Ranking college football’s top 10 RBs for 2020


Last week, we ranked college football’s top 10 returning quarterbacks for 2020, and now it’s time to turn our attention to the backfield.

A handful of running backs recently surprised us by announcing their intent to return to college football as opposed to declaring for the 2020 NFL draft, but that, in turn, has formed a loaded group at the position as we look toward the upcoming college season. Using a combination of PFF grades and PFF’s wins above average (WAA) metric, we present to you the top-10 running backs returning to college football in 2020, as well as a sleeper to watch out for.

1. Travis Etienne, Clemson

Everyone thought Etienne was on his way to the NFL following Clemson’s loss to LSU in the national title game. After all, he had won the ACC Player of the Year in both 2018 and 2019, and he had earned the best PFF rushing grade and the most WAA of any non-quarterback since 2018. However, not even a week after the loss, Etienne announced he was returning to the Tigers to compete for another championship with quarterback Trevor Lawrence at the helm of the Clemson offense.

What Etienne has done over the past two seasons as a ball carrier is quite remarkable. He has broken the most tackles per attempt (0.35), picked up a first down or touchdown at the highest rate (36.5%) in the nation and averaged the country’s most yards after contact per attempt (4.7). The biggest thing he needed to improve upon from 2018 to 2019 was his receiving ability, and Etienne recognized that as he reportedly “went up to Trevor Lawrence throughout fall camp and asked to run routes and catch passes after practice.” Etienne vastly improved in that facet as a result and lowered his drop rate from 25% in 2018 to 7.5% in 2019 while raising his receiving grade from 45.6 in 2018 to 77.2 in 2019.

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