April 10, 2006
By Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst
Special to CSTV.com
Entering 2005, there was cause for debate in choosing the top running back prospect in the country. Reggie Bush eventually ran away with the title, but with he and several other notable backs moving on to the NFL, the debate stands no longer.
Big backs are back en vogue with Louisville's Michael Bush and
A detailed analysis of the country's top ten running backs, as well as several others to keep a close watch on:
Adrian Peterson will claim his status as the nation's top collegiate running back with Reggie Bush off to the NFL. There are some who feel Peterson would have been the top back in the country in 2006 even if Bush had remained with the Trojans for his senior season. Peterson signed with
Unfortunately, Peterson was hampered by an ineffective passing offense and injuries in 2005. With quarterback Jason White graduating, the Sooners were led into battle by Rhett Bomar, and opposing defenses were able to crowd the line of scrimmage. That slowed Peterson considerably, and a nagging ankle sprain was even more bothersome. The injury caused Peterson to miss all or more than half of four games in 2005. He still led all Big 12 backs with 1,024 yards and once again earned consensus All-Big 12 honors. He possesses a spectacular combination of size, speed, strength and is a natural, fluid runner who can change directions easily.
2. Michael Bush, 6-2, 248,
Bush is an incredible combination of size, speed and pure athleticism. A monstrous running back with the agility to earn comparisons to great backs who happen to be big such as Jerome Bettis and to a lesser extent T.J. Duckett, rather than big guys who play running back like Brandon Jacobs. He has the power as an interior runner that one would expect for a back of his size, but shows remarkable agility and breakaway speed for such a big man.
He was named First-Team All Big East after setting the school record for rushing touchdowns with 23 and points scored with 144. He scored two or more touchdowns in nine consecutive games, and led the nation in scoring during the regular season with an average of 16.00 ppg in 2005. Not only did he lead the Big East in rushing, but in all-purpose yardage as well thanks to shockingly soft hands (48 receptions over his career, 640 yards, 2 touchdowns). A very versatile athlete, Bush spent his senior season in high school playing quarterback after seeing action at running back, wide receiver, defensive back, linebacker and defensive end over his career.
3. Kenny Irons,
NFL scouts are also intrigued with Irons. He will only have two real seasons of strain on his body, having rushed only 66 times during his initial two seasons with
4. Brian Leonard,
A two-time first-team conference selection, Leonard is still underrated because he is technically a fullback. He has the frame to play fullback at the next level, but has too much athleticism and versatility in the running and receiving departments to be limited to the traditional lead-blocking fullback position.
A Doak Walker Award candidate in 2004 and 2005, Leonard's 2,306 rushing yards in three seasons is already good for sixth on
Lynch might be the nation's most explosive big-play artist after first exploding onto the scene as a true freshman backup behind J.J. Arrington. While Arrington was busy racking up a 2,000-yard season in 2004, Lynch finished with 628 yards on only 71 carries (8.8-yard average) while only occasionally filling in.
Lynch's average was bound to fall as his attempts rose in 2005. It further suffered when he was hampered by a finger injury that made holding on to the football difficult. As the injury healed, however, Lynch's numbers increased. By the end of the season he rushed for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns. Despite the slow start, Lynch's average remained a gaudy 6.4 yards per carry. He also appeared to get stronger as the season wore on, finishing with more than 100 yards in six of his final eight games, including a 194-yard, three-touchdown effort against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. The junior has great quickness and can accelerate past defenders in this wide open offense.
Booker finished 2005 as the team's leading rusher, but was actually more effective in 2004. Last season, Booker led the team in rushing yards (550), rushing touchdowns (4) and had the longest run from scrimmage (58). In 2004, he and Leon Washington combined to form an awesome 1-2 punch that accumulated 1,838 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Of those totals, Booker produced 887 yards and four touchdowns.
Booker has obvious talent, but hasn't yet shown the toughness and physicality needed to become a feature back at the collegiate level, much less the NFL. He has the height to add mass and strength and could enjoy a breakout season now that
The most dominant runner in D-I football over the past two seasons, Wolfe remains relatively unknown because of the attention heaped on Reggie Bush and Peterson. He won the "Triple Crown" of the MAC Conference as a sophomore in 2004, winning the rushing yardage (1,656), scoring (21 touchdowns), and all-purpose yardage (2004) races. Wolfe was on pace for even bigger numbers this past season before a knee sprain knocked him out of three games. He finished with 1,580 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, and had more 200-yard rushing games (three) than games held to under 100 (two) while healthy.
Wolfe obviously lacks the prototypical size for the next level, but has legitimate quickness and speed. He missed three games in 2005, which is all the evidence some need to classify him as too small to hold up as a feature back. Regardless, Wolfe has averaged 249 rushing attempts over the past two seasons. Some will also question Wolfe's level of competition, but he rushed for a combined 393 yards and four touchdowns against two Big Ten opponents (
The reigning Big East Rookie of the Year, Slaton began the season buried on the WVU depth chart before emerging to have a breakout year. Despite not starting a game until October, Slaton finished the season with 1,128 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns, including a captivating 204-yard, three-touchdown performance against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Slaton's toughest task might be holding onto the starting job with a great deal of talent behind him. However, Rich Rodriguez's offense is perfectly suited for Slaton, whose vision, agility and breakaway ability make him an incredibly slippery target for defenses attempting to shut down the
9. Darius Walker, Notre Dame, 5-11, 200, JR:
10. Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern, 5-09, 190, So:
The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American, Sutton rushed for 1,474 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. The true freshman running back ranked among the nation's top 10 in rushing and scoring last season, setting school freshman records with 126.4 rushing yards and 9.8 points per game during the regular season. Despite several other backs gaining more attention in the Big Ten, Sutton actually led the conference with 1,390 yards on the ground during the regular season, averaging 6.0 yards per carry with 18 total touchdowns.
Northwestern's wide open passing attack has led to many runners posting gaudy statistics. In fact, Northwestern has featured a 1,000-yard rusher in nine of the past 11 seasons. With Sutton only entering his sophomore season, scouts are more intrigued with his speed and quickness than most Northwestern backs of recent years. Sutton signed on with the Wildcats as one of the most highly-touted prep runners in the country, leaving the state of
Others to Watch:
Jamaal Charles, Texas, 6-1, 190, So: Earned Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors despite splitting time in a loaded
Darren McFadden, Arkansas, 6-2, 210, So: Became the first Razorback and only the seventh running back in SEC history to rush for more than 1,000 yards as a true freshman. Finished with 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Lynell Hamilton, San Diego State, 6-1, 220, JR: The 2003 Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year,
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, which is distributed by The Sports Xchange.