College News & Analysis

Top 10 returning running backs in college football for the 2023 season

Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Blake Corum (2) makes a long run down the field during the first quarter agains the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan’s Blake Corum: The junior is the best returning running back in college football after posting a Power Five-record 96.2 grade this past season.

Ole MissQuinshon Judkins: He exploded onto the scene as a true freshman and is the second-best returning running back.

ArkansasRaheim Sanders: “Rocket” comes in at third and is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins

It’s officially time to hit the reset button.

Now that we know who will continue playing on Saturdays next fall, let's take an early look at the top returning players at every position.

Here are the top 10 running backs returning to college football next season. Please note that NFL projection is not taken into account.

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1. Blake Corum, Michigan Wolverines

Corum was arguably the best running back in college football last season, making him an easy choice for No. 1 here. His 96.2 grade didn’t just lead all players in the country, it was the best PFF has ever seen from a Power Five player.

Highest-graded Power Five seasons in PFF College era (since 2014)
Name School Position Season Grade
Blake Corum Michigan RB 2022 96.2
Kyle Pitts Florida TE 2020 96.0
Chase Young Ohio State EDGE 2019 96.0
Quinnen Williams Alabama DI 2018 96.0

Corum’s 96 combined rushing first downs and touchdowns were the second most in the country, behind only Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim, who received 72 more carries. The junior should be on the shortlist of favorites to win the Heisman Trophy next season.

2. Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss Rebels

Judkins was arguably the best newcomer in college football last season. His 88.2 grade tied with Michigan cornerback Will Johnson for first among Power Five true freshmen.

The former three-star recruit was a true workhorse for the Rebels, ranking in the top 10 in the FBS in attempts, rushing yards, yards after contact and forced missed tackles. Judkins also recorded 91 combined rushing first downs and touchdowns, the fourth most in the country.

3. Raheim Sanders, Arkansas Razorbacks 

They don’t call him “Rocket” for nothing. Sixteen of Sanders' carries went for 20-plus yards in 2022, tied for the second most in the Power Five.

It’s fair to say that he was elevated a good bit by his offensive line, however. The sophomore’s 3.4 yards before contact per attempt led the Power Five and ranked third in all of college football.

4. Bucky Irving, Oregon Ducks

Irving was one of the most electric backs in the country this past year. The sophomore forced a missed tackle on 43% of his attempts, which ranked second in the country. It was also the fifth-best single-season mark in the PFF college era (more on that later). 

The only thing holding Irving back from being as high as second on this list is his workload. The Minnesota transfer’s 157 attempts were tied for 67th in the nation and were only 17 more than teammate Noah Whittington. With Whittington also returning, Oregon will likely once again employ a committee approach to its backfield next season.

5. Braelon Allen, Wisconsin Badgers

Allen has no workload issues. His 415 carries and 2,500 rushing yards over the past two seasons lead all returning Power Five running backs. Those were also his first two seasons of college football.

The sophomore could stand to improve his elusiveness. His 22% forced missed tackle rate in 2022 tied for 47th among Power Five backs. He is a true workhorse, though, and one that new head coach Luke Fickell will likely rely on heavily next season. Not to mention, he’ll be only 19 years old all of his junior season.

6. Trey Benson, Florida State Seminoles

Benson was historically dominant as a tackle-breaker in 2022. The redshirt sophomore’s 51% forced missed tackle rate didn’t just lead the country, it set the PFF College record.

Highest single-season forced missed tackle rate by an FBS RB in PFF College era (Since 2014, min. 100 attempts)
Name School Season Forced Missed Tackle Rate
Trey Benson Florida State 2022 51%
Javonte Williams North Carolina 2020 48%
Travis Etienne Clemson 2019 44%
Jordan Mason Georgia Tech 2019 44%
Bucky Irving Oregon 2022 43%

Like Irving, Benson ranks this low only because of his workload. The Oregon transfer failed to crack 1,000 rushing yards after receiving just 154 carries. Still, his 79 forced missed tackles ranked third in the Power Five to Bijan Robinson and Chase Brown. Both of those players had over 100 more carries than Benson.

7. Nicholas Singleton, Penn State Nittany Lions

Singleton entered State College, Pennsylvania, as a five-star recruit and his class' top running back prospect. The true freshman lived up to the hype in 2022.

Singleton’s 4.6 yards after contact per attempt were the second most in the Power Five this past season, while his 6.8 yards per carry tied for fourth. He’s a home-run threat every time he touches the ball.

8. Miyan Williams, Ohio State Buckeyes

TreVeyon Henderson burst onto the scene in 2021 as a true freshman at Ohio State, rushing for 1,248 yards and 15 touchdowns. While he missed five games this past season with a foot injury, Williams took the reins as the top back for the Buckeyes.

Among Power Five running backs, Williams ranked fourth in forced missed tackle rate (38%), yards after contact per attempt (4.4) and combined first down and touchdown rate (38.3%). It’s up in the air who’ll be Ohio State’s RB1 next season, but Williams earned his place here for his performance in 2022.

9. Donovan Edwards, Michigan Wolverines

Edwards was expected to become a breakout star in 2023 with Blake Corum seemingly entering the 2023 NFL Draft, but now that Corum is returning, Edwards continues to be the best No. 2 running back in the country.

The sophomore led all Power Five running backs this past season with 7.1 yards per carry. His 87.0 grade tied for fifth in that same group. When Corum went down with a knee injury late in the season, Edwards stepped up when it mattered most. Against Ohio State, Purdue in the Big Ten championship game and TCU in the College Football Playoff semifinal, he ran for a combined 520 yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry.

10. Frank Gore Jr., Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Frank Gore is a future Hall of Fame running back, as his 16,000 career rushing yards trail only Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton on the all-time list. While it remains to be seen if his son will also be enshrined in Canton, he has established himself as one of the best running backs in college football. 

Gore’s 91.9 grade this year trailed only Blake Corum, Bijan Robinson and DeWayne McBride among FBS running backs. The sophomore’s 83 forced missed tackles were the third most in the country. He saved his best for last, as well. In the LendingTree Bowl against Rice, Gore set the FBS bowl record with 329 rushing yards, averaging an absurd 15.4 yards per carry.

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