Many college football schools claim to be “Running Back U”, but which schools have actually had the most recent success sending running backs to the NFL?
We looked over every NFL Draft from the BCS era (1999-2014), then summed together every college football program’s total number of running backs selected and applied those numbers to a simple weighted system. In our system, the higher the draft pick, the more points the university received. Is it perfect? No, but after tallying the numbers, it was clear that a handful of programs really have outperformed the rest.
First Round Selection: 7 Points
Second Round Selection: 6 Points
Third Round Selection: 5 Points
Fourth Round Selection: 4 Points
Fifth Round Selection: 3 Points
Sixth Round Selection: 2 Points
Seventh Round Selection: 1 Point
Here are the results:
24. (TIE) Oklahoma State: 18 Points (4 Selections)
The Cowboys had four running backs drafted in the BCS era. Overall, Oklahoma State has lacked big name backs -- Tatum Bell being the most recognizable running back alumni in recent years. But it still had enough success to crack the top 25 of this list as all four of its selections (Bell, Joseph Randle, Kendall Hunter, Vernand Morency) came in the first five rounds of the NFL Draft.
24. (TIE) Stanford: 18 Points (7 Selections)
The self-identified "nerds" of college football have had some success at getting running backs drafted in recent years. The Cardinal had a decent number of selections (7) but failed to have a single running back selected in the first round. Its highest draft pick was Toby Gerhart in the second round.
23. West Virginia: 19 Points (5 Selections)
The Mountaineers aren't exactly known for sending running backs to the NFL with regularity. But they did manage to get five running backs selected in the draft during the 16-year time frame -- three of which (Amos Zereoue, Steve Slaton, Charles Sims) were selected in the third round. Their consistency at the running back position landed them on this list.
20. (TIE) Texas: 20 Points (4 Selections)
The Longhorns come in surprisingly low on this list despite having two running backs selected in the first round in Ricky Williams and Cedric Benson, who were drafted in 1999 and 2005, respectively. Texas' duo of high-end backs couldn't overcome the school's lack of consistently sending running backs to the pros, landing it far outside this list's top ten.
20. (TIE) Michigan: 20 Points (4 Selections)
The Wolverines have always produced solid running backs. From 1999-2014, that trend continued, but not quite at the elite level that it used to. Both of Michigan's top two selected running backs, Chris Perry (first round, 2004) and Anthony Thomas (second round, 2001), saw their careers fizzle in the NFL, and the Wolverines haven't had a running back drafted since Mike Hart, who was selected in the sixth round in 2008.
20. (TIE) UCLA: 20 Points (4 Selections)
The Bruins aren't necessarily one of the first teams from the Pac-12 people associate with running backs, but perhaps they should be. All four of UCLA's drafted running backs in the era were selected in the first four rounds. The best of the bunch is NFL star Maurice Jones-Drew, who was drafted in the second round of the 2006 Draft.
17. (TIE) Mississippi State: 22 Points (6 Selections)
None of Mississippi State's running backs have reached stardom in the NFL, but its six selections, including Jerious Norwood, did land it on this list. The Bulldogs aren't known as a "Running Back U" brand of school by any means, but they can take pride in the fact that they came in higher than powerhouses like Texas, Michigan and Florida (who didn't even crack the top 25).
17. (TIE) Arizona State: 22 Points (6 Selections)
The Sun Devils, like Mississippi State, didn't have any big name running backs in the pros in the BCS era. Guys like Ryan Torain, Mike Karney and J.R. Redmond didn't quite pan out for the program. Still, sending six players to the NFL at such an important position is quite an accomplishment. Arizona State is the third highest Pac-12 school on this list -- who would have guessed that?
17. (TIE) Nebraska: 22 Points (6 Selections)
The Cornhuskers are the first program that claims to be "Running Back U" on this list, as they have the history and the prestige at the position. Nebraska was good enough at sending running backs to the NFL to land halfway down this list, but those selected certainly didn't produce at an elite level. Nebraska's highest draft pick was Brandon Jackson, who was drafted in the second round of the 2007 Draft.
15. (TIE) Michigan State: 23 Points (6 Selections)
Over the years, the Spartans have developed a reputation as a quality running back school. With Mark Dantonio running the show in East Lansing, that trend is set to continue. The biggest names that were drafted are T.J. Duckett (first round, 2002) and Le'Veon Bell (second round, 2013). Javon Ringer also had a short career with the Tennessee Titans before tearing his MCL.
15. (TIE) Penn State: 23 Points (6 Selections)
The Nittany Lions are known as "Linebacker U" but clearly they've had some success at the running back position, too. Penn State had one running back stand above the rest at the professional level - Larry Johnson, who was drafted in the first round of 2003 NFL Draft - but a few others (Michael Robinson, Evan Royster) saw some time in the league. Overall, Penn State can be proud of its place on this list.
14. Georgia: 24 Points (8 Selections)
The Bulldogs were one of the most consistent SEC teams after tallying our numbers. There was some high-end talent, too, as Knowshon Moreno was selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Only four teams in the SEC were better at sending running backs to the pros in the time frame. Their first selection of the era, Olandis Gary, actually had a 1,000-yard campaign for the Denver Broncos in 1999.
13. Arkansas: 26 Points (7 Selections)
The Razorbacks owe their inclusion on this list almost entirely to the 2008 draft class. In that year, they had two running backs selected in the first round of that draft - Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. That same draft also featured Peyton Hillis, who was selected in the seventh round. Arkansas' other four drafted running backs didn't have much success in the NFL.
12. Virginia Tech: 27 Points (7 Selections)
Not many would have guessed that the Hokies would be on this list. Virginia Tech had seven running backs selected, although not many Hokies have had sustained success at the position in the NFL. David Wilson was the highest-picked tailback from Virginia Tech in recent years, as he was taken in the first round of the 2012 Draft. Kevin Jones, who was drafted by the Detroit Lions and had a solid rookie campaign in 2004, was eventually labeled as a bust by most scouts.
10. (TIE) Oklahoma: 29 Points (8 Selections)
Many would have assumed that the Sooners, a powerhouse program known for running the ball, would have been in the top five at first glance of this list, especially because NFL MVP Adrian Peterson was selected in the first round in 2007. But for as consistent as OU has been, it hasn't churned out top talent every year. DeMarco Murray is one of the only other success stories.
10. (TIE) Florida State: 29 Points (7 Selections)
The reigning national champions barely cracked the top ten of this list. The Seminoles had five running backs selected in the first four rounds of the draft, but they have not had a single back taken in the first round. None of Florida State's running backs took the NFL by storm either, but many - guys like Travis Minor, Greg Jones and Leon Washington - became quality "role players" for numerous teams.
9. Tennessee: 32 Points (7 Selections)
Because of the Volunteers' recent struggles, many might overlook the program's accomplishments during the era. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Vols were one of the top running back producing programs in football. Tennessee had three running backs selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, including 2000 first round selection Jamal Lewis. Ironically, the school's biggest NFL star right now (Arian Foster) was not taken in the 2009 NFL Draft.
8. Oregon: 34 Points (7 Selections)
The Ducks are known for running maybe the fastest offense in the country, so naturally they attract and produce a lot of NFL-caliber talent. Six of Oregon's seven drafted running backs were selected in the first four rounds. The Ducks' top running back at the professional level is arguably 2008 first-rounder Jonathan Stewart, but 2002 second rounder Maurice Morris and 2012 second rounder LaMichael James haven't been scrubs in the NFL, either. Oregon will remain a top choice for running back talent for the foreseeable future.
7. Wisconsin: 35 Points (8 Selections)
The Badgers have definitely been one of the most distinguishable "Running Back U" programs over the last 25 years. Wisconsin has had a lot of success at the position, as it was one of the six schools to have a player selected in every round of the draft, including two first round selections -- Ron Dayne in 2000 and Michael Bennett in 2001. Moving forward, 2013 second-round pick Montee Ball may end up as the best professional of the bunch. All indications point to Wisconsin continuing to be a running back producing machine for quite some time.
6. USC: 37 Points (11 Selections)
One of the marquee programs in all of college football, the Trojans had an amazing 11 running backs drafted. They had a few high-end running backs get drafted, too, namely from the 2006 NFL Draft, when Reggie Bush (first round) and LenDale White (second round) both got taken. Bush is the most successful of the eleven draft picks, despite some referring to him as a bust. USC is rebuilding after NCAA sanctions, but we're willing to bet that they'll be sending a lot more running backs to the pros in the coming years.
5. Alabama: 38 Points (8 Selections)
In the past four drafts, Alabama has had two running backs selected in the first round (Mark Ingram in 2011 and Trent Richardson in 2012) and one selected in the second round (Eddie Lacy in 2013). Former MVP Shaun Alexander was a first round selection in 2000. 'Bama led all programs with three first-round running back selections, and it looks like the Crimson Tide will continue to produce more high draft picks in the coming years, as the team's running back stable should be excellent in 2014.
4. Auburn: 40 Points (7 Selections)
The Auburn Tigers have produced some of the nation's best backs of the era. Rudi Johnson, Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams and Ben Tate were all taken in the first four rounds and have been solid contributors for NFL teams. The Tigers also have a rising star, Tre Mason, entering the league this season. Finishing ahead of Alabama has to feel good for AU fans.
3. Ohio State: 42 Points (10 Selections)
The top Big Ten team is none other than The Ohio State University. The Buckeyes racked up an impressive 10 running backs drafted, and a few of them have been successful in the NFL. The school's highest draft pick was Beanie Wells (first round, 2009), and in 2014, Carlos Hyde was selected in the second round. The Buckeyes are one of the six schools to have a player selected in each round of the draft and we wouldn't bet against this success continuing under Urban Meyer's reign in Columbus.
2. Miami: 44 Points (10 Selections)
"The U" can very well claim to be one of the premier "Running Back U" programs in the nation without much argument. Many forget how dominant Miami, and its running backs, were in the first half of era. The Hurricanes had seven players selected in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft, tied for the most in the nation. The school's two first rounders -- Edgerrin James in 1999 and Willis McGahee in 2003 -- both had a ton of success in the NFL, but 2005 third-round selection Frank Gore might have had the best career of any of them. Watch for Miami to become a dominant running back producing school again -- history and name recognition are on its side.
1. LSU: 49 Points (13 Selections)
The Tigers from from Baton Rouge earned the title of "Running Back U" during 16-year time frame. It may shock some to see LSU atop this list, but it truly is a deserved honor. Its 13 NFL Draft selections at the running back position led the NCAA, and its seven running backs selected in the first four rounds tied Miami for the most.
Like several others on this list, the Tigers were one of the six schools to have a running back selected in each round of the draft. LSU has had one first round selection in Joseph Addai (2006), and two second-rounders in Kevin Faulk (1999) and Jeremy Hill (2014). Stevan Ridley, taken in the third round of the 2011 draft, has become an important player for the New England Patriots. The Tigers had two players (Hill, Alfred Blue) taken in this past year's draft.
Perhaps No. 1 running back recruit Leonard Fournetteknew as much when he signed on to play for Les Miles?