on the ground, and a season-high, three touchdowns against Virginia Tech. The five-foot-nine, 210-pounder turned it up a notch in Big Ten play, and eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State and Maryland. Monangai also tallied 163 rushing yards in bowl win over Miami.

9. TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State: Last season he led the Buckeyes in carries, yards on the ground and rushing touchdowns, despite missing three games in Big Ten play. Henderson capped off his campaign with first-team, All-Big Ten honors. The former five-star prospect rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota. Henderson also had two rushing touchdowns apiece against Youngstown State and Western Kentucky. He rushed for a season-high, 162 yards, and a score in the win at Wisconsin. Henderson also went over the century mark in rushing yards in the victory at Rutgers. With Quinshon Judkins joining Henderson in the backfield this fall, prepare to be wowed.

8. Ashton Jeanty, Boise State: The Florida native was arguably the best player in the Group of Five last season. Jeanty displayed versatility, and finished second nationally in all-purpose yards per game. Not to mention he was No. 7 in the FBS in rushing yards per game, and scoring. Jeanty was even named the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year. The 20-year old caught four passes for 109 yards and scored two total touchdowns at Washington. Jeanty rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns at San Diego State. His 212 rushing yards at Colorado State were a season-high. Jeanty also eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Air Force, UNLV, UCF and San Jose State.

7. Jadyn Ott, California: The Californian was a dangerous weapon last season, and became the Golden Bears’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Patrick Laird accomplished that feat in 2017. Ott finished sixth nationally in all-purpose yards per game. He even averaged 109.6 rushing yards per game, which ranked ninth in the FBS. Not to mention Ott earned first-team, All-Pac-12 honors. Ott rushed for 165 yards against Arizona State, 153 against USC, 166 against Stanford, 167 against Washington State, and a season-high, 188 against North Texas. The six-foot, 200-pounder caught a 48-yard touchdown pass against Utah. Ott also found the end zone against Auburn, Washington, Oregon and Texas Tech.

6. Tahj Brooks, Texas Tech: The former three-star prospect finished fourth nationally in rushing yards per game. Brooks proved he was a true workhorse, with 30-plus carries in four Big 12 games. He ranked 19th in the FBS in all-purpose yards per game. Not to mention he earned first-team, All-Big 12 honors. Brooks rushed for 158 yards against Tarleton State. The following week he rushed for 149 yards at West Virginia. The next game Brooks had 101 yards on the ground, and two scores in the win over Houston. The 5-foot-10, 230-pounder rushed for a season-high, 182 yards in the victory over UCF. Brooks also eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against BYU, TCU, and Kansas.

5. Devin Neal, Kansas: The hometown kid rushed for 1,280 yards last season, despite splitting carries with Daniel Hishaw. Neal tied for 16th in the FBS, with 16 rushing touchdowns, and earned second-team, All-Big 12 honors. He ranked 15th nationally in yards per carry. Neal rumbled for 120 yards on the ground against Illinois. He generated a season-high, 154 rushing yards against UCF. The former four-star prospect scored three total touchdowns at Nevada, including a 59-yard reception. Neal also recorded three touchdowns, and rushed for 138 yards against Kansas State. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Cincinnati.

4. Quinshon Judkins, Ohio State: The Alabama native has rushed for 2,725 yards, and 31 touchdowns over the past two seasons at Ole Miss. Judkins is as explosive as they come, with a nose for the end zone. Last year he tied for 11th nationally in rushing touchdowns, and earned first-team, All-SEC honors. Judkins rushed for 124 yards apiece against Auburn and Vanderbilt. He generated 102 yards on the ground, and three touchdowns against Texas A&M. Judkins had 119 rushing yards against rival Mississippi State. His 177 yards on the ground in the victory over LSU were a season-high. Judkins also had a season-high, 34 carries for 106 yards in the bowl win over Penn State.

3. RJ Harvey, UCF: The hometown kid had a breakout campaign, and finished sixth nationally in rushing yards last season. Harvey ranked 12th in the FBS in all-purpose yards per game, and tied for 16th in rushing scores. Harvey even averaged 6.27 yards per carry, which ranked 17th in the nation. The former three-star prospect rushed for 133 yards against Kansas, 101 against Oklahoma, 100 against West Virginia, 164 against Cincinnati, 136 against Houston and 120 against Georgia Tech. Harvey had a season-high, 206 yards on the ground, and three touchdowns in the victory over Oklahoma State. The five-foot-nine, 205-pounder rushed for 100 or more yards in seven of the Knights’ final eight games.

2. Omarion Hampton, North Carolina: The former four-star prospect led the ACC, and finished fifth nationally in rushing yards. Hampton even finished ninth in the FBS in all-purpose yards per game. Not to mention he caught 29 passes out of the backfield, and capped off his stellar campaign with first-team, All-ACC honors. Hampton rushed for a season-high, 234 yards, and three touchdowns in the victory over Appalachian State. He steamrolled for 197 yards, and scored twice against Miami. The six-foot, 220-pounder rushed for 17 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson. Hampton also eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Georgia Tech, Campbell, Duke and Virginia.

1. Ollie Gordon II, Oklahoma State: The 20-year old had a remarkable season in 2023, in which he earned first-team, AP All-America honors, and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back. Gordon finished first in the FBS in rushing yards, second in rushing touchdowns, third in all-purpose yards per game, 10th in scoring and 25th in yards per carry. Not to mention Gordon tied Barry Sanders’ single-game record, with five rushing touchdowns against BYU. The former four-star prospect rushed for a career-high, 282 yards, and four touchdowns in the victory over West Virginia. Gordon generated 271 yards on the ground and two scores in the win over Cincinnati.

Honorable Mention

Jordan James, Oregon: He backed up Bucky Irving last season, and still tied for first on the Ducks with 11 rushing touchdowns. James also averaged a jaw-dropping, 7.1 yards per carry. The Tennessee native rushed for a season-high, 103 yards against Washington State. James also had at least one rushing score in six Pac-12 games.

Montrell Johnson, Florida: Last season he led the Gators in rushing yards, and caught 30 passes out of the backfield. Johnson rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over McNeese State. The 21-year old had a season-high, 135 yards on the ground in win over Vanderbilt. Johnson rushed for 107 yards against Florida State.

Nicholas Singleton, Penn State: The 20-year old split carries with Kaytron Allen last season, and still led the Nittany Lions in rushing touchdowns. Singleton also hauled in 26 passes, and averaged 11.3 yards per catch. His versatility, and explosiveness is the reason he finished the year with third-team, All-Big Ten honors.

Trevor Etienne, Georgia: He split carries with Montrell Johnson at Florida last season, but led the team in rushing touchdowns, and yards per carry. Etienne rushed for 172 yards and a score in the victory over Tennessee. His three rushing scores at LSU were a season-high. He’ll bring experience and production to Georgia’s backfield.

Phil Mafah, Clemson: The Georgia native split carries with Will Shipley last season, and still tied for fourth in the ACC with 13 rushing touchdowns. Mafah is a big bruiser too, who brings a lot of force on his six-foot-one, 230-pound frame. He carried the ball 36 times for 186 yards in the victory over Notre Dame, which were both career-highs.

Dylan Sampson, Tennessee: The Louisiana native was the Vols’ second-leading rusher in 2023. Sampson went over 100 yards rushing against UTSA and Iowa. He recorded four total touchdowns against Virginia, and a rushing score against South Carolina and Kentucky. Now Josh Heupel will make Sampson the feature back this fall.