Top 5 returning running backs in the Pac-12
Quarterbacks get most of the press, but the Pac-12 has some of the best returning running backs in the country. Three of the players listed below finished in the top five among returning FBS running backs according to PFF overall grades. The Pac-12 is loaded with NFL-caliber talent at the running back position and several deserving players were left off the list. Here are the top five running backs in the Pac-12 for 2016.
1. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
McCaffrey’s +49.1 overall grade is the highest among all returning FBS running backs by a wide margin. McCaffrey is one of the premier playmakers in all of college football and is our pick for the best returning college football player and Heisman favorite. McCaffrey was a high-volume player for the Cardinal, touching the ball as much as possible for the team. He carried the ball 337 times for 2014 yards and had more than 1,000 kick return yards last season as well but arguably his greatest contribution to an offense is his pass-catching ability. He is equally at home catching passes out of the slot as he is running the ball and looks every bit of a slot receiver when he is used that way. McCaffrey’s 3.2 yards per route run in 2015 led all FBS running backs.
2. Royce Freeman, Oregon
Freeman doesn’t get the press the other premier backs in the country get but he should be mentioned alongside them. In 2015, Freeman rushed for 1844 yards and 17 touchdowns, which both rank No. 3 among returning Power-5 running backs. At nearly 230 pounds, Freeman runs with power and is very difficult for opposing defenders to tackle. In 2015, Freeman had 1,067 yards rushing after contact, which ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 among returning running backs and No. 2 in FBS. He also forced 80 missed tackles on rushing plays, which ranks No. 2 among returning Power-5 running backs. Freeman’s +28.5 rushing grade only ranks behind the aforementioned McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Freeman is poised to have another big year with or without the national recognition.
3. Myles Gaskin, Washington
It’s not every year in the Pac-12 that a freshman running back makes an impact like Gaskin’s. The dynamic newcomer rushed for 1,302 yards on 227 attempts (5.7 yards per carry) in 2015, including 19 runs that went for 15 or more yards. While he isn’t a very big running back, Gaskin still managed to run for 878 yards after contact or 3.9 yards after contact per attempt in his first Pac-12 season. He forced 61 missed tackles as a rusher and his 104.6 elusive rating ranks No. 9 among returning FBS running backs. Gaskin and fellow sophomore quarterback Jake Browning help to form a young and deadly backfield combination that should be one of the better groups in the Pac-12 for the next two years.
4. Ronald Jones II, USC
It was difficult to pick just one of the talented USC running back tandem for this list, as they are both playmakers that would start on a lot of teams around the country. While Justin Davis deserves mention here, Jones edges him out due to his big-play ability. Jones is fast and elusive and a threat to score every time he touches the ball and 48.2 percent of his rushing yards in 2015 came on runs of 15 or more yards. Jones’s 983 rushing yards in 2015 came on only 153 attempts, for an eye-popping 6.3 yards per attempt on average. USC lost their starting quarterback to the NFL, so both Jones and Davis will be called upon to shoulder the load and help their new quarterback (presumably Max Browne) ease into his starting spot. Jones will be one of the premier running backs and big-play threats in the country even though he doesn’t get the most carries on his own team.
5. Soso Jamabo, UCLA
The versatile Jamabo is short on experience but is set to see an increase in snaps in the new run-heavy offense the Bruins will be using in 2016. The 6’3 Jamabo looks more like a wide receiver than a running back and his long stride can chew up yardage in the open field. Jamabo has big-play ability and is dangerous in the pass game. He was frequently targeted as a receiver out of the backfield during the Spring so should be featured that way in the Fall as well. He only carried the ball 66 times in 2015 as he sat behind senior Paul Perkins, but he averaged 6.0 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns in his limited touches. Jamabo flashed some of his playmaking prowess by breaking seven of his 66 carries for 15 or more yards. He is a legitimate breakout candidate.