There’s nothing that college football fans love discussing more than which programs churn out the best players at each position. The debates and battles over which schools are “QB U” and “DB U’ have been occurring on social media platforms for quite some time now.
The battle for “RB U” is one that doesn’t come up for debate as much. Why? Because it’s pretty clear that a couple of schools hold a big advantage over the field.
One of those schools is Wisconsin. The Big Ten program has long held one of the nation’s best run-oriented offenses and has a knack for churning out quality offensive linemen and running backs. In fact, since 2000, eight Wisconsin running backs have been drafted into the NFL.
NFL fans are going to get a good look at the best Wisconsin backs in the NFL during Week 7. Jonathan Taylor and Melvin Gordon are both playing in prime-time for the Colts and Broncos respectively.
Taylor will look to continue his ascension against the 49ers after he racked up 145 rushing yards on just 10 carries against the Texans in Week 6. Meanwhile, Gordon will want to build upon his solid season against the banged-up Browns.
Regardless of their results this week, both runners will continue to be strong ambassadors for Wisconsin and its storied history at the running back spot.
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Wisconsin RBs drafted into the NFL
Wisconsin has had 23 running backs drafted in its history. Twenty-two of them were selected in the NFL draft while one was selected in the AFL draft.
College Football Hall of Famer Ron Dayne is the highest-drafted Wisconsin running back. He was selected 11th overall in 2000 by the Giants. He and Gordon are the only two Wisconsin RBs to be drafted in the first round.
|1953||Harland Carr||14 (161)||Bears|
|1958||Dan Lewis||6 (73)||Lions|
|1963||Tom Neumann*||17 (135)||Patriots|
|1965||Rick Reichardt||17 (238)||Colts|
|1965||Ralph Kurek||20 (269)||Bears|
|1970||Joe Dawkins||10 (248)||Oilers|
|1972||Lance Moon||7 (171)||Falcons|
|1972||Alan Thompson||14 (363)||Cowboys|
|1973||Rufus Ferguson||16 (404)||Falcons|
|1979||Ira Matthews||6 (142)||Raiders|
|1985||Gary Ellerson||7 (182)||Packers|
|1987||Joe Armentrout||9 (224)||Buccaneers|
|1987||Larry Emery||12 (320)||Falcons|
|1994||Mark Montgomery||7 (206)||Eagles|
|1995||Terrell Fletcher||2 (51)||Chargers|
|2000||Ron Dayne||1 (11)||Giants|
|2001||Michael Bennett||1 (27)||Vikings|
|2005||Anthony Davis||7 (243)||Colts|
|2006||Brian Calhoun||3 (74)||Lions|
|2013||Montee Ball||2 (58)||Broncos|
|2014||James White||4 (130)||Patriots|
|2015||Melvin Gordon||1 (15)||Chargers|
|2020||Jonathan Taylor||2 (41)||Colts|
* Denotes AFL draft selection
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Current Wisconsin RBs in the NFL
There are five Wisconsin running backs currently on NFL rosters. They include the three most recently drafted players and a couple of undrafted free agents that have made an impact during their NFL careers.
Jonathan Taylor, Colts
Taylor was drafted in the second round by the Colts in the 2020 NFL Draft. He graduated Wisconsin with the second-most rushing yards in history behind only Dayne, who leads all of college football in total rushing yards.
Taylor had a strong rookie season and racked up 1,468 scrimmage yards and 12 TDs while starting 13 of 15 games for Indy. So far in 2021, he has averaged 5.4 yards per carry and had the longest run in the NFL through six weeks, an 83-yarder against the Texans.
Melvin Gordon, Broncos
Gordon was selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft by San Diego. He spent the first five years of his NFL career with the Chargers, but he has been in Denver each of the last two seasons. Like Taylor, Gordon is a well-rounded, dynamic playmaker.
Over the course of his career, the current Broncos running back has played in 88 total games, 78 of which have been starts. He has averaged 1,401 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns per 16 games played and has proven to be a great weapon as both a receiver and a runner.
Gordon posted one of the NFL’s longest runs through six weeks. He had a 70-yard touchdown run against the Giants in Week 1 of the NFL season.
James White, Patriots
White is the longest-tenured Wisconsin back that is currently in the NFL. He was drafted in 2014 by the Patriots and has become one of the NFL’s best receivers out of the backfield.
White’s best season came in 2018 when he racked up not only 425 rushing yards but had 751 receiving yards and a total of 12 touchdowns while working with Tom Brady. He has won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and scored the game-winning TD in the team’s 28-3 comeback against the Falcons in Super Bowl 51.
May 10, 2014
Super Bowl Champ 3x
Is selected with the 130th pick in the 4th Rd by the New England Patriots
Cant believe Belichick keeps getting stuck drafting guys that he didn’t trade up forpic.twitter.com/ijEF4hbfly
— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) May 10, 2021
During that contest, White got 20 touches and turned them into 139 scrimmage yards and three TDs. He has continued to be a key part of the Patriots’ backfield rotation since then, but he is out for the 2021 NFL season due to a hip injury.
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Corey Clement, Cowboys
Clement went undrafted in 2017 but landed with the Eagles and became a key part of their backfield rotation. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry as a rookie and had six total touchdowns with the Eagles during the regular season.
The most memorable moment of Clement’s career came in the Eagles’ Super Bowl 52 win over the Patriots. He caught a perfectly thrown Nick Foles pass for a TD among three Patriots.
Clement has struggled to find his footing since that season. He has just 29 total touches since 2019 and has bounced from the Eagles to the Giants to the Cowboys on a tour of the NFC East.
Dare Ogunbowale, Jaguars
Ogunbowale also went undrafted in 2017 and carved out a niche for himself in the NFL. He didn’t record a touch at the NFL level until 2019 when he was with the Bucs and caught 35 passes for 286 yards. He has spent the last two seasons with the Jaguars and has played sparingly, though he has averaged 4.4 yards per carry with them.
Ogunbowale plays special teams as well and has recorded 17 career tackles. He is the older brother of Arike Ogunbowale, who is one of the stars for the WNBA’s Dallas Wings.