Best Five Running Backs For 2024 College Football Season

It’s a shame that in recent years the running back position hasn’t received the attention it deserves in college football. Yes, of course, there still is the Doak Walker Award but the Heisman Trophy has become a quarterback award. Here, we take a look at the top five returning running backs for the 2024 college football season.

The Five Best Returning Running Backs in College Football in 2024

Ollie Gordon

Last season, the Oklahoma State running back had 1,732 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 6.1 yards per carry despite having subpar games against UCF and Texas. Gordon has the perfect size for a running back and very good speed. To go along with his prolific rushing numbers, he also caught 39 passes. While that’s not a huge number, it’s big enough that he had to be considered a receiving threat.

What makes Gordon’s season even more impressive is that his carries were much lower earlier in the season compared to late in the season. The two reasons are that he wasn’t the unquestioned starter at the beginning of the 2023 season and he clearly got stronger as the year went along. The Cowboys are lucky to have Gordon and he will put up big numbers again as long as he stays healthy.

Quinshon Judkins

This former Ole Miss running back heads to Columbus to form the number-one running back duo in the country. Last season, Judkins’ numbers decreased from 2022. He rushed for 409 fewer yards in 2023 than in 2022 on only three fewer carries. He did find the end zone 15 times on the ground versus 16 touchdowns in 2022.

Judkins is undoubtedly considered the top running back from the transfer portal. He will join one of the top quarterbacks from the transfer portal in former Kansas State signal caller Will Howard. Judkins is also a bowling ball at 5’11” and 200 pounds. He’s a punishing runner and although his numbers may decrease again due to splitting carries with TreVeyon Henderson and Will Howard — a very good dual-threat quarterback in his own right — Judkins is clearly one of the top backs in college football.

Jaydn Ott

The career trajectory of Cal running back Jaydn Ott is quite impressive. It wasn’t until his sophomore season that he became the lead dog in the Bear’s backfield. Consistency is proving to be one of his biggest strengths as he averaged exactly 5.3 yards per carry in each of his two seasons in Berkeley.

Ott did increase his production in his second season and his rushing touchdowns went up from eight in his first season to 12 last season. He also has found the end zone five times through the air in his two seasons. Look for even bigger things from Ott in 2024. This guy is a stud.

Donovan Edwards

It’s his show now in Ann Arbor with Blake Corum off to the NFL. Former head coach Jim Harbaugh is loyal to his players and while Corum got the bulk of the workload, it’s fair to believe that Edwards will turn out to be the better pro.

Coming off a poor season by his standards, Edwards will be highly motivated to shine. Edwards didn’t even find the end zone until very late in the regular season last year. However, as he has shown before (Ohio State game in 2022), he is very capable and likely to come up big in the biggest games. On both of his touchdown runs in the National Championship Game against Washington, he originally ran toward a hole that ended up not being there and cut back to the hole that was there. After that, he was gone to the end zone and left the defenders in the dust.

Michigan will rely heavily on Edwards this year as the quarterback who takes over will have less experience than the departed J.J. McCarthy.

Dylan Sampson

This one is a bit of a leap of faith. The sophomore Tennessee Volunteers running back saw sporadic duty last season behind Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright. Both have moved on and while Sampson won’t be handed the starting job, he showed a great ability to stick it in the end zone.

During his two seasons in Knoxville, he’s only carried the ball 164 times total but has scored 13 rushing touchdowns. He’s also shown himself to be a very capable receiver out of the backfield.

Expect Sampson to win the starting job and keep finding the end zone in his junior season. The Vols will need a strong running game having lost a lot of quality receivers and quarterback Joe Milton. While Milton may not have lived up to expectations, he had much more experience coming into last season than anyone at the position has coming into this season. Sampson will lead the way on the ground and could be a dark horse candidate for the Doak Walker Award.

There you have the top five returning running backs for the 2024 college football season. And with the playoff expanding to 12 teams, there’s a great chance we will get to see these guys in meaningful action during December and January without having to worry about them opting out.

Main Image: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

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