Top Big Ten RB's
August 4, 2014
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1. Melvin Gordon - Wisconsin
In just two years, Gordon has built up quite the reputation despite never being "the guy" for the Badgers. As a freshman third string RB, Gordon tallied 621 rush yards on just 62 carries (10.0 YPC). As a sophomore splitting time with James White last year, Gordon ranked 2nd in the Big Ten with 1,609 yards (7.8 YPC) and 12 TD. He bypassed the NFL and a potential high draft slot to return for his redshirt junior year in Madison. He has the perfect combination of size and speed and is a true home run threat every time he touches the ball (led the nation in runs of 60+ yards and 70+ yards). He'll be working behind a classic, veteran UW offensive line and we expect huge numbers from Gordon this season.
2. Ameer Abdullah - Nebraska
Abdullah elected to bypass the NFL draft for one final season at Nebraska, where he led the Big Ten with 1,690 yards (6.0 YPC) on 281 carries as a junior in 2013. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that he was able to do this without consistent play at quarterback and opposing defenses would focus on stopping the run to little or no avail. Abdullah was also adept at receiving out of the backfield, catching 26 passes for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns. The one thing working against Abdullah this fall is that backup Imani Cross, a bowling ball at running back, will likely steal goal line carries away (10 rush TD in 2013). Still, QB play expects to be better in Lincoln this year and that's a good sign for Abdullah.
3. Jeremy Langford - Michigan State
In 2013, there weren't a lot of people who expected Langford to match the production that Le'Veon Bell had in 2012. Langford did just that with 1,422 yards (4.9 YPC) and 19 total touchdowns. Langford got off to a slow start, averaging just 62.2 yards per game over the first five weeks, never once exceeding 100 yards on the ground. He took off after that, however, with 123.4 YPG over the final nine, exceeding 100 yards rushing in eight of the nine games. Fourteen of Langford's 18 rushing touchdowns came in those nine games. With MSU fresh off of a Rose Bowl win and most of the offense back intact, expect 5th year senior Langford to pick up right where he left off.
4. Tevin Coleman - Indiana
Coleman really emerged as a sophomore last season after seeing minimal duty as a freshman. He provides big-play ability as evidenced by his 7.3 yards per carry on 131 attempts in 2013. His final tally was 958 rush yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing the final three games of the season with an injury. He scored a touchdown every game he was active and was also a threat coming out of the backfield with 19 receptions for 193 yards. Indiana's offense relies heavily on the pass and that allows opposing defenses to overlook the talented Coleman. As of right now, there's no one challenging to unseat him on the depth chart and we expect Coleman to have another big season for the Hoosiers.
5. Corey Clement - Wisconsin
Too high for a backup running back with 67 carries to his name? We don't think so. Clement was the third-stringer behind James White and Melvin Gordon last year, seeing mostly mop-up duty in Wisconsin's blowout wins. He still managed 547 yards on a ridiculous 8.2 YPC average with 7 TD. With James White and his 1,444 rushing yards from 2013 gone, the 5-11, 210-pound Clement figures to step up, and there's never a shortage of carries to go around in the Badgers' backfield. After all, Gordon and White both rushed 200+ times last year, combining for over 3,000 yards. With White gone,expect Clement to receive his share or carries and yards opposite Gordon. He's a special talent.
6. Ezekial Elliott - Ohio State
The state of the Buckeyes' backfield is still a bit unsettled. Gone are Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall (combined 2,057 yards, 23 TD), leaving a group of unproven RB's for coach Urban Meyer to sift through. Meyer loves running the football on offense and we expect rising sophomore Ezekial Elliott to get a lot of looks. The speedy Elliott rushed for 262 yards and 2 TD with a remarkable 8.7 YPC in minimal duty last season. He has all the intangibles you look for in a star RB and has the size (6'0", 218 lbs) to make him durable in the rugged Big Ten. QB Braxton Miller gets a lot of attention from opposing defenses for both his arm and legs, but soon it will be Elliott whom opponents will put their focus on.
7. Josh Ferguson - Illinois
The dynamic Ferguson was one of the lone bright spots on an Illinois offense last season. Ferguson tallied 779 rush yards (5.5 YPC) and seven touchdowns in 2013. He also was able to add 50 receptions for 535 receiving yards and four touchdowns, making him a threat both in the running attack and passing attack. In fact, there were games in which he didn't achieve much in terms of rushing yards, but was able to leave his mark on the game through the air. With the arrival of new QB Wes Lunt, expectations are that Ferguson will see more holes in the running game while also making an impact as a receiver. He has seen his stats improve every year with more chances and we expect another strong year from the Illini running back.
8. Venric Mark - Northwestern
Mark entered 2013 as one of the Big Ten's top backs with mile-high expectations after becoming NU's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 in 2012 (1,366 rush yards and 12 TD). Injuries ruined his season and Mark finished with just 97 rush yards on 31 carries, playing in just three total games. Much of Northwestern's struggles in 2013 could be attributed to the fact that they were without Mark, their top offensive threat, for the majority of the season. Mark missed Spring practice after surgery and his frame (5'8", 175 lbs) makes us worry that he won't be able to remain healthy for an entire season. He will also have to fight off RB Treyvon Green, who rushed for 736 yards (5.4 YPC) and 8 TD in Mark's absence last year. Durability concerns put him at No. 8 on our list. Stock: Sell
9. David Cobb - Minnesota
Cobb had a solid sophomore campaign last year, rushing for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns. He would figure to be higher on this list if the RB position wasn't so crowded in Minnesota. Cobb is the starter for now, and a good one at that, but behind him are proven veterans Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr., as well has highly touted redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards and decorated recruit Jeff Jones. Cobb will get the majority of the carries early, but we expect Minnesota to turn to a running back by committee approach as the season rolls on. We wouldn't be surprised to see one the RB job seized by one of his backups by season's end.
10. Zach Zwinak - Penn State, Sr.
Zwinak tallied 1,000 rush yards as a sophomore in 2012 and nearly reached that total again with 989 rush yards in 2013. Respectable numbers for an upper-classmen that has split carries with fellow RB Bill Belton. At 6'1" and 240, he's the thunder to Belton's lightning - a bruising back that has averaged 4.8 YPC over the past two seasons. Zwinak saved his best for last in 2013, closing out the season with four consecutive games of 115+ yards on the ground. He'll still have to battle with Belton, along with rising sophomore Akeel Lynch (who rushed for 358 yards on just 60 carries last year). We're not absolutely sure what the RB rotation will be like under coach James Franklin and on top of all that, the offensive line depth at PSU is extremely thin - a couple of main reasons why he is this low on the list.
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