Small stature, big stats for these RBs
The larger the linemen ... the smaller the running backs? The ability to hide behind behemoth big uglies and to utilize speed in spread-the-field offenses has created a market for backs that once might have been considered too puny to be marquee ball carriers. The 20 best small backs for 2010 (with "small" defined as shorter than 6-foot and lighter than 200 pounds).
1. Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh, 5-8, 195, sophomore
Indestructible freshman became the surprise offensive engine of the Panthers, carrying them to a 10-win season with 1,988 yards from scrimmage. Lewis finished the season with four straight games of 150-plus rushing yards, highlighted by a 47-carry, 194-yards effort in a thriller against Cincinnati.
2. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State , 5-7, 191, junior
Quizz has passed every test for two seasons in Corvallis. Had a prodigious 351 touches from scrimmage last season (273 rushes, 78 receptions), for 1962 total yards. Versatile, tough, tireless.
3. Noel Devine, West Virginia, 5-8, 176, senior
A solid season (1,100 yards) puts him No. 2 on the school's career rushing list. A huge season (1,784 yards) and he takes down Avon Cobourne on top. But nobody in America ranks ahead of Devine for go-the-distance potential. He had five games last year with runs of 62 yards or longer.
4. LaMichael James, Oregon, 5-9, 180, sophomore
Unexpectedly became the Ducks' feature back after LeGarrette Blount's blue-turf blowup in the season opener, and he delivered. James skittered for 1,546 rushing yards, highlighted by a 183-yard effort in Oregon's trampling of USC.
5. Shane Vereen, California, 5-10, 198, junior
At Cal, there's always another stellar running back waiting for his chance. And when starter Jahvid Best had that terrifying neck injury two-thirds of the way through last season, Vereen took over. He finished with 952 rushing yards, 566 of them in the final four games of the season.
6. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State, 5-8, 190, senior
Huge sophomore season (1,555 yards rushing) followed by an injury-marred junior campaign (382 yards while missing half the season). Hunter finally regained his big-play ability in the Cowboys' Cotton Bowl loss to Mississippi, breaking a 46-yard run. A depleted Oklahoma State offense will need more of that this season.
7. Jeffery Demps, Florida, 5-8, 183, junior
World-class speedster is a constant threat to break something big -- but also has an underrated ability to make tough runs between the tackles. Demps' sophomore season ended ugly, with just one carry for nine yards against Alabama and then a gruesome elbow injury early in the Sugar Bowl. Expect him to return to integral status this year.
8. Derrick Locke, Kentucky, 5-9, 190, senior
A 100 percent healthy season is the only thing separating him from star status. Missed six games in 2008, then had nearly 1,200 yards from scrimmage last season despite missing a game and playing hurt in others. And he's a home run threat returning kickoffs, averaging 27.8 per return last season and taking one to the house.
9. Donald Buckram, UTEP 5-10, 195, senior
After three obscure and injury-marred seasons, he exploded last year for more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns -- without benefit of a bowl game. Buckram had three 200-yard rushing games and a 100-yard receiving game, and had the durability to turn in four 30-carry games.
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Racked up nearly 1,200 rushing yards despite sharing the position with Andre Dixon. Now Dixon is gone, and Todman has a chance for a monster season working behind a veteran offensive line.
11. Jeremy Avery, Boise State, 5-9, 173, senior
Shared carries with Doug Martin, who got most of the red-zone scoring opportunities, but the shifty and versatile Avery still produced 1,150 rushing yards, 257 receiving yards and seven TDs.
12. Alexander Robinson, Iowa State, 5-9, 187, senior
Had a fine year in 2009, with 1,195 yards, 261 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns. Now imagine what he could have done if healthy all season. Robinson said he worked this offseason on strength to improve his durability, and could have an even bigger year.
13. Warren Norman, Vanderbilt 5-10, 188
Single-handedly comprised the good news for the Commodores in 2009. He was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2009, rushing for 783 yards and returning three kickoffs for touchdowns.
14. Victor Anderson, Louisville, 5-9, 185, junior
He was the 2008 Big East Freshman of the Year, rushing for more than 1,000 yards. Then last season he was injured and the offense collapsed around him. This year Anderson is operating with a veteran line and should bounce back to '08 form.
15. Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati, 5-11, 185, junior
With the departure of quarterback Tony Pike, receiver Mardy Gilyard and coach Brian Kelly, Pead should have a chance to upgrade from Cincy's change-of-pace option to potential feature option. Even as a supporting actor, he had a fine season in 2009: 806 rushing yards, 201 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns.
16. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M, 5-10, 196, junior
He splits time with Christine Michael but makes the most of his opportunities. Speed burner produced 983 yards from scrimmage and was an explosive kickoff returner, averaging 23.8 per return and taking one the distance.
17. Rodney Stewart, Colorado, 5-6, 170, junior
Recruited as a complement to blue-chipper Darrell Scott, Stewart pushed Scott. Now he's transferred and Demetrius Sumler has used all his eligibility, so the position is Stewart's alone. He could significantly improve on his 804 rushing yards of 2009.
18. Chad Spann, Northern Illinois, 5-9, 197, senior
No small back is better at finding the end zone, scoring 20 touchdowns last season and 28 over the past two. He's a big reason why some people view the Huskies as a threat to win the Mid-American Conference and potentially take down some big boys (they play Iowa State, Illinois and Minnesota).
19. Eddie Wide, Utah 5-10, 195, senior
Hadn't done much for the Utes until the fourth game of his junior season. Then he blew up. Wide had seven 100-yard rushing games in the final 10 of the season and finished with more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns.
20. Eugene Jarvis, Kent State, 5-5, 170, senior
He's a sixth-year senior playing with one kidney, but don't expect it to stop him. When fully healthy back in 2007, Jarvis had nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. If he returns to form this season, he could have the biggest year of any little man on this list.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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