Rating the top 20 RBs as if they were in an NCAA Football 17 video game

It's been three years since EA Sports released its last NCAA Football video game, but college football fans still hold out hope that one day the NCAA and EA Sports can figure out a way to appropriately compensate players for their likenesses. Until that day, we're left without a college football video game and a void in our lives.

Colleague Ben Kercheval and I are among those that miss the old game. We recently wondered how players for an upcoming edition might be rated if there were a game coming out this year.

Methodology: We started with 20 running backs, the skill position with the deepest talent pool across the nation. We conceived 10 categories and rated players 1-100 in each category. Those scores were averaged and then we used a slight curve to bump up the overalls to make up for things that were overlooked or categories omitted in limiting it to 10.

All 20 backs that we rated -- and there are more than 20 good running backs in college football, so apologies if your team's back didn't make the cut -- ended up with ratings of 80+ overall because they're all good backs. Only running backs with a significant body of work to look back on were considered for this exercise, so if you're looking for Alabama's Bo Scarborough or another top young back, we didn't rate them because we don't have enough college film to lean on.

The 10 categories that we rated players in were speed, strength, agility, acceleration, truck, stiff arm, juke, hurdle, catch and vision. What we found as we did this was that by our formula -- which isn't the one they used in the game, we don't know the exact formula for that -- speed backs tended to grade out a bit better than power backs. That seemed appropriate considering, in the old video games, faster running backs were more effective and more fun -- who wants to play a video game with the guy that plows forward for 4.5 yards per carry taking it between the guards?

So with that in mind, here are our ratings for the top 20 returning running backs in college football.


Leonard Fournette, LSU, Overall Rating: 96 -- Fournette and our No. 2 player (cheat below) were our highest rated -- for good reason. They're opposite ends of the same "freak" label but equally excellent. There's nobody like Fournette at running back in college football. I mean just look at this.

ESPN via SB Nation

Big, fast, good vision and balance, athleticism for days -- Fournette has it all. If you're nitpicking, you can point to his pass catching as a bit of a weakness, but he does everything else at an incredibly high level. He's not just the best running back we graded, he's one of the best players in college football.


Christian McCaffrey, Stanford, Overall Rating: 96 -- The WildCaff does it all. He can run power; he can burn you with his speed. He can catch and return kicks. He'll run around and by you but not always through you. If there's one spot where McCaffrey rated a bit low it was on his truck and strength but that's not necessary to being a great back (or return man) when you can do this.


There's arguably no player more valuable in college football than McCaffrey, even though he wasn't the best pure running back or receiver last year.


Nick Chubb, Georgia, Overall Rating: 95 -- Yes, we know Chubb is coming off of knee surgery, but for a season and a half he was a monster at Georgia and was seriously in the Heisman Trophy conversation prior to his injury last year. His balance of tremendous strength and speed is bested by only Fournette -- and like Fournette, his "weakness" is in pass catching -- but just look what he does to the Clemson defense.

ESPN via Fansided

He can run power in between the tackles or bounce it outside and outrun the defense to the end zone, and all reports are that he's making a strong recovery from his knee injury.


Dalvin Cook, Florida State, Overall Rating: 93 -- Cook, like the first three, is another tremendous all-around back. He's got blazing speed and is as good a one-cut rusher as there is in college football. Like McCaffrey, he's not going to look to run people over in the open field because he can often times outrun them. If you're looking for big play potential, Cook might be as good as it gets in college football as he averaged a ridiculous 7.38 yards per carry in 2015.


Royce Freeman, Oregon, Overall Rating: 90 -- Freeman gets lost in the shuffle behind the other four here, partially because he plays a lot of late games on the West Coast and partially due to his style. He's not the LaMichael James type of Oregon back we're accustomed to -- a shifty speedster -- and he doesn't possess a ton of shake, but Freeman will bulldoze you if given the chance and is a tremendous downhill runner. He's got more than adequate speed to go with that strength to break big plays when he gets in space.


Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, Overall Rating: 88 -- Perine has always been productive and nothing epitomizes this more than his FBS single-game record of 427 yards against Kansas in 2014. He just grades out a point or two lower than the top rung.

He's incredibly powerful with a nasty stiff arm, and while he doesn't possess a ton of shake and agility, he does have better wiggle than you'd expect for a guy who is 234 pounds. His lower center of gravity makes him tough to bring down and he's just a ball of muscle.


Saquon Barkley, Penn State, Overall Rating: 88 -- Admittedly, Barkley was tough to grade because he didn't always get to the line of scrimmage without being touched. He's definitely tough but measuring his breakaway speed and burst was difficult because of all the missed tackles he created. That said, his Ohio State tape was impressive and you could see his potential in the open field on occasion. His vision is excellent, and he has some nifty moves that make him difficult to bring down. With more opportunities to show off his skills in the open field, Barkley could grade out even higher in the future.


Jalen Hurd, Tennessee, Overall Rating: 87 -- Hurd is actually a truck.

He doesn't have elite burst or lateral quickness -- he's got good straight line speed but it takes a bit to get there -- but his lateral agility is just effective enough to keep defenders from squaring him up and even when you do he'll destroy you.


Sony Michel, Georgia, Overall Rating: 87 -- There's not a team in the nation with a backfield quite like the one at Georgia. Chubb is one of the very best backs in the nation, but the rushing attack didn't skip a beat when Michel stepped in. He's the burner of the group, as he earned the top speed and acceleration rating of all the backs, and what he lacks in strength and trucking ability he makes up for in being very difficult to square up (if you can even catch him).


Ronald Jones, USC, Overall Rating: 86 -- Put on some USC tape from a year ago and you'll be screaming at the coaching staff to give Jones more touches. I'm sure they have their reasons -- like many young backs, he struggled with blocking and the pass game -- but Jones was dynamic as a freshman finishing with 987 yards on only 153 carries. He's fast and is agile -- not a ton of shake, but he's really hard to square up -- with a good bit of strength to break arm tackles. If USC can get him more touches in 2016, expect him to have a big year.


Jahad Thomas, Temple, Overall Rating: 86 -- Our MVP of this process, Thomas' tape blew us away. We were tempted to make him 99s across the board because his highlight tape (yes, we know it's just highlights) was that good. Watch this and tell us he doesn't quickly become one of your new favorite players.

Thought so.

He didn't grade out particularly high on strength, which kept him in this range, but who cares when he can make defenders look silly with his quickness and shake.


Elijah Hood, North Carolina, Overall Rating: 86 -- Hood was more impressive looking back on his tape than initially expected. He's not a power back by any means, which kept him a bit lower in the strength categories, but he does a good job of getting his pad level low and bouncing off some would-be tackles. Hood is a burner and shows off some excellent lateral quickness with vision to boot. If you want someone to make guys miss in a phone booth, Hood's your man.


Wayne Gallman, Clemson, Overall Rating: 85 -- We're now into the "probably better in actual football than video game football" portion of the ratings. Gallman is a key cog in Clemson's offense, but he's mostly a power back and doesn't do one thing spectacularly. Make no mistake, Gallman's a beast, but in video game world he doesn't rate out as well. He's not super fast or shifty, but man he is hard to bring down and can do a little bit of everything.


Shock Linwood, Baylor, Overall Rating: 84 -- Linwood benefited from a terrific offensive line over the years. Baylor's big uglies opened some gigantic holes, and Linwood is an excellent straight-line runner. His game is a bit one-dimensional, however. He's not a productive pass-catcher and he'd rather run by you than through you. That said, that's what Baylor wants him to do, so he rates out a bit worse than he produces for his team in that system.


Kareem Hunt, Toledo, Overall Rating: 83 -- Hunt is the textbook definition of a scat back. Blazing speed, a surging burst and quick agility. His lateral moves and balance reminds you a bit of Barry Sanders,though he's certainly not being compared directly to one of the greatest running backs of all time. Hunt isn't going to bowl over defenders by any stretch, which like others dropped him in strength categories, but he'll hop around them and will put together a nifty highlight reel.


James Conner, Pittsburgh, Overall Rating: 83 -- This dude is a freight train who just wants to run downhill and take on any defender in his way. On the field he's strong, but he's even stronger off it after going out and beating cancer this year. (Oh yeah, he still participated in spring practice while undergoing chemotherapy.) Conner is among those that suffer in the overall rating from being a pure power back. He's going to do that one thing and do it well. It's tremendously effective with what Pittsburgh wants to do on offense, but in the video game world, it doesn't earn a supremely high rating.


Myles Gaskin, Washington, Overall Rating: 82 -- Gaskin's one of those "jack of all trades, master of none" backs. He's quite good and was super productive as a freshman, but he's not going to get any of the big ratings for a video game that will push the overall rating up enough to go ahead of others. All of his ratings live in the 80s or high 70s, so his overall suffers, but he's certainly a guy to watch in the Pac-12 for a Washington team ready to challenge for the Pac-12 North.


Jeremy McNichols, Boise State, Overall Rating: 81 -- Speaking of jack of all trades, McNichols is a workhorse for Boise State and is a super solid back. You watch his film and nothing jumps out at you in particular, but you look at his stats and he's wildly productive. Like Gaskin, his ratings all hung around the mid-to-low 80s and high 70s.


Corey Clement, Wisconsin, Overall Rating: 80 -- Grading Clement was tough because he missed so much time last year due to injury. In 2014, he rushed for nearly 1,000 yards but played second fiddle to Melvin Gordon. He's not a traditional Wisconsin power back, but he's not a burner, either, so he didn't grade out especially high (or low) in any category. The good news for Clement is he can surge up these types of ratings with a breakout year in 2016.


De'Veon Smith, Michigan, Overall Rating: 80 -- Our man De'Veon is bringing up the rear but don't think for a moment he's a bad running back because of his total. He simply grades out exclusively as a power back. He's not fast. There's not any flash or shake, but this works perfectly in Jim Harbaugh's offense. Smith is going to run straight ahead, meet some defenders at the line of scrimmage and take a few of them with him for a few yards. That's his game, and there's nothing wrong with it.

CBS Sports Writer

Robby Kalland covers college football and golf for CBS Sports; he also dabbles in boxing, mixed martial arts and other sports. Prior to joining CBS in 2015, Robby spent time working for the Atlanta Hawks,... Full Bio

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