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Position University: Running Back

The concept of “Position University” is often thrown around during the NFL draft when a particular college has several players of the same position break into the league over a short span. However, I think a deeper look at the draft may reveal some other interesting things about what colleges may be able to truly make the claim they are “WR U” or “QB U” or whatever.

In this, the second iteration of Position U, we’ll be looking at Running Back. Since we’re only going back to 1990, “RB” is the easiest way to designate the players being discussed. This encompasses everyone who would be considered a “Halfback, “Tailback,” “Fullback,” or even “Scat Back,” the Canadian “Slotback,” or “power back.” In the 30 years since Dallas selected Emmitt Smith as the 17th overall pick in 1990, 781 men have heard their names called at the NFL draft to be a running back. 167 different institutions of higher learning have produced those backs and they’ve accumulated over a million rushing yards.

Running Back University

Only one RB has been selected 1st overall since ’90 and his story is a cautionary tale. Penn St standout Ki-Jana Carter dominated at the Collegiate level and put on a show at the Rose Bowl his Junior Year. Joe Pa, the Nittany Lions long-time coach, told Carter to go pro and he declared for the 1996 draft. The Cincinnati Bengals selected the bonafide can’t-miss star and he proceeded to suffer every injury known to man. Carter finished his career with 1,144 yards on 318 carries over seven years with several completely lost seasons in between. A travesty that both represents the constant suffering of the Bengals and the fickle nature of professional football.

Otherwise, the 1st round has been the most fertile ground for RB production. The 81 backs selected and 412,000+ yards are 10% and 36% of the total respectively. However, RBs are notoriously interchangeable. As a result, teams often grab backs with good measurables or from smaller schools in the later rounds. The most RB selections have occurred in the 7th, 4th, and 6th rounds despite a precipitous falloff in yardage and staying power after the 4th.

RoundCountTotal YearsTotal Rushing YardsTotal Rec Yards
181577412179111926
29050023104992477
39848216757368957
412250912158259222
5903607104836438
61194066330830153
71262714600519671
8143878073234
9102798753889
1098126331
111011620172
1281911692674
Breakdown by draft round

In order to bestow the title “RB U” we need to take a closer look at what schools these RBs are being drafted from. Of the 167 unique campuses, 27 of them have yielded at least 10 RBs since 1990. Most of the schools on the list would not surprise you and all of them come from a power-5 conference except Notre Dame. Only two schools have had 20 RBs selected, Ohio St and Alabama.

YearRoundNameTeamCollegeYearsRu YdsRec Yds
19922Siran StacyPHIAlabama100
19923Kevin TurnerNEPAlabama86352015
19934Derrick LassicDALAlabama126937
19952Sherman WilliamsDALAlabama51162332
19984Curtis AlexanderDENAlabama000
20001Shaun AlexanderSEAAlabama994531520
20037Ahmaad GallowayDENAlabama000
20074Le’Ron McClainBALAlabama71310557
20077Kenneth DarbyTBBAlabama4408356
20093Glen CoffeeSF49Alabama122676
20111Mark IngramNOSAlabama970251845
20121Trent RichardsonCLEAlabama32032912
20132Eddie LacyGBPAlabama53614947
20152TJ YeldonJAXAlabama519351426
20154Jalston FowlerTENAlabama32058
20162Derrick HenryTENAlabama43833578
20163Kenyan DrakeMIAAlabama421751107
20187Bo ScarbroughDALAlabama13775
20191Josh JacobsOAKAlabama11150166
20193Damien HarrisNEPAlabama1120
Crimson Tide RBs

The Crimson Tide have been a powerhouse in NCAA Football for most of the time span of this study. However, relative to the school’s dominance, the RB production has been subpar. Mark Ingram, currently plying his trade in Baltimore, is the active leader and has a decent shot at catching Bama’s star alum Shaun Alexander. Drake and Henry have also shown some flashes that could change the perception of Bama backs but there’s plenty of busts in that group.

YearRoundNameTeamCollegeYearsRu YdsRe Yds
19927Scottie GrahamPITOSU61267126
19931Robert SmithMINOSU868181292
19943Jeff CothranCINOSU3191117
19944Raymont HarrisCHIOSU72509739
19947Butler By’not’eDENOSU200
19961Eddie GeorgeHOUOSU9104412227
19974Nicky SualauaDALOSU200
19992Joe MontgomeryNYGOSU33720
20005Michael WileyDALOSU3503315
20017Derek CombsOAKOSU200
20024Jonathan WellsHOUOSU41167323
20024Jamar MartinDALOSU3724
20053Maurice ClarettDENOSU000
20074Antonio PittmanNOSOSU2435147
20091Beanie WellsARZOSU42471293
20126Dan HerronCINOSU4468277
20142Carlos HydeSF49OSU64370709
20161Ezekiel ElliottDALOSU454051619
20197Mike WeberDALOSU000
20202JK DobbinsBALOSU
Buckeye RBs

The Buckeyes have also had a strong showing the past few decades and claim 3 NCAA titles in the last 10 years. The total production, though, is equally as disappointing as their SEC counterparts in Tuscaloosa. Amazingly, of the 20 RBs both schools have produced, they’ve accumulated exactly 70 years of seasons with at least one rushing or receiving yard each, and are within 800 rushing yards of each other’s totals. The Buckeyes have a slight advantage on the ground while the Tide have around 3000 more yards through the air. OSU does have Eddie George. The 10,000-yard man was the ’96 offensive Rookie-of-the-Year and went to 4-straight Pro Bowls. Active backs Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott are also strong representatives of the Horseshoe in today’s NFL.

Running Back University

So, while there’s plenty of quantity from those two schools, the quality is lacking. Accumulated years is another good metric for determining RB U and two other schools stand above the others. The only universities that have stacked up 100+ years of RB production over the past 30 years are Florida St and Penn St.

YearRoundNameTeamCollegeYearsRu YdsRe Yds
19901Dexter CarterSF49Florida St81042656
19922Amp LeeSF49Florida St915123099
19924Edgar BennettGBPFlorida St739922245
19941William FloydSF49Florida St711411427
19944Sean JacksonHOUFlorida St000
19953Zack CrockettINDFlorida St141701680
19971Warrick DunnTBBFlorida St12109674339
19996Lamarr GlennTBBFlorida St000
20013Travis MinorMIAFlorida St81230474
20042Greg JonesJAXFlorida St9913471
20064Leon WashingtonNYJFlorida St1022711286
20073Lorenzo BookerMIAFlorida St4230362
20135Chris ThompsonWASFlorida St711941772
20144Devonta FreemanATLFlorida St639722015
20155Karlos WilliamsBUFFlorida St151796
20172Dalvin CookMINFlorida St32104914
20202Cam AkersLARFlorida St
Seminole RBs

Warrick Dunn is the headliner for FlaSt, logging 10,000+ yards on the ground and a Super Bowl with Tampa. Fullback Zack Crockett’s 14 years with at least a rushing or receiving yard have him tied for 4th among RBs in this span along with Darren Sproles, Brian Mitchell, and Larry Centers behind Frank Gore (and counting) and Emmitt Smith (15), Loronzo Neal (16), and Fred McAfee (17). Excluding the recent picks and busts Sean Jackson and Lamarr Glenn, every Seminole runner has survived at least 4 years. Pretty impressive.

19901Blair ThomasNYJPenn St72236513
19916Leroy ThompsonPITPenn St613901193
19918Gary BrownHOUPenn St84300631
19928Sam GashNEPPenn St123271347
19936Richie AndersonNYJPenn St1212743149
19951Ki-Jana CarterCINPenn St71144469
19963Jon WitmanPITPenn St6129263
19964Brian MilneINDPenn St6126324
19966Stephen PittsSF49Penn St000
19967Mike ArchieHOUPenn St12425
19981Curtis EnisCHIPenn St3456428
20024Omar EasyKCCPenn St4142
20031Larry JohnsonKCCPenn St1062231373
20047Sean McHughTENPenn St50301
20064Michael RobinsonSF49Penn St8422610
20073Tony HuntPHIPenn St22542
20116Evan RoysterWASPenn St3416188
20181Saquon BarkleyNYGPenn St223101159
20192Miles SandersPHIPenn St1818509
Nittany Lions RBs

We’ve talked about the tragedy of Ki-Jana Carter. Despite his struggles, he did hang around for a while and contributed to the Nittany Lions’ 103 aggregate years of RB production. Joe Paterno’s tough-nosed brand of football produced a number of NFL-calibre Fullbacks with staying power including 12-year men Sam Gash and Richie Anderson. It’ll be interesting to see if Saquon Barkley can catch fellow alumni Gary Brown and Larry Johnson.

The final way to try and sort out who has the best claim on RB U is to look at the actual yardage gained. Three schools have accrued over 40,000 yards on the ground and two have 16000+ through the air. The rushing leaders are Miami (FL), Georgia, and Tennessee. The receiving leaders are Miami (FL) and Florida St. The ‘Noles 19,836 receiving yards are tops in that category. Miami (FL) is actually only 721 yards short of 60,000 rushing yards while the other two are just barely over 40,000. So is Miami RB U?

YearRoundNameTeamCollegeYearsRu YdsRe Yds
19942Donnell BennettKCCMiami (FL)81941352
19954Larry JonesWASMiami (FL)000
19955James StewartMINMiami (FL)11443
19966Derrick HarrisSTLMiami (FL)44381
19991Edgerrin JamesINDMiami (FL)11122463364
19995Nick WilliamsCINMiami (FL)000
20013James JacksonCLEMiami (FL)61082232
20022Clinton PortisDENMiami (FL)999232018
20024Najeh DavenportGBPMiami (FL)81819538
20031Willis McGaheeBUFMiami (FL)1084741339
20053Frank GoreSF49Miami (FL)15153473896
20124Lamar MillerMIAMiami (FL)758641565
20136Mike JamesTBBMiami (FL)335160
20153Duke JohnsonCLEMiami (FL)516962580
20184Mark WaltonCINMiami (FL)2235130
20196Travis HomerSEAMiami (FL)111456
20204DeeJay DallasSEAMiami (FL)
Hurricane RBs

Some incredible running backs have come out of “The U.” Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, and Frank Gore are all historically significant backs. Of the RBs with 10,000+ rushing yards since ’90, Miami is one of five schools with 2 along with Florida (Emmitt Smith, Fred Taylor), Notre Dame (Ricky Watters, Jerome Bettis), Pittsburgh (Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy), and Virginia (Tiki Barber, Thomas Jones). Including McGahee, Portis, and pre-1990 star Ottis Anderson the ‘Canes are the only school with 5 backs who rushed for over 8,000 yards.

The U

I waffled a bit on naming QB U because multiple schools had a decent claim but RB U is much clearer. The Miami Hurricanes have a virtually unmatched combination of production, staying power, and star power. I’ll leave you with highlights of my personal favorite Miami back, Mr. Willis McGahee.

Let us know what you think in the comments!

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