Does CFB’s Best RB Award Mean The Best Future RB?

Now is the time for many things in college football – championships, bowl games, coaching searches, recruiting. It’s also awards season.

The Doak Walker Award is presented to the best running back in the nation. This year’s finalists are all outstanding and very deserving

  • Travis Etienne, Clemson Tigers
  • Darrell Henderson, Memphis Tigers
  • Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin Badgers

Taylor leads the nation in rushing at 1,989 yards while Henderson trails in second by a significant margin – he has run for 1,699 yards. Etienne is 10th with 1,307. Etienne and Henderson are tied with 19 rushing touchdowns, which is good for second (behind FAU’s Devin Singletary who has 22nd). Taylor has “just” 15 touchdowns. The best part about these running backs? Etienne and Taylor are both sophomores and Henderson is a junior and it’s possible there are encores in 2019 for each back.

While any one of these three could win the award, does that mean they are the best running back of the future? Does that mean they are destined for greatness in the NFL?

I dove into the history of the Doak Walker Award, which originated in 1990, to better understand the correlation between the award and NFL success.

Here are some of the facts I came up with:

  • Only three active NFL players
  • Number of Heisman Winners: 6 (Rashaan Salaam, Eddie George, Ricky Williams, Ron Dayne, Reggie Bush, Derrick Henry)
  • In the last 10 years, only two first round picks (Trent Richardson and Melvin Gordon)
  • Only ONE Hall of Famer (LaDainian Tomlinson)
  • Only 6 have played 10 or more seasons
  • 8 RBs didn’t play beyond their first contract

For full data on NFL success of Doak Walker winners, check out this chart below.

Year Player College Draft Career
(Years, Games)
Total Rushing Yards Total TDs
1990 Greg Lewis Washington Round 5, #115 2, 32 644 8
1991 Trevor Cobb Rice Undrafted 1, 1 0 0
1992 Garrison Hearst Georgia Round 1, #3 10, 126 7,966 30
1993 Byron “Bam” Morris Texas Tech Round 3, #91 5, 74 3,809 35
1994 Rashaan Salaam Colorado Round 1, #21 4, 33 1,684 13
1995 Eddie George Ohio State Round 1, #14 9, 141 10,441 68
1996 Byron Hanspard Texas Tech Round 2, #41 2, 28 718 1
1997
1998
Ricky Williams Texas Round 1, #5 11, 147 10,009 66
1999 Ron Dayne Wisconsin Round 1, #11 7, 96 3,722 28
2000 LaDainian Tomlinson TCU Round 1, #5 11, 170 13,684 145
2001 Luke Staley BYU Round 7, #214 0 0 0
2002 Larry Johnson Penn State Round 1, #27 10, 85 6,223 55
2003 Chris Perry Michigan Round 1, #26 4, 35 606 2
2004 Cedric Benson Texas Round 1, #4 8, 96 6,017 32
2005 Reggie Bush USC Round 1, #2 11, 134 5,490 36
2006
2007
Darren McFadden Arkansas Round 1, #4 10, 103 5,421 28
2008 Shonn Greene Iowa Round 3, #65 6, 85 4,110 24
2009 Toby Gerhart Stanford Round 2, #51 6, 82 1,675 7
2010 LaMichael James Oregon Round 2, #61 5, 18 193 0
2011 Trent Richardson Alabama Round 1, #3 4, 46 2,032 17
2012 Montee Ball Wisconsin Round 2, #58 2, 21 731 5
2013 Andre Williams Boston College Round 4, #113 4, 41 1,090 8
2014 Melvin Gordon* Wisconsin Round 1, #15 4, 51 3,415 25
2015 Derrick Henry* Alabama Round 2, #45 3, 40 1,592 14
2016 D’Onta Foreman* Texas Round 3, #89 1, 10 327 2
2017 Bryce Love** Stanford
  • *Still active in NFL
  • **Still active in NCAA

Which player are these RBs most likely to resemble – Is Etienne, Taylor, Henderson the next LaDainian Tomlinson? Or next Trent Richardson?

For more college football talk, you can follow me on twitter @msschneid or instagram @mikedropsports 

About Mike Schneid 530 Articles
Mike is a member of the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) and an alum of the University of Cincinnati.

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