2020 Preseason All-American Projections: Running Backs

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2020 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 April in the 2021 NFL Draft.

First-Team Running Back: Travis Etienne, Clemson

It was surprising when Etienne decided to return for his senior year after two very good seasons with the Tigers. If Etienne had entered the 2020 NFL Draft, he could have been selected late in the first round or have gone in the opening frame of the second night of the draft. Clemson was fortunate that Etienne decided to return, and he should be poised for a massive senior year to close out his collegiate career.

Etienne averaged 7.2 yards per carry as a freshman, collecting 766 yards with 13 touchdowns. In 2018, he averaged 8.1 yards per carry for 1,658 yards with 24 touchdowns. He also caught 12 passes for 78 yards and two scores that season while helping the Tigers to win the National Championship. Etienne then played well as a junior – for the most part. He averaged 7.8 yards per carry in 2019 for 1,614 yards with 19 touchdowns. He also notched 37 receptions for 432 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Etienne (5-10, 200) has a sprinter’s speed, helping make him a threat to take any touch of the ball the length of the field for a touchdown. With his first-step quickness and a burst to the hole, Etienne gets to the second level in a hurry and will explode down the field. Etienne is so fast that he can take away angles from defenders as the runs away from the defense. He is also a very good receiver out of the backfield. With quarterback Trevor Lawrence returning, defenses can’t stack the box to take away Etienne. As a senior, he could be the top running back in the nation and a First-Team All-American.

Second-Team Running Back: Kenny Gainwell, Memphis

Gainwell was an electric playmaker for Memphis as a redshirt freshman in 2019 and jumped out to teams. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season for 1,459 yards with 13 touchdowns. He also was a superb receiver out of the backfield, recording 51 receptions for 610 yards and three scores through the air.

Gainwell is a fast and explosive back who is a threat to rip off a long gain on any touch. The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder could stand to get stronger for the NFL, but he is a young and has time to develop physically. With Memphis losing multiple skill position players to the 2020 NFL Draft, Gainewll could take on a bigger role this season. He has the skill set to dominate college football if he stays healthy, and 2020 could be a huge year for him.

Third-Team Running Back: Najee Harris, Alabama

It can be hard to get a large number of carries at Alabama because the team typically spreads the touches around to a stable of running backs. However, Harris established himself as the feature back during the 2019 season and then decided to return for his senior year.

Nick Saban likes upperclassmen and seniors, so I could see Harris having a big year because the Crimson Tide are breaking in a new starting quarterback. In 2019, Harris averaged 5.9 yards per carry for 1,224 yards with 13 touchdowns. He had 27 receptions for 304 yards and seven scores as a receiver. Harris finished the year playing his best football, and it could be a sign of things to come.

Honorable Mentions: Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill, Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, Oregon’s C.J. Verdell, Oklahoma’s Kennedy Brooks, Arkansas’ Rakeem Boyd, Missouri’s Larry Rountree III and Ohio State’s Trey Sermon.

2020 Preseason All-American Projections:
QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P

2020 Preseason Postseason Award Projections:
Thorpe Award | Biletnikoff Award | Outland Trophy | Rimington Trophy | Mackey Award | O'Brien Award | Doak Walker Award | Jet Award | Walter Camp Award

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