If the QB is the backbone of your college fantasy team, your RBs are your base. Draft them early and often. There are programs that traditionally produce fantasy relevant RBs (Wisconsin, Alabama, Auburn, Oregon) but the next breakout performer can pop up anywhere (Bishop Sankey for the University of Washington last year, for example).
Here’s a list of combined rankings from myself and @DSE_BadgerJack for our top college fantasy football RBs for 2014:
1. Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin)
Hailing from the fantasy RB factory, running behind one of the best offensive lines in the country, and playing a weak overall schedule in the soft Big 10 – West Division. Melvin “Commissioner Flash” Gordon should be in the running for the #1 overall pick.
2. Todd Gurley (Georgia)
He had a nice season in 2013 in spite of the fact that he missed 3 games due to injury. Todd Gurley “Man” also proved to be a threat catching the ball out of the backfield, catching 37 balls for 441 yards and 6 TDs. NFL scouts are drooling over him. The only downside is that his backup (Keith Marshall) ain’t too shabby either.
3. Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska)
He had an excellent 2013, running for over 100 yards 11 times en route to 1,690 yards and 9 TDs. However, similar to the other top runners, he was pushed by a talented back-up, Imani Cross, who vultured 10 rushing TDs.
4. Mike Davis (South Carolina)
This guy has been rising up my rankings all offseason. He went for over 100 yards in 7 of his first 9 games in 2013 before being banged up the remainder of the season. He finished with 1,183 yards and 11 TDs. This year, he will benefit from being the only goal-line option (QB Conor Shaw gone), and will be running behind Spurrier’s best offensive line yet.
5. Shock Linwood (Baylor)
Rashodrick “Shock” Linwood was one of the country’s most explosive freshman last season. This year, he’s Baylor’s feature back. If QB Bryce Petty (14 rushing TDs last season) cedes some of the goal-line work, its easy to envision Linwood having a monster season in 2014.
6. Duke Johnson (Miami)
This dude had 920 yards through his first 8 games last year, then broke his ankle vs. Florida State. He’s a burner, running a 6.92 60-meter dash for the Miami indoor track team last year. He’s also got a top offensive line to run behind.
7. Jeremy Langford (Michigan State)
Langford came out of nowhere last season to become a fantasy stud, finishing with 1,422 rushing yards and 18 TDs. Not bad for a kid who was recruited as a cornerback and spent his first 2 college seasons as a special teamer. Mark Dantonio’s offense will give him a chance to repeat those numbers.
8. TJ Yeldon (Alabama)
Yeldon has posted back-to-back seasons with 1,000+ yards rushing and double-digit TDs. He’s also got a career YPC over 6.0, and runs behind an Alabama offensive line which has amazingly improved every year under Nick Saban. The caution flag is that the ‘Bama depth chart is loaded with guys waiting to take carries away from him.
9. Karlos Williams (Florida State)
After a slew of injuries, the ‘Noles moved Karlos “Carlos” Williams from safety to RB. His first carry was a 65-yard TD run. He finished with an eye-popping 8.0 YPC. This is a high octane offense that will score a bunch this season, and Jameis Winston will keep opponents from stacking the box.
10. Byron Marshall (Oregon)
The up-tempo Oregon offense always gives its RBs plenty of carries. Byron Marshall performed well as the feature back last season, topping 1,000 yards in spite of missing 2 games. Buyer beware though, highly touted freshman Thomas Tyner was electric in the games Marshall missed due to injury.
11. DJ Williams (Arizona State)
This slot receiver should put up big numbers in the Sun Devil offense…as the feature RB?! Don’t worry, he was a highly touted RB out of high school, and his receiving skills should give him an added bump for fantasy purposes.
12. Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)
Urban Meyer always recruits offensive linemen well, and the Buckeyes put up 4,300 rushing yards last season. Ezekiel “Easy E” Elliott only needs to be quietly solid to have a nice season for your fantasy team. Anything more, and he could be a breakout sleeper.
13. David Cobb (Minnesota)
David “Corn” Cobb was the only RB to top 100 rushing yards against the Michigan State Spartans last season. He racked up 237 carries in the run-first Gopher offense, and as long as he keeps getting fed he will put up steady rushing stats for your fantasy squad.
14. Keith Ford (Oklahoma)
It seems like this kid has grabbed the #1 RB spot on the Sooner roster. He had a problem with fumbles last season, but his talent is undeniable. He was a top recruit out of high school, and can burn up the yards. The Sooner offensive line also returns a fantastic 107 starts from last season.
15. Cameron Artis-Payne (Auburn)
Auburn has produced a 1,000 yard rusher each of the past 5 seasons. I’m betting that “CAP” makes it 6. I doubt he’s going to match Tre Mason’s phenomenal numbers from last year, but even with Keith Marshall racking up yards there should be plenty left over for Artis-Payne. Auburn ran for an astounding 4,596 yards in 2013.
16. Kevin Parks (Virginia)
Diminutive running back who grinds out tough yards for the Wahoo offense. He also gets the ball when the team gets near the goal line, meaning that he should provide the TDs to give himself a nice floor. However, Virginia faces a brutal schedule, and the offensive line loses 2 key starters.
17. Jordon James (UCLA)
Don’t let his 2013 stats fool you. This was a highly touted RB out of high school who got stuck behind Jonathan Franklin and then suffered an ankle injury in 2013. He’s healthy for 2014, and as long as LB/Vulture Myles Jack doesn’t see too many goal line opportunities, Jordon “Juan” James could surprise.
18. Desmond Roland (Oklahoma State)
Prior to last season, Oklahoma State turned out 6 straight 1,000 yard rushers. Roland is a power runner, and went off for 219 yards against Iowa State last season. He’s also a hammer that gets it done at the goal line (13 rushing TDs in ’13). He gives the Cowboys a good shot at another 1,000 yard rusher.
19. Jonathan Gray (Texas)
Always known for pumping out great RBs, Texas surprisingly hasn’t had a 1,000 yard rusher since Jamaal Charles in 2007. Gray started out as the feature back before his achilles injury last season. He’s back to 100% and has shown impressive burst in practices this summer. His value got a bump when Joe Bergeron got kicked off the team this summer.
20. Mark Weismann (Iowa)
Iowa is a team that’s flying under the radar in 2014. Weismann is a beast (6’0″ 240) with surprising speed. He came flying out of the gate in 2013 (3 straight over 100 yards), but then was banged up over the last 8 games. If he can stay healthy, he’s got 1,000 yard and double digit TD potential.
21. Tevin Coleman (Indiana)
He was one of only four RBs last season to average over 100 yards per game and over 7.0 yards per carry. He’s a home-run hitter (8 runs of 40+ yards), but got derailed by an injury last season, missing the last 4 games. Indiana’s entire offensive line from 2013 returns intact. Take a shot on Coleman.
22. Jamaal Williams (BYU)
BYU ran for an impressive 3,475 yards last season, and faces Phil Steele’s #73 ranked schedule this year. Williams went over 100 yards 5 times on his way to a 1,200 yard season. BYU has one of the best offensive lines in the country this season. However, Williams will have to battle QB Taysom Hill for carries.
23. Corey Clement (Wisconsin)
Wisky had 2 backs with 1400+ rushing yards and 12+ TDs each last season (Melvin Gordon, James White), and there’s no reason to doubt that they can’t do it again in 2014. Clement is a must own handcuff for Melvin Gordon owners.
24. Dwayne Washington (Washington)
Bishop Sankey ran over the Pac-12 last season, and Dwayne “Wayne” Washington will look to do the same in 2014. The Huskies should have the conference’s best offensive line, and the UW passing game is going to be a lot worse than last year. If Washington’s 7.1 YPC clip carries over, he will be productive.
25. Javorious Allen (USC)
Javorious “Buck” Allen came out of nowhere to lead the Trojan ground game last year. He’s shown a nose for the end zone (14 rushing TDs last season), and also posted a nice 5.8 YPC. He’s going to be pushed by fellow Junior RB Tre Madden, so be sure to draft both if you’re buying the USC ground game in 2014.
26. Leonard Fournette (LSU)
The Tigers will rely on this big (6’1″ 224), fast, talented true freshman to lead their ground game in 2014. He will be running behind an offensive line that Phil Steele says has the potential to be Les Miles’ best ever. People are calling him the next Adrian Peterson. He’s worth a shot at the end of your draft.
27. James Conner (Pittsburgh)
This true freshman went off for 229 yards in the Little Caesars Bowl, finishing the year with 799 yards and 8 TDs in spite of seeing limited action (only 146 carries). He’s a powerful back (6’2″ 230), who is going to be a two-way player for the Panthers in 2014, seeing action at DE on 3rd downs.
28. Treyvon Green (Northwestern)
Northwestern had a rough offseason, losing top RB Venric Mark and top WR Christian Jones. But RB Treyvon Green is back for 2014, and he led the Wildcats in rushing last season. The schedule’s not too tough, and the entire offensive line returns from last year. Green could be surprisingly productive.
29. Zach Zwinak (Penn State)
He nearly topped 1,000 yards in 2013 in spite of winding up in the doghouse due to fumbling problems. He still scored 12 TDs. If he keeps his spot as the Nittany Lions workhorse back in 2014, and gets the carries, he will break 1,000 yards and give you double-digit TDs.
30. Trey Edmunds (Virginia Tech)
He impressed as a freshman last season, leading the Hokies in rushing. He looked great against Alabama, putting up 132 yards on 20 carries against one of the best defenses in the nation. The offensive line should also be improved.