While last year's running back class was deep, this 2011 group may match it and also features elite talent up top. The battle for the No. 1 spot was one of the tightest in recent years as we feel Isaiah Crowell (Columbus, Ga./Carver) and Malcolm Brown (Cibolo, Texas/Byron M. Steele) are 1 and 1A respectively. They are different in skill set, but highly productive in their own styles and could easily exchange spots in our final rankings.
The state of Texas may boast an unprecedented amount of RB talent as it produced four of the top eight prospects ranked nationally at the position. Two of those backs, Brown and Aaron Green (San Antonio, Texas/James Madison), are still available as are four of the top five rated backs in the ESPNU 150.
Isaiah Crowell (Columbus, Ga./Carver)
Ht.: 5-11 | Wt.: 205 pounds | Stars: 5 | RB rank: 1 | ESPNU 150 rank: 5
The Georgia native is as quick and explosive as they come. His ability to move the chains (10.9 yards per carry) with both in-line strength and speed earned him the top spot in this RB class. Crowell is an every-down back with home run ability, which is hard to find, making him one of most coveted prospects in the country.
Malcolm Brown (Cibolo, Texas/Byron M. Steele)
Ht.: 6-0 | Wt.: 210 pounds | Stars: 5 | RB rank: 2 | ESPNU 150 rank: 7
It's hard not to make an Adrian Peterson comparison at this stage of his game because Brown is big, fast and powerful. He will fit best in an I-formation at the next level thanks to his great downhill strength and skill set. Regardless of where he ends up, this highly productive back should carry the load early and be very productive.
Aaron Greene (San Antonio, Texas/James Madison)
Ht.: 5-11 | Wt.: 180 pounds | Stars: 4 | RB rank: 3 | ESPNU 150 rank: 15
Based on pure sophomore film, Green would have ranked high in the 2010 class. However, his production dipped as a junior and at times he looked like a different runner. If he can get healthy and back to form as a senior, this electrifying running back with excellent feet and vision could be sitting atop this running back list.
RBs to watch
• Upside, upside, upside is the best way to describe Brandon Williams (Brookshire, Texas/Royal). The Oklahoma commit has a great frame for physical development to eventually match his 10.6 100-meter speed. He has great acceleration and is a year or two away in a full-time college weight training program from being a stud at the next level.
• Had it not been for a late-season knee injury, Brendon Bigelow (Fresno, Calif./Central East) would have been ranked high in the first rendition of the ESPNU 150. Speed, elusiveness and great hands out of the backfield make up his versatile package. This dynamic runner is a steal for Washington.
• The son of San Francisco 49ers strength coach Duane Carlisle, Amir Carlisle (Sunnyvale, Calif./The King's Academy) has great feet, natural vision and body control. While not overly big or powerful at this time, he demonstrates his father's influence in his good balance, lower-body explosion and strong running base. He projects to be a productive back for Stanford.
Joe Bergeron (Mesquite, Texas/North Mesquite)
Ht.: 6-0 | Wt.: 237 pounds | Stars: 3 | FB rank: 1 | ESPNU 150 rank: NA
If there were an H-back category, Bergeron would be atop that list as well. Texas is getting a multidimensional back with good downhill running strength, stout blocking ability and polished receiving skills. He will do whatever it takes to move the chains.
• Four-star RB Savon Huggins' (Jersey City, N.J./Saint Peter's) grade (82) is slightly higher than fellow highly touted New Jersey running back and current Denver Bronco Knowshon Moreno's was (81).
• Kenny Hilliard (Patterson, La./Patterson), nephew of former LSU and NFL running back Dalton Hilliard, has carried the load in high school and is approaching the career state rushing record.
• In another good year for running backs out of Florida, recent Clemson commit Mike Bellamy (Punta Gorda, Fla./Charlotte) is the top ranked. He's a C.J. Spiller type thanks to his game-breaking speed.
• Power runner Javorius "Buck" Allen (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln) could be one of the biggest risers this fall in regards to rankings as the gifted athlete returns from a leg injury during he suffered in his junior season.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school levels.