Today we are continuing our series ranking the top-five players at each position in the Big Ten for 2023. In a conference reputed for its old-school ground-and-pound style of play, it’s no surprise there is a surplus of great players at the running back position.
From freshman standouts to draft hopefuls, many backs will look to assert their dominance. Many teams feature multiple backs with different skillsets, and with so many good backs in the conference, there will undoubtedly be some snubs from this list. Before we get into the ranking, let’s give a shout-out to some of the backs who don’t crack our top list.
TreyVeon Henderson - Ohio State
Roman Hemby - Maryland
Devin Mockabee - Purdue
Kaytron Allen - Penn State
Kaleb Johnson - Iowa
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
5. Donovan Edwards - Michigan
Entering his junior season, Edwards is part of the “lightning and lightning” duo at Michigan alongside Blake Corum. He was mainly utilized as a receiving specialist as a freshman, but took a step forward last year and played a pivotal role in the Wolverine rushing attack.
He rushed for 991 yards on 140 carries (7.1 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns. He continued to showcase as a receiver as well, as he caught 18 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Edwards showed his ability once Corum went down late last year, recording 520 yards and three touchdowns in Michigan’s last three games. He was even named the Big Ten Championship MVP for his efforts against Purdue, where he went for 185 yards on 25 carries.
While Corum is back and expected to be the top dog, Edwards will still be heavily featured. Albeit in a small sample size, he was efficient when he was given more carries at the end of last year. His ability as a receiver should be shown yet again, especially with the departure of pass catchers Ronnie Bell and Luke Schoonmaker.
Another good year could put Edwards in the conversation to be one of the better running backs in the 2024 NFL Draft.
4. Nicholas Singleton - Penn State
Singleton was one of the crown jewels of a big recruiting class for the Nittany Lions in 2022. The former five-star showed out as the team’s lead back, as he went for 1,061 yards on 156 carries (6.8 YPC). He also ran for 12 touchdowns, a Penn State record for a freshman. He also accounted for 85 yards on 11 receptions, with two receiving touchdowns. Finally, he returned 14 kicks for 349 yards and one touchdown.
His efforts earned him third-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches and media, and the Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year Award.
In his freshman season, Singleton showcased both the ability to break tackles and hit home runs as a rusher; five of his rushing touchdowns were more than 40 yards. He split carries with fellow freshman Kaytron Allen, but figures to take a step forward this year in what should be a better Penn State offense with the talented Drew Allar at quarterback.
Singleton seemed to get more carries as the year progressed, and after getting his feet wet in his first season, it wouldn’t surprise to see him do well enough to garner more national attention.
Nicholas Singleton is a FRESHMAN pic.twitter.com/NF1I9dexdO— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) January 3, 2023
3. Miyan Williams - Ohio State
Coming into last season, TreyVeon Henderson was expected to assert himself as one of the best backs in the nation, however, he wouldn’t even be the best on his team statistically.
That honor went to Miyan Williams. While he played sparingly at the end of the year due to injuries (nine carries in Ohio State’s last three games), Williams went for 825 yards on 128 carries (6.4 YPC) and 14 touchdowns. He took home third-team All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and media.
While Henderson is expected to return to form in 2023, Williams’ performance last year should provide him a featured role in the offense. While he doesn’t offer much as a receiving threat, he has shown the ability to break tackles and serve as a bruiser that can be helpful on short yardage and goal line situations.
While Ohio State is known for its big-time passing attack, the transition at quarterback to Kyle McCord or Devin Brown might give way for some more opportunities for Williams to pick up where he left off.
Miyan Williams would not be denied on this long TD run— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 5, 2022
2. Braelon Allen - Wisconsin
Wisconsin is well-known for producing great running backs, and Braelon Allen appears to be the next in a lineage that includes guys like Jonathan Taylor and Melvin Gordon.
While the Badgers have recently struggled, Allen has quietly been one of the best running backs in college football. He enters his junior season after turning in 1,242 yards on 230 carries (5.4 YPC) last year. He also ran for 11 touchdowns on his way to second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches and media.
Allen will once again be the focal point of their offense behind an experienced offensive line. A big back at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, he is tough to bring down and has the speed to break off long runs. He hasn’t contributed much as a receiver though, as he has only caught 21 passes in his college career. He will likely eclipse the 200-carry mark again and will be a popular name when the NFL Draft rolls around next spring.
1. Blake Corum - Michigan
It should come as no surprise Corum is at the top of this list after his performance last year.
Corum was well on his way to finishing the year as a Heisman finalist before a knee injury against Illinois. He finished the year with 1,463 yards on 247 carries (5.9 YPC) to go along with 18 touchdowns. He was named to the All-Big Ten first-team from the coaches and media, and was a consensus first-team All-American. He was also a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s best running back.
Corum opted to return for his senior season and will continue to be the focal point of the offense. It’s hard to overstate Corum’s ability as a rusher; despite standing only 5-foot-8, he can shed tackles and also has the speed to take it the distance whenever he touches the ball. He didn’t do much as a receiver last year (only 11 receptions) but showed the ability earlier in his career to be a threat through the air.
If Corum is back to form after his injury, he should have yet another great season and try to get the Wolverines to a third consecutive Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance.