The term "workhorse back" is fading away in the football lexicon due to the toll a heavy workload takes on runners during each game and throughout their ever-shortening careers.
In the mid-2000s, strong ball carriers had their heyday as 8-12 players each year averaged 20 or more carries per game, while 25 backs averaged at least 15 totes a contest. Last season, just three backs averaged 20 or more carries a game and another 11 averaged more than 15.
The running-back-by-committee approach makes sense given the need for ball carriers to stay fresh late in games. But let's face it -- if a team has a horse that it wants to feed the ball to consistently throughout the game because of his strength and ball security, it will dissolve the committee.
Enter this year's top college football running backs. As talented a group as college football has seen in 30 years, they are dominating the headlines this season as quarterbacks play second fiddle (for once). The cream of the crop from this group, listed below, will be worthy of the "workhorse" title whenever they go on to the next level, as they have the ability to make plays whether it's early or late in the game.
Here is my ranking of the top "workhorses" at the college level.
1. Nick Chubb, Georgia, sophomore: Chubb has it all: speed, power, superior balance and vision. It would be a crime to fail to give him the ball 20 times in a game. He's averaged about 19 carries in the Bulldogs' first three contests this season, despite the team being in control each game (they've outscored their opponents 134-48).
2. Leonard Fournette, LSU, sophomore: The top prospect of the 2014 high school recruiting class didn't even need to make plays in the fourth quarter last weekend against Auburn with the game well in hand. He ran through would-be tacklers and accelerated for big gains on his way to 228 yards and three scores, helping the Tigers take control of the game before halftime.
3. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State, junior: Elliott can run for power, as well as to the outside for explosive plays. He can catch the ball, too, and is quite willing to block (see the Braxton Miller "spin move" in the opener against Virginia Tech). That's the type of all-around skill set that will keep him on the field in most situations.
4. Alex Collins, Arkansas, junior: Next to the phrase "runs behind his pads" in the scouting directory is a picture of Collins. His downhill running style and ability to quickly take advantage of a crease will allow him to soften up pro defenses if given the ball early and often. Collins also accelerates once through the pile, giving him a one-two punch few backs possess. Now that teammate Jonathan Williams is out for the year, Collins will get a chance to prove himself as "the man" this season.
5. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, sophomore: Perine uses his low center of gravity and thick build to run through arm tackles at the line and plow over defensive backs trying to go low after he's broken into the secondary. He averaged a little more than 20 carries per game as a true freshman, and there is no reason to think he will stop that pace anytime soon.
6. Devontae Booker, Utah, senior: The Utes have fed Booker the ball more than 30 times twice this season after handing it off to him 25 times or more in six games last season. He's not elite in any one scouting category, but is dependable. He can make the correct cut inside, bounce outside or break tackles when required, and has excellent hands out of the backfield.