Five to watch in college football 2022: Running Backs

Despite the devaluing of the position, 2022 looks like a good year for the running back in college football. Whether this class can supply a first-round pick is up for debate but the talent is unquestionable. Headlined by Texas’ Bijan Robinson, there is the usual mix of power backs and lighter, fleet-footed backs.

Here are five who perhaps don’t get as much of the spotlight but should be an entertaining watch as the season progresses.

5. Tavion Thomas - Utah

When you measure in at 6’2 and 238lbs it’s no surprise that you dominate Pac-12 defenses on the ground. Not well known for having the fiercest defenses, Thomas rushed for over 100 yards against four different divisional foes. The most eye-popping stat from last year is his 18 touchdowns produced on only 168 attempts, a strike rate of over 10%.

Turn on the tape and the Cincinnati/JUCO transfer displays the power befitting of his size. It allows him to burst through the defensive line and his long-striding motion means he is always a threat to take it to the house. His ability to stop and start at the line of scrimmage shows a level of patience the NFL will appreciate. He will be expected to shoulder the starting role in 2022 and with an experienced Utes offense he should boost his stock accordingly.

4. Noah Cain - LSU

Photo credit: Sports Illustrated

Noah Cain should have been the next running back off the Penn State production line. It’s been a successful pipeline to the NFL in recent years with the likes of Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders being taken early in the draft. For Cain, his career to date has been dogged by injury. After an exciting freshman season, his sophomore season ended after 3 rushing attempts due to a leg injury. He returned in 2021 but played second fiddle to Keyvone Lee.

Now, he will look to recapture his initial promise in Baton Rouge. He will have to battle for playing time with former five star John Emery and whoever comes out on top is likely to be seen as the better prospect heading to the 2023 NFL Draft. Even if it’s only in a supporting role if Cain can show some of the vision and contact balance that made him so dangerous he makes an intriguing later-round prospect.

3. Mohamed Ibrahim - Minnesota

You can argue that nobody started the 2021 season with a bigger bang than Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim. Posting 163 rushing yards at an average of 5.4 per carry and two touchdowns vs Ohio State was quite a statement. Failing to finish the game due to a brutal Achilles injury was a blow not only to Ibrahim but to the running back class of ‘22.

He will return to action in his fifth year and seek to add a third year surpassing 1,000 yards rushing. Ibrahim is short and stocky. He has excellent burst and power in his lower half, making him a tough tackle in open space. He has the speed in his feet to change direction quickly but enough muscle to force mistakes from defenders. If he remains healthy and the medical checks out, he could be a day 2 prospect.

2. Dontae Smith - Georgia Tech

Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest moves of the offseason was Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs’ transfer to Alabama. While Gibbs will be lauded as one of the top backs in the class, his departure will offer an opportunity for his replacement Dontae Smith. Gibbs accounted for 746 rushing yards so Smith will get a big chance to improve on his 378 from last year. It’s worth noting Smith’s 5.6 yards per carry was slightly more than Gibbs’ 5.2.

Smith’s calling card is his speed and he loves nothing more than bouncing it to the outside and making it a foot race on the sideline. One positive for Smith is that he will get to pit himself against some of the best defenses in the nation in 2021. That includes Clemson, Ole Miss and Georgia. Should he prove himself capable as a starter, NFL teams are sure to pay attention.

1. Kendre Miller - TCU

Top of my list to watch for next year is another back looking to emerge from the shadows. The TCU offense was headlined by Zach Evans in 2021 and he is one of my favourite backs in this class. However, his transfer to Ole Miss will give his backup Kendre Miller the chance to shine. The former high school quarterback averaged an impressive 7.5 yards per carry in 2021 and should be the centre piece in the Horned Frogs offense this year. 

Miller is a smooth mover who glides through defenses. He has true homerun ability due to his raw speed. That acceleration often makes a mockery of tackling angles, embarrassing even Power 5 defenses regularly. At 6’0, 206lbs he has ideal NFL size and he will look to expand his role in the passing game from 12 receptions to show his versatility and ability to be a true 3-down back at the next level.

Mock Draft

Rory-Joe Daniels

Cfb contributor

formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at