Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State 344 att. 2,628 yards 7.6 YPA) – The year was 1988 and even my own mother knew he was a shoo-in to win the Heisman Trophy. In the NFL Sanders was a spectacle of epic effort and bake-n-shake. He finished his career 1,457 yards shy of the all-time leader (at the time) Walter Payton. It is highly curious to note that Barry played in 37 fewer games than Payton and 73 fewer than now all-time leader Emmitt Smith. Had Sanders continued to play at his per game average of 99.8 yards, he would have crushed and closed the record books. Sanders is currently the only player to have a 2000 yard season in the NFL and college.
Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin 343 att. 2,587 yards 7.5 YPA) – The year was 2014 and the Badgers fed Gordon 24.5 carries per game. After a zero TD rookie season, he has been a strong back. He has at least 885 yards rushing and 419 yards receiving in each of the last three seasons.
Kevin Smith (UCF 450 att. 2,567 yards 5.7 YPA) – The year was 2007, and Smith led the nation in touches (450, which was an all-time single-season record), yards from scrimmage (2,809) and touchdowns (30). He gained nearly 4,700 yards on the ground in just collegiate 36 games. Unfortunately, his 54 NFL games saw him rush for only 2,346 yards. The bulk of those (976) came during his solid rookie year for 2008 0-16 Lions.
Marcus Allen (USC 433 att. 2,427 yards 5.6 YPA) – The year was 1981, and Allen had 500 more rushing yards than any other RB in the nation. He led the NFL with 11 rushing TDs as a rookie in the strike-shortened (nine games) 1982 season. Allen then went on to have three straight 1,000 yard seasons. He fell out of favor to Bo Jackson. He eventually ended up twilighting with Kansas City to close out his Hall of Fame career.
Rashaad Penny (SDSU 289 att. 2,248 yards 7.8 YPA) The year was 2017, and Penny became the second Aztec RB in as many years to break the 2k barrier. His doubters pointed to it as a systematic success rather than an individual achievement. Penny also ran 1,018 yards a reserve role the year prior. He was a surprise first-round NFL pick. He failed to make the impact that the 27th overall pick warranted as a rookie. Yet, his window is still open.
Derrick Henry (Alabama 395 att. 2,219 yards 5.6 YPA) The year was 2015, and Henry was a bulldozer for the National Champion Crimson Tide. He led the Nation in touches (406), rushing yards, and TDs (28). He also won the Heisman trophy and gained many haters along the way. His pro career has been highly questioned, as he had a lot of competition for touches. His rookie season saw him come just shy of 500 yards. Each year has gotten better and he did eclipse the thousand-yard mark last year.
Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin 307 att. 2,194 yards 7.1 YPA) The year was 2018 or last year. Taylor gained a ridiculous 1,977 yards as a true freshman. He improved his YPA by half a yard en route to the 2k milestone. He accounted for 40% of Badgers’ offensive yardage output. At this point, he is likely a top three RB in the 2020 draft should he come out.
Troy Davis (Iowa State 402 att. 2,185 yards 5.6 YPA) – The year was 1996 and Davis became the only Division-I player to rush for 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Perhaps what was even more impressive is that Davis did for a bad Cyclones squad that went 3-8 in 1995 and 2-9 in 1996. He even had over 200 rushing yards in five games during the 1996 season, including a 378-yard effort. Sadly, Davis never found his footing in the NFL, as he gained just 446 yards in 46 career games. He did go on to have a decorated career in the CFL. Davis had three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He also had another 1,000-yard season while helping the Edmonton Eskimos win the Grey Cup at the age of 31.
Andre Williams (Boston College 355 att. 2,177 yards 6.1 YPA) – The year was 2013, and Williams appeared destined to flatten any tackler in his way. Despite not recording a single reception, he still accounted for 46% of his team’s offensive yards. He had a slightly encouraging rookie season that saw him rush for 721 yards and seven TDs. His Achilles heel was his under 50% catch rate, which is virtually unheard of for an NFL RB. He withered away over his final 25 NFL games with just 369 yards, one TD, and one reception on five targets.
LaDainian Tomlinson (TCU 369 att. 2,158 yards 5.8 YPA) – It was the year 2000, and L.T. had nearly broken 2k the year prior, falling just 26 yards short. The NFL was ablaze for this perfect mix of leverage and power. As a rookie, he was entrusted with 339 carries and he gained 1,236 yards! That was the first of eight straight 1,000 yard seasons. He went on to be one of the strongest and most trustworthy fantasy players of all-time.
Tony Dorsett (PITT 370 att. 2,150 yards 5.8 YPA) – The year was 1976, and Dorsett capped off his elite college years by becoming the first major school college player to ever eclipse 2,000 yards in a single season. When his collegiate career was done, he was the all-time leader in rushing yards. He still ranks second today. Dorsett was the second overall pick in the 1977 draft. He rushed for 1,007 yards as a rookie while leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory. His historic career included eight 1,000-yard rushing campaigns. If not for the strike of 1982, he would have likely had nine straight such seasons (he was averaging 82.8 yards per game).
Mike Rozier (Nebraska 275 att. 2,148 yards 7.8 YPA) – The year was 1983 and Rozier followed up his 1,689-yard season by improving his YPA from 7.0 to 7.8! That YPA is tied for the second highest among the players on this list. Rozier then spent two seasons in the USFL. He was the second overall pick (QB Steve Young was the first, OT Gary Zimmerman was the third and Reggie White was the fourth pick) in the 1984 Supplemental Draft of USFL and CFL players. During his NFL rookie season, Rozier was technically listed as a fullback. He did lead the team in rushing however with 462 yards. Things ramped up over the next two seasons as he gained 662 and 957 yards respectively. Both seasons were cut short by injury with the latter really being his best season in NFL (he averaged 87 yards per game and saw 20.8 APG in 11 games). He did eclipse 1,000 yards during his fourth NFL season, but he was never healthy enough after that to be a trustable option.
Donnel Pumphrey (SDSU 349 att. 2,133 yards 6.1 YPA) The year was 2016, and this diminutive 4.48 burner torched the Mountain West Conference. Pumphrey also had a season over 1,800 yards and another over 1,600 for the Aztecs. He finished his college career number three all-time in rushing yards. He was a fourth-round selection by the Eagles in 2017 draft. Injuries have prevented him from getting any touches thus far in his NFL career.
Matt Forte (Tulane 361 att. 2,127 yards 5.9 YPA) – The year was 2007, and Forte had yet to run for more than 859 yards a single college season. The senior assaulted the Conference USA for 2,409 yards from scrimmage. He played himself into the 44th overall pick of the 2008 draft. As a rookie, he received 379 touches for 1,715 yards and he found the end zone a dozen times. He went onto gain at least 1,076 scrimmage yards in all but one of 10 NFL seasons.
Ricky Williams (Texas 361 att. 2,124 yards 5.9 YPA) – The year was 1998, and the Longhorns were coming off a 4-7 season. Their best weapon was the dread-head senior who had a career YPA of 6.3. New HC Mack Brown decided to put his fate on the powerful thighs of Williams. Then New Orleans Saints HC Mike Ditka traded everything but his firstborn child to move up in the draft to select Williams fifth overall. He missed four games his rookie season but managed to rush for 884 yards. During his second season, he missed six games yet he rushed for 1,000 yards exactly. He went on to have over 1,244 yards in each of the next three seasons. The rest of his career included a season lost to retirement/sabbatical and another to a substance abuse violation. In total, he rushed for 10,009 yards which ranks 31st all-time. Had he kept up his career average of 68.1 yards per game during the two seasons he missed, he would rank inside the top 12.
Bryce Love (Stanford 263 att. 2,118 yards 8.1 YPA) – The year was 2017, and a little big-play man named Love was destroying tacklers all over the country. This came off the heels of an another Stanford RB (Christian McCaffrey) going over 2k in 2015. This was also the only season in which Love broke 1,000 yards. He missed three games in 2018, but he was pacing to surpass 1k for the season.
Ron Dayne (Wisconsin 325 att. 2,109 yards 6.5 YPA) -The year was 1996, and a freshman named Dayne would become the only player in the class to achieve this feat as a freshman. The Badgers spoon fed their frosh who responded with terrific YPA average. For more on Dayne stay tuned for Part II of College 2ker list.