Top 10 Running Backs for 2010

HP’s preview of the 2010 season continues with a look at the top 10 running backs.  See the top 10 receivers here and the top 10 tight ends here.

1. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech–It looks to me like Williams is the complete package.  He’s got size, speed, vision, toughness and a nose for the end zone.  He put up 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Hokies as a 2009 redshirt freshman.  He also caught 16 passes, including one for a score.  He played very well against good competition–71 yards, 5.5 ypc and 2 TDs in his debut vs. Alabama, 107 yards against Nebraska–and I expect him to keep improving in 2010 and possibly become a Heisman candidate.  I think there is a wide gap between him and teammate Darren Evans (talent-wise), so I do not expect for him to lose much in the way of production due to sharing carries.

2. Noel Devine, West Virginia–The most electrifying back in college football, the smurf-like Devine used his amazing speed and cutting ability to notch 1,465 yards and 13 scores on the ground in 2009.  He also caught 22 passes, including one touchdown reception.  His coach has expressed a desire to get him more carries as a senior and I think this will result in a monster season.  His only weakness is a lack of real power–he goes down fairly easily most of the time–but he’s in a perfect system to highlight his superb abilities in space.  Outside of Florida’s Jeff Demps, he might have the best breakaway speed of any back out there.

3. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State–The diminutive Rodgers can do it all.  He piled up 1,440 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground last year, while also catching 78 passes for 522 yards and a score.  Oh, and he threw a touchdown pass, too.  He’s a legitimate Heisman candidate who is primed to break a bunch of Pac-10 records before he’s through with his career.  Not a burner, but as consistent and versatile as they come and a relentless competitor.

4. Donald Buckram, UTEP–A top-notch talent stuck on a bad team, Buckram has great speed to go with outstanding vision.  If he were on a major power, he’d be a Heisman candidate.  Last year, he rushed for 1,594 yards and 18 touchdowns and added another three scores on 30 catches for 453 yards.  Look for bigger and better in 2010.

5. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State–Not many people know about this guy, but I don’t think that will be the case after the 2010 season.  Thomas is perhaps the nation’s premier power back, but he’s not just a bulldozer out there as he is also fairly athletic and skilled.  Last year was his first year playing tailback and he responded with 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns while also catching 25 balls.  He is really, really tough to bring down.  I predict a huge senior season for him and a bright NFL future.

6. LaMichael James, Oregon–James will sit out the first game due to suspension, but that won’t stop him from having another outstanding season.  As a redshirt freshman in 2009, he rushed for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging nearly seven yards per carry.  Like Rodgers, he is built very low to the ground, but he is more explosive in the open field and has the ability to take it downtown.  He’ll have another highly-productive campaign and I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up higher on this list when it is all said and done.

7. Trent Richardson, Alabama–How often do you see a backup cutting into a returning Heisman winner’s playing time?  The talent oozing from this kid is too much for Alabama’s coaches to ignore, which is why the Tide will basically feature a two-headed tailback in 2010.   Richardson rushed for 751 yards and eight scores as a true frosh and will top the 1,000-yard mark as a sophomore.

8. Mark Ingram, Alabama–The returning Heisman winner probably won’t duplicate the season he had in 2009, when he put up 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground while also catching 32 passes for 334 yards and three more scores.  But when you have the nation’s best feet in traffic and a never-say-die motor, you will still put up good numbers.  Look for two 1,000-yard rushers ‘from Bama this year.

9. Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh–Lewis was amazing as a true freshman in 2009, rushing for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns.  He also caught 25 passes for 189 yards and a score.  Like others on this list, he is a squat, low-to-the-ground runner blessed with exceptional vision and toughness but lacking exceptional speed in the open field.   Still a highly productive back with an illustrious career ahead of him.

10. Michael Dyer, Auburn–I thought I’d go out on a limb for this pick and tab Dyer as the nation’s top freshman back.  He’s a short, stubby runner with tremendous balance and forward lean.  He keeps his legs moving and has a nice burst getting to the second level.  Not a threat to take it the distance every time, but he’ll break plenty of runs and get nice yardage in Gus Malzahn’s scheme.

Honorable Mention: Washaun Ealey, Georgia; John Clay, Wisconsin; Christine Michael, Texas A&M; Armando Allen, Notre Dame; Lache Seastrunk, Oregon; Evan Royster, Penn State; Chris Polk, Washington; Tre Newton, Texas; Jeff Demps, Florida; Jermaine Thomas, Florida State.

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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40 Responses to Top 10 Running Backs for 2010

  1. Joe Kumpf June 28, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    The guy from KState is a bit over-rated, they run a high school offense there!

  2. Mike June 28, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    Whoa, whoa, whoa….where’s Damien Berry from Miami?

  3. Anonymous June 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    On what basis can you say LaMichael James doesn’t have his head on straight. Because a girl who was harassing him, came to his apartment to raise hell, got shoved in self-defense. LMJ is a great kid and his HEAD is already on straight. Don’t just pass on info that you know little of.

  4. Chris June 28, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

    Honorable mention to Lache Seastrunk? He’s probably just dropped off his junk in his dorm room. Can we let the kid play a game before we start calling him one of the best backs in the country?

  5. HP June 28, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    Mike: I’m not convinced yet!

    Chris: No, we can’t let him play a game. That’s why we predict.

  6. Crawforce June 28, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

    As a Texas fan, it kills me to say this, but where’s DeMarco Murray?

  7. HP June 28, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

    Crawforce: He is where he should be.

  8. Joel June 28, 2010 at 8:03 pm #

    I like your lists, great stuff to read before the season starts in what, about 70 days? Anyway, I’d agree on Seastrunk being on this list already…I’d also agree with Crawforce on leaving DeMarco Murray off the list.

  9. Glen June 30, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    You should watch a few more Alabama games before you put Trent Richardson ahead of Mark Ingram.

    Faster? Yup. Stronger? Yup. Better runner? Hell no, not even close.

    It’s certainly quite possible that Richardson will vastly improve during the off-season and pass Ingram. His physical talent is amazing. But just on physical talent, he can’t match Ingram’s amazing change-of-direction, so I’m not even sure about that.

    On the mental side, last year he had a long way to go to catch up to Ingram’s ability to hit the holes, which is a running back’s most important skill. He could close that gap during the off-season, but I’d still be real surprised if he is as good as Ingram in ’10.

  10. Adam Nettina June 30, 2010 at 10:43 am #

    I really think you missed the mark by not including Bernard Pierce of Temple. He would be a Heisman darkhorse if he played for a BCS team.

  11. Jasper June 30, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    As someone who knows LaMike personally, I take exception to the “if he gets his head on straight” comment. I realize that to some people on the onside looking in that don’t really know what really happened it looks really bad.

    But LaMike is very humble and positive person that was caught in a bad situation that was blown waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of proportion.

    I know a lot of you won’t care about what I’m saying but it just hurts me that such a good kid could such a raw deal.

    That’s all. Thanks for hearing me out.

  12. Maui Dan July 1, 2010 at 12:15 am #

    Kenjon Barner should be getting some love before Lache. He’s going to be 1B to LaMike (who, as others have said, most definitely has his head on straight and is looking toward a monster season) as he looked amazing this past spring.

    LaMike, Barner, Lache and Dontae Williams could comprise the best RB unit in the nation by the end of the season.

  13. Heismanpundit July 1, 2010 at 12:20 am #

    Jasper, I grant you that it was a comment made without having the benefit of knowing the guy personally. I take your word that he is a great kid, but I still think it will take some mental fortitude to overcome the suspension and the bad publicity it has garnered (fair or not). This will require he show maturity, so I saw that as a key considering the adversity he is going through.

  14. Heismanpundit July 1, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    Glen, I’ve seen plenty of Alabama games to make this call, believe me. And if I were wrong, the Bama coaches would not be laying the groundwork for the backup tailback to the returning Heisman winner to become the de facto co-starter.

    For sure, Ingram has his strengths, but so does Richardson. Ingram does have amazing change of direction, but Richardson has better size, speed, explosion, strength and power. That’s why he’s going to take even more carries from Ingram this year.

  15. Glen July 1, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    In other circumstances, HP, I would defer to your judgment. But I watched every Bama game at least 3 times last year, and a few of the big games I watched 6-8 times.

    I’m on pretty firm ground here. Ingram was a lot better than Richardson in ’09. Who knows what the future may hold, because Richardson does appear to be one of those special force-of-nature type athletes in a way that Ingram does not. But I’d be pleasantly but pretty significantly surprised if he advances enough in just one year to meet the standard Ingram set last year.

    And there’s certainly no reason to think Ingram won’t improve again, as well. He improved tremendously between 2008 and 2009.

    Much credit is probably due to Bama’s running back coach Burton Burns, who developed C.J. spiller and James Davis at Clemson. Ingram’s big improvement made it two years in a row that the Tide’s top RB had made a large jump between seasons: in 2008 it was Glen Coffee, who was like a different back from the guy he had been previously.

    Thanks for your reply.

  16. Heismanpundit July 1, 2010 at 11:31 am #

    Glen, keep in mind that this list is a projection for next year. Ingram was the better back last year, but I believe Richardson’s talent and added experience will make him better this year.

  17. Glen July 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm #

    Good deal, we’re on the record and can revisit the issue next January. Burton Burns may be your ace in the hole.

  18. Brandon July 2, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    As a Bama Fan, I’d just like to say that I’ll take Ingram and Richardson in any order on this list, and try to remember how infrequently a team would have TWO backs on a list of top 10 backs in the entire country.

    Alabama should have the best backfield tandem since Williams and Brown at Auburn.

  19. AUman76 July 2, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Best since Brown and Williams? AU’s top two RB’s will out gain bammers this season. Best I remember bammer’s Heisman winner had a tad of trouble pickin up yardage against the worst Auburn defense this 52 year old Tiger has ever seen. Havin seen a few great backs roam the Plains I will just tell you all like it is…..Richardson is head and shoulders above Ingram. The kid is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He would be oure hell in the passing game if allowed to catch a few balls. Jones and Richardson will carry the bammer O.
    So far as Dyer goes? Gotta see more than hype even from my own teams recruits. He seems to be the real deal but how well he adjusts to SEC defenses will be interesting. He has to learn block at this level or playin time will be limited for a true freshman. The Ol Ball Coach will run Lattimore to death at Carolina but if he survives he’ll post some damn good numbers. Too bad we lost out on the kid cause him and Dyer may have been the best true freshman combo in history.

  20. Brandon July 7, 2010 at 10:34 am #

    AUman76: I only wish that in your 52 years you had picked up some class. I gave your team a compliment then shared my opinion on the matter. There’s no need to attack “bammer.” Thanks for reinforcing the negative stereotype of all fans of football in Alabama…Crimson Tide and Tigers alike.

  21. Nathaniel Bishop July 11, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    Ryan Williams is the top back. But I was surprised to see the Heisman trophy winner down at 8. Trent Richardson is good but i wouldn’t put him in my top 20 backs. Backup or not im not sold on him till he puts up multiple 1,000 yard seasons.

  22. Nathaniel Bishop July 11, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    VA Tech has the best group of backs. Then Bama, followed by Nebraska’s Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead who both battled injuries last year but when healthy tore it up.

  23. Anonymous August 13, 2010 at 6:58 pm #

    I could see all three Auburn running backs being top 10 calibur. Fannin has the full package at RB, size, speed, and he has hands. McCalebb is probably the fastest back in the SEC, but has had problems with injuries, but has been in the weight room to gain weight and prevent injuries. I believe that Dyer will live up to the hype as a Ben Tate-like RB just stronger and shorter. That’s a diverse RB corp.

    Auburn, Alabama, and Oregon will have probably the best running back corps in the nation.

    I also look for Notre Dame’s Running Backs to become one of the nations best as well. Combining Allen, Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray and Theo Riddick, also Kelly can have a good running game, unlike Weis.

  24. Adam August 14, 2010 at 8:07 am #

    ok wait a second here who was espn comparing to Bernard Pierce from Temple to 10 games into the season? Oh yeah thats right the best running back in the NFL right now…Adrian Peterson…Philly is going crazy over Bernard Pierce. He had 1,361 yards rushing on just 236 attempts with 16TDs that averages out to be 5.8 yeards a carry and he didnt even play his last 2 games and got hurt in their bowl game….AS A FRESHMAN!!! You would be absolutly insane to not put him in the top 5. Yeah so what he played at Temple and they don’t play the best teams but leading Temple to their first bowl game in 30 years….30 years!!!! This guy ran for over 200 yards twice over 100 yards for 6 games. Against a Navy team who was for the record sopposed to blow temple out of the water, he ran for 261 yards absolutly tore apart Navy single handedly… if I were you i would strongly revise this list. Pierce for Heisman…Philly is no longer an Eagles city anymore they are going to stay up late and watch for the Owls!!!

  25. Brent December 11, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

    Where’s the true best freshman at… Marcus Lattimore was the top rated recruit in the country for a reason last year obviously, not Dyer! He had more touchdowns than LaMichael James (who will probably get 2nd place for the Heisman) and he was limited in a few of those games!

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