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Spring Fling 2015 - Big Ten Running Backs

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Our spring preview series continues with a group that will send a lot of talent to the NFL this year. Who will step up in their place?

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

So far in the Spring Fling, we've talked about the best and brightest of the B1G's quarterbacks. Today, we turn back from the line of scrimmage and take a look at what running backs may follow in the footsteps of Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Ameer Abdullah, and what feels like about 25 other players who are graduating/taking their talents to the NFL. And, stop me when you've heard this one before, an Ohio State Buckeye tops the list. [All class listings current as of the end of the 2014 season]

1. Ezekiel Elliott, Sophomore, Ohio State

If you watched the Buckeyes in the postseason, you've probably gotten a pretty good idea of who he is. Even in a system that featured a pair of fairly mobile quarterbacks, Elliott managed to push the 2000 yard barrier before ultimately falling just a bit short in 2014. Now, off a tremendous performance in the national championship game, he will be the back to watch in 2015. If he continues to progress, and doesn't have a few subpar games, 2000 yards will no longer be a barrier to him, but a potential floor.

2. Corey Clement, Sophomore, Wisconsin

Clement is the next man up in a system that's been churning out a lot of good running backs recently. He'll have some big shoes to fill with Melvin Gordon moving on to the next level, but considering Clement managed almost 1000 yards behind Gordon this year, he's probably up for the challenge. He's unlikely to be a trendy pick for best running back in the conference, but he'll certainly be in the conversation by the end of the year. It's a Wisconsin tradition.

3. Justin Jackson, Freshman, Northwestern

Jackson was one of 7 Big Ten running backs to have a 1000 rushing yards or better season. Of the 6 backs ahead of him in yardage, only Ezekiel Elliott returns in 2015. Should Jackson still be the man for the Wildcats next season (because you never really know in Evanston), expect to see a few big games out of him, and maybe be a dark horse candidate to lead the conference in rushing.

4. Jordan Howard, Sophomore, Indiana

As Corey Clement will have a tough road to fill Melvin Gordon's shoes, so too will Jordan Howard face a big challenge in replacing Tevin Coleman. The UAB transfer will have to contend with Devine Redding to win the starting spot in the Hoosier offense, but he didn't leave UAB to not play football, so expect him to have a large role regardless. With a healthy Nate Sudfeld expected to return at QB, defenses won't be able to focus on stopping the run, leaving Howard plenty of room to run.

5. Akeel Lynch, Sophomore, Penn State

Everyone knows that Penn State has been Linebacker U, but they've also been quite good at producing running back talent as well. Lynch looks to be the next step in that tradition, and with the Nittany Lions finally returning to full eligibility and strength, they'll need a good running game to get back to the top of the conference. Akeel Lynch will be the one to lead that running game forward.