1- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Trent Richardson is a very special talent. He emerged as a freshman, even while Mark Ingram was playing well en route to winning the Heisman, and had a couple key runs against Texas to help Alabama win the National Championship game. Richardson will be the feature back for Alabama this year and I am very much looking forward to seeing how he does as the feature back. Regardless of who starts at quarterback for ‘Bama it will be someone who has not started on the college level before, so I anticipate that Richardson will get carries early and often every game.
2- Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Davis is one of my favorite prospects, and last year I wrote that “he was the best offensive prospect on Arkansas’ offense,” which obviously insinuated that I thought he would get drafted higher than Ryan Mallett (who went in the 3rd round to the Patriots). Davis is incredibly talented and I am very much looking forward to seeing him play as one of the focal points of a potentially explosive offense this next year. He should help keep a lot of pressure off of Tyler Wilson early in the season. If Wilson can play effectively, and Arkansas’ revamped offensive line holds up, then Davis should have a huge season. Either way, Davis is a great talent and I am a big fan.
3- Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M
Gray emerged last year as a junior and helped Texas A&M finish their season on a high note en route to a bowl game against LSU. Gray should team up with Ryan Tannehill, Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu to form a pretty potent offense. I don’t have a great feel for Gray’s game and tendencies yet, due to A&M’s early struggles with Jerrod Johnson at the helm, but I am really looking forward to watching him this season.
4- Chris Polk, RB, Washington
Polk has been underrated since his freshman season, and some might be surprised that LaMichael James is ranked below him here. While Polk may not be the big play threat that James is at Oregon, he is a very good running back who has been very productive in each of his three seasons at Washington. The burden of carrying the offense will be on Polk this year now that Locker has graduated, so it will be interesting to see if Polk steps up to the plate and helps take some of the pressure off of whoever the new starting quarterback at Washington turns out to be.
5- LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
James is a talented back but I don’t think he will be a starter in the NFL because I don’t think he can take the beating he would sustain, running between the tackles consistently, as a feature back. I think he could be a very good complementary back in the NFL, at least initially, but because I don’t think he is going to be a starter I couldn’t rank him as high as some of the others, who have “bell-cow” potential.
6- Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Miller has the potential to explode onto the scene this year and I expect him to be the starting running back for Miami this year. If Miami can find a solid starting QB (read: not Jacory Harris) then their offense could be very dynamic with Miller, Travis Benjamin and LaRon Byrd to spread the ball around to. Miller should be effective running the ball regardless though, and I am very excited to see him get some consistent carries because he took over a game or two when he got all the carries on certain drives as a freshman.
7- Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
Ellington is another speed back from Clemson and he has game-breaking speed similar to another former Clemson running back, C.J. Spiller. He will be the feature back now that Jamie Harper has left for the NFL, and I think he will experience a great deal of success in that role. I don’t know what his tendencies are and I haven’t scouted him specifically yet because he was not eligible to come out this past year but I look forward to evaluating him because it will be interesting to compare him to C.J. Spiller, as they both went to the same school and play the same position in similar ways.
8- Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Ball really emerged as a legitimate rushing threat this past season for Wisconsin and I think his emergence, along with that of James White, forced John Clay’s hand and led to him declaring early for the NFL Draft. Ball is a very powerfully built running back and he fits Wisconsin’s scheme very well and should have a great season with White spelling him as his #2 back. If they can get a quarterback (Russell Wilson?) to take some of the pressure off of the running game then Ball could have a huge season as a junior.
9- Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple
I have not watched Pierce play a lot but I do know he is the cog that makes the Temple offense go and he should again be the focal point of their offense this year. It will be interesting to see him play since I have seen so little tape on him, but I expect to see a quality feature back when I watch him play.
10- Bryce Brown, RB, Kansas State
Brown is a transfer from Tennessee and is a very talented back. With Daniel Thomas out of the way he could be in line for a huge season this year. Kansas State relied on their running game extensively last season and they will presumably do the same again this year, so Brown’s role in the offense should be substantial. I look forward to watching him play this year, his first as a starter for Kansas State.