Preview 2010 - Big Ten Running Back Rankings
Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure
Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure
Posted May 24, 2010

Preview 2010 - Ranking the Top Big Ten Running Backs

Preview 2010 - Big Ten

The Top Running Backs

- Big Ten Skill Position Rankings
Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Receivers | Tight Ends | Kickers   

1. John Clay, Jr. Wisconsin
As the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, Clay is on the list of legitimate Heisman candidates after running for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns hitting the 100-yard mark in each of the final six games including 121 yards against Miami in the bowl game and 151 against Michigan. Not just a big bruiser, he can fly when he gets into the open field with the speed to be a part of 4x100 in the Wisconsin state high school finals two years in a row. While he's not used as a receiver, he has the hands to have a few screens and delays come his way. The key will be staying healthy after undergoing surgery on both ankles this offseason. He might have been fine against Miami, but he ran 41 times for just 144 yards (averaging just 3.5 yards per carry) in the losses to Ohio State and Iowa. Over the last two seasons, Wisconsin is 9-2 when the 6-1, 248 pounder gets 100 yards or more.

2. Evan Royster, Sr. Penn State
Royster could turn out to be the most productive Penn State running back ever needing just 482 yards to pass Lydell Mitchell as the school's all-time leading rusher. Along the way, he could be a top five pick in next year's draft. With 6-1, 213-pound size, smarts, and breakaway speed, he has all the tools to be phenomenal at the next level, but first he has to carry the offense with so many issues with the quarterbacks and the passing game. Working behind a mediocre line (by Penn State standards), he tore off 1,169 yards and six touchdowns last year, but scored only twice on the ground over the final eight games. With a few breaks and good healthy, he could easily double his scoring production and could run for well over 1,500 yards. He has had problems with a sprained knee and a bad ankle in the past, but he has been relatively durable.

3. Darius Willis, Soph. Indiana
If there's any one player the Hoosiers can least afford to lose, and most need to come up with a big year, it's Willis after all the promise he showed rushing for 607 yards and six touchdowns. The 6-0, 225-pounder has an excellent combination of speed, power, and home-run hitting ability with 85 of his yards coming on a dash against Michigan. However, he had three big games (152 yards against Michigan, 103 against Northwestern, and 142 against Purdue), and that was about it. Staying healthy was a problem, and he didn't get enough of the workload, but this year he needs to be fed the ball early and often, and he has to live up to his potential.

4. Dan Herron, Jr. Ohio State
Herron doesn't get any attention or any of the spotlight with Terrelle Pryor the most dangerous rushing weapon in the offense, but he led the team in rushing last year with 600 yards and 11 touchdowns despite missing a chunk of the midseason with an ankle injury. The 5-10, 202-pounder bulked up a little bit to take more of a pounding, and he showed at the end of last year that he could be a workhorse who can carry the offense from time to time getting 32 carries for 97 yards and a score in the pivotal Iowa win and running 19 times for 96 yards against Michigan. "Boom" has blazing speed and tremendous cut-back ability, and while he's not going to beat anyone up as an inside runner, he's just tough enough to get a few carries here and there up the cut. He's trying harder to be a tough between-the-tackles runner, but he's at his best in space and could be used more as a receiver after making 11 catches for 66 yards and a score.

5. Mikell Leshoure, Jr. Illinois
Leshoure quietly had a nice season leading the team with 734 yards and five scores highlighted by back-to-back 100-yard weeks. He ran for 122 yards against Purdue and ripped off 150 yards and a score against Michigan, but he saved his best for last with 184 yards and two scores in the season finale against Fresno State. At 6-0 and 230 pounds he brings good size, strong running ability, and shiftiness for his bulk. Able to be used as a receiver, he caught 14 passes for 177 yards and two scores.

6. Adam Robinson, Soph. Iowa
Robinson might be the team's leading returning rusher, but he's hardly a lock for the starting job. The 5-9, 205-pound sophomore is extremely quick and has a little bit of power between the tackles, and he's a proven workhorse running for 834 yards and five scores on 181 carries. However, he wore down a bit late, missing the Indiana and Northwestern games, and he was out this offseason recovering from shoulder surgery. He can carry the ball 20 times a game, and he can make a few catches here and there, but he won't have to shoulder the whole workload.

7. Montee Ball, Soph. Wisconsin
The coaching staff couldn't stop raving about Ball as a true freshman, and while there was a little bit of thought about redshirting him, there was too much upside to not get him on the field. 5-11 and 234 pounds, he's a lightning quick bowling ball who's always moving forward and always making something happen finishing second on the team with 391 yards and four touchdowns despite not seeing the field until the fifth game of the year. He stepped up when John Clay was dinged up against Indiana and ran for 115 yards and two scores on 27 carries, and he turned out to be a part of the workload more and more as the final stretch kicked in. The second back in the rotation with the hands to be used more as a receiver after catching nine passes for 92 yards.

8. Stephfon Green, Jr. Penn State
There's no question that Evan Royster is the No. 1 back, but Green is a talented back who could quickly step in and blow up. After running for 578 yards and four scores as a freshman, he was limited last year with 319 yards and three scores averaging 4.5 yards per carry while catching six passes for 80 yards after coming back from a broken leg suffered in the Rose Bowl loss to USC. The 5-10, 197-pounder is one of the team's fastest players and is a home run hitting threat every time he touches the ball, and now he's back to 100% (he also missed time with an ankle injury) and should be dangerous.

9. Brandon Saine, Sr. Ohio State
Saine is No. 1A on the depth chart next to Dan Herron, and he can be the featured runner whenever needed. The 6-1, 219-pound veteran has good size and is one of the team's fastest player with 4.35 wheels. Ohio's 2006 Mr. Football hasn't quite put it all together to be the special player many were thinking he'd be coming out of high school, but he was fine last year running for 739 yards and four touchdowns averaging 5.1 yards per carry. A nice receiving threat, he caught 17 passes for 224 yards and two scores. His biggest issue is health, and that carried over into this offseason with a hamstring problem. But when he's 100%, he has all the tools to be terrific.

10. Larry Caper, Soph. Michigan State
Caper might not have been the big-time recruit in last year's class that Edwin Baker was, but he turned out to be the team's leading rusher even though he ended up with just 468 yards and six scores. He didn't hit the 100-yard mark with his high game of 95 yards and a score against Illinois and he wasn't a workhorse never running for more than 16 yards. At 5-11 and 200 pounds, he's a thin back who moves well inside and out, and he has just enough speed to tear off a few big runs now and then. Tough, he could be a 20-plus carry back if needed and he has the hands to potentially be used more in the passing game after making just three catches for 47 yards.

11. Jewel Hampton, Soph. Iowa
Hampton was supposed to step up and shine as another Shonn Greene-like playmaker for the ground game, but he suffered a knee injury and was lost before the year even began. The 5-9, 210-pound sophomore got hurt early enough to give him time to heal and be back before the start of the season, but he's not going to be a workhorse with so many other good options to handle the load. Great as a true freshman running for 463 yards and seven scores, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, he's a quick, darting back who's a perfect fit for what the Iowa offense wants to do. Staying on the field will always be an issue, but he'll put up big numbers whenever he gets his chances.

12. Edwin Baker, Soph. Michigan State
The star of last year's recruiting class, Baker didn't do much early on as there was a thought he could redshirt, but he stepped in midway through the season and finished second on the team with 427 yards and a score. He got over a minor knee problem to handle the ball around 12 times a game finishing with his best performance of the year with 97 yards and a score against Texas Tech in the bowl. At 5-9 and 199 pounds, he's not all that big but he has a great combination of speed and power with great balance and a slippery running ability through the trash. Wanted by Texas and Georgia, he's expected to eventually be a star with more work.