The all-time rushing lead in the FCS may change in 2017. What won’t be new is the high level of talent among running backs in the subdivision.
Football is a passing game today, but teams that have a bell cow in the backfield – like Fordham senior Chase Edmonds – still make him the first option.
Most of the best running backs in the FCS tend to be undersized, but they’re fast, deceptively strong and productive.
Here is a countdown of the 10 best returning running backs in the FCS:
10. (tie) Anthony Philyaw, Howard (R-Sr., 6-1, 205)
After missing two seasons with injuries, Philyaw came back strong last year, ending the season with a school-record 281 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Delaware State to finish with 1,230 yards. He catches passes out of the backfield and finds the end zone. When he was healthy in 2013, Philyaw scored 16 touchdowns.
10. (tie) Roc Thomas, Jacksonville State (Sr., 5-11, 193)
A former five-star Mr. Football in the state of Alabama, Thomas has never reached an elite level in college (two years at Auburn, one at Jacksonville State). In only nine games last season, he finished with 782 yards and seven touchdowns on 127 carries, but with star quarterback Eli Jenkins gone, Thomas figures to be the first option in the Gamecocks’ offense this year.
9. Lance Dunn, North Dakota State (R-Jr., 5-9, 210)
Dunn will be more of the featured back at NDSU this season (although Bruce Anderson also returns). Nevertheless, in last season’s crowded backfield, Dunn produced in a big way, ranking third in the Missouri Valley Football Conference with 996 yards on 166 carries and scoring six touchdowns. He’ll benefit from the Bison’s always strong offensive line.
8. Dom Bragalone, Lehigh (Jr., 5-11, 215)
Bragalone is physical and has deceptive speed, but his calling card is consistency. He’s gone over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, averaging 5.6 yards per carry as a freshman and then 5.7 as a sophomore. The first-team All-Patriot League back also has scored 23 touchdowns from scrimmage in Lehigh’s high-powered offense.
7. Deontez Thompson, Richmond (R-So., 6-0, 200)
Thompson was a savior for the Spiders last season after two other running backs suffered season-ending injuries. He entered the lineup and finished with 1,001 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns for the FCS quarterfinalist. When he became the No. 1 back, he had a stretch of six 100-yard performances in seven games.
6. Corey Avery, Sam Houston State (Sr., 5-10, 190)
After transferring in from Kansas in 2015, Avery has posted big seasons at Sam Houston in back-to-back years. Using his speed and elusiveness, he has scored 30 touchdowns from scrimmage for one of the top offenses in the FCS. He shared carries last season, averaging six yards per while totaling 755 yards, this coming after piling up 1,483 on the ground in 2015.
5. John Santiago, North Dakota (Jr., 5-9, 180)
Santiago shared carries in UND’s backfield as a sophomore, but that simply made his legs fresher later in the season. As a freshman in 2015, he set the Fighting Hawks’ Division I records for rushing yards (1,459) and all-purpose yards (2,159), scoring 16 touchdowns, while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. The speedster, also a huge threat on kick returns, had 983 yards on 183 carries a year ago.
4. Detrez Newsome, Western Carolina (Sr., 5-10, 210)
South Carolina will attest to Newsome as he rushed for 115 yards and had 365 all-purpose yards against the Gamecocks last November. The 2016 FCS leader in all-purpose yards surpassed 1,000 rushing yards (1,031) for the second consecutive season. He’s not shy about contact and has scored at least nine rushing touchdowns in each of his three seasons.
3. Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, Albany (Jr., 5-9, 200)
The big question is Ibitokun-Hanks’ health this year because he suffered a torn ACL and medial meniscus in his left knee in the final game last November. He has first-team All-America skill, but Albany will likely have to monitor his carries after last year’s 247 attempts went for a CAA Football-high 1,388 yards. He found the end zone 16 times.
2. Joe Protheroe, Cal Poly (Sr., 6-0, 225)
Technically a fullback in Cal Poly’s triple-option offense, Protheroe has both speed and power. His best performances as a junior came in the Mustangs’ biggest games and it added up to 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He rushed for more than 3,000 yards during his senior season of high school.
1. Chase Edmonds, Fordham (Sr., 5-9, 210)
Edmonds is an easy No. 1 choice. With 5,285 career rushing yards, he’s on pace to surpass former Georgia Southern running back Adrian Peterson’s FCS all-time record of 6,559 yards. He’s gone over 200 yards in a game seven times, topped by a 359-yard performance – on only 17 carries – against Lafayette last season. He’s fast and
More Running Backs to Watch: Martez Carter, Grambling State (Sr., 5-8, 175); Joey DeFloria, Bucknell (Sr., 5-9, 195); Aaron Forbes, Villanova (Jr., 5-9, 220); A.J. Hines, Duquesne (So., 5-11, 225); Khalil Lewis, Gardner-Webb (R-Jr., 5-10, 215); Julius Maracalin, Southeastern Louisiana (R-Jr., 6-0, 215); Brady Mengarelli, South Dakota State (Sr., 5-10, 195); Steve McShane, Western Illinois (Jr., 5-8, 185)
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Chase Edmdonds photo by Fordham Athletics, Joe Protheroe photo by Cal Poly Athletics)