We already took a look at the top returning quarterbacks for the 2021 season, now it is time to look at the top returning running backs. The qualifications are a little different for running back because some schools do a committee approach. This player must have been at their current school last year. No transfers when we are looking at 2021. With that being said, let’s jump right in!
10 – Noah Cain (Penn State): Noah Cain made a splash in 2019 playing a considerable amount for Penn State as a true freshman. He was expected to play a large role in the 2020 season after Journey Brown medically retired. Unfortunately for Cain, he only had three carries and then tore his ACL. Looking back on his 2019 campaign, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Keyvone Lee took most of the snaps at running back for Penn State in 2020, but I expect Cain to return as the starter for next season and have a strong season.
9 – Deuce Vaughn (Kansas State): Deuce Vaughn was only a freshman last season and he still had 642 rushing yards and 434 receiving yards. Vaughn showed his ability to be an every down back in 2020. While Vaughn is only list at 5’5″ and 168 pounds, he still averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Vaughn also ended the season strong. The last two games of the season he had over 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns in each game. I look for him to build off of that success and improve heading in 2021.
8 – Jerrion Ealy (Ole Miss): In each of Jerrion Ealy’s first two seasons he has rushed for more than 700 yards. Last year he also added nine touchdowns. Lane Kiffin has proven to be a strong offensive minded coach. Year two with Ole Miss should see more improvements with the offense since they also return quarterback Matt Corral. Ealy should be an early candidate for the best running back in the SEC. One concern for Ealy is the drop in his yards per carry. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry in 2019 and that dropped to 5.1 yards per carry in 2020. I think he bounces back for a strong campaign in 2021.
7 – Tank Bigsby (Auburn): Tank Bigsby made a statement in his freshman season rushing for 834 yards and five touchdowns. Bigsby had four games where he rushed for over 100 yards. Shaun Shivers and D.J. Williams both took snaps at running back in 2020. Heading in 2021, Bigsby should be penciled in as the starter after averaging 6.0 yards per carry in 2020. Auburn will need to rely heavily on Bigsby to have a succesful season as Bo Nix has not progressed as many thought he would.
6 – Jarek Broussard (Colorado): Jarek Broussard burst onto the scene in 2020 rushing for 895 yards in only six games. Broussard’s best game came against Arizona where he rushed for 301 yards on only 25 carries. One criticism of Broussard is he only scored five touchdowns and they all came in two games. Broussard was the work horse for Colorado tallying 156 carries over the course of the season. After putting the Pac-12 on notice, the rest of the conference will be ready for Broussard, but that does not mean they will be able to stop him.
5 – Mohamed Ibrahim (Minnesota): Mohamed Ibrahim has been one of the most consistent running backs in the Big Ten. Over the last three seasons he has averaged more than 5.3 yards per carry each year. Ibrahim help set himself apart in 2020 scoring 15 touchdowns. P.J. Fleck made Ibrahim a focal part of the offense and it help pay off. Ibrahim could have left for the NFL and he would have been drafted but he chose to come back for another season with Minnesota. If all goes according to plan, Ibrahim should finish in the top three all time in Minnesota rushing yards. David Cobb set the record for a single season in 2014 with 1,629. Could Ibrahim reach Cobb?
4 – Sincere McCormick (UTSA): Sincere McCormick is probably the least recognized name on this list for most people but he is easily one of the best running backs in the country. McCormick finished 2020 with 1,467 yards and 11 touchdowns. Five times in 2020 McCormick finished with at least 150 yards. Five of his last six games he rushed for more than 120 yards. Finishing a season strong can help give a player confidence heading into the next season. McCormick will be looking to prove his is one of the nation’s best running backs next year and it will be easy to see why.
3 – Bijan Robinson (Texas): If you are looking for one of the most impressive freshman last year, look no further than Bijan Robinson. Robinson had over 800 yards while averaging 8.2 yards per carry as a freshman. Against Kansas State, Robinson had nine carries for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Robinson played so well it forced Keontay Ingram to transfer. Robinson will be the the most dangerous player on the Texas offense in 2021. As a senior in high school, Robinson averaged an absurd 17.7 yards per carry. New head coach Steve Sarkisian will ensure Robinson gets enough touches each game.
2 – Kennedy Brooks (Oklahoma): This one might be cheating but I make the rules on who counts and who does not. Brooks sat out the 2020 season because of Covid-19 but is returning to the Sooners next season. In Brooks two seasons starting, he rushed for over 1,000 yards in each season. Those seasons included splitting carries with Trey Sermon. Brooks will not be looking to split carries next fall. Oklahoma will once again have a dynamic offense. With Brooks as the cowbell back, they should once again have a strong rushing attack. Look for Kennedy Brooks to be an All-American by the end of 2021.
1 – Breece Hall (Iowa State): The Big 12 is loaded with running backs in 2021 but none are better than Breece Hall. In 2020, Hall had 1,572 yards with 21 touchdowns. Hall led the nation in rushing yards and was second in rushing touchdowns. When it came to finding the end zone, Hall scored in every game in 2020. Not only will Breece Hall be the best running back in the Big 12 heading into 2021, he is a legitimate Heisman contender. He will look to push Iowa State to the next level and help them capture their first Big 12 title and their first conference title since 1912.