The Big Ten Conference played host to some of the most talented and productive running backs in the country last season. The good news for college football fans is that most of them have returned for another go around. As a result, our 2023 Big Ten RB rankings reads like a who’s who of rushing ability.
2023 Big Ten RB Rankings
1) Nicholas Singleton, Kaytron Allen, Trey Potts | Penn State
Forget the Big Ten, for the 2023 season, the Penn State Nittany Lions have the best running back duo in the nation. Ridiculously, they’re both just true sophomores for the upcoming season after setting program and conference records during two standout freshman campaigns. Some call them “Thunder and Lightning,” we simply call them Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
Singleton has the potential to be the best running back in all of college football this year; hence, Penn State sitting atop our 2023 Big Ten RB rankings. His freshman season had ebbs and flows, but Singleton grew physically stronger as the campaign developed — adding the ability to add yardage between the tackles to the speed threat he brings when he bounces outside.
The 6’0″, 228-pounder took 15.38% of his carries over 10 yards as a true freshman, beating some of his more nationally celebrated contemporaries in the conference. Singleton holds the program freshman record with 12 touchdowns and joined Saquon Barkley as the only Penn State freshman to hit 1,000 yards in a season.
Meanwhile, Allen is no slouch, either, and boasts a more physically dominant element to his game than his teammate. He may have fallen short of Singleton in several rushing metrics last fall, but Allen did take 16.76% of his carries over 10 yards and shaded his teammate in predicted points added. Adding former Minnesota RB Trey Potts gives Penn State an embarrassment of riches.
2) Miyan Williams, TreVeyon Henderson, Dallan Hayden | Ohio State
Miyan Williams was one of the most criminally underrated 2023 NFL Draft running back prospects. Thankfully for college football fans — but perhaps not if you’re a Michigan fan — the 5’9″, 225-pound fourth-year back returns for another go around with the opportunity to prove that he’s one of the best in the nation. He should lead a talented trio of Ohio State running backs this year.
Williams has the frame to act like a bowling ball for the Buckeyes’ offense, but physicality isn’t the only hallmark of his game. He possesses surprising foot speed, which allows him to make impressive cuts and display excellent burst at the line of scrimmage. He also showcases game-changing vision and takes advantage to consistently churn out big plays.
Williams took 20.31% of his carries over 10 yards last fall, a number few running backs in the nation can match. There also aren’t too many rushers who compare to his 0.454 predicted points added from the 2022 campaign. With a fully healthy season, Williams can prove why he’s edged the Ohio State room into second in our 2023 Big Ten RB rankings.
The injury bug bit the Ohio State RB room hard last fall, and TreVeyon Henderson saw a substantial drop-off in production as a result. Nevertheless, Henderson possesses the speed, elusiveness, vision, and receiving capability to return to the top in 2023. Dallan Hayden adds another impactful rusher to the Buckeyes’ RB room that will be pivotal to Ohio State’s success this fall.
3) Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards, CJ Stokes, Cole Cabana | Michigan
After seeing his season — and NFL dreams — curtailed by injury, Blake Corum is back for another year with the Michigan Wolverines. His performances last fall were worthy of Heisman Trophy consideration, and his 1,463 yards, 5.9 yards per carry, and 18 touchdowns ranked amongst the best in the nation.
Furthermore, the Michigan standout took 14.57% of his carries over 10 yards. Corum’s 0.37 predicted points added sits as one of the highest of any in these 2023 Big Ten RB rankings. His burst and fluidity of movement make him a dangerous, elusive running back who has shown excellent receiving capability — although he wasn’t tasked with catching many passes in 2022.
It remains to be seen how Corum recovers from knee surgery, given a large element of his success on the field is due to his cut-ability, and discernible drop-off, as a result, could have a significant impact on his effectiveness. While not a direct factor in the Wolverines coming in behind their bitter rivals in our 2023 Big Ten RB rankings, it’s something to remember for the fall.
Corum’s injury allowed Donovan Edwards to showcase his skill set to the maximum over the final three games of the season — surpassing 100 yards in all of those encounters. As a big-play threat, Edwards’ speed is an absolute difference-maker, and he’s a better receiver than Corum. His 7.1 yards per carry have led some to consider him the true Wolverines’ RB1 for 2023.
4) Braelon Allen, Chez Mellusi, Jackson Acker | Wisconsin
Wisconsin has a rich history of producing top-tier college football running backs. In Braelon Allen, they have another that helps secure their place near the top of our 2023 Big Ten RB rankings.
Allen is an absolute force to be reckoned with. A 6’2″, 240-pound juggernaut who arrived in Madison to play defense but instead spends his time plowing through them.
As you’d expect, power is the hallmark of Allen’s game. He’s spent two seasons physically brutalizing anyone who stands in his way. It takes more than one man to take down the Wisconsin rusher; hence, why he frequently has to overcome eight-man boxes. Yet, he’s not all substance over style. Allen can use nimble footwork and vision to terrorize defenses too.
While there’s a lot of national focus on Allen, Chez Mellusi adds another dimension to Wisconsin’s offense. The former Clemson back has home-run-hitting speed while showcasing the sort of twitchy movements and contact balance that make him an elusive threat at the position.
Mellusi is also a legitimate receiving threat for the Badgers as they transition to a new offense under former North Carolina coordinator Phil Longo. While they lost Isaac Guerendo, Jackson Acker is an exciting athlete who can provide a versatile weapon.
5) Devin Mockobee, Dylan Downing, Tyrone Tracy | Purdue
A standout high school athlete who was an Indiana state long jump champion before arriving at Purdue, Devin Mockobee had a breakout redshirt-freshman campaign last fall after not seeing the field in 2021. Taking 13.84% of his carries over 10 yards, Mockobee finished the year with 968 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, averaging five yards per carry.
The 6’0″, 195-pound former walk-on — Mockobee received a scholarship offer late in 2022 — rumbles through contact like a man possessed, making him a dangerous short-yardage weapon. However, it’s his ability to cut more effectively than a pair of scissors that helps secure his place near the top of our 2023 Big Ten RB rankings.
Mockobee is joined by primary backup Dylan Downing once more. However, Boilermaker fans should watch out for the full-time transition to running back of former Iowa wide receiver, Tyrone Tracy, who took 17 carries for 138 yards during the 2022 season.
“If he can really buy into it and dig in deep to it, he’s gonna be a problem,” running backs coach Lamar Conard told Boilermakers Country. “And I’m putting all of that on Tyrone because he has the talent, he has the intelligence, and he has the fortitude to be able to do it.”
6) Nathan Carter, Jalen Berger, Jaren Mangham | Michigan State
Replacing Kenneth Walker III in Michigan State’s offense was always going to be a thankless task. However, Jalen Berger was far better than many people outside of East Lansing give him credit for. The former Wisconsin rusher took 14.86% of his carries over 10 yards last fall, compiling 683 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
While Berger has impressive speed and the ability to make a man miss, he also provides a physical threat who can use his 6’1″, 215-pound frame as a battering ram for the offense. Yet, he might not even be the best back on the Michigan State roster for 2023.
After impressing in his first season and a third — he played just four games for UConn last fall — of action at the CFB level, Nathan Carter transferred to the Spartans for the upcoming season as an immediate RB1 challenger. In a season cut short by a shoulder injury sustained against Michigan, over 20% of his carries went for 10 yards.
A speedster with a sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash on his high school résumé, Carter’s ability to change direction makes him a dangerous rusher who also doubles up as an effective route-running receiving threat. He’s joined in the Michigan State backfield by fellow transfer Jaren Mangham who is just one season removed from a 15-touchdown campaign for USF.
7) Sean Tyler, Darius Taylor, Zach Evans | Minnesota
Rounding out the top half of our 2023 Big Ten RB rankings is a duo that is new to the conference for the upcoming college football campaign. When you lose a record-setting RB like Mohamed Ibrahim, there’s likely to be a little bit of concern, potentially a little bit of drop-off in production.
However, the combination of former Western Michigan standout Sean Tyler and highly rated true freshman Darius Taylor should bring excitement to the Golden Gophers this fall. We’ll give the deadly duo the nickname “TNT” in reference to their surnames and the fact that they’re likely to be one of the most explosive duos in college football.
Tyler’s résumé at Western Michigan speaks for itself. The 5’8, 185-pound pocket rocket flies by defenses for fun. He’s surpassed 1,000 yards in the last two seasons for the Broncos, averaging 5.7 yards for his career in the MAC. “He’s got legit speed. He is tightly wound. He’s twitched. He’s explosive,” Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck told the Daily Gopher.
Meanwhile, there’s genuine excitement for Darius Taylor, the 242nd overall prospect in the 2023 CFN Fusion Recruiting Rankings, with a 93.447 grade. The Walled Lake native has the burst, strength, wiggle, and receiving capability to make an immediate impact in his debut season with the Gophers.
8) Roman Hemby, Antwain Littleton II, Ramon Brown, Colby McDonald | Maryland
After seeing minimal action as a 2021 freshman, Roman Hemby burst onto the national scene in 2022 with a near-1,000-yard campaign and double-digit touchdowns. Burst is an apt word to describe Hemby’s ascension onto the national stage. There are few players in our 2023 Big Ten RB rankings that can match the redshirt sophomore’s pure speed.
Clocked at over 21 mph during his breakout season, Hemby is a straight-line speed threat who can flip his hips in the open field. Furthermore, he showcases advanced ability to control his tempo, while possessing receiving prowess for the Terrapins. Antwain Littleton II returns as the primary backup, having taken 10.52% of his carries for 10+ yards last fall.
9) Kaleb Johnson, Leshon Williams, Jaziun Patterson | Iowa
While he leads an Iowa RB room that sits just ninth in our 2023 Big Ten RB rankings, Kaleb Johnson has the potential to be a special talent. The 6’0″, 212-pound sophomore tallied 779 rushing yards last fall with his combination of speed and power. He’s as likely to bounce outside and beat you to the corner as he is to drag you down the field on his back.
Behind Johnson and primary backup Leshon Williams, Jaziun Patterson could also see an increased workload this fall. He was singled out for praise from offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz in December, who praised his approach to the game and likened his ability to seize an opportunity to the 2023 NFL Draft-bound linebacker sensation, Jack Campbell.
10) Anthony Grant, Gabe Ervin Jr., Rahmir Johnson | Nebraska
As the Matt Rhule era begins in Lincoln, Anthony Grant is once again set to lead the Cornhuskers’ ground game for the 2023 college football season.
The former FSU and Virginia Military Institute rusher came within 85 yards of being the program’s first 1,000-yard back since Devine Ozigbo last fall, and he has the talent to be a thorn in the side of Big Ten defenses again.
A forced missed-tackle machine, the 5’11”, 200-pounder boasts an alluring combination of physicality, contact balance, and elusiveness. He grinds out yardage but is also capable of flashy spin moves and jump cuts.
If Gabe Ervin Jr. can keep healthy, he’s a dangerous counterfoil to Grant. There might not be a better pass protecting RB in the Big Ten, and he brings that physicality to bat as a rusher too. The 6’1″, 215-pound back is no slouch either, and will look to capitalize on a good spring under the new coaching staff.
11) Jaylin Lucas, Josh Henderson, Christian Turner | Indiana
With Shaun Shivers departing, Josh Henderson is the most productive returning RB for the Indiana Hoosiers this fall. While his 398 yards might not grab your attention, Henderson took 15.5% of his carries over 10 yards last year. Christian Turner joins the room from Wake Forest to add competition, but Jaylin Lucas is the player to watch out for this coming season.
“Jaylin has proved he can do a lot of special things with the ball in his hands, especially in space,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said of the electric, multi-faceted, 5’9″, 166-pound sophomore. “I want to maximize that, so that’ll look a little different in some ways and just try to create ways to get him the football.”
12) Samuel Brown V, Ja’shon Benjamin, Kyle Monangai, Al-Shadee Salaam, Aaron Young | Rutgers
It wasn’t always easy to watch the Rutgers offense last fall, but new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca believes that the RB room is the deepest unit on the entire Scarlet Knights roster, telling the media that “I love the way they’re working. I love the way they’re picking up the system. I’m excited about the position.”
The excitement begins with sophomore Samuel Brown V. Despite injury, he led the returning RBs in yards per carry and touchdowns, proving to be a tackle-breaking downhill force. Rutgers’ position in our 2023 Big Ten RB rankings is bolstered by incoming freshman Ja’shon Benjamin, a three-star “do-it-all” with sub-11-second 100m speed, who will provide an electric spark.
13) Reggie Love III, Josh McCray, Aidan Laughery, Kaden Feagin, Jordan Anderson | Illinois
After losing Chase Brown and his 1,643 rushing yards, the focus for Illinois will be on how they replace that production. Don’t expect it to all come from one player. According to head coach Bret Bielema, “We just think for the integrity of our offense and the balance that we need more guys pulling that rope and sharing that load this year.”
Reggie Love III’s consistent approach to the position should see him emerge as the Fighting Illini’s lead back this fall, although a fully healthy Josh McCray is a handful for any defense. The issue is, he hasn’t been healthy for the past two seasons. While Aidan Laughery and Jordan Anderson return, four-star athlete Kaden Feagin has impressed in spring camp.
14) Cam Porter, Anthony Tyus III, Joseph Himon II, Albert Kunickis III | Northwestern
As Evan Hull departs for the NFL, Cam Porter will be expected to pick up the load for the Northwestern ground game. After making a splash as a freshman in 2020, Porter missed the entire 2021 season with an injury. On his return last year, he showed flashes of why he has often been considered one of the most important offensive pieces on the roster.
The 5’10”, 220-pound back plays the game with a ferocious physicality, lowering his shoulder into contact and barreling through defenses. He’s also capable of taking advantage of some of the generous holes prised open by the o-line. That said, Porter’s 6.89% of carries translating to 10+ yard plays is one of the lowest of all players in our 2023 Big Ten RB rankings.