The thing that makes Campus2Canton leagues so much fun is the same thing that makes them challenging: the vastness of the player pool. With 131 FBS teams and 100+ players on each roster, there are more than 14,000 players to consider for NFL potential and college fantasy success.
Narrowing down that player pool is quite the task.
But while the landing spot vs. talent debate rages on in the dynasty fantasy football space, that debate is very much settled in college football. Unfortunately, if your favorite wide receiver recruit goes to Michigan, that player is facing an uphill battle towards fantasy relevance, either college or NFL fantasy relevance. On the other hand, running back recruits who’ve made Athens, Georgia, their college home, get a gold star and should be considered potential NFL players on that fact alone.
In addition to Georgia, both Alabama and Ohio State stand out as the more obvious upper tier of schools producing running back talent consistently.
This article is intended to highlight some of the not-so-obvious programs and coaches that produce NFL caliber rushers. More specifically, these coaches and programs have historically produced productive rushing attacks, which have produced higher quality running back recruits, and eventually, NFL players.
Hopefully, this list will help new #C2C players identify some running back depth charts that they should be targeting in drafts. But also, take note when these programs get a commitment from a running back recruit.
10. Billy Napier, Florida
NFL Alumni: C.J. Spiller; Raymond Calais; Trey Ragas; Elijah Mitchell
Projected 2022 Depth Chart: Nay’Quan Wright; Lorenzo Lingard; Montreal Johnson; Trevor Etienne
Napier does not have nearly the splashy names under his resume that others on this list do. But Napier should be included nonetheless for having literally sent an entire backfield to the NFL. His top three rushers at Louisiana in 2018 have been on NFL rosters (Raymond Calais, Rams; Trey Ragas, Raiders; Elijah Mitchell, 49ers). That’s a remarkable feat for a Power 5 coach, let alone a Group of 5 coach.
Napier is a run-first coach who emphasizes wide zone, jet sweeps, and duo; schemes best suited for one-cut rushers who can anticipate cut-back lanes. At Florida, Billy Napier’s backs should see open lanes with defenses focusing in on the uber-athletic Anthony Richardson. Anticipate a full-fledged backfield committee between Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson, former five-star recruit Lorenzo Lingard, Nay’Quan Wright, and, fingers crossed, freshmen Trevor Etienne.
9. Jeff Grimes, Baylor
NFL Alumni: Tyler Allgeier; Abram Smith
Projected 2022 Depth Chart: Taye McWilliams; Craig “Sqwirl” Williams; Josh Fleeks
Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes does not have nearly the long-standing track record as others on this list. Still, his recent running back production and his schematic influences warrant his placement here. Grimes is a former offensive tackle playing his college football at UTEP in the late 1980s, where he was coached by Marty Mornhinweg, Andy Reid, and Dirk Koetter.
He paid his dues as an offensive line coach and running game coordinator at a litany of programs, including Bosie State, Arizona State, BYU, Colorado, Virginia Tech, and LSU.
Grimes rose to prominence as BYU’s offensive coordinator in the COVID-plagued 2020 season, where Zach Wilson shot up draft boards with 3,692 yards passing and 33 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Behind Wilson, a linebacker turned running back named Tyler Allgeier thrived in Grimes’ wide zone/play action scheme to the tune of 1,130 yards and a healthy 7.5 yards per carry average.
Grimes produced a top-ten rushing attack in his first season at Baylor. Lead rusher Abram Smith ran for over 1,600 yards and signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent.
Grimes’ offense has been described as a combination of 49ers wide zone and air raid. So while Grimes himself does not have a long track record of running game success, the “Shanahan” wide zone has a history of producing excellent rushing production from a range of players on the talent spectrum.
And just as fantasy gamers pay close attention to the 49ers running back depth chart, so should #C2Cers pay attention to Grimes’s running back depth chart.
Time to blow up this guy’s ADP— Felix Sharpe (@sharpereview) April 22, 2022
Taye McWilliams, Baylor:
•Prototypical size 6’1, 211 lbs 💪🏾
•OC Jeff Grimes has recent success with 🔔🐄 RBs (Tyler Allegier, Abram Smith)
•Endorsed by @MBainbridgeCFF
•Current ADP per @campus2canton 334 overall/RB 119 pic.twitter.com/GbvRWZOI6M
Third-year player Taye McWilliams was a 4-star prospect and should slide right into Smith’s vacated production. Fifth-year player Craig “Sqwirl” Williams is an injury comeback story and a fan favorite of sorts. Williams should come on in relief of McWilliams. After the top two, it is not quite clear who the coaching staff would prefer as all of the running back depth chart, save for 5’9”, 175-pound freshman Richard Reese, was recruited by the prior coaching staff. Reese likely profiles to a similar role as BYU passing downs specialist Lopini Katoa.
Expect McWilliams to get the run this year. Then see if a legitimate successor emerges. If not, this could be a transfer landing spot.
8. Chip Kelly, UCLA
NFL Alumni: Jonathan Stewart; Legarrette Blount; LaMichael James; Kenjon Barner; De’Anthony Thomas; Byron Marshall; Joshua Kelly; Demetric Felton; Brittain Brown
Projected 2022 Depth Chart: Zach Charbonnet; Keegan Jones; Deshun Murrell
Before bringing his breakneck-paced spread rushing attack to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, Chip Kelly was gassing and gashing defenses at Oregon. Between 2007, when he took over as offensive coordinator for the Ducks, 2009, when he took over as head coach, and when he left for the NFL after the 2012 season, Chip Kelly’s leading rusher averaged 1,629 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns.
Kelly continues to produce productive rushers in his return to college football.
Kelly has produced three NFL draft picks at the running back position since taking over as head coach of the Bruins. Each of his leading rushers with the Bruins has been an NFL draft pick, and this year’s projected starter Zach Charbonnet is widely considered to have Day 2 NFL draft potential.
Behind Charbonnet is the question. Keejan Jones is a redshirt junior and is the most experienced of the other options. But at 5’9” and 175 pounds, Jones doesn’t exactly strike you as a bell cow. That said, LaMicheal James had 230, 294, and 247 carries under Kelly, all the while standing 5’9” and (allegedly) 195 pounds. #C2C players likely have their fingers crossed for 3-star running back Deshun Murrell, who redshirted in 2021. Murrell was uber productive coming out of Alabama. However, it was Jones and not Murrell taking hand-offs from starting QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson in the UCLA spring showcase when Charbonnet was not on the field.
In sum, the backfield is not settled after Charbonnet. But savvy #C2Cers would be wise to spend a late pick to stash Murrell, then wait and see in 2022.
7. Bret Bielema, Illinois
NFL Alumni: Montee Ball; James White; Melvin Gordon; Alex Collins; Jonathan Williams
Projected 2022 Depth Chart: Chase Brown; Josh McCray; Reggie Love III; Kaden Feagin (2023)
We shouldn’t let the dearth of talent in Champaign let us forget that head Coach Bret Bielema is a branch off the Barry Alvarez/Wisconsin football tree. Like his successor at Wisconsin, Bielema runs a power scheme that lends itself to big, bruising physical backs. Bielema is only in his second full season at Illinois, but we should be keeping tabs on his program, given that every leading rusher to play under Bielema as head coach has played NFL football. That includes players who were drafted, like Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball, and players who were not, like P.J. Hill and John Clay.
The C2C community is patiently awaiting the departure of fifth-year senior Chase Brown. Behind Brown awaits the 6’1” and 240-pound true sophomore Josh McCray. Brown offers some CFF potential but is unlikely to be an impact NFL fantasy player. But as Brown’s backup in 2021, McCray had two games with over 100 yards rushing, averaging over 5.8 yards per carry. McCray looks like a potential NFL player playing in a scheme that will give him the opportunity to shine.
I’d be remiss not to acknowledge class of 2023 freshman Kaden Feagin. Feagin is a 6’3”, 220-pound athlete projected to play running back. In a down running back year, I would not be surprised to see Feagin taken early in Campus2Canton freshmen and supplemental drafts next season.
6. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A & M
NFL Alumni: Chris Thompson; Devonta Freeman; Karlos Williams; Dalvin Cook; Cam Akers; Trayveon Williams; Isaiah Spiller
Projected 2022 Depth Chart: Devon Achane; Amari Daniels; LJ Johnson; Earnest Crownover; Le’Veon Moss
Coach Fisher is not necessarily associated with any particular scheme, but he has a long history of recruiting and developing top running backs, specifically fantasy running backs. Devonta Freeman and Dalvin Cook have been RB1s. Chris Thompson flirted with RB1 status as a PPR back.
Now, Fisher can point to the success he’s had in developing NFL backs in his pitch to recruits.
Devon Achane is undersized, but is a track blazer. LJ Johnson is a very highly regarded 4-star recruit but was injured all throughout spring. If Johnson cannot go, Amari Daniels will take the bulk of the work in Texas A & M’s spring game. But there is reason to be optimistic about freshman Le’Veon Moss, who 247’s Gabe Brooks has given a Day 2 grade on.
5. Dwight Galt/Chuck Losey, Penn State
NFL Alumni: Vernon Davis; Shawn Merriman; Darrius Heyward-Bey; Chris Godwin; Stephon Gilmore; Saquon Barkley; Miles Sanders; Jadeveon Clowney; Mike Gesicki; Troy Apke
Projected 2022 Depth Chart: Keyvone Lee; Nick Singleton; Devyn Ford; Kaytron Allen
No program over the last eight or so years is credited with developing more freakish athletes than Penn State. Dwight Galt III was the man responsible for the Nittany Lions’ strength and conditioning program during that time, specifically from 2014 until his retirement this past January.
Galt’s development of 99th percentile combine testers is remarkable. Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, and Troy Apke all posted eyebrow-raising athletic metrics during his tenure. But, Galt’s track record extends much further beyond his time at Penn State. Vernon Davis, Shawne Merriman, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Jadeveon Clowney were all physically developed during Galt’s previous stops at Maryland and South Carolina.
Galt is succeeded in the Lasch Building by Chuck Losey, a Galt assistant at both Penn State and a previous stop under Galt at Vanderbilt. Losey is immediately recognizable with his handlebar mustache. Like Galt, Losey is a Master Strength and Conditioning Coach (MSCC), as certified by the Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA). The MSCC is the highest designation that can be given to a strength and conditioning coach.
Losey has quite the athletic clay to mold in 5-star freshman Nick Singleton, a player who Campus2Canton has tracked at a top speed of 22 MPH as a high schooler, the fastest time tracked in his class. For added context, Singleton’s 22 MPH is amongst the fastest times recorded in the NFL in 2021. Those times belong to Jonathan Taylor, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Patrick Surtain, and Jaylen Waddle, just to name a few.
Singleton is the devy darling, but Campus2Canton contributor and resident running back pessimist Noah Hills believes projected early starter Keyvon Lee could have more potential than what is presently being acknowledged by the devy/C2C community. After Lee and Singleton, freshman and IMG alum Kaytron Allen join the program with some hype and fanfare. Allen is considered a girthy and frumpy between the tackles grinder. But if Losey can develop athletes as Galt did, then Allen is one to watch out for.
One last note: Galt’s son, Dwight Galt IV, is now the strength and conditioning coach at Virginia Tech. Take that for what it’s worth.
4. Matt Campbell, Iowa State
NFL Alumni: Kareem Hunt; David Montgomery; Kene Nwangwu; Breece Hall.
Projected 2022 Depth Chart: Cartevious Norton; Jirehl Brock.
Campbell has only been a head coach since 2011. But he has produced some fantasy whales during that time, especially considering that his track record starts back at Toledo. At the MAC program, Campbell recruited and developed Kareem Hunt. His coaching staff also recruited zero-star wide receiver Diontae Johnson out of Ruskin, Florida, before Campbell’s departure for Iowa State after the 2015 season.
Since 2017, Campbell’s starting running back has averaged 247 carries and 1,260 yards rushing. Both of Campbell’s starting backs at Iowa State have become second-round NFL draft picks.
Campbell’s running back magic will be put to the test once again with the departure of Breece Hall. Redshirt junior Jirehl Brock was a 4-star recruit. But Phil Steele has already projected true freshmen Cartevious Norton to the starting lineup. Like predecessor Campbell running backs, Norton is prototypically sized at 5’11”, 210 pounds. Norton could get off to a fast start alongside dual-threat quarterback Hunter Dekkers, an advantage Norton also had in high school playing alongside UCF freshmen QB Thomas Castellanos, one of the more electric rushing threats in the 2022 class. Iowa State does not have a running back committed to its 2023 class as of this writing. So all systems go for Norton.
3. Bryan Harsin, Auburn
NFL Alumni: Jay Ajayi; Jeremy McNichols
Projected 2022 Depth Chart: Tank Bigsby; Jarquez Hunter; Damari Alston
By all accounts, Harsin is on shaky ground at Auburn after a 6-7 inaugural season culminating with a mass transfer exodus from the program and reports of dysfunction. It was an odd fit, to begin with, for the former Boise State head coach and quarterback who had no SEC experience prior to being hired at Auburn. With Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC fold soon, there may be even more pressure to oust Harsin in favor of a splashier name.
But C2Cers should continue to track Harsin even if (when) he ends up elsewhere in 2023. Harsin has given a number one running back over 300 carries on three separate occasions during his head coaching tenure. One of those players was Jay Ajayi at Boise State, who was also a fantasy RB1 in 2016.
Harsin has done more with players he’s inherited at the position than recruited himself. But still, the willingness to give volume to one player is worth considering when looking at his depth chart and incoming recruits.
2. Mike Norvell, Florida State
NFL Alumni: Patrick Taylor; Darrell Henderson; Tony Pollard; Antonio Gibson; Kenny Gainwell; Jashaun Corbin
Projected 2022 Depth Chart: Treshaun Ward; Trey Benson; Lawrence Tofali
Coach Norvell’s track record for developing NFL-caliber running back talent is remarkable, considering that only two of his years as a head coach have been at the Power 5 level. If anything, Norvell has developed quite the stable of speed reliant backs. Darrell Henderson and Kenneth Gainwell were arguably drafted on the merit of their ability to operate in space and create chunk plays. Even one of Norvell’s colligate receivers in, Antonio Gibson, was athletic enough to make the transition to NFL running back.
Norvell had better success of developing running back talent at Memphis than he has thus far at Florida State. Jashaun Corbin, the Seminoles’ leading rusher from 2021, is gone to the NFL. Next in line is fourth-year player Treshaun Ward, a smaller player who would appear unlikely to be a full-time featured player, although he primarily ran with the ones during the spring game. Behind Ward is Oregon transfer Trey Benson, a former three-star recruit elevated to a four-star as a transfer. Benson has a more prototypical frame at 6’1” and 215 pounds. But both he and Ward are only watch list recommendations at this point.
1. Paul Cryst, Wisconsin
NFL Alumni: Corey Clement; Dare Ogunbowale; Jonathan Taylor
Projected 2022 Depth Chart: Braelon Allen; Chez Mellusi; Cade Yacamelli
Chryst and his Wisconsin Badgers are quite the obvious choice for the number one spot here. The school is in the second tier of running back producing powerhouses after Alabama and Georgia. But still, the school’s record of developing NFL-caliber backs with lesser heralded recruits than the aforementioned bluebloods is noteworthy.
C2Cers simply must take heed of the school’s depth chart, given its preference for NFL-sized backs. When Wisconsin backs show demonstrated ability, they are consistently given bell cow roles. The reverence for this backfield can lead to drafting Jalen Berger but can also lead to Braelon Allen, Jonathan Taylor, and Melvin Gordon.
Allen is locked in as the top C2C back after replacing the now departed Jalen Berger. The question is who takes the reigns after Allen makes the jump to the NFL, presumably after the 2023 season. Three-star athlete and true freshman Cade Yacamelli could end up in the backfield come fall. He would be a third-year player by the time he’d take the starting position in 2024. Yacamelli also possesses decent receiving chops and could end up out wide at receiver. Class of 2023 commit Jaquez Keyes also has the frame of a traditional Wisconsin running back.