As this season of college football starts to come to a close, it also marks the close of the decade. It’s been an amazing ten years, and stars of all positions have shined when the lights are brightest. Throughout the week, some of the writers here at PFN will be ranking who we believe are the players most deserving of being named to the All-Decade team. For this edition, we’ll be talking about the All-Decade team running backs.
The running back position is loaded, with a number of names I’d love to add to this list. As you can imagine, it was incredibly difficult to compress the huge list of stars to only five names. In order to choose these five players, I looked at a combination of things: Their overall production throughout their career (exclusively the years they played between 2010-2019), their top season, the success of their teams, and any accolades they may have received in their collegiate career.
If you don’t agree with my list, or if I left off someone you believe is completely deserving, please let me know by tweeting at me @MVScouting or letting me know in the comment section. Without further introduction, here are the five running backs I believe are most deserving to be named the 2010’s College Football All-Decade Team: Running Backs.
#5. Derrick Henry, Alabama
Derrick Henry comes into this list with the least amount of rushing yards. In fact, Henry doesn’t even rank in the top-250 all-time in collegiate rushing yards. That being said, I did consider accolades and awards won, and Henry is the only non-QB to win the Heisman in the entire decade. He had to make it.
As a true freshman at Alabama, Henry was used lightly as he was buried in the depth chart behind future draft picks TJ Yeldon and Kenyan Drake. However, that didn’t stop Henry from making his mark. In ten games, he rushed for 382 yards on only 35 carries. That’s a ridiculous 10.9 yards per carry. In Henry’s second year, Drake suffered a leg injury that caused him to miss a majority of the season. Henry took over and never looked back. Henry and Yeldon split time and received roughly the same amount of play time. In those split carries, Henry averaged more yards per touch and more total touchdowns, despite Yeldon touching the ball over 30 more times. After that season, Yeldon entered his name into the NFL Draft, and Henry became the workhorse running back.
In 2015, Henry was special. He took over as the lead guy for Alabama and led the Crimson Tide to the national championship. Along the way, he rushed for over 2,200 yards, scoring 28 touchdowns, and he did not go a single game without reaching the end zone. For his efforts, Henry was named the Heisman Trophy winner, becoming the only non-QB to win the award in the 2010s. For his consistent growth, his amazing 2015 season, and being the only Heisman winner from the position, Derrick Henry comes in at #5 on the College Football All-Decade Team: Running Backs.
#4: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
The first of two Badger running backs listed is the owner of a season many consider to be the second-best year by a running back in NCAA history.
In 2014, Gordon rushed for 2,587 yards (second-most all-time), 29 touchdowns (fifth all-time), at a ridiculous 9.5 yards per carry (eighth all-time). Gordon was the best player in the country, and his 2014 season hasn’t been matched since. Many believed that Gordon should have been named the Heisman, as he had a season only matched once before. Gordon’s 2014 season, combined with his success in prior years, has made him the #4 player on our All-Decade Team: Running Backs.
#3: Royce Freeman, Oregon
Royce Freeman is a somewhat underrated college football player. Never was he talked about as the best in the country, yet he ended his career as the eighth-most productive runner in NCAA history. Freeman also finished 11th all-time in rushing touchdowns and provided value as a pass-catcher, as he left Oregon with over 6,000 total scrimmage yards and 64 total touchdowns. Underrated and under-appreciated, Royce Freeman’s incredibly productive career lands him on our All-Decade Team: Running Backs.
#2: Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
The most productive rusher in college football history, there was no way this list was going to be made without Donnel Pumphrey. In four years at SDSU, Pumphrey was able to accumulate a ridiculous 6,405 rushing yards. Pumphrey is recognized by the NCAA as the all-time rushing leader. This is due to some questionable technicalities, but nonetheless an impressive feat. Like Freeman, Pumphrey was used in the passing game and contributed another 1,000-plus yards through the air. With 7,444 all-purpose yards and 64 total touchdowns, Pumphrey was nothing short of an elite play-maker. He’s #1 on the career rushing list, and #2 on our All-Decade Team: Running Backs.
#1: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
This may be a bit of a controversial pick, as this may be a case of recency bias. Or it could be that Jonathan Taylor is the best running back of the decade. In three years at Wisconsin, Taylor has already firmly entrenched himself as one of college football’s greatest. Of the top ten rushers in college football history, Taylor is the only one who hasn’t played four years. You can make an incredibly convincing case that if he returned to school, Taylor would leave Wisconsin as the great running back ever.
If we averaged out Taylor’s three seasons, we get roughly 2,026 yards per season. So if we were being conservative and assumed Taylor rushed for, say, 1,900 yards in his senior season, he would retire as the NCAA’s leading rusher by over 1,500 yards. Taylor has had over 1,900 yards in each of his first three seasons, an NCAA record. This is all speculation, as Taylor is currently expected to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft, but if he stays, expect Taylor to shatter the record for the most rushing yards in NCAA history. For his unmatched production in his first three seasons, Taylor is the #1 player in our All-Decade Team: Running Backs.