2015 Preseason All-American Projections: Running Backs

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2015 college football season WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the stars of next fall could be the headlining players next May in the 2016 NFL Draft.

First-Team Running Backs:

Nick Chubb, Georgia

When Todd Gurley was suspended and eventually out for the year with a torn ACL, Georgia’s offense continued to run over the opposition thanks to Chubb. The human bowling ball rolled over tacklers and and was a physical force in the SEC. The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder is a powerful runner who also has the quickness to rip off yards in chunks. In the open field, defensive backs really struggle to bring him down.

In 2014 while splitting time with Gurley, Chubb averaged 7.1 yards per carry for 1,547 yards with 14 touchdowns. He caught 18 receptions for 213 yards and two scores. Chubb should have enough talent around him to help him, but even with defenses selling out to stop him, Chubb could run wild in the SEC for the second-straight season. A huge season and First-Team All-American status seems possible for Chubb.

Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State

While so much attention was paid to the Ohio State quarterback situation last season, Elliot was the workhorse who carried the Buckeyes to the National Championship. He destroyed Wisconsin (20-220-2), Alabama (20-230-2) and Oregon (36-246-4) in the final three games to lead Ohio State. Elliot averaged 6.9 yards per carry in 2014 for 1,878 yards with 18 touchdowns. He also had 28 receptions for 220 yards.

If he stays healthy, Elliott should end up being a First-Team selection. The Big Ten provides a lot of weak opponents for him to run over. He also has four of his five offensive linemen returning and a weapon at quarterback, no matter who is picked to be the starter. Elliott could produce a massive season and be a Heisman Trophy contender.

Second-Team Running Backs:

Derrick Henry, Alabama

Henry averaged 5.8 yards per carry in 2014 for 990 yards with 11 touchdowns. He added five receptions for 133 yards, too. The 6-foot-3, 241-pounder should be in store for a huge season in 2015 with T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper in the NFL and Alabama starting a new quarterback. That has been the trend for the Crimson Tide in years past with players like Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and Yeldon taking over as the lead back after an older player moves on to the NFL.

Aside from injuries, the one thing that could hold Henry back to a degree is offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin being in love with the passing game. Plus, Alabama uses a committee approach, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Henry’s attempts and totals fall short of Chubb and Elliott.

James Conner, Pittsburgh

It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Conner is a First-Team All-American. He is a bruising back who has surprising quickness for such a big runner. The sophomore averaged six yards per carry in 2014 for 1,765 yards with 26 touchdowns. Conner did lose his head coach and a good offensive lineman in T.J. Clemmings. Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising if Conner has a slight decline in production.

Third-Team Running Backs:

Devontae Booker, Utah

Booker almost entered the 2015 NFL Draft after a breakout season that saw him carry the Utes’ offense. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry for 1,512 yards with 10 touchdowns. Booker also caught 43 passes for 306 yards and two scores. The 5-foot-11, 203-pounder has the quickness and agility of a slasher, but also is physical enough to run through tackles and pick up yards after contact. Pac-12 defenses will be selling out to stop him, and he won’t catch them by surprise this year.

Leonard Fournette, LSU

Fournette (6-1, 230) had a ton of hype surrounding him as a freshman and didn’t disappoint. The Tigers used a committee approach, but Fournette still produced. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry on 187 rushes for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns. Now that the Tigers have lost two running backs to the NFL, Fournette should get a lot more carries this season. The one issue that could hold him back will be a ton of eight- or nine-man fronts. LSU’s quarterback play will be put to the test, and defenses will be selling out to stop Fournette.

Honorable Mentions: Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, Florida’s Kelvin Taylor, Arkansas’s Alex Collins, Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams, Texas A&M’s Tra Carson, Oregon State’s Storm Woods, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Wisconsin’s Corey Clement, Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, Virginia Tech’s Trey Edmunds, Marshall’s Devon Johnson and Baylor’s Shock Linwood.

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