My rankings continue with the top 10 running backs for 2009:
1. Jahvid Best, Cal–The most exciting back in the country. Gained 1,580 yards, scored 15 TDs, averaged 8 yards per carry…and was dinged up for much of the year. If he stays healthy, he may surpass 2,000 and have a shot at the Heisman.
2. LeGarrette Blount, Oregon–Big, bruising back with surprising athleticism. Gained 1,002 yards, scored 17 TDs and averaged 7.3 yards per carry last year while splitting time with Jeremiah Johnson. Now that Johnson is gone, look for Blount to have a monster season.
3. Noel Devine, West Virginia–Lightning-quick waterbug who should come into his own as a junior. Had 1,289 yards as a sophomore and should top that easily as he’ll become the main cog in the WVU offense.
4. Evan Royster, Penn State–Had an excellent sophomore campaign with 1,236 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Strong, shifty and consistent runner who follows his blocks well.
5. Michael Smith, Arkansas–The SEC’s best back, he’ll be even more effective in year two under Bobby Petrino. A talented smurf who gained over 1,000 yards despite injuries in 2008.
6. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State–Was on his way to maybe 1,600 yards as a frosh, but only had 4 carries in his last three games due to injury and finished with1,253. A low-to-the-ground runner with great instincts and eyes in the back of his head.
7. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State–Nifty darter whose only drawback is his lack of true downtown speed. A relentless back who gets better as the game goes on. Rushed for 1,555 yards as a sophomore.
8. Chris Brown, Oklahoma–A touchdown machine, he had 1,220 yards and 20 scores last year while sharing carries with DeMarco Murray. I expect he’ll get more carries this year as the fragile Murray will need to be managed a bit.
9. Stafon Johnson, USC–If he had the backfield to himself, he’d be a Heisman candidate, but USC’s most consistent runner must share carries with a bevy of other talented backs. Excellent goal-line instincts.
10. Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech–Upright power back with good straight-line speed for his size. Thrives in Paul Johnson’s scheme.
C.J. Spiller, Clemson–Ultra-fast back (10.22 100m) who will get a chance to prove he can carry the full-time load now that James Davis is gone.
Toby Gerhart, Stanford–A bruising Nagurski-like runner who symbolizes Stanford’s new, blue-collar persona under Jim Harbaugh.
Armando Allen, Notre Dame–One of the better all-purpose backs in college football, he had 50 catches to go with 585 rushing yards and was also effective on kickoffs.
MiQuale Lewis, Ball State–Diminutive runner who rushed for 1,736 yards and scored 22 TDs. As underrated as they come.
Joe McKnight, USC–If he ever gets his act together, McKnight could be one of the best backs in the country. He can do it all.
New Breakout Stars on the Scene
Rodney Stewart, Colorado–It was Stewart, not the highly-touted Darrell Scott, who showed the most potential as a freshman for the Buffs last year. I think he’ll turn into one of the most productive runners in the Big 12 this season.
John Clay, Wisconsin–The next in a long line of star Badger backs. Should lead the Big Ten in rushing.
Caleb King, Georgia–I’ve always liked King’s physical ability and if he puts the mental side of his game together, he could be a star.
Jermaine Thomas, Florida State–Was very good for a true frosh. Could be scary good as a sophomore.
Mark Ingram, Alabama–With Coffee gone, he’ll have a chance to be the Tide’s workhorse (assuming he holds off a challenge from incoming frosh Trent Richardson).