Welcome back to the second installment of our 2018 Big Ten positional preview. Last week we took a look at the top signal callers returning to the conference, so this week we’ll look at their best friends, the running backs.
I mentioned last week how most offenses in the Big Ten are run game dependent, which lead to a ton of standout runners. Seriously, this list was harder to decide than my top five choices of cereal (an article for another day).
Just a reminder that players dealing with injury and eligibility concerns will be left off of the list. Here are our top three Big Ten running backs heading into the 2018 season.
1. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
NCAA freshman rushing record✔️
Big Ten Freshman of the Year✔️
Doak Walker Award finalist✔️
FWAA Freshman All-American✔️
Jonathan Taylor had a pretty good debut campaign. #OnWisconsin
Well, folks, there isn’t really much to say here. If you watched any sort of Wisconsin Badger football (or Big Ten for that matter), you would know that Jonathan Taylor had one of the most dominant true freshman seasons to date.
The New Jersey native nearly rushed for 2,000 yards (1,977) on an average of 6.6 yards per carry for 13 touchdowns.
The Badgers flat out fed Taylor the pigskin, which boded well for a team with one of the top defenses in the nation. Taylor didn’t offer much in the passing game, as he reeled in eight balls for just 95 yards, but did he really even need to?
The freshman rushed for over 100 yards in all but four games in 2017. With Saquon Barkley on his way to being a top five pick in a few weeks, Taylor easily fills the void as the best running back in the Big Ten.
That’s not up for debate either.
What if I told you Jonathan Taylor wasn’t the only true freshman to knock our socks off last season?
J.K. Dobbins was absolutely brilliant in 2017 after securing the starting job in wake of Mike Weber’s injury. Dobbins carried the pill 194 times (105 times less than Taylor) for 1403 yards and seven scores.
Standing at a stocky 5-foot-10, the Texas native showcased exceptional vision and wiggle that often left defenders in the dust.
The combination of the Urban Meyer’s spread offense and the presence of Weber without a doubt hampered Dobbins opportunities this past season. However, he was clearly the go-to option in the backfield.
Expect Dobbins and Taylor to headline the Big Ten running backs until they decide to move on to greater pastures (NFL millions).
3. Ty Johnson, Maryland
Scott managed a few more yards on the ground and one more score, but Johnson was arguably the more versatile back in a worse situation.
To make it clear, Maryland lost about every quarterback on the roster to some sort of injury. Which made it very easy for teams to key in on the ‘Terps running game.
To move further, Johnson carried the ball much less than his Big Ten counterparts and still managed to rank in the top 10 in the conference.
The Maryland native carried the ball 137 times for 875 yards. His 6.4 yards per carry trailed only the two guys listed above him in Dobbins and Taylor.
Johnson showed some ability to catch the ball but made his presence known during returns, as he managed to take one back 100 yards against Ohio State.
With better quarterback play, Johnson can easily eclipse 1,000 rushing yards like he managed in 2016.
Sleeper: Miles Sanders, Penn State
It’s hard to live in the shadows of one of the best generational talents to hit the college ranks in Barkley. Again, with Barkley headed to the NFL, it leaves some big shoes to fill in the Penn State offense.
Good thing junior running back Miles Sanders should be up to the task.
Ranked as the top running back in the 2016 class, Sanders hasn’t rushed for over 200 yards in a season since riding the pine behind Barkley. He was used mostly as a kick returner during his freshman season and played sparingly last year.
Sanders can explode onto the scene this season playing with Trace McSorley running the offense.
Can he replicate what Barkley did? Probably not, but if he can play to even half of that, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten.