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Which School Produces the Best NFL Running Backs? NFL University: The True “RB U”

Welcome to the “RB U” edition of the NFL University series. So far we’ve found that Miami has long been the real “NFL University” but is losing ground quickly. Ohio State has proven to be the true “WR U” and doesn’t look that’s going to change for a long time. And now it’s time to tackle running backs.

Just over 800 running backs have logged a carry in the NFL since the year 2000. Among those 800 running backs over just over 200 schools are represented. But there can only be one RB U.

Thirty-four different schools had at least three running backs drafted inside the top-100 picks of the NFL Draft and record a statistic since 2000. Sixty-seven schools have provided the NFL with at least one running back to log over 600 PPR fantasy points (top 15% of producers at the position) in that same time.

But the true RB U is one of only three universities to have had least eight running backs drafted inside round three and produce in the NFL since 2000. Only the true RB U has had five of those running backs post at least 1100 career PPR. And two of those running backs from RB U actually eclipsed 2000 points each! In fact, with just those two running backs, RB U would be a top-10 producing school already.

The definitive RB U should be a surprise to no one as they have gifted the NFL with multiple Hall of Fame worthy running backs. Making their second appearance in the NFL University series, Miami University is the true RB U.

Miami backs have outscored every other university by over 3,500 points since 2000. Only 26 universities have totaled even 3,000 PPR. As was mentioned in the original NFL U article, Frank Gore, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Lamar Miller, Duke Johnson and a few other running backs have dominated for The U. There were really no other schools with anywhere near the impressive mix of draft capital and production.

Tennessee had Jamal Lewis, Arian Foster, Travis Henry, Charlie Garner, and now Alvin Kamara. Kamara should keep Tennessee in the RB U conversation for a while too.

Auburn’s had several long-time contributors. Ronnie Brown, Rudi Johnson, Stephen Davis, Cadillac Williams, Tony Richardson, and now Kerryon Johnson and Peyton Barber.

Texas just had a really strong four: Ricky Williams, Priest Holmes, Jamaal Charles, and Cedric Benson.

Alabama and Florida State were a definite step down in overall production, but were just as impressive from a draft capital perspective. They were the only other two schools that saw eight running backs drafted in the top-100 picks.

But what’s the future look like? All the Miami backs are gone or certainly slowing down. Who could challenge for the RB U title? Let’s start by looking at production since the impressive 2015 running back class entered the league (Gurley, Gordon, David and Duke Johnson, Coleman, Yeldon, Ajayi, etc.).

Since 2015 RBs from twelve schools have scored at least 1,000 PPR. The first thing many might notice is that the popular “RB U” candidates in recent memory — Alabama, Georgia, and Oklahoma — all join Miami in close competition for top spot. But if we look at the Rotoviz Devy Rankings you’ll find there actually several schools that could rise and be the next generation’s RB U.

Alabama’s enjoyed the draft capital and RB2- and flex-level production of Mark Ingram, T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake and Eddie Lacy. This year they add both Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris to the fold. Jacobs should immediately see a huge opportunity with the Raiders. And Harris may get a better shot at early touches than some may think for the Patriots with Sony Michel opening camp on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.

But the future could even be brighter for the Crimson Tide. Alabama has a stable of strong running backs right now that could all go pro. Najee Harris was the consensus No. 2 recruit in the entire nation when he entered college. He likely leads the charge in 2019 and enters the 2020 NFL Draft. Trey Sanders (the true freshman) is yet another No. 1 RB recruit that might have a truly balanced feature back skill set (receiver and runner). And even Brian Robinson (a former four star) could finally get some work and eventually be drafted too.

However, Georgia might have the most ammunition of all to rise up the RB U board. They already have Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, and Sony Michel (all 25 or younger). If they all stay healthy Georgia could run away with the next few years of production. And in just the next two seasons Georgia could add three running backs with draft capital on top of that. D’Andre Swift is the number one devy prospect according to our Rotoviz team. He should be in the first round conversation for the 2020 NFL Draft. The Bulldogs also have Zamir White and James Cook who were both top 50 recruits in the nation entering college. White missed last season due to injury, but he should be Georgia’s second leading rusher if his health allows.

Oklahoma, Florida State, Ohio State, and LSU all have at least one potential feature back in the fight right now as well. Joe Mixon (Oklahoma), Dalvin Cook (Florida State), and Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State) have all been going inside the top 20 of startup drafts since the NFL Draft according to the Rotoviz Dynasty ADP tools. LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice could both vault into elite territory with a strong season, but aren’t exactly a lock anymore. To compete with Alabama and Georgia all four schools will need a little help in the near future. But it looks like they all might just have it.

Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks are both currently top 23 devy running backs from Oklahoma. Florida State’s Cam Akers (former five-star recruit) doesn’t have a perfect production profile, but will likely see elite draft capital anyway. Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins had an up and down 2018 campaign, but is still a top seven devy running back and now has an even better opportunity in 2019. LSU’s future isn’t as clear, but their next star may emerge this year. John Emery Jr. is a five-star recruit ready to hit the ground running. And their returning back, Clyde Edwards-Helaire profiles like a potential high-end NFL backup.

Regardless of which school becomes the next RB U, the future of the position looks bright. And for now, it looks like Alabama and Georgia are going to be neck and neck for the RB U mantle here very soon.

Devy and dynasty owners also must read Jordan Hoover’s excellent series, When the Devy Breaks, as he looks at vacated opportunities in each conference. Check back often for more on all the top devy players, their schools’ history of NFL production, and their outlooks for the upcoming season.

As always, reach me on Twitter @FF_TravisM if you have questions or suggestions. And keep living that Dynasty Life!

Image Credit: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Damien Harris.


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