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College Football Draft Kit: Running Back Rankings

Mario Puig

Mario Puig

Mario sets the direction of RotoWire's college football and NFL draft content, with his other responsibilities primarily resting in those same subjects. He's a fan of Chip Kelly, James Harrison and David Bowie.

1. Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona

Carey was certainly promising as a freshman in 2011, but no one could have anticipated his ridiculous breakout season last year. Carey led the nation with 148.4 rushing yards per game while tying for fourth with 23 rushing touchdowns. He's also a standout receiver, posting 506 yards and three touchdowns in his first 24 career games. Carey totaled more than 100 yards from scrimmage or scored in all 13 games last year. Arizona doesn't have anyone to compete with Carey for carries this year and, despite a likely decline in his production, it's still difficult to rank him anywhere but first among running backs.

2. David Fluellen, Sr., Toledo

Fluellen was a monster in his first year as starter, even outshining past Toledo stars like Adonis Thomas and Jalen Parmele. Despite dealing with a down year from the Toledo passing game and playing through a bum ankle against a tough Utah State defense in the team's bowl game, Fluellen totaled 1,498 yards (5.8 YPC) and 13 touchdowns in 12 games, including three 200-yard efforts. He also proved to be an adept receiver, pulling in 32 catches for 246 yards. He'll once again be unchallenged as Toledo's workhorse in 2013, and the Rockets bring back all but one of their 2012 starting offensive linemen.

3. Duke Johnson, So., Miami (FL)

There might not be a more exciting running back in college football than Johnson, who established himself as one of the nation's most dominant open-field runners despite primarily playing off the bench as a freshman. Johnson needed just 139 carries to bolt for 947 yards (6.8 YPC) and 10 touchdowns last season, adding 221 yards and a score on 27 catches while throwing a touchdown pass and returning two kickoffs for touchdowns. With Mike James, who had 177 touches last season, now in the NFL, Johnson has the starting job to himself and inherits an offensive line returning all of its starters. Although the Miami offense was pass-happy in 2012, Johnson is too explosive not to get a much bigger workload this season.

4. Antonio Andrews, Sr., Western Kentucky

A former wideout, the athletic Andrews has a well-rounded skill set. He not only ran for 1,733 yards (5.7 YPC) and 11 touchdowns on 304 carries last year but also caught 37 passes for 432 yards and three scores and returned a punt for a touchdown. Andrews' stock took a slight hit with the departure of head coach Willie Taggart, but Bobby Petrino has a history of producing productive running backs despite a greater emphasis on passing than Taggart's run-dominated Western Kentucky system. And perhaps a more effective passing game this season – Western Kentucky ranked last in passing in the Sun Belt last season – will open even bigger running lanes for Andrews, who could also see an uptick in targets.

5. Adam Muema, Jr., San Diego State

Muema split carries with Walter Kazee much of last year but still totaled 1,458 yards (6.2 YPC) and 16 touchdowns on the ground while catching nine passes for 147 yards and another touchdown. While Muema was the lead back, Kazee stole 161 rushes last season, totaling 822 yards and eight touchdowns. Fortunately for Muema, Kazee graduated, so Muema should see his workload increase from the 237 carries he handled last year. Muema might be an even better fantasy option than former San Diego State star Ronnie Hillman was a couple years ago.

6. Lache Seastrunk, Jr., Baylor

Seastrunk is one of the nation's elite running back talents and should post gigantic numbers as he takes over as Baylor's top back in 2013. He played off the bench most of last year by midseason decisively usurped the veteran duo of Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin, easily leading the team with 1,012 rushing yards (7.7 YPC) despite getting just 131 carries. Seastrunk's final six games last year, during which he rushed for 831 yards (8.2 YPC) and six touchdowns, offers a preview of what to expect this season on a fast-paced Bears offense that should have no trouble matching last year's 82.5 plays per game (fifth in the nation).

7. James White, Sr., Wisconsin

Despite outproducing both at various points, White waited behind Montee Ball and John Clay for his chance to start, totaling 2,571 yards and 32 touchdowns as a career backup. Those are numbers a lot of starters would wish for, so expect fireworks from White now that he won't be playing off the bench. Wisconsin lost coach Bret Bielema and his run-heavy attack, but fortunately for White, now calling plays is former Utah State coach Gary Andersen, whose offenses routinely provide some of the nation's most productive running backs.

8. Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington

Sankey was billed primarily as a speed/quickness back as a recruit, but in 2012 he proved himself to be a legitimate workhorse for Washington. He carried the offense as he took 289 carries for 1,439 yards (5.0 YPC) and 16 touchdowns and caught 33 passes for 249 yards. The Huskies bring back four starting offensive linemen from a year ago, and Sankey should get a bit more help in what ought to be a bounce-back year for the Washington passing game. Washington averaged just 6.3 yards per pass last year, and the probable improvement in that category could bring Sankey within the end zone more often this season.

9. Todd Gurley, So., Georgia

Gurley is quite possibly the most talented running back in the country. Although he's built like a tank at 6-1, 232, Gurley possesses excellent flexibility, balance and vision and has the athleticism to go the distance on every play. Although he'll lose about 10 carries per game to fellow top talent Keith Marshall, Gurley is the clear goal-line back for a high-powered Georgia offense that returns its entire starting offensive line. Gurley's 1,385-yard, 17-touchdown rushing debut probably is his floor in 2013.

10. De'Anthony Thomas, Jr., Oregon

Thomas' numbers were slightly less ridiculous in 2012 as he averaged “only” 7.6 yards per carry after torching opponents for 10.8 YPC as a freshman, but he still is clearly the nation's top open-field playmaker. Even with a huge bullseye on him from the start of last season, Thomas took 92 carries for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns while catching 45 passes for 445 yards and five touchdowns. He also returned a kick and punt return for touchdowns. Thomas should be more active as a runner this season because Oregon is without Kenjon Barner, who accounted for 21.5 carries per game last year. Fellow running back Byron Marshall will see an increased workload as well, but he's not nearly as involved in the passing game nor as efficient as Thomas.

11. Marion Grice, So., Arizona State

A running back-wide receiver hybrid, Grice is also a factor between the tackles. He led Arizona State with 11 rushing touchdowns last year and should post an even higher total with Cameron Marshall (nine touchdowns) no longer around. Arizona State brings back most of its offensive line, and Grice should continue to benefit from a sound passing game led by Taylor Kelly. Grice might even be Arizona State's leading receiver after snagging 41 passes for 425 yards and eight scores last year.

12. Kasey Carrier, Sr., New Mexico

New Mexico's triple-option took off in 2012, and with it came a breakout season for Carrier, who torched opponents for 1,469 yards (5.8 YPC) and 15 touchdowns. Nearly all of his production came in 10 games, too, as he missed the opener with a hamstring injury and then totaled only 63 yards in the next two games. His breakout came in a four-game midseason stretch that saw him rush for 826 yards and 11 touchdowns, including a Mountain West-record 338 yards against Air Force. The Lobos bring back nearly all of their offensive line, and the triple-option should remain at peak effectiveness with big-play running quarterback Cole Gautsche drawing defenders away from Carrier in a conference with weak run defenses.

13. Ameer Abdullah, Jr., Nebraska

Abdullah became a big-time fantasy factor last season with starter Rex Burkhead limited by injury, rushing for 1,137 yards and touchdowns. He also added a score on a punt return and two touchdowns through the air with 178 receving yards. But with Burkhead in and out of the lineup, Abdullah's production was inconsistent. He rushed for 50 yards or less in five games and didn't score a touchdown in his last six games – all games in which Burkhead played. That won't be a problem this season with Burkhead graduated. And Braylon Heard (52-348-3) transferred to Kentucky, leaving quarterback Taylor Martinez, who rushed for 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, as his main competition for carries. Nebraska returns four-fifths of its offensive line and should possess a strong offense, allowing Abdullah to significantly increase his touchdown total this season.

14. Trey Watts, Sr., Tulsa

Watts is poised to make his fourth season at Tulsa his best, at least in fantasy football terms. The speedy, versatile runner has made his mark as a runner, receiver and returner, but he never had a chance to pile up touchdowns while goal-line specialist Alex Singleton was in town. Watts ran for 1,108 yards and three touchdowns last year on 186 carries, but watched Singleton rush for 24 touchdowns, second in the nation. With Singleton, who carried 200 times for 800 yards, gone, Watts is a good bet to easily breeze past 200 carries and take most of the goal-line carries, leading to double-digit touchdowns.

15. Dri Archer, Sr., Kent State

Archer's 2012 season was absolutely stunning. The 5-8, 175, burner easily led the nation with 9.0 yards per carry and was third among running backs with 14.4 yards per catch, leading Kent State in both rushing (1,429 yards, 16 TD) and receiving (561 yards, four TD). He also returned three kickoffs for touchdowns on just 17 attempts and threw for a touchdown. Trayion Durham actually led the team with 276 rushes to Archer's 159 last season, accounting for 1,316 yards and 14 touchdowns, and could see more carries this season, especially if the Golden Flashes use Archer in the slot to get him in the open field more often. That shouldn't hurt Archer's fantasy production, though he's bound to see a drop in efficiency. Archer has a history of injury trouble, but as long as he's healthy, his 4.29 speed appears unstoppable in the MAC.

16. Beau Blankenship, Sr., Ohio

Blankenship was one of the nation's elite fantasy running backs last season but might not have the opportunity to reach 1,604 yards (5.1 YPC) and 15 touchdowns on the ground again this year. His 312 carries are the most of any returning running back, and it's unlikely he receives 24 carries per game this season because backups Ryan Boykin and Daz'mond Patterson are promising runners who will earn more touches. Ohio is also replacing most of its offensive line this year, which also could be an obstacle. Blankenship caught 21 passes for 182 yards and a score last season, and with quarterback Tyler Tettleton back, the offense should continue to roll. Just don't overpay.

17. Tre Mason, Jr., Auburn

Mason had a breakout 2012 season for Auburn, yet it's still safe to say the junior running back was underutilized. He had just 178 touches and wasn't used much in the passing game with just seven receptions for 86 yards. At 5-10, 198, Mason is an elusive big-play threat but runs with a compact frame, giving him the ability to serve as both a workhorse and home-run hitter. He used those skills last year to rush for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns. This season, new coach Gus Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle attack should lead to more touches for Mason, who will also benefit from the return of four-fifths of Auburn's offensive line.

18. Jeremy Smith, Sr., Oklahoma State

A backup running back the last three seasons, Smith is finally poised to inherit the starting role at Oklahoma State this year, and with it should come big numbers. The redshirt senior's career YPC is 6.2, coming on 232 carries for 1,439 yards with 25 touchdowns. Those could be his season numbers this year, as Cowboys lead backs have averaged 245 carries a year the last four seasons. Considering his likely draft position, Smith looks like a good value this season.

19. Jamaal Williams, So., BYU

Williams made starter Michael Alisa an afterthought last season after taking over as the lead back when Alisa went down with a season-ending injury in Week 5. Despite carrying just 18 times in the first four weeks and dealing with a dysfunctional passing game most of the year, Williams ran for 775 yards (4.7 YPC) and 12 touchdowns while catching 27 passes for 315 yards and a touchdown. Williams' consistency was impressive, as he seemed relatively matchup-proof, totaling 583 yards and seven touchdowns from scrimmage against a brutal schedule of Utah State, Oregon State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and San Jose State. Alisa is healthy this year, but Williams likely won't cede many carries to the less talented back who averaged a paltry 3.8 YPC last season.

20. Jay Ajayi, So., Boise State

Ajayi is set to serve as the next great Boise State running back, continuing a now lengthy tradition. D.J. Harper's graduation sets the stage for Ajayi to take over after finishing his freshman season with 548 yards and four touchdowns on just 82 carries (6.7 YPC). Ajayi has super-quick speed and gives Boise State a big-play threat on every touch. In this third game last season, he turned six carries into 118 yards, ripping a 71-yard run. There's no obvious contender for carries on the Boise State roster other than Ajayi, so he should see a big workload in the 20-rush a game range.

21. Branden Oliver, Sr., Buffalo

Oliver was limited to eight games last season as a 344-touch campaign in 2011 followed by 55 carries in the first two weeks last season perhaps caught up to him. He was injured in the third game, then returned a few weeks later and combined for 62 touches in consecutive games only to get hurt again. Even in his "down season,” though, Oliver rushed for 821 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. His backups failed to impress in his absence, so Oliver will continue to get all the work he can handle in 2013. If Oliver stays healthy, he could be a top-15 running back this season.

22. Venric Mark, Sr., Northwestern

A former wide receiver, Mark showed good running-back skills last season, posting 1,366 yards (6.0 YPC) and 12 touchdowns on the ground, 104 yards and a touchdown receiving and two punt return touchdowns. A late-season injury derailed him temporarily, but he totaled eight 100-yard games and scored a touchdown in every game but two. That's a high standard to live up to, though, and with Northwestern replacing most of its offensive line, it's probably best to expect some regression in Mark's 2013 stats.

23. T.J. Yeldon, So., Alabama

Yeldon has top-10 talent and was productive as a freshman last year, running for 1,108 yards (6.3 YPC) and 12 touchdowns while catching 11 passes for 131 yards and another touchdown. But Yeldon's workload could be threatened this year with competing talent at running back. And Alabama's tendency to blow out opponents means Yeldon could play a half, or less, in a number of games this season. Kenyan Drake, Jalston Fowler and Derrick Henry are major talents itching to get on the field, and Alabama's big point margins could give Nick Saban a reason to rest Yeldon.

24. Joe Hill, Jr., Utah State

The unproven Hill is a gamble, but he finds himself in a great situation this season. Utah State lost Kerwynn Williams to graduation, and with him goes 2,209 yards and 20 touchdowns from scrimmage. Hill, who rushed for 269 yards and seven touchdowns on 43 rushes last year, is the leading returning running back and has little competition for carries. He should also grab a share of Williams' 45 receptions as he finished with 10 catches for 183 yards and two scores. Head coach Gary Anderson departed, but Utah State should maintain its continuity as former offensive coordinator Matt Wells takes over as head coach. With all five offensive-line starters returning, Hill looks like the next heir to the scheme that made fantasy stalwarts out of Williams, Michael Smith and Robert Turbin.

25. Byron Marshall, So., Oregon

Marshall did well for himself as a freshman last season, taking 87 carries for 447 yards (5.1 YPC) and four touchdowns and should be in for a big promotion this season with Kenjon Barner and his 298 touches no longer around. De'Anthony Thomas figures to see the bulk of the work, but in an Oregon offense that averages more than 80 plays per game, Marshall will see enough carries to make a fantasy impact. Watch his status in camp, though, because super recruit Thomas Tyner could emerge as a facctor as a true freshman. Marshall might not live up to the lofty standards that Oregon's running backs have set in recent years, but it's hard not have more than modest expectations for one of Oregon's key playmakers.

26. Zurlon Tipton, Sr., Central Michigan

Tipton totaled 1,779 yards and 20 touchdowns from scrimmage last season, but expect those numbers to decline in 2013. Central Michigan is breaking in a new quarterback this year, which will put a bigger bullseye on Tipton, and the Chippewas have to replace three-fifths of their offensive line, including first overall NFL draft pick Eric Fisher at left tackle. What's more, Tipton's an injury risk after missing seven games from 2010 to 2011. Tipton's still a quality fantasy back, but it's a bit much to expect him to repeat last season's numbers.

27. Brendan Bigelow, Jr., California

Bigelow might be the premier boom-or-bust fantasy option in college football this year. He's set to take over as California's top running back, and his new coach, Sonny Dykes, guided a Louisiana Tech offense in 2012 that saw three backs combine for 2,303 yards and 39 touchdowns on the ground alone. And then there's Bigelow's comical 431 yards and three touchdowns on just 44 carries last year that should fit nicely with Dykes' system. Bigelow, however, has a long history of knee injuries, which makes him a risk with an expected increased workload.

28. Storm Woods, So., Oregon State

Woods totaled 13 touchdowns and 1,253 yards from scrimmage as a freshman but will probably struggle to improve on those numbers in 2013. While most of the Oregon State offensive line is back and Woods should continue to see plenty of red-zone touches in what should be a good offense, he could lose carries to fellow running back Terron Ward. Ward is too good to keep off the field, and the Beavers figure to give him more than the 68 carries he had a year ago. Redshirt freshman Chris Brown is another threat to steal work.

29. Jahwan Edwards, Jr., Ball State

Edwards is arguably the nation's premier power back, possessing very good balance and cutting ability and surprising burst on a 5-10, 225, frame. Even with Horactio Banks stealing about 10 carries per game and the Ball State offensive line losing four-fifths of its starters, Edwards should again provide 100 yards and at least one touchdown most weeks. He did that much in 2012, running for 1,410 yards and 14 touchdowns on 6.1 yards per carry, giving him double-digit touchdowns for the second year in a row.

30. Darrin Reaves, Jr., UAB

Reaves tossed aside 2011 leading rusher Greg Franklin last season and ran away with the feature back role for UAB, making himself one of the nation's top fantasy backs by year's end. Reaves is a standout receiver who should be ranked higher in PPR leagues, but he really made his mark on the ground in the second half of 2012, posting 751 yards and nine touchdowns in his final six games. He should maintain his stranglehold on the feature back role this season, though inconsistency should be expected when UAB plays tougher defenses.

31. Mark Weisman, Jr., Iowa

The bulldozing former fullback ascended from the bottom of the depth chart to lead Iowa in rushing in 2012, making most wonder why he was ever backup at all. At 6-0, 236, Weisman was a machine before dealing with persistent ankle troubles, pummeling Northern Iowa, Central Michigan, Minnesota and Michigan State for 623 yards and eight touchdowns. His bruising running style exposes him to a lot of hits, but he has strong upside when healthy. Iowa's passing game probably won't be much better than it was last season, meaning Weisman could be in for as many carries as he can handle.

32. Kenneth Farrow, So., Houston

Charles Sims' surprise exit from Houston leaves a big opportunity up for grabs, and Farrow seems like the obvious choice to fill that role. Sims leaves behind a shortage of 142 carries and 37 catches, so Farrow should be very busy in his sophomore season. As a freshman, he showed promise with 466 yards and two touchdowns on the ground (5.4 YPC) and 20 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown. Ryan Jackson is in the hunt to take Sims' role, as well, but Farrow seems to have the upper hand after averaging about a yard more per carry than Jackson.

33. George Atkinson, Jr., Notre Dame

Atkinson is the safe favorite to start at running back for Notre Dame this year over Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel. Few running backs in the nation can match Atkinson's big-play ability. He has burning speed on a 210-pound frame and can go deep both as a runner and returner, breaking runs of 56 and 55 yards last season. Atkinson's upright running style makes him a slight injury risk, which adds a boom-or-bust element, but there's no denying his upside. With last year's leading rushers, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, out of the picture, the opportunity exists for Atkinson to take over the Irish backfield.

34. Melvin Gordon, So., Wisconsin

As the backup to James White, Gordon won't post consistent numbers, but his upside is high enough to warrant consideration should he garner significant carries. Wisconsin has an extensive tradition of its second running back producing big – 1,000-yards and/or double-digit touchdowns – and Gordon is a strong bet to continue that tradition, particularly given that the 5-10, 197, White is more of an elusive playmaker than a bulldozing workhorse. Gordon is one of the nation's most explosive big-play threats after totaling 621 yards on 62 carries last year, making him a backup to watch.

35. Nathan Jeffery, Jr., UTEP

Jeffery is a durability concern after playing much of 2012 hobbled by a nagging groin injury, but he's a high-upside fantasy option when healthy. Jeffery burned Oklahoma for 177 yards on 21 carries in the season opener and finished the year by torching opponents for 483 yards and seven touchdowns in the final four weeks. UTEP should have an improved offense with Texas A&M transfer Jameill Showers at quarterback and Jordan Leslie an emerging star at receiver, so there's little reason why Jeffery shouldn't exceed double-digit touchdowns in 2013.

36. Jawon Chisholm, Jr., Akron

The MAC is loaded with elite running backs, but Chisholm deserves plenty of praise as well. Indeed, Chisholm might have more skill than some of his statistical superiors, as he has to deal with more dysfunction around him on Akron’s talent-deficient offense. Chisholm averaged 5.3 yards per rush while bolting for 953 yards in 11 games last year, and he made further impact by catching 38 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns. Chisholm is a strong asset in MAC-only leagues who figures to get on the nationwide radar as well when the matchups are friendly.

37. Carlos Hyde, Sr., Ohio State

While quarterback Braxton Miller led Ohio State in rushing last season, Hyde got the goal-line work, scoring a team-leading 16 rushing touchdowns, all in the red zone. What's more, he scored on more than half of his carries inside the 10-yard line, finding paydirt 14 times on 27 rushes. Hyde was extremely productive in the second half, running for14 touchdowns in the final seven games and finishing the season with 970 yards on 185 carries. At 6-1, 235, Hyde likely has a strong hold on the goal-line carries again this season as the starting running back. The presence of the highly promising Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball could cost Hyde touches, but the offense remains one of the best in the country and should provide plenty of scoring opportunities for Hyde.

38. Bronson Hill, So., Eastern Michigan

Hill threw aside the more established upper-classmen duo of Dominique Sherrer and Javonti Greene last season to burn his way to 905 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games on just 140 carries (6.5 YPC), adding 208 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches. There doesn't appear to be a challenge for carries this season, and Hill's talented enough to produce at a high level as long as he gets the ball. Eastern Michigan's instability on offense could hamper him, but Hill has a great deal of upside.

39. D.J. Foster, So., Arizona State

Foster doesn't have teammate Marion Grice's talent, but he too should star this year for Arizona State now that running back Cameron Marshall and receivers Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles are gone. Marshall's exit leaves 10.5 carries per game up for grabs, and Ross and Miles combined for 5.9 catches per game last year. That leaves Foster in prime position after posting 1,026 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage a year ago. And like Grice, Foster is a running back-receiver hybrid who warrants a rankings boost in PPR formats after catching 38 passes in 2012.

40. Jordan Parker, So., Middle Tennessee

Benny Cunningham left for the NFL, and Middle Tennessee is likely to turn to Parker as its next feature running back. Parker certainly earned that opportunity last year, as he led the team with 851 rushing yards while replacing the injured Cunningham. That includes 572 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the final five weeks. Middle Tennessee returns four-fifths of its offensive line, so Parker should continue to produce at a high level.

41. David Oku, Sr., Arkansas State
42. A.J. Blue, Sr., North Carolina
43. Kenneth Dixon, So., Louisiana Tech
44. Waymon James, Sr., TCU
45. Vintavious Cooper, Sr., East Carolina