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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.

College Football Rankings: Central Michigan

Related: MAC Football 2018 All-Conference Team

35. Lexington Thomas, UNLV

With Thomas and Charles Williams back for 2018, UNLV should have one of the deeper backfields for a Group of 5 team this fall. Thomas was slated to share carries in 2017, but an injury to Williams in the opener pressed him into the full-time role. The ground game remained strong with Thomas handling a full workload, recording 1,336 yards and 17 scores on just 211 attempts. 

College football rankings: UNLV

34. James Gilbert, Ball State

Gilbert ranked as one of the MAC's top offensive playmakers prior to the 2017 season. However, Gilbert was limited to just three games due to a thumb injury, collecting 207 yards and three touchdowns on 48 attempts. In 2016, Gilbert paced the Ball State ground game with 1,332 yards and 12 scores on 251 attempts. Having Gilbert back at full strength would be a huge boost to a Ball State offense that averaged only 17.9 points a game in 2017.

Ball State: college football picks against the spread

33. Ty Johnson, Maryland

Johnson is overshadowed by some of the Big Ten's other running backs, but he's consistently produced big plays during his three seasons in College Park. The Maryland native averaged 7.1 yards per rush on 35 attempts as a freshman but eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2016, averaging a whopping 9.1 yards per carry. Johnson posted 875 yards last season and still averaged 6.4 yards per carry. He's produced 15 rushes of 40 yards or more over the last two years.

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32. Rodney Smith, Minnesota

With Shannon Brooks sidelined for the 2018 season due to injury, Smith is likely to see even more opportunities than he did last fall in coach P.J. Fleck's first year. Smith just missed the 1,000-yard mark, recording 977 yards and three scores on 229 carries in 2017. In 2016, Smith led the Minnesota offense with 1,158 yards and 16 rushing scores. He's also factored into the passing game by catching 40 passes over the last two years.

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31. Jacques Patrick, Florida State

Patrick is slated to work behind Cam Akers (see No. 7) this fall, but the senior could start on a good chunk of teams at the FBS level. After ranking as a four-star recruit coming out of high school, Patrick worked as the backup to Dalvin Cook from 2015-16 and received a career-high 132 carries last season. Patrick made the most of those opportunities, recording 735 yards and seven rushing scores in 2017.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: FSU

Related: College Football Top 25 Rankings for 2018

30. Tavien Feaster, Clemson

Feaster ranked as the No. 1 all-purpose running back by the 247Sports Composite for the 2016 signing class and is starting to scratch the surface of his potential. After working as a backup to Wayne Gallman as a freshman, Feaster recorded 669 yards and seven touchdowns while sharing time with Travis Etienne (see No. 18) last fall. Feaster also had two runs of 60 yards or more in 2017.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Clemson

29. Juwan Washington, San Diego State

Look for San Diego State's streak of 1,000-yard rushers to extend to nine consecutive seasons in 2018, as Washington is poised to emerge as the next star in the backfield for coach Rocky Long. As a backup to Rashaad Penny last fall, Washington rushed for 759 yards and seven scores on 127 attempts.

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28. Travis Homer, Miami

Homer assumed the No. 1 role in Miami's backfield after Mark Walton was lost with a season-ending injury against Florida State. The Florida native was impressive in his first extended action with the 'Canes, rushing for 966 yards and eight touchdowns on 163 carries. Homer could rank higher on this list by the end of the 2018 season. However, he will have to hold off touted freshman Lorenzo Lingard and DeeJay Dallas for the starting job.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Miami

Related: ACC Football 2018 All-Conference Team

27. KirVonte Benson, Georgia Tech

Benson saw limited action as a freshman in 2016 but did not record a carry in his first opportunity for snaps. However, that wasn't the case last season. Benson emerged as the top B-back for coach Paul Johnson, recording 1,053 yards and six touchdowns. Benson averaged 5.2 yards per rush and eclipsed 100 yards in five games, including 129 against Clemson.

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26. Spencer Brown, UAB

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UAB's return to the gridiron was fueled by a standout defense and a strong rushing attack, which was anchored by Brown in his first year on campus. In 13 games for the Blazers, Brown rushed for 1,329 yards and 10 touchdowns. That performance was good enough to earn second-team All-Conference USA honors last season.

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25. Miles Sanders, Penn State

Replacing Saquon Barkley won't be easy, but Sanders is ready to step up as the team's No. 1 option. The Pittsburgh native ranked as a five-star recruit coming out of high school and worked as a reserve in each of the last two years. Sanders recorded 191 yards and two touchdowns in limited work last season. Look for Sanders to have a breakout year in 2018.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Penn State

24. Karan Higdon, Michigan

Despite an uneven performance by Michigan's offensive line last season, Higdon just missed out on the 1,000-yard mark. He recorded 994 yards and 11 touchdowns on 164 carries, averaging 6.1 yards per rush. Higdon had two 200-yard efforts (Indiana and Minnesota) and rushed for 158 against Rutgers last fall.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan

23. Damarea Crockett, Missouri

Crockett's 2017 season was cut short due to a shoulder injury, but all signs point to the junior returning to full strength and pushing for All-SEC honors in 2018. The Arkansas native had a breakout freshman campaign in 2016, rushing for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 153 attempts. Crockett was off to a good start last fall before the injury, averaging 6.01 yards per rush through six contests.

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Related: Ranking All 130 Starting QBs for 2018

22. LJ Scott, Michigan State

As a four-star recruit and top-100 prospect, Scott was a huge catch for Michigan State on the recruiting trail. He's been solid over his first three years on campus, rushing for 2,481 yards and 23 touchdowns. However, Scott has yet to record a 1,000-yard season and averaged only 4.3 yards per carry in Big Ten games last fall.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan State

21. Darrell Henderson, Memphis

With Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller off to the NFL, Memphis is likely to lean on its ground game a little more in 2018. That shouldn't be a problem for coach Mike Norvell, as Henderson is one of the AAC's top returning running backs this fall. He led the team with 1,154 yards and posted nine rushing scores in 2017. Henderson averaged 8.8 yards a carry and had seven rushes of 50 yards or more last fall.

College Football Rankings: Memphis Football

Related: American Athletic All-Conference Team for 2018

20. Zack Moss, Utah

Moss ensured Utah's ground game didn't miss a beat after Joe Williams finished his eligibility in Salt Lake City. In his first year as the team's starter, Moss recorded 1,173 yards and 10 scores on 214 attempts. He also caught 29 passes for 243 yards and finished 2017 by rushing for 196 yards versus Colorado and 150 against West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

NCAAF Top 25 Rankings: Utah

19. Jalin Moore, Appalachian State

Appalachian State has had a 1,000-yard rusher in all four seasons since joining the FBS level in 2014. Moore has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns, and despite missing two games, he led the Sun Belt by averaging 94.3 yards a game last season.

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18. Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M

Williams has paced the Texas A&M backfield in rushing yardage in each of the last two seasons and could see an uptick in carries (173 last year) under new coach Jimbo Fisher. The Houston native rushed for 798 yards in 2017, which was down from the 1,057-yard mark he hit as a freshman in 2016. He's also caught 39 passes over the last two seasons.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Texas A&M

17. Aeris Williams, Mississippi State

Williams was one of the SEC's underrated players and led the way for Mississippi State's ground game last season. He rushed for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns, including a 97-yard effort against Alabama in mid-November.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Mississippi State

Related: Ranking All 130 College Football Starting QBs for 2018

16. Travis Etienne, Clemson

Etienne and teammate Tavien Feaster should form one of the nation's top running back tandems in 2018. As a freshman last year, Etienne led the offense with 766 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Adding to those impressive totals was Etienne received only 107 carries, with his 7.2 yards per carry ranking first in the ACC among rushers with at least 100 attempts.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Clemson

15. Najee Harris, Alabama

If this list was just based on raw talent alone, Harris would rank higher among FBS running backs. But with Damien Harris leading the ground attack for Alabama, along with a few other touted rushers on the depth chart, Najee Harris isn't going to see the workload some of the other names will on this list. Harris - a five-star prospect in the 2017 signing class - rushed for 370 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman last fall.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Alabama

14. Mike Weber, Ohio State

Weber led the Ohio State offense with 1,096 rushing yards in 2016 and was poised to build on those totals the following year. However, a hamstring injury limited Weber early in the 2017 campaign, opening the door for true freshman J.K. Dobbins (see No. 4) to emerge as the starter. Weber still finished the year with 626 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 94 yards. With a full offseason to return to full strength, Weber should be even more dangerous as a complement to Dobbins in 2018.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

13. D'Andre Swift, Georgia

After rushing for 618 yards and three touchdowns as a backup to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel last season, Swift is poised to take over as Georgia's go-to back in 2018. The sophomore will have help from a deep stable of rushers, but he's poised for a breakout year.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Georgia

Related: SEC Football 2018 All-Conference Team

12. Benny Snell, Kentucky

With Kentucky's offense breaking in a new quarterback, Snell should expect another heavy workload in 2018. After rushing for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman in 2016, Snell improved on those totals last fall. Over 13 games, Snell rushed for 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns. Snell leads the way among returning backs in the SEC.

Kentucky football schedule

11. Justice Hill, Oklahoma State

Mason Rudolph and James Washington have departed Stillwater for the NFL. However, Oklahoma State's offense won't slide too far in the Big 12, as coach Mike Gundy can lean on Hill a little more in 2018. After rushing for 1,142 yards as a freshman in 2016, Hill recorded 1,467 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also caught 31 passes for 190 yards and led all Big 12 rushers by averaging 112.9 yards a game last fall.

College Football Top 25: Oklahoma State

10. Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma

Oklahoma lost Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine prior to the 2017 season, yet the ground game never missed a beat with Anderson leading the way. In his first year as the starter, Anderson rushed for 1,161 yards and 13 touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards a rush.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oklahoma

Related: College Football's 10 Biggest Wild Card Teams for 2018

9. David Montgomery, Iowa State

Montgomery delivered a breakout season for coach Matt Campbell's Cyclones last fall, rushing for 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns. Montgomery also caught 36 passes for 296 yards and eight scores. According to Pro Football Focus, Montgomery led all FBS rushers by causing 109 missed tackles last fall. 

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8. Damien Harris, Alabama

Alabama's backfield is loaded with talent and options for new play-caller Mike Locksley, but Harris passed on the NFL for another year in Tuscaloosa and a chance to anchor the ground game once again. Harris has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns and averaged 7.4 yards per rush on 135 carries last fall. The Kentucky native has yet to eclipse more than 20 carries in a contest but that could change in 2018 with Bo Scarbrough leaving for the NFL.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Alabama

7. Cam Akers, Florida State

Akers was one of the top recruits in the 2017 signing class and showed flashes of his potential in his debut with the Seminoles. The Mississippi native rushed for 1,025 yards and seven touchdowns while sharing time with Jacques Patrick (132 carries). Akers also caught 16 passes for 116 yards and a score. Look for Akers to be even more involved in the offense this fall under new coach Willie Taggart.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: FSU

6. Myles Gaskin, Washington

With 4,055 yards over the last three seasons, Gaskin enters 2018 as the active leader among FBS players in career rushing yards. He's eclipsed at least 1,000 yards in all three seasons on campus and posted a career high 21 rushing touchdowns in 2017.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Washington

5. Devin Singletary, FAU

"Motor" was the engine behind FAU's high-powered offense last fall, rushing for 1,920 yards and 32 scores. Singletary's 32 rushing touchdowns were the third most in a season by a player in FBS history.

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Related: Ranking All 130 College Football Starting QBs for 2018

4. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State

After an injury slowed Mike Weber early in the 2017 season, Dobbins emerged as Ohio State's No. 1 running back. The Texas native finished his freshman year by rushing for 1,403 yards and seven scores, averaging a healthy 7.23 yards a carry. Dobbins eclipsed 100 yards against some of the Big Ten's top competition - Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State last fall - and is set to anchor the backfield once again in 2018.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Ohio State

3. AJ Dillon, Boston College

Dillon ranked as Boston College's top recruit in its 2017 signing class and didn't disappoint in his first year on campus. The Connecticut native finished the season with 1,589 yards and 14 scores and rushed for at least 149 yards in each of his last five games. Dillon had two 200-yard efforts, including a 272-yard performance against Louisville. He averaged 179.4 yards a game over the final seven contests.

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2. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Wisconsin has seen its share of standout running backs throughout its program history, and after a prolific freshman season, it's clear Taylor is the next star for the Badgers. Taylor set a new FBS freshman record by rushing for 1,977 yards and added 13 scores on 299 carries. He had three 200-yard games and eclipsed the century mark in 10 contests.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Wisconsin

Related: College Football Top 25 Rankings for 2018

1. Bryce Love, Stanford

Love passed on the NFL after a prolific junior campaign and returns to the Farm as one of the leading candidates to win the Heisman Trophy in 2018. In 13 games, Love rushed for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns and averaged 8.1 yards per carry. He also had 13 rushes of 50 yards or more last season.

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