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.