CFB All-Decade Team: Top 10 Running Backs

CFB All-Decade Team: Top 10 Running Backs

This article is part of our CFB All-Decade Team series.

Long gone are the days where the running back is the primary weapon in an NFL offense. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your preference), the bell-cow back hasn't completely disappeared in college, with numerous impressive campaigns surfacing over the last 10 years. This list will attempt to put on display some of the greatest fantasy running back careers and seasons of the decade, just as the headline states. Some of these may be the result of one massive campaign, while others are the product of consistent success at the college level.

Top 10

1)  Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (2017-19)

Career Stats (in progress): 905 rushes, 6,080 yards, 50 TDs; 40 receptions, 364 yards, five TDs

Best Season (2019 in progress): 299 rushes, 1,909 yards, 21 TDs; 24 receptions, 209 yards, five TDs

Simply put, Taylor has posted arguably the best three-year career of any running back in college football history.  With a bowl game still ahead, the junior has already compiled the most rushing yards of any running back in college football history through his junior season, amassing 6,080 to surpass Herschel Walker's previous mark of 5,259 yards. While Taylor has played in seven more games to reach his current total, Walker still owns 89 more carries to his name. Taylor also sits just 325 yards shy of the all-time rushing record (held by Donnel Pumphrey) and will narrow that gap in the Rose Bowl.

Iconic Moment: Passing Herschel Walker for most rushing yards through junior season

2) Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State (2013-16)

Career Stats: 1,059 rushes, 6,405 yards 62 TDs; 99 receptions, 1,039 yards, five TDs

Best Season (2016): 349 rushes, 2,133 yards, 17 TDs; 27 receptions, 231 yards

Pumphrey's rushing numbers could have been even greater had he seen more than 125 carries as a freshman in 2013. Despite amassing 99 catches and more than 1,000 receiving yards in his four years on campus, Pumphrey found pay dirt just five times through the air. Sill, his massive yardage outputs and abilities as both a runner and receiver made him a PPR stud during his four seasons at San Diego State. The Las Vegas native also collected First-Team All-American honors in his final year on campus.

Iconic Game: Passing Ron Dayne for most rushing yards in FBS history in senior season bowl game

3) Montee Ball, Wisconsin (2009-12)

Career Stats: 924 rushes, 5,140 yards, 77 TDs; 59 receptions, 598 yards, six TDs

Best Season (2011): 307 rushes, 1,923 yards, 33 TDs; 24 receptions, 306 yards, six TDs

Ball may not have the gaudy single-season or career rushing yards totals of some of the others on this list, but he had a nose for the end zone. In his senior season, Ball found pay dirt 33 times on the ground (the highest single-season total of the decade) and another six times as a receiver. He also broke the record for most career rushing touchdowns (78), which has since broken by Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon. He left Wisconsin as a two-time All-American and the 2012 Doak Walker Award winner for best running back in the country.

Iconic Game: Career touchdown record set versus Penn State

4) Royce Freeman, Oregon (2014-17)

Career Stats: 947 rushes, 5,621 yards, 60 TDs; 79 receptions, 814 yards, four TDs

Best Season (2015): 283 rushes, 1,836 yards, 17 TDs; 26 receptions, 348 yards, two TDs

Freeman doesn't sport any national records, but he did break a number of Oregon records during his four years in school. To start his college career off strong, Freeman broke the Oregon freshman rushing records for yards (1,353) and rushing touchdowns (19). He didn't slow down throughout his four years and finished his career with the PAC-12's most-ever rushing scores and second-most rushing yards behind Charles White of USC en route to his NFL career. Freeman's output as a freshman also earned him PAC-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors from the PAC-12 coaches. In terms of fantasy, Freeman not only produced as a rusher throughout his career, but he also reeled in 79 passes for an additional 814 yards and four scores, making him an even more valuable back in the PPR realm.

Iconic Game: 2015 versus Washington State

5) Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic (2016-18)

Career Stats: 714 rushes, 4,287 yards, 66 TDs; 51 receptions, 397 yards, one TD

Best Season (2017): 301 rushes, 1,918 yards, 32 TDs; 19 receptions, 198 yards, one TD

Singletary first showed signs of his explosiveness near the end of his 2016 season at FAU, when he busted out for 257 yards and three scores against Rice and again for 235 yards and three scores versus Middle Tennessee State in the final game of the 2016 season. It was his 2017 season, however, that was one that put him in the NFL picture. After a slow start to the tune of just 94 combined yards versus Navy and Wisconsin, Singletary went for 1,824 yards and 32 combined touchdowns on the ground and through the air. He would likely rank higher on this list had Singletary stayed for a senior season and racked up another big season.

Iconic Game: Singletary's 164 yards and three TDs in 2017 C-USA Championship Game

6) Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (2011-14)

Career Stats: 631 rushes, 4,915 yards, 45 TDs; 22 receptions, 228 yards, four TDs

Best Season (2014): 343 rushes, 2,587 yards, 29 TDs; 19 receptions, 153 yards, three TDs

Before he donned a Chargers jersey, Gordon sported Cardinal and White. Gordon's career numbers don't necessarily add up to some of the elite in college football history, but that's largely the product of him toting the rock just 82 times in his first two years in Madison, including just 20 in 2011, when he ultimately redshirted. As a redshirt junior, Gordon racked up 2,587 rushing yards, falling just 41 shy of Barry Sanders' all-time single-season mark. While Sanders played two fewer games, Gordon toted the rock one less time to reach his total. Gordon's single-season stats were actually better than what Derrick Henry put up when he won the Heisman in 2015, but Gordon lost out to a historic season by Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

Iconic Game: 408 rushing yards in three quarters versus Nebraska

7) Jay Ajayi, Boise State (2012-14)

Career Stats: 678 rushes, 3,796 yards, 50 TDs; 73 receptions, 771 yards, five TDs

Best Season (2014): 347 rushes, 1,823 yards, 28 TDs; 50 receptions, 535 yards, four TDs

Continuing the trend of three-year backs, Ajayi's single-season totals rival that of both Melvin Gordon and Devin Singletary, especially in a PPR format. Ajayi's 2014 campaign may be the best of any in a PPR format, compiling the 11th-most purpose yards all-time to go along with 50 grabs and 32 touchdowns. Considering Ajayi racked up just 548 yards as a freshman, nearly all of his damage came in just two seasons on the blue turf. In addition to averaging 5.6 yards per carry on his career, Ajayi averaged more than 10 yards per catch on 73 receptions. He finished 2014 as the NCAA leader in rush attempts and yards from scrimmage and touchdowns. He's also fourth all-time on the Mountain West rushing list.

Iconic Game: 229 yards and five TDs versus Utah State to determine Mountain Division

8) Derrick Henry, Alabama (2013-15)

Career Stats: 602 rushes, 3,591 yards, 42 TDs; 17 receptions, 285 yards, three TDs

Best Season (2015): 395 rushes, 2,219 yards, 28 TDs; 11 receptions, 91 yards

Although Henry's career stats don't measure up to many on this list, he is the only back to win the Heisman trophy during the decade. Henry's case for the award was bolstered by Alabama's 14-1 record and a national championship (though the award is announced prior to the playoff). Henry's output accounted for  single-season SEC records in rushing yards (2,219) and touchdowns (28). Despite logging just 35 carries in 2013 and 172 in 2014 and playing just three years in Tuscaloosa, Henry's massive junior season resulted in him overtaking Shaun Alexander for the most rushing yards in Alabama history. As with the two backs listed above him on this list, Henry played just three years in college before turning pro.

Iconic Game: 158 yards and three TDs versus Clemson in CFP Championship Game

9) Myles Gaskin, Washington (2015-18)

Career Stats: 945 rushes, 5,323 yards, 57 TDs; 65 receptions, 465 yards, five TDs

Best Season (2017): 222 rushes, 1,380 yards, 21 TDs; 19 receptions, 232 yards, three TDs

Gaskin never had an explosive year during his four seasons on campus with the Huskies, but he was the model of consistency from a fantasy standpoint. He ran for at least 1,250 yards in all four of his years on campus but never topped 1,380 during that span, totaling up to 5,323 yards for his career. His touchdowns fluctuated throughout his four years, with his best fantasy season coming in 2017 when he notched 24 combined between rushing and receiving, 10 or more higher than he had in any other season. He left the school as the all-time leading rusher in terms of yards and touchdowns and owns the eighth, ninth and 10th-highest rushing single seasons in school history.

Iconic Game: 2018 Apple Cup victory over No. 8 Washington State

10) Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech (2012-15)

Career Stats: 802 rushes, 4,483 yards, 72 TDs; 87 receptions, 969 yards, 15 TDs

Best Season (2014): 253 rushes, 1,299 yards, 22 TDs; 30 receptions, 385 yards, six TDs

Dixon flew under the radar in college, but those in fantasy circles certainly knew his name. Dixon started out the gates out at Louisiana Tech, rushing for a single-season record 27 touchdowns and added a receiving touchdown to post the single-season touchdowns mark at 28. Dixon's 87 career touchdowns would have been an NCAA record in any year prior to 2015, as Keenan Reynolds of Navy finished out the same year with 88 for his career. Dixon's 15 career receiving touchdowns also led the decade for any back that had more than 3,000 career rushing yards. Dixon never ad a mammoth season as far as yardage totals go, but he racked up at least 26 touchdowns in three of his four years on campus and accounted for more than 1,500 total yards in each of the last two.

Iconic Games: School record six rushing touchdowns on two different occasions

(I couldn't find highlights of the 2012 game versus Idaho where he set the record, so enjoy this 2012 highlight reel with the scores sprinkled in)

And then he matched it three years later against North Texas:

Honorable Mentions: Ito Smith (Southern Mississippi), Rashaad Penny (San Diego State), Christian McCaffrey (Stanford), Justin Jackson (Northwestern), Elijah McGuire (Louisiana)

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Chris Benzine
Chris is a sports editor for various sports on the site and also a consistent contributor in the college sports arena.
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