- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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The offseason is the season of lists. And here's another.
Athlon Sports ranked the Pac-12 running backs, 1-20, and offered a breakdown of each player for your reading pleasure.
It's a pretty solid list, with maybe one or two position flips. But overall, it's a good assessment of the running back talent in the league and an example of just how deep the conference is at the position. As a reminder, the league produced six 1,000-yard rushers last season, the national rushing leader and two of the three Doak Walker finalists. Only two of those six are back -- and, yes, they are highly ranked.
Here's Athlon's take:
Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
Bishop Sankey, Washington
Silas Redd, USC
Marion Grice, ASU
Storm Woods, Oregon State
Brendan Bigelow, California
Byron Marshall, Oregon
D.J. Foster, ASU
Anthony Wilkerson, Stanford
Christian Powell, Colorado
Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
Thomas Tyner, Oregon
Barry Sanders, Stanford
Kelvin York, Utah
Paul Perkins, UCLA
Jordon James, UCLA
Justin Davis, USC
Terron Ward, Oregon State
Teondray Caldwell, Washington State
The top three make sense -- and the order of those three could really fall into personal preference because all three could be No. 1. If you're looking for a "traditional" running back, then you could probably put Sankey over Thomas. But DAT does so much more than just run the football and is so explosive that I could see him at Nos. 1, 2, or 3. Carey's credentials certainly warrant the top spot and the Pac-12 blog is very high on Sankey, as you can see from here and here. Expect to see more from him in the receiving game as well in 2013.
Personally, I'd put Grice ahead of Redd. As Ted pointed out earlier in the week, the Pac-12 is home to the hybrid back and Grice is a super dynamic. And the way ASU uses its backs in the passing game, it will equate to huge total yardage numbers for Grice and Foster. I do think we'll see more ground game from the Trojans this year, which could also mean bigger numbers from Redd. A few guys behind him though who could steal some carries.
The Pac-12 blog is a big fan of Woods and we're expecting an even bigger year in 2013. The Beavers were 53-47 in the pass to run ratio, which is good balance. But the passing game was more productive than the ground attack, which ranked 10th in the league last year. As Woods develops (and Ward is a solid change-of-pace back), we're expecting to see those numbers even out.
Between Bigelow, Marshall and Foster, Foster was more productive last year (1,026 total yards, six combined touchdowns) compared to Marshall (461, 4) and Bigelow (523, 4) -- but Bigelow and Marshall certainly have explosive potential. Foster should also see increased productivity with Byron's brother, Cameron, gone at ASU. You could easily interchange all three at all three spots and make a solid case for their placement.
Stanford and Oregon are the only schools with three backs on the list. Gaffney's return certainly bolsters the Cardinal running back corps -- but neither he nor Wilkerson have had to carry the load the way Stepfan Taylor, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, did the previous seasons. That continues to be one of the most intriguing position battles of the offseason.
Very excited to see what 6-0, 240-pound bruiser Christian Powell can do in the pistol.
As I've mentioned on previous Athlon lists, I'm not a huge fan of ranking players who haven't taken snaps yet -- but in the case of Sanders and Tyner, I can buy that. Sanders has arguably the best offensive line in the country ahead of him and Tyner fits an offense that makes great running backs better.
York showed some potential last year when he started sharing some carries with two-time 1,000-yard rusher John White, but he missed three games with an ankle injury late in the season. It will be interesting to see what he does over the course of the season and how the running game plays into Utah's new offensive philosophy in the Dennis Erickson-Brian Johnson brain trust.
Big hole at UCLA. Anyone have a five-sided coin?
Washington State averaged 29.1 rushing yards per game last year. And unless Mike Leach is secretly switching to the triple option, any mention of a WSU running back doesn't feel particularly applicable.