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College Football's Top 50 Running Backs for 2018

Bryce Love, Stanford Cardinal Football

Bryce Love, Stanford Cardinal Football

With Bryce Love returning to Stanford, along with the continued emergence of Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins and Boston College's AJ Dillon, the running back position is stocked with talent for the 2018 college football season. Love ranks as Athlon's No. 1 running back for the upcoming year and should be among the leading candidates to win the Heisman Trophy this fall. Alabama's Damien Harris, Florida State's Cam Akers and Washington's Myles Gaskin are just a few of the other names inside of the top 10.

Wisconsin Badgers RB Jonathan Taylor

Athlon Sports is taking an early look at the running back position by ranking the top 50 players for 2018. This article is not a ranking of running backs only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. This list could look a lot different by August, especially once some of the battles for carries are settled at Power 5 programs. Our rankings are compiled by using many factors including career stats so far, 2017 statistics, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, pro potential, changes in scheme or coaching, projection for 2018, production, value to the team, recruiting background and just overall talent. Think of this list as an early power ranking for 2018, with tweaks expected at the end of spring and prior to Week 1.

College Football's Top 50 Running Backs for 2018

The next tier: Eno Benjamin, Arizona State; Jeremy Cox, Old Dominion; Devwah Whaley, Arkansas; Darrin Hall, Pitt; Izzy Matthews, Colorado State; Jeremy Larkin, Northwestern; Darius Anderson, TCU; Kennedy McKoy, West Virginia; J.J. Taylor, Arizona; Darnell Woolfolk, Army; Adrian Killins, UCF; Otis Anderson, UCF; Brittain Brown, Duke; Patrick Taylor, Memphis; Ryquell Armstead, Temple; James Washington, Washington State; Shakif Seymour, Toledo; Jordan Scarlett, Florida; Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt; Kelton Moore, Nevada; Tre Bryant, Nebraska; Markell Jones, Purdue; Jalen Rhodes, UTSA; Caleb Huntley, Ball State; Kam Martin, Auburn; Trey Ragas, Louisiana

50. Marquis Young, UMass

Young has recorded at least 890 yards in each of the last three seasons and nearly hit the 1,000-yard mark last fall (982 yards and nine scores). He's also a valuable receiver for coach Mark Whipple, catching 76 passes for 498 yards and two touchdowns in his UMass career.

College Football Rankings: UMass

49. Andrew Clair, Bowling Green

Clair is a breakout candidate to watch in 2018. After working behind Josh Cleveland and recording 725 yards and four touchdowns on just 107 carries last fall, Clair is set to take over the full-time role in Bowling Green's backfield.

College Football Rankings: Bowling Green

48. Dexter Williams, Notre Dame

Williams is expected to take over as Notre Dame's No. 1 back following Josh Adams' early departure to the NFL. He's been impressive in limited action, averaging 9.2 yards a carry on 39 attempts for 360 yards in 2017. Additionally, Williams accumulated 200 yards on 39 carries in 2016. Assuming he can stay healthy, Williams has a good chance to reach 1,000 yards behind a solid Notre Dame offensive line.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Notre Dame

47. Ty Chandler, Tennessee

Assuming Chandler holds off Michigan State graduate transfer Madre London for the starting job, he should deliver a breakout season in 2018. As a freshman in 2017, Chandler deferred to John Kelly, recording 305 yards and two touchdowns in limited work. He also caught 10 passes and returned a kickoff for a score.

Tennessee Football Schedule

46. Shamari Brooks, Tulsa

Tulsa has finished third in the American Athletic Conference in rushing offense in back-to-back seasons. That trend should continue in 2018, as Brooks is poised to pick up where D'Angelo Brewer (1,517 yards) left off. The Oklahoma native rushed for 687 yards and 10 touchdowns as Brewer's backup last season and is poised to assume the No. 1 role in 2018. He should push for first-team All-AAC honors.

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45. Alexander Mattison, Boise State

Mattison inherited big shoes to fill following the departure of Jeremy McNichols to the NFL and recorded 1,086 yards (5.1 ypc) and 12 scores in his first opportunity as the team's No. 1 back. Mattison gashed Colorado State for 242 yards in a 59-52 victory in mid-November and also eclipsed the 100-yard mark (128) against San Diego State.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Boise State

44. Xavier Jones, SMU

Jones missed nearly all of the 2016 season due to injury but showed no rust last fall. The Texas native led a deep SMU backfield with 1,075 rushing yards and added nine scores on the ground. He was also a factor in the passing game, chipping in 14 receptions for 84 yards. Jones has rushed for 1,849 yards and 20 touchdowns over the last three years.

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43. Tony Brooks-James, Oregon

Royce Freeman leaves big shoes to fill in Eugene, but as usual, the Ducks aren't hurting for options at running back. In addition to Brooks-James, CJ Verdell, Darrian Felix, Cyrus Habibi-Likio and Taj Griffin are all in the mix for carries. Brooks-James has accumulated 1,557 yards and 14 touchdowns over the last three years and has the early edge to replace Freeman as Oregon's No. 1 back.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oregon

Related: Ranking All 130 Starting QBs for 2018

42. Trey Sermon, Oklahoma

With Baker Mayfield taking snaps for the Browns, Oklahoma's offense will ask a little more of its ground game in 2018. In addition to standout Rodney Anderson (see No. 10), Sermon should see more opportunities in his second year on campus. He collected 744 yards and five scores on 121 carries and caught 16 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2017. The former four-star recruit is a rising star in the Big 12.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oklahoma

41. Alex Barnes, Kansas State

A Kansas State running back hasn't eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark since 2013. Can Barnes end that streak in 2018? While the distribution of carries between Barnes, Dalvin Warmack, Justin Silmon and quarterbacks Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson isn't settled, Barnes has a strong case for more opportunities. On 146 attempts last fall, Barnes ran for 819 yards and seven touchdowns. With more opportunities in 2018, Barnes has a chance to earn all-conference honors as the lead back for Kansas State's offense.

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40. Patrick Laird, California

California's offense suffered a significant setback when Tre Watson was lost due to a season-ending knee injury in early September last fall. However, Watson's absence created an opportunity for someone to step up, and Laird seized the chance to claim the top spot in the backfield. After recording only 11 career carries prior to 2017, Laird handled 191 attempts for 1,127 yards and eight scores. He was also a valuable outlet of the backfield for quarterback Ross Bowers, catching 45 passes for 322 yards.

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Related: Pac-12 Football 2018 All-Conference Team

39. Jamauri Bogan, Western Michigan

The Broncos lose standout Jarvion Franklin, but coach Tim Lester's ground attack remains strong with the one-two punch of Bogan and LeVante Bellamy. Bogan rushed for 589 yards as Franklin's backup last fall but recorded 1,051 yards in 2015 and 923 in '16.

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38. Stephen Carr, USC

The Trojans will have a new No. 1 running back after Ronald Jones departed Los Angeles for the NFL. Assuming Carr is fully recovered from offseason back surgery, the sophomore seems poised to have a breakout year. As the top backup to Jones last season, Carr recorded 363 yards and three touchdowns on just 65 carries and caught 17 passes for 188 yards. The California native ranked as a five-star prospect in the 2017 signing class.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: USC

37. A.J. Ouellette, Ohio

Ouellette rebounded in a big way after missing nearly all of the 2016 season due to injury. In 13 appearances, Ouellette led the Ohio ground attack by rushing for 1,006 yards and seven scores. The 1,000-yard campaign was the first by Ouellette of his career in Athens.

College Football Rankings: Ohio

36. Jonathan Ward, Central Michigan

With the Chippewas looking to replace quarterback Shane Morris and a couple of key targets from last year's team, the CMU offense is likely to lean heavily on Ward in 2018. After working as a reserve as a freshman in 2016, Ward assumed the bulk of the carries last year, accumulating 1,017 yards and 10 touchdowns on 179 attempts. He also caught 48 passes for 470 yards and three scores.