Silas Redd, Southern California: Redd (5-10, 200) rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns for Penn State in 2011. With Penn State devastated by scandal and Joe Paterno forced out as coach, Redd transferred to USC. In 2012, he led the team with 905 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. His senior season, however, was a major disappointment, with an injury to his left knee in spring practice requiring surgery and a follow-up procedure that cost him the first month of the season. Then, he injured his right knee during the season. The injuries limited him to just 376 rushing yards and one score.
Bishop Sankey, Washington: Junior entry. Sankey (5-10, 203) set several school records, including his 1,870 rushing yards in 2013 and his 37 career rushing touchdowns. Sankey, who scored in every game this past season, earned All-America accolades and was one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation's top running back. His 38 total touchdowns tied a team record set by George Wilson, who played from 1923 through 1925. None of this was expected. During his first touch of his college career, he fumbled a kickoff. And he wouldn't have seen much playing time in 2012 had the top two players on the depth chart not sustained knee injuries. Sankey is the son of an xxxx sergeant who was born in Ohio and lived in Washington, California and Nevada.
Lache Seastrunk, Baylor: Junior entry. Seastrunk (5-10, 210) signed with Oregon, redshirted in 2010 and transferred to Baylor. In his two seasons, he rushed for 2,189 yards, averaged a gaudy 7.6 yards per attempt and scored 18 touchdowns. In 2013, despite missing two games to injuries, he rushed for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns. Seastrunk's story was told in ESPN the Magazine, which detailed his "refreshing naiveté," his childhood (both parents spent time in jail) and being the focal point of an NCAA investigation into his recruitment by the Ducks. "Oregon tried to degrade me," Seastrunk said in the story. "They tried to throw my name in the mud, tried to make it seem like I was the one who had character issues, which is not the thing."
Charles Sims, West Virginia: At Houston, Sims was Conference USA's Freshman of the Year in 2009, first-team all-C-USA in 2011 and a second-team choice in 2012. "He's a dynamic player," Houston coach Tony Levine said in 2012. "He may rush for 3 and he may rush for 2, but at some point he's going to break one and make a guy miss and take it for 50." Having earned his degree, he was free to transfer without sitting out a season. At West Virginia, he was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and a first-team all-conference pick with 1,095 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. "Charles emerged as the most complete back at the Senior Bowl with his performance during the North practices," Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage wrote on SeniorBowl.com. "He displayed burst and acceleration in a short area, caught the ball well out of the backfield and showed the potential to become a capable pass protector in the future. As a rookie in 2014, he should be able to secure a role as part of a backfield committee and return kickoffs as well."
Jerome Smith, Syracuse: Junior entry. Smith (6-0, 226) rushed for 840 yards (4.6 average) and 11 touchdowns. With degree in hand, the team captain decided to go pro rather than play his redshirt senior season. Smith rushed for 1,171 yards and three scores in 2012; he played in two games in 2010 before a season-ending shoulder injury. His best friend is a sister that is 11 years his junior. She is deaf in one ear and needs a cochlear implant, and communicates with a combination of sign language and voice. That patience was a virtue after sitting out most of 2010 and not playing much in 2011. "We all had to chip in and give her time. We all had to learn sign language. We all had to go to different therapy classes with her. I think that's when it set in for me that I had to learn things and put forth time."
Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina: Taliaferro (6-2, 230) spent two years at a junior college before rewriting the record book at Coastal. The Big South Offensive Player of the Year finished 11th in voting for the Walter Payton Award, which is the FCS equivalent of the Heisman. His 1,729 rushing yards, 27 rushing touchdowns, 29 total touchdowns, 1,882 all-purpose yards, nine 100-yard games and 174 points all rank first in school history, and he ranks first in Big South history in rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and points. Going to junior college forced Taliaferro to improve his work habits. He compared his style of play to that of Green Bay's Eddie Lacy.
De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon: Junior entry. Thomas (5-9, 169) is a versatile and explosive playmaker who Sports Illustrated proclaimed the "fastest man in football" in 2012. In 2013, he rushed for 594 yards (6.2 average), caught 22 passes for 246 yards (11.2 average), averaged 24.4 yards per kickoff return and scored 10 total touchdowns. As a freshman and sophomore, he scored a total of 36 touchdowns — 13 of which were 30 yards or longer. He caught 46 passes in 2011 and 45 in 2012, and boasts career averages of 17.1 yards per punt return and 25.8 per kickoff return. Thomas was headed to USC to play defense but made a last-minute switch. A rather famous entertainment icon nicknamed Thomas "Black Mamba."
Terrance West, Towson: Junior entry. West (5-11, 223) put up shocking numbers. In 16 games in 2013, including a loss in the FCS championship game, he rushed for an FCS-record 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns. Yes, 41. Make it 42, with one through the air. In 2011, he won the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in FCS by scoring a stunning 29 touchdowns. In three seasons, he scored 86 touchdowns. That's three shy of former NFL star Brian Westbrook's FCS record. His 84 rushing touchdowns tied the FCS record held by Adrian Peterson; the former Georgia Southern star needed four years to West's three. Not bad for a player who joined Towson as a walk-on.
James White, Wisconsin: White (5-10, 194) had a remarkable career, even while lost in Montee Ball's spotlight for most of his time in Madison. He finished his career with 4,015 rushing yards and 45 rushing touchdowns, numbers that rank fourth and third in Wisconsin history; the touchdown total is tied for eighth-most in Big Ten history. He rushed for 1,052 yards as a freshman and 1,444 as a senior. White and Melvin Gordon set a FBS record with a combined 3,053 rushing yards. Plus, White caught 39 passes this past season. He's related to NFL receivers Santana and Sinorice Moss. Playing second-fiddle is nothing new to White. At high school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Giovani Bernard was the top dog.
James Wilder, Florida State: Junior entry. Wilder (6-2, 229) is the biggest name in this year's crop. His father, James Wilder, was a star running back for the Buccaneers. The younger Wilder knew he wanted to be just like his dad when, as a 4-year-old, he found his father's VHS highlight tape. He didn't become a running back until his junior year in high school, and most schools wanted him to play lineacker. "He fell in love with running back," Wilder Sr. said. "He felt like I do, that if somebody hits you, lay some wood back on them. I guess he emulated me." The younger Wilder is a powerful runner who averaged 7.0 yards per carry en route to 563 yards and eight touchdowns. As a sophomore, he rushed for 635 yards (5.8 average) and 11 touchdowns, including a pair of scores against Georgia Tech in FSU's ACC championship win over Georgia Tech. Wilder Jr. was arrested three times at Florida State and became father.
Andre Williams, Boston College: The powerful Williams (6-0, 227) led the nation in rushing, won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top back and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He rushed for 2,177 yards — fifth-best in FBS history behind Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders (2,626; 1988), Central Florida's Kevin Smith (2,567; 2007), Southern California's Marcus Allen (2,342; 1981) and Iowa State's Troy Davis (2,185). He might have passed Davis if not for a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the bowl game and prevented him from playing at the Senior Bowl. His yardage total and 18 touchdowns dwarfed his production from his first three seasons (1,562 yards and 10 touchdowns). Oh, and he graduated in three-and-a-half years with a degree in applied psychology and human development and spent part of the Fall 2013 semester as a teaching assistant for a freshman seminar called "Courage to Know." As Williams explained to Sports Illustrated: I don't think we think enough in school. We try to digest books and swallow this and regurgitate it when test time comes. When ()campus minister Dan Leahy) asked me to be a TA, I thought it would be an awesome experience to come back and meet a group of freshmen and try and have an influence on them, if that's possible."
Damien Williams, Oklahoma: Williams (5-11, 211) was kicked off the team for an undisclosed violation of team rules violation of team rules. His former teammate, Saints rookie Kenny Stills, Tweeted in Williams' defense: "Never seen a a staff put so much effort into trying to sabotage people's careers." The junior-college transfer rushed for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first season with Oklahoma and finished with 553 yards and seven scores this past season.