The Big Ten has changed a lot since Woody Hayes espoused the 3 yards and a cloud of dust philosophy of offense, but one thing hasn’t: a need for a good running back.
Here’s my interpretations of the best returning and incoming running backs for 2017:
1) Justin Jackson the BALL CARRIER: Northwestern
2016’s leading rusher averaged 5.1 yards per carry for 1524 yards on 298 attempts and will return for his senior season to the delight of Wildcat fans nationwide. He only needs 356 more yards to surpass Damien Anderson as Northwestern’s all-time leading rushing back! He’s ably backed up by John Moten IV and Auston Anderson
2) Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Barkley averaged 5.5 yards per carry for 1496 yards on 272 attempts. His 1496 yards set a Penn State record for most yards rushed by a sophomore. He’ll only get more dangerous as Penn State’s offensive line continues to improve.
3) Ty Johnson, Maryland
Looking at ESPN’s statistical recap, I noticed that Johnson racked up an impressive 9.1 yards per carry last season on 110 attempts for 1004 yards last season! My colleague DJ Carver has more details:
Ty Johnson is a homerun threat every single time he touches the ball. He put on 20 pounds of muscle prior to this season in order to bulk up and be able to withstand conference play and didn't lose any of his 4.3 speed. If the MD OL continues to improve as expected, he is going to be a monster that is only limited by the fact that Walt Bell loves to cycle RBs in and out to keep them fresh. That isn't without good use, Lorenzo Harrison was torching defenses too before being suspended (he's back) and Maryland just brought in two four star RBs to replace the ones who left
Maryland OC Walt Bell uses a 3-4 RB rotation so everyone has fresh legs. He spreads teams out wide so they run a shit ton on every play.
4) Mike Weber, Ohio State
Weber rushed for 1096 yards on 182 attempts for 6.0 yards per carry for the very potent Buckeye offense last season. He was used with departing running back Curtis Samuel.
5) Rodney Smith, Minnesota
Last season Smith rushed for 1158 yards on 240 attempts for 4.8 yards per carry on Tracey Claeys’s squad.
6) Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Iowa fans are happy Wadley is returning to Iowa City after a 2016 campaign which yielded 1081 yards on 168 yards for 6.4 yards per carry. Last season Wadley shared carries with LeShun Daniels Jr.
7) Chris Evans, Michigan
Last season Evans shared time with De’Veon Smith in the Wolverine backfield and contributed 614 yards on 88 attempts for 7 yards per carry. If he gets more touches this season, watch out!
8) Bradrick Shaw, Wisconsin
Shaw contributed 457 yards on 88 attempts for 5.2 yards per carry while sharing time with Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale in Wisconsin’s backfield last season.
9) Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska
Ozigbo shared touches with Terrell Newby last season and contributed 412 yards on 97 attempts for 4.2 yards per carry .
10) LJ Scott, Michigan State
It’s a shame MSU’s 2016 campaign was forgettable, but one bright spot was Scott averaging 5.4 yards per carry on 184 attempts for 994 yards, improving on his 669 yards in 2015.
11) Kendrick Foster, Illinois
Foster averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 126 attempts for 720 total yards last season
12) Robert Martin, Rutgers
Martin’s 2016 campaign on the banks of the ol’ Raritan yielded 625 total yards over 121 attempts for 5.2 yards per carry. This can only improve as Chris Ash’s (re)building project in New Brunswick continues for the 2017 season.
13) Markell Jones, Purdue
Jones rushed for 616 yards on 153 carries for 4 yards per carry in West Lafayette last season.
14) Tyler Natee, Indiana
Natee shared touches with Devine Redding and contributed 237 yards on 61 attempts for 3.9 yards per carry. Expect this to increase with Redding leaving for the NFL.