Projecting this year's best running backs
Yesterday we took a look at the best quarterbacks and linebackers for the upcoming season. Here I will dissect the top running backs in the country and name the most NFL-ready of them all.
Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, Montee Ball, Le’Veon Bell and Marcus Lattimore are departing for the next level, making this compilation a little easier to digest.
Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey led the NCAA in rushing last season, but is he the best overall back? Silas Redd is back for another year, but can he help Lane Kiffin keep his job? Can Michael Dyer and Isaiah Crowell turn their careers around by putting up huge numbers at the D-III level?
Only time will tell. But for now, let’s analyze and predict. Here are the best running backs for the upcoming football season.
Jeremy Hill, LSU; Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska; Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State; Dri Archer, Kent State; De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon.
10. John Hubert, Kansas State
Why: Like many of his conrads, Hubert was an underrated (two-star) recruit coming out of high school before landing at Kansas State. Bill Snyder does an incredible job of turning lost gems into stars at the collegiate level, and Hubert is no exception. He doesn’t have top-end speed and lacks size (5-7, 195), but will do anything it takes to fight for that extra yard. With excellent footwork and cuts, he tends to find the perfect gap and can beat defenders with his surprising strength, mainly coming from his lower body.
9. Michael Dyer, Arkansas Baptist
Why: He has a lot of off-field issues – mainly his inability to stick with a program – but Dyer has great NFL talent and should have no problems dominating the Division-III level. It’s kind of surprising that he decided to play football this season instead of enlisting into the 2013 NFL Draft, but he is reportedly trying to earn his Associates Degree, all while improving his stock. Dyer brings a lot to the table – he runs low and is hard to tackle, has elite breakaway speed and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
8. Duke Johnson, Miami (Fla.)
Why: As a freshman in 2012, Johnson emerged as one of the better backs in the country and earned second-team all-conference honors in the ACC. He’s set to get the majority of the carries this year, although Dallas Crawford should get a few touches here and there. Johnson doesn’t have power-back size (5-9, 190) but his outstanding acceleration and balance make up for it. He has great field awareness and is always a threat to take it to the house with his ability to make defenders miss. What makes him even more dangerous is the fact that he can line up at wide receiver, which really adds to his overall skill set.
7. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Why: It wasn’t until mid-season when Urban Meyer discovered Carlos Hyde’s nose for the end zone. He had a combined 35 carries through the first five games (albeit missing two games due to injury) and never really had a role on the offense. However, things clicked when he powered his way to 140 yards and four touchdowns against Nebraska in Week 6. Hyde is a red zone warrior, scoring 14 times in Ohio State’s final seven games. A fullback coming out of high school, Hyde brings that “boom” element to the running game. He’ll come in and hammer his way for four-to-five yards a pop, and won’t hold back if a defender is in his way. He won’t beat you with his speed – although he is deceitfully fast – but is still a major weapon in backfield.
6. James Wilder Jr., Florida State
Why: Wilder Jr. was one of the most highly-touted recruits to come from the class of 2011, and he showed us why as a sophomore. Coming off the bench in what was a very competitive group of Florida State running backs, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry and reach the end zone 11 times (scoring once every 10 touches). A former defensive end in high school, Wilder Jr. has an edgy game personality and brings toughness to the backfield. At 6-foot-3 he is one of the taller backs out there, but uses it to his advantage by having great vision. Now that Chris Thompson has graduated, we should be able to get a true feel for Wilder Jr.’s game, as his workload will increase dramatically in 2013.
5. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
Why: Yeldon was arguably the best freshman running back in 2012, but how will he fare now that Eddie Lacy is gone and the offensive line is rebuilt? My guess is that he’ll be just fine. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Yeldon has the prototypical size for a running back. Although he looks to be more of an outside runner, he has incredible potential to be the Alabama power back Nick Saban always seems to find. Yeldon possesses the rare set of speed, athleticism and strength, and will only continue to learn, get better and further utilize his size to his advantage.
4. Todd Gurley, Georgia
Why: Gurley’s breakout freshman campaign made any distress of former Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell’s departure completely vanish. The North Carolina native weaved his way through SEC defenses smoother than John Stamos’ hair, ending with 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s the perfect candidate for a first-round NFL running back in the near future with his combination of size, power and speed. He can beat you inside or outside, will run you over or make you miss, and has all the intangibles to continue to develop and get better. Gurley is one of the most athletic players in the NCAA and could have a historic year with all five offensive linemen returning for the Dawgs in 2013.
3. Silas Redd, USC
Why: The Trojans were plagued with injuries all season long, affecting the defense in a major way. This forced the offense to over-use the passing game in order to stay in ballgames. Redd, whose numbers suffered due to the inconvenience, is a much better running back than his statistics portray. When the line does a good job of creating holes, Redd becomes one of the most dangerous tailbacks in the country. He’s a powerful runner that leans on his top-notch elusiveness – the characteristic that NFL scouts will drool over. Even with nowhere to go he makes it difficult for the defender to get a clean hit on him. Add in his ability to create his own plays when things break down and his receiver-like hands; he is a huge threat to score from anywhere on the field at any given moment. Redd is one of the most complete backs in the NCAA.
2. James White, Wisconsin
Why: When Mark Ingram left for the NFL, Alabama found what seems to be a better option with Trent Richardson. This could be the case for Wisconsin, which says good bye to Montee Ball – the NCAA record-holder for touchdowns – and welcomes long-time backup James White to the starting lineup. White and Ball are similar when it comes to size, but contrast in terms of skill set. White is a much more versatile athlete and can be used all over the field. He can take direct snaps, is a huge upgrade in the passing game and can even throw the ball. A overall faster player than Ball, White does a better job of getting to the outside and gives the Badgers the leeway to open up the playbook. The most important factor and difference between the two is White’s ability to break plays open and kick into a second gear. Ball had a handful of long runs in his career, but could never outrun safeties for a touchdown. White can.
1. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona
Why: Back for an encore is the NCAA’s leader in rushing. Carey averaged 171.7 total yards and 1.8 touchdowns per game for an extremely potent Arizona offense in 2012. It’s going to be almost impossible for him to top – or even repeat – those numbers after some key departures, but that doesn’t reflect on just how good he is. Carey is a superstar at his position and already the best running back in school history. He’s a complete back: game-breaking speed, size (6-1), strength and field awareness are just a few of his strongest attributes. Carey relies heavily on his instincts, which have never failed him before. He sheds tackles like an NFL running back and has the ability to go for over 500 yards receiving for the year. Although he didn’t make it to New York with his near 2,000-yard season in ’12, he’s more than capable of taking home the bronze this December.
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