5-star RBs in the last decade: stars, busts and in between
This year the 247Sports composite rankings tab two five-star running backs, including Alabama commitment Damien Harris and Soso Jamabo.
Soon they will suit up for their respective college teams, trying to live up to their touted recruiting ranking.
That’s part of what’s so exciting: we don’t know the future. The last decade shows us that five-star running backs can be superstars (Darren McFadden) or complete busts (Kevin Grady). There have been 51 five-star running backs in the last 10 recruiting classes, according to those same 247 composite rankings.
How does history judge them?
2005 — 7 RBs
Jonathan Stewart: The Oregon running back improved each year, from Pac-10 All-Freshman (2005) to second-team All-Pac-10 (2006) to first-team All-Pac-10 (2007). A versatile player, Stewart also returned kicks and proved effective as a receiver. A first-round draft pick, Stewart has amassed nearly 5,000 rushing yards, 1,000 receiving yards and 36 total touchdowns in the NFL.
Marlon Lucky: Though Lucky didn’t immediately explode at Nebraska, he parlayed a very good sophomore season (second-team All-Big 12) into an even better junior year. Lucky rushed for 1,019 yards in 2007, but also added a school-record 75 catches. An injury stunted his senior season, and he never caught on in the NFL.
Jason Gwaltney: Gwaltney shunned Ohio State and USC on national TV and signed with WVU only to play one season. He rushed for only 186 yards before getting injured. He wasn’t committed to his rehab and became a bust.
Kevin Grady: The first early enrollee at Michigan, Grady spent his first two seasons backing up Mike Hart, then tore his ACL after switching to fullback in 2007. Pulled over with a blood alcohol content of .281 in 2008, he battled legal troubles his final two seasons, but saw time at fullback under new head coach Rich Rodriguez. Undrafted in 2010, he again got arrested for drunk driving, this time with a blood-alcohol level of .30, and never made it as a professional athlete.
Antone Smith: He put together a decent career at Florida State — 2,253 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns combined — still less than the 2,814 rushing yards he complied as a high school senior. He’s scrapped together an NFL career since 2009, though a broken leg ended his 2014 season in Week 11.
Darren McFadden: One of the best running backs in SEC history, McFadden helped popularize the Wildcat formation at Arkansas. He threw seven touchdown passes and returned kickoffs. He ran for more than 1,100 yards as a freshman. But he’ll always be a legend for his combined 3,477 rushing yards (2006-07), earning him back-to-back Doak Walker Awards, consensus All-American status and two second-place finishes in the Heisman Trophy voting. Injuries have marred his seven-year NFL career.
Toney Baker: He never managed a 1,000-yard season in a steady, unspectacular career at N.C. State. He finished with 2,045 yards and 17 TDs, and he also caught 65 passes for 676 yards and four TDs.
RBs ranked lower: Ray Rice, Felix Jones, Jamaal Charles
2006 — 9 RBs
Beanie Wells: Wells rushed for 3,382 yards and 30 TDs in three years at Ohio State. He logged back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as a sophomore and junior.
Stafon Johnson: Just as he seemed poised for a huge season, Johnson suffered a barbell injury in 2009 when 275 pounds came down on his throat. He had rushed for 1,395 yards and 14 touchdowns at USC and never made it in the NFL.
Allen Bradford: He averaged 5.9 yards per carry at USC, but only rushed for 1,585 yards in his college career on a loaded Trojans roster. He became a linebacker in the NFL and has spent most of his career in Seattle under Pete Carroll, his college coach.
C.J. Spiller: He electrified Clemson fans almost immediately, rushing for 938 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman. His next two seasons didn’t meet lofty expectations, but he earned All-American status as a senior: 1,212 rushing yards, 503 receiving yards, 708 kick return yards, 210 punt return yards and 21 total touchdowns. He’s also managed a solid NFL career with the Buffalo Bills, including one Pro Bowl appearance.
Demarco Murray: Murray holds a number of all-time records at Oklahoma, including touchdowns (65), all-purpose yards (6,718) and receiving yards for a running back (1,571). The Sooners got the ball in his hands as often as possible for four consecutive years, but he’s had enough juice left to make consecutive Pro Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys, including 2,261 total yards of offense in 2014.
Mike Goodson: Goodson’s best season at Texas A&M was his freshman year, when he rushed for 847 yards and four TDs, making him the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. He bulked up each of the next two seasons and failed to hit his own lofty, public goals. After a couple more pedestrian seasons at A&M, Goodson managed a rather unremarkable NFL career that now appears over.
C.J. Gable: After becoming the first freshman ever to start a season-opener at running back for USC in 2006, Gable missed most of the next season due to injury. A good kickoff returner, Gable totaled 1,549 rushing yards and 13 TDs in the backfield. He never played in an NFL game.
James Aldridge: Aldridge totaled just 979 yards rushing and three career TDs in four seasons with the Irish, and he’s one of the bigger busts in Notre Dame’s recent history.
LeSean McCoy: Originally a Miami commitment, McCoy changed his mind due to a coaching switch. He attended Milford Academy before arriving at Pitt, where he rushed for 2,816 yards and 35 TDs in two seasons. “Shady” is a three-time Pro Bowl player for the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the best running backs in the NFL year after year.
RBs ranked lower: Charles Scott, Knowshon Moreno, Anthony Dixon
2007 — 3 RBs
Joe McKnight: “The next Reggie Bush” had more in common with the former USC standout off the field than on it. McKnight was caught up in the infamous NCAA investigation for free use of an SUV during his final season with the Trojans, then left early for the NFL. He combined for 2,755 yards and 15 TDs while returning two kickoffs for TDs in college.
Marc Tyler: While McKnight’s biggest troubles at USC stemmed from illegal benefits, Tyler got into several ugly incidents with females and earned a suspension due to inappropriate comments to the media. He totaled 1,751 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns during his college career and never made it in the NFL.
Noel Devine: A human highlight reel in high school and college, Devine was a tremendous running back for the Mountaineers. He ran for more than 4,300 yards at WVU in addition to catching 98 passes and sometimes returning kickoffs. Injury prone and small, he’s tried to scratch out a professional football career since 2011 with little success in the NFL and CFL.
RBs ranked lower: Alfred Morris, Jahvid Best, Jonathan Dwyer
2008 — 3 RBs
Darrell Scott: Originally at Colorado, Scott later transferred to South Florida. He combined for 1,252 yards and six touchdowns in the three years he played between the two schools. He left school early and went undrafted.
Jermie Calhoun: Considered the school’s best prospect since Adrian Peterson, Calhoun accomplished little at Oklahoma. After an injury in his second season, he transferred to Division II Angelo State in 2011.
Richard Samuel: The Georgia coaching staff never could decide what to do with Samuel. He started at running back; then he moved to linebacker, and then he moved back to running back and fullback. He combined for just 943 total offensive yards and four TDs in his career.
RBs ranked lower: Mark Ingram, Jonathan Franklin, LaMichael James
2009 — 3 RBs
Bryce Brown: The former Tennessee recruit is a rare player who was a complete bust in college, but has managed more than 1,000 rushing yards combined in three NFL seasons. That’s not going to earn him Pro Bowl honors, but three years of professional pay checks is a lot more than many expected after he ran for 460 yards in his only season playing for the Vols as the No. 1-rated recruit of the ’09 class. He transferred to Kansas State and ran for just 16 yards on three carries for the Wildcats.
Trent Richardson: A three-year bust in the NFL who soon could be out of the league, Richardson was a tremendous player at Alabama, first backing up Heisman winner Mark Ingram and then becoming the feature back on the 2011 national championship team. The Crimson Tide handed to Richardson 283 times and threw to him 29 more that season, in addition to a few kickoff returns, and he racked up more than 2,000 yards of total offense.
Christine Michael: Michael averaged 5.3 yards per carry in four seasons for the Aggies before playing the last two seasons for the Seattle Seahawks. He suffered an ACL injury in 2011 and never managed 900 rushing yards at Texas A&M in a good-not-great college career.
RBs ranked lower: Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, Montee Ball
2010 — 3 RBs
Marcus Lattimore: The former South Carolina superstar retired from the NFL this year after a failed attempt to rehab from a devastating knee injury. He combined for 3,444 total yards on offense with 41 touchdowns in three years for the Gamecocks.
Michael Dyer: The soap opera that was Dyer’s college career finally ended with a forgettable season at Louisville in 2014 (481 rushing yards, five touchdowns). Dyer ran for 2,335 yards and 15 TDs in two seasons at Auburn, winning a national title before off-field trouble forced him to Arkansas State and then Arkansas Baptist College and Louisville.
Lache Seastrunk: He ran for 2,189 yards and 18 touchdowns in two seasons for Baylor after transferring from Oregon. After a strong preseason, Seastrunk never cracked a 53-man NFL roster this year.
RBs ranked lower: Silas Redd, Giovani Bernard, Ben Malena
2011 — 6 RBs
Malcolm Brown: Granted, he played on some pretty down Texas teams, but Brown averaged 4.3 yards per carry for his career and never managed a 1,000-yard season. He managed one 100-yard game as a senior. Not exactly what you hope for out of a five-star running back if you’re Texas.
Brandon Williams: The Oklahoma transfer managed a career-high 379 yards as a junior on 4.4 yards per carry for Texas A&M. He’s been a bit player at best.
Isaiah Crowell: He rushed for 850 yards at Georgia before getting kicked off the team. Crowell managed a combined 30 rushing touchdowns in two productive seasons at Alabama State before heading to the NFL, where he carried 148 times as a rookie for the Cleveland Browns.
Savon Huggins: He missed the 2014 season at Rutgers due to injury before announcing he’ll transfer to Northern Iowa for his final season of eligibility. He managed just 410 rushing yards and two touchdowns in his best season for the Scarlet Knights.
De’Anthony Thomas: The former Oregon running back and kick returner had a productive rookie year for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014. DAT caught 113 passes, returned five kicks for touchdowns and ran for 7.8 yards per carry in three college seasons.
James Wilder Jr.: He spent 2014 on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad after rushing for 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns in a crowded backfield at Florida State (2011-13). Some thought he’d play linebacker when he arrived in Tallahassee, but he never did.
RBs ranked lower: Tre Mason, Bishop Sankey, Ka’Deem Carey
2012 — 6 RBs
Keith Marshall: After an exciting freshman season as Todd Gurley’s sidekick, Marshall has carried just 78 times in two years due to injuries. Can he be healthy enough and good enough to get carries in 2015 in a Georgia backfield with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel?
Johnathan Gray: He averaged a career-worst 4.3 yards per carry for Texas in 2014, but the Longhorns couldn’t move the ball through the air and the offensive line didn’t open up many holes. With Malcolm Brown departing, Gray may get one last chance to take the bull by the horns at Texas.
T.J. Yeldon: He’s on all sorts of historical lists at Alabama, coming within 21 yards of three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. But behind an offensive line that was merely good, and playing at less than 100 percent, Yeldon managed 5.0 yards per carry, far behind his 2012 (6.3) and 2013 (6.0) pace. Yeldon had a strong career with the Tide despite being turnover prone, but his final season was a disappointment.
Trey Williams: In a shocker, the 5-foot-8 back departed Texas A&M early for the NFL after the 2014 season. Williams was an above-average kickoff returner for the Aggies and a decent pass-catching back. He averaged a tremendous 6.6 yards per carry, yet never ran for 600 yards in a single season and produced just one 100-yard game.
Rushel Shell: An important part of the West Virginia offense in his first season after transferring from Pitt, Shell ran for 788 yards and caught 21 passes. An ankle injury probably prevented him from putting up better numbers, and he’ll be a key figure within the Mountaineers’ offense in 2015.
Duke Johnson: He turned out one of the greatest seasons in college football in 2014, toiling to 2,073 yards of total offense on a very mediocre Miami team. He broke his ankle against Florida State, ending his season prematurely in 2013, but still finished his career with more than 3,500 rushing yards, more than 700 receiving yards and more than 1,200 yards as a kickoff returner.
RBs ranked lower: Todd Gurley, Jonathan Williams, D.J. Foster
2013 — 5 RBs
Derrick Henry: Henry didn’t live up to preseason status as a potential Heisman Trophy contender in 2014, but gave a steady performance for Alabama behind T.J. Yeldon. Henry fell 10 yards shy of 1,000 yards, rushed for 11 touchdowns and set himself up to be the featured back in 2015 for an offense now piloted by Lane Kiffin.
Thomas Tyner: The speedster dealt with several injuries in 2014, missing four games and barely playing in a fifth. Tyner rushed for 138 fewer yards on two fewer carries as a result, but did recover to rush for 124 yards and two touchdowns against FSU in a blowout CFP semifinal win. He’s still a big part of the Oregon backfield going forward.
Kelvin Taylor: The Florida sophomore exploded for 197 yards and two touchdowns in an upset win against Georgia, but otherwise managed a pedestrian second season (368 yards on 4.0 yards per carry). Perhaps the arrival of coach Jim McElwain, who has built a history of very successful running backs, and the departure of Matt Jones to the NFL will trigger better things in 2015.
Keith Ford: A foot injury cost Ford five Big 12 games in 2014, but he proved himself as a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield. He’s averaged 5.8 and 5.5 yards per carry in two seasons, though he’s yet to see his 100th career college carry. With a new offensive coordinator and a crowded group of running backs, what will his role be in 2015?
Derrick Green: A broken collarbone ended his season after just six games, including poor performances against Minnesota and Notre Dame and great production against Appalachian State and Miami (Ohio). His 2013 season at Michigan was a big disappointment as well.
RBs ranked lower: Ezekiel Elliott, Alex Collins, T.J. Logan
2014 — 6 RBs
Leonard Fournette: An ill-advised Heisman pose punctuated a slow start relative to expectations, but one of the most hyped running backs in years settled down by October to finish his true freshman season at LSU with more than 1,000 rushing yards, including five 100-yard games and a couple of dazzling kickoff returns. He saved his best for last — 143 rushing yards, a 100-yard kickoff return and three total touchdowns against Notre Dame.
Dalvin Cook: A flashy freshman season ended with 172 total yards against Florida, 220 against Georgia Tech and 127 against Oregon. Cook also gashed Louisville’s strong defense on the road, a game in which Jameis Winston really struggled as Florida State had to come from behind. Unfortunately, his two fumbles in the College Football Playoff semifinals against the Ducks are what many will remember about his season. He’s an explosive runner and a fine pass-catcher and could be the focal point of the offense in 2015.
Royce Freeman: Freeman missed closing the regular season with eight consecutive 100-yard games by a measly three yards. He may be the best back at Oregon dating back to before coach Chip Kelly. All told, he ran for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns, bringing the track-speed Ducks some power in the backfield. But he managed just 66 yards on 22 carries in two CFP games.
Nick Chubb: Stowed away on the depth chart behind players like Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, injuries and suspension forced Chubb into action mid-season. His first start, Georgia crushed eventual SEC East champ Missouri on the road, 34-0. Chubb reeled off eight consecutive 100-yard games and finished the season with 1,547 yards. That’s a better year than Gurley ever had at UGA. Given a full season as the presumed starter next year, expectations are sky high.
Joe Mixon: Arrested for misdemeanor assault before the season, Oklahoma suspended him for the rest of the semester. His status for 2015 remains somewhat unclear, though it appears the Sooners will play him.
Jalen Hurd: The Tennessee freshman provided a good debut season that could’ve been even better behind a good offensive line. The 6-foot-3 athlete proved a reliable pass-catcher as well, finishing third on the team with 35 catches. Hurd should play a big role in the Vols’ continued resurgence in 2015.
RBs ranked lower: Samaje Perine, Stanley “Boom” Williams, Sony Michel
LIVED UP TO THE HYPE
- Darren McFadden, Arkansas
- Jonathan Stewart, Oregon
- Beanie Wells, Ohio State
- C.J. Spiller, Clemson
- Demarco Murray, Oklahoma
- LeSean McCoy, Pitt
- Noel Devine, West Virginia
- Trent Richardson, Alabama
- Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
- Lache Seastrunk, Oregon/Baylor
- De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon
- Duke Johnson, Miami
GOOD CAREERS BUT MIXED REVIEWS
- Marion Lucky, Nebraska
- Antone Smith, Florida State
- Toney Baker, N.C. State
- Stafon Johnson, USC
- Allen Bradford, USC
- Mike Goodson, Texas A&M
- C.J. Gable, USC
- Joe McKnight, USC
- Christine Michael, Texas A&M
- Isaiah Crowell, Georgia/Alabama State
- James Wilder, Florida State
- T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
- Michael Dyer, Auburn/Arkansas State/Arkansas Baptist/Louisville
- Malcolm Brown, Texas
- Trey Williams, Texas A&M
- Jason Gwaltney, West Virginia
- Kevin Grady, Michigan
- James Aldridge, Notre Dame
- Richard Samuel, Georgia
- Darrell Scott, Colorado/South Florida
- Jermie Calhoun, Oklahoma/Angelo State
- Bryce Brown, Tennessee
- Marc Tyler, USC
- Brandon Williams, Texas A&M
- Savon Huggins, Rutgers
- Keith Marshall, Georgia
- Johnathan Gray, Texas
- Rushel Shell, Pitt/West Virginia
- Derrick Henry, Alabama
- Thomas Tyner, Oregon
- Kelvin Taylor, Florida
- Keith Ford, Oklahoma
- Derrick Green, Michigan
- Leonard Fournette, LSU
- Dalvin Cook, Florida State
- Royce Freeman, Oregon
- Nick Chubb, Georgia
- Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
- Jalen Hurd, Tennessee