The running back position has been a focal point at Michigan since 1879 when the Wolverines defeated Racine by a score of 1-0. Granted the forward pass hadn’t been popularized yet, that didn’t stop “rusher” Irving Kane Pond from sparking a tradition of power football that still exists in Ann Arbor today. Pond Forever.
Over the years, Michigan has had several memorable running backs and a few favorites from generation to generation, including Ron Johnson, Butch Woolfolk, Jamie Morris, Tyrone Wheatley, Tim Biakabatuka, Anthony Thomas, Chris Perry and Mike Hart.
With such a rich history, it’s hard to believe the Wolverines went from 2011-18 without a 1,000-yard rusher, but now things seem to be reverting back to the norm with almost two players eclipsing the 1,000 yards barrier in 2021.
During the Jim Harbaugh era (2015-Present), there has been a mix of everything in the backfield. Power, elusiveness, receiving threats and everything in between.
Don’t take this list as an end-all-be-all definitive rankings list, because it’s not. If you want a vanilla list of the top rushers of the Harbaugh era, I suggest a simple Google search.
This is a list of five of my favorite favorite running backs of the current era and an excuse to celebrate them in a subjective order that I made up. Enjoy.
5. De’Veon Smith (2015-16)
1,599 rushing yards (4.5 yards-per-carry), 225 receiving yards, 17 touchdowns
Obviously, Smith’s placement here is hindered by the fact he only played two years under Harbaugh, but that didn’t limit his lasting impact.
Smith was a reliable bulldozer and elite pass protector during his time as a Wolverine.
In 2016, Smith posted a career-high of 158 rushing yards on senior day against Indiana when the team was offensively limited with John O’Korn at quarterback.
Statues won’t be made of Smith, nor will children in Ann Arbor be named after him, but he was a powerful downhill back who helped usher in Harbaugh’s style of smash mouth relentless football that is still resonant to this day.
4. Chris Evans (2016-18; 2020)
1,795 rushing yards (5.6 yards-per-carry), 479 receiving yards, 17 touchdowns
Chris Evans deserved better, let’s just get that out of the way. But due to personal issues (2019 dismissal from the team) and play-calling (“hey let’s run a dynamic running back in the A and B gaps over and over and over again”), he never quite reached his potential.
However, Evans still posted memorable performances like 2017 against Minnesota where he rushed for 191 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And in 2016 when he became the third Wolverine running back ever to eclipse the 100-yard mark in his first collegiate game.
A great “what if” player at Michigan is finally starting to scratch the surface of his talents as a Cincinnati Bengal in the NFL. While his legacy his tough to define, I see it as Evans walked, so Donovan Edwards could run as a dynamic, pass-catching back at Michigan.
3. Blake Corum (2020-Present)
1,026 rushing yards (6.0 yards-per-carry), 214 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns
Due to the COVID-19 eligibility rule, Blake Corum could still play another three years at Michigan. Let that sink in. I could be writing about the 2024 Wolverines, making Presidential nominee jokes about Dwayne Johnson and discussing if Corum can win the Heisman.
Corum is an explosive, elusive back and if not for an injured ankle, would have shattered the 1,000 rushing yards mark in 2021. His legacy is far from written and his placement here is partially a projection because in two or three years, he could be mentioned in the same rarefied air as Hart or Wheatley.
As it stands currently, with a 171-yard performance last year against Washington and an electric touchdown in the Big Ten Championship against Iowa on a bum ankle, Corum’s time and reputation in Ann Arbor can be summarized in one word: DAWG.
1. BLAKE CORUM’S SPEED— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 5, 2021
2. J.J. MCCARTHY’S BLOCKING
3. TOUCHDOWN MICHIGAN 〽️pic.twitter.com/F2xUkT6eIK
2. Karan Higdon (2015-18)
2,616 rushing yards (5.6 yards-per-carry), 177 receiving yards, 27 touchdowns
Karan Higdon was a bell cow at Michigan and became the first 1,000-yard running back since 2011, breaking the barrier in 2018. Furthermore, Higdon was only six yards shy in 2017 of becoming the first two-time 1,000 yard-back since Mike Hart.
Higdon posted two 200-yard rushing performances and came at opponents like a relentless wrecking ball time and time again. His career average of 5.6 yards-per-carry is fourth all-time for Michigan running backs with a minimum of 400 attempts.
1. Hassan Haskins (2018-21)
2,324 rushing yards (5.1 yards-per-carry), 171 receiving yards, 30 touchdowns
Recency bias be damned, we bore witness to greatness last season.
Hassan Haskins set the single-season Michigan record with 20 rushing touchdowns and set a modern standard for durability, power, and pass protection. He has too many memorable moments (hurdles, stiff arms, moving the pile) to recap, but nothing encapsulates Haskins’ time as a Wolverine quite like Nov. 27, 2021.
Against Ohio State, Haskins carried the ball 28 times for 169 yards and tied a program record with five rushing touchdowns as the Wolverines triumphed over the Buckeyes for the first time since 2011.
From linebacker, to running back, to immortality, Haskins is the standard and is the best running back to wear the maize and blue since Mike Hart.
Honorable Mention: Zach Charbonnet, Tru Wilson, Donovan Edwards
Special Fullback Honorable Mention: Ben Mason and Khalid Hill