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All-purpose monster or human bulldozer? An EA Sports running back wish list

By Ashton Pollard | April 06
All-purpose monster or human bulldozer? An EA Sports running back wish list
Stanford's Christian McCaffrey gave opposing defensive coordinators a scare each time he touched the ball. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

You certainly know by now that EA Sports plans to resurrect its beloved college football video game a few years down the road. As schools continue to take sides in the “will participate even without name, image, likeness (NIL) reform” versus “will not participate without NIL” reform debate, we are having a little fun thinking up who would be the most fun to play in the game.

Last month, I released a quarterback wish list of players that have played college football since the last version of the game was released in 2013. It was well-received, so fellow Son Pat Rouleau and I have teamed up to bring you the running back wish list.

Like the quarterback list, let’s assume the NIL debate is solved and all FBS teams are participants in the game. Additionally, the players are allowed to be actual college football players and not unrecognizable, random guys that happen to have buckeye stickers all over their helmets.

So do you want the shifty running back who doubles as a wide receiver or do you want the traditional fullback who bulldozes his way through the opponent’s defensive line? We made our list.

#10 Nick Chubb - Georgia

Nick Chubb may not have had the flashiest stats, but he was part of one of the best running back duos in college football. A five-star recruit out of Cedartown, Ga., Chubb was the fifth-ranked running back in the country and the #3 prospect in the state before committing to the Bulldogs in 2013. His best performance came in 2014 versus Louisville, where he had 266 yards and two touchdowns on 33 attempts. One of his most notable games was the 2018 Rose Bowl against Oklahoma, where he scored two touchdowns, including the game-tying touchdown to force overtime, where Sony Michel eventually won it for the Bulldogs in double overtime. Kirk Herbstreit said it best: “If you don’t wrap him up, you’re not going to bring him down.”

#9: Travis Etienne - Clemson

Etienne arrived at Clemson in 2017 with big shoes to fill, as Wayne Gallman departed for the NFL the previous year. As the ACC’s all-time leading rusher by 350 yards, Etienne is a must for this list. In addition to his numbers on the ground, Etienne was a receiving threat, with over 100 receptions, over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns as Tiger. This screen in the 2019 College Football Playoff semi-final, where Etienne’s longest rushing play was only eight yards, shows how versatile he was.

He totaled 6,107 yards from scrimmage at Clemson. On the ground, he averaged over seven yards per carry during his career and even averaged 8.1 yards per carry during his sophomore season in 2018. His decision to return to Clemson was one of the more shocking notes of the 2020 offseason, and the Tigers benefited from it greatly in a weird pandemic season where Etienne ran for 914 yards and 14 touchdowns.

#8: Jaret Patterson - Buffalo

Patterson had a couple of decent years where he rushed for over 1,000 yards, and a great sophomore year with 1,799. He was a consistent scorer for the Buffalo Bulls, scoring 14, 19 and 19 touchdowns, respectively, over his three years. Where Patterson becomes particularly fun though lies in the game log. In back-to-back games during the 2020 season, Patterson ran for 409 yards and eight touchdowns (tying the FBS record for single-game touchdowns) and 301 yards and 4 touchdowns. Yes, that is 710 yards and 12 touchdowns in an 11-day span. Truly “video game” numbers.

#7: Ezekiel Elliott - Ohio State

“Zeke” continued the long line of phenomenal running backs to wear the scarlet and gray, rushing for over 1,800 yards in consecutive seasons between 2014 and 2015. During the 2015 season, Elliott failed to surpass 100 yards only once, in a sloppy 17-14 loss to Michigan State. One of Zeke’s signature moments came in the 2015 Sugar Bowl, where he bolted “85 yards through the heart of the south” late in the fourth quarter against Alabama helping them get to, and eventually win, the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship game against Oregon. Against the Ducks, Elliott rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries.

#6: Dalvin Cook - Florida State

With 4,464 career rushing yards, Cook holds the FSU rushing record. The unanimous All-American occupies the #1 and #2 spots on the single-season rushing yardage list with 1,765 yards in 2016 and 1,691 yards in 2015 beating third-place Warrick Dunn, who ran for 1,242 yards in 1995. During his time in Tallahassee, Cook had 5,399 yards from scrimmage and 48 touchdowns. In 2015, Miami-native Cook set the record for most rushing yardage against the rival Hurricanes with 222 yards in that game. His big day included this 72-yard option touchdown run.

#5: Donnel Pumphrey - San Diego State

The 2010s were a very good time to be a San Diego State Aztec fan, as Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny continued the legacy of great players like Marshall Faulk and Wayne Pittman to wear the Aztec jersey. Between 2014 and 2016, 5-foot-9 Pumphrey ran for 5,653 yards and 54 touchdowns. He led the FBS in rushing yards in his final year with 2,133 yards. During this three-year stretch, he also led the Mountain West in rushing yards each year. His best game came in a 2016 victory against California, where he ran 29 times for 281 yards and 3 touchdowns, including this burst of speed.

#4: Jonathan Taylor - Wisconsin

During his three years in Madison, Jonathan Taylor was the focal point of the Wisconsin offense, rushing for 200+ yards 12 times. He entered the national conversation in September 2017 after putting up 223 yards and three touchdowns in a win against Florida Atlantic. A two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award, Taylor was also part of the Heisman conversation throughout his career, finishing sixth in 2017, ninth in 2018 and fifth in 2019. He was the first player in FBS history to rush for over 6,000 yards in three seasons. Taylor was impossible to bring down, bulldozing his way through defenders every time he touched the ball. Touchdown runs like this were the norm at Camp Randall during his tenure.

#3: Saquon Barkley - Penn State

When Saquon Barkley put on the basic blue jersey and white helmet, you never knew what he was going to do when he touched the ball, whether it was a juke, a hurdle, a stop on a dime along the sideline before cutting back inside for positive yards (see: 2017 against Iowa) or a celebration in the endzone while waving his arms in the air. Saquon’s abilities embarrassed opposing defenses, as you can see here in this video appropriately titled “Saquon Barkley of PSU Makes the USC Defense Look Silly at Rose Bowl.” He was a threat in the return game as well, scoring two touchdowns from opening kickoffs during his career as a Nittany Lion. Barkley finished up his three years in Happy Valley with 5,083 total yards and 51 total touchdowns.

#2: Derrick Henry - Alabama

Here you go. This is all you need. Kidding. Not really.

Henry’s 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns his final year with the Crimson Tide are both records for the storied program. He finished second in the Crimson Tide’s all-time leading rusher category, second only to Najee Harris who surpassed him in 2020. Henry had four 200+ yard games in his final year in Tuscaloosa, including a career best of 271 yards on the ground in the 2015 Iron Bowl against Auburn. That season, Henry went on to become the second Alabama player to win the Heisman trophy after Mark Ingram won it in 2009. Good luck trying to do anything against this.

#1: Christian McCaffrey - Stanford

Once called an “all-purpose monster” by the Washington Post, Christian McCaffrey was a threat from the moment he arrived in Palo Alto, playing in all 12 regular season games and the 2014 Foster Farms Bowl against Maryland his freshman year. He was the poster child for versatility, as he holds the NCAA record for most all-purpose yards in a single season with 3,864 in 2015. That same year, he was the only FBS player to lead his team in both rushing and receiving yards. This 49-yard touchdown catch, which could have been a three-yard loss, was a quintessential McCaffrey play. Quarterback Kevin Hogan dumped the ball off to McCaffrey behind the line of scrimmage. He was immediately met by a defender, but shook him along with the next defender and dodged several others on his way to the end zone. It was beautiful. Over his three years on The Farm, the former top 100 recruit caught 99 passes for 1,206 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had seven 300+ all-purpose yardage games while at Stanford and led the nation with 211.6 yards per game in 2016. He was the eighth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Honorable Mention:

A.J. Dillon - Boston College

J.K. Dobbins - Ohio State

Melvin Gordon - Wisconsin

Myles Gaskin - Washington

Najee Harris - Alabama

Rashaad Penny - San Diego State

Todd Gurley - Georgia

Ashton Pollard

Ashton Pollard

Hi! My name is Ashton Pollard, and I’ve been a college football fan as long as I can remember. My dad went to Notre Dame, so I was thrown into their wild fanbase from the start. I’m originally from Richmond, VA and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018 where I was on the varsity swim team for a few years. I’m currently a graduate student at the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism specializing in sports media and living in Chicago.

Aside from college football, I’m an ND men’s and women’s basketball fan, a New York Giants fan and an Atlanta Braves fan. Feel free to ask me why I pull for seemingly random teams - I promise I have an explanation.

I’m excited to cover both ND football and college football on a national level!

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