My friend and colleague, David Creekmur, has been doing a series of great articles on each power five college football teams most underrated player. Inspired by his content, I have taken on my own quest, only with my series I will be doing position groups.
In this series, I will be talking about the top five underrated players in college football in each position group – and at the end, throw in college football’s most overrated player. The first thing I want to do is to state clearly what I believe an underrated player to be.
The underrated player is someone either a) not receiving enough love from the media presence, b) someone who I believe will have a much better season than projected or c) someone so under everyone’s radar that even the coaches at the schools have missed on this player.
That being said, without further ado, here are the top five underrated running backs in college football.
5. A. J. Dillon, Boston College
Somehow, there are a lot of people not talking about this physical freak of a beast. Dillon is listed in Phil Steele’s magazine as standing at 6’0″ and 250 pounds. With that size comes great speed, he runs reportedly a sub 4.4 forty-yard dash.
Dillon struggled with an ankle injury last season that held him out of two games but still rushed for 1108 yards and 10 scores, as well as first-team all-ACC honors. It’s truly amazing that we aren’t talking about Dillon as a potential All-American candidate, especially after he ran for 1589 yards and 14 scores as a freshman!
Dillon can have a huge year as Boston College has a new offensive coordinator (Mike Bajakian from the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers), a great offensive line again and the 52nd ranked strength of schedule in the nation (easy for an ACC team).
4. J. J. Taylor, Arizona
JJ Taylor is easily one of the best players on the Arizona Wildcats entire roster, arguably second to quarterback Khalil Tate. Taylor ran for 1434 yards last season and 6 touchdowns, but nobody seems to know who he is. Phil Steele has him listed as the 23rd best NFL draft prospect at his position, almost a slap in the face.
At 5’6″ and 184 pounds, JJ Taylor fits the mold of Darren Sproles, and is quite comparable. Despite his smaller stature, Taylor still has elite speed and plays with some power, never quite appearing to be as small as he is listed.
Already a first-team all-Pac 12 last season, expect an even bigger season for Taylor in 2019 with the second season in Kevin Sumlin’s system and an offensive line returning four starters.
3. Michael Warren, Cincinnati
It’s amazing how many people are not talking about Cincinnati’s Michael Warren. Standing at 5’10” and 218 pounds, Warren has NFL type size and plays with an attitude.
Cincinnati had a breakout season in 2018. After being expected to dwell toward the bottom of the conference, Cincinnati started their season 6-0 and finished 11-2. A lot of their success had to do with the combination of red-shirt freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder and Warren.
Warren busted for 1329 yards last season and scored 20 touchdowns. He was first-team all-AAC last season, and I would fully expect him to do it again. He plays with a surprising balance of speed and power, reminding me of a smaller Mike Tolbert.
2. Scottie Phillips, Ole Miss
Want to talk about a running back flying under the radar in the SEC of all places? Let’s talk about the 5’11” 211 pound Scottie Phillips, a speedster on a lacking offense hindered by NCAA sanctions. Head coach Matt Luke has done a phenomenal job thus far in Ole Miss considering all of the problems within the organization. One thing that he hasn’t done, however, is found more ways to get this playmaker the ball.
Phillips started in ten games last season and touched the ball a total of 163 times. He gained 1033 yards from scrimmage and scored 14 touchdowns. Phillips was a heralded JUCO prospect who landed at Ole Miss last season and arrived for spring training. His impact was undeniable, and he surprised teams with a bigger frame than people were expecting – His junior college listed him at 5’8″.
Scottie Phillips has an excellent opportunity to bound in 2019. The Ole Miss offense will need to find someone to lean heavily on after the departure of quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. It’s a young, talented roster looking for a leader on offense. Phillips is in just the right spot.
Most Overrated: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
A first-team All-American as a freshman and a second-team All-American as a sophomore, it’s hard to argue with the results that Jonathan Taylor has put up in his two years at Wisconsin. Already making a run at busting Ron Daynes’ career record at Wisconsin, Taylor ran for 2194 yards as a sophomore and another 1977 yards as a freshman.
Wisconsin’s once powerful, unstoppable power offense now has one returning starter to the offensive line and a lot of uncertainty at quarterback. Wisconsin comes off of an 8-5 season that saw miserable defeats to rivals Minnesota and Michigan. I would put money on Taylor having a serious regression in 2019, as a lot of his success (in my opinion) was from the stellar offensive line.
1. Anthony McFarland, Maryland
How is this man not really being mentioned? A true freshman last season, McFarland only saw five starts but golly did he perform. His breakout performance, 298-yard performance in Maryland’s close loss to Ohio State, showcased his elite speed and field vision.
Listed at 5’8″ and 183 pounds, McFarland plays much bigger than his suggested frame. He was the sixth-ranked running back prospect coming out of high school. McFarland ran for 1034 yards on just 131 carries and scored 4 touchdowns. His efforts were enough to earn him second-team All Big-Ten honors.
McFarland is primed to have a bigger year than 2018, as his usage should dramatically increase. I would expect McFarland to be knocking on the door as a potential, dare I say, first-team All-American next season.
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