Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (5-9, 199): Abdullah joines Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman as heralded Big Ten runners in this draft. As a senior, he was a second-team All-American, a finalist for the Doak Walker Award (top running back), a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile) and won the Senior CLASS Award, which honors excellence on the field and the community. He rushed for 1,611 yards as a senior and 1,690 yards as a junior and finished second in school history with 4,588 career rushing yards. His 7,186 career all-purpose yards also are second in Huskers history. A versatile performer, he added 22 receptions and averaged 28.0 yards per kickoff return in 2014. Abdullah played hurt late in the season but was MVP of the Senior Bowl. Abdullah also was named to the academic All-Big Ten team for the second straight season. He earned his degree in history in December, completing his undergraduate studies in just 3 1/2 years. His career is fueled by naysayers who point to his size, faith and fumbles.
Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State (5-11, 220): Ajayi finished his Boise State career ranked in top 10 of nine categories: rushing touchdowns (50, tied for second), 200-yard rushing games (two, second), touchdowns (55, third), 100-yard rushing games (17, tied for third), rushing yards (3,796, fourth), yards per carry (5.60, fourth), rushing attempts (678, fifth), scoring (330 points, fifth) and all-purpose yards (4,583, eighth). He earned All-American accolades as a redshirt junior in 2014 with his 1,823 rushing yards (5.3 average) and 28 touchdowns plus a remarkable 50 receptions for 535 yards (10.7 average) and four more scores. That made him the only player in FBS history with 1,800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. There aren’t many doubters but all he needs is one to play with a chip on his shoulder. His father was born in Nigeria and moved to England, where he was married and had Ajayi. The family moved to Texas when Ajayi was 7. In 2011, he was arrested and jailed for stealing some sweatpants and then sustained a serious knee injury a week apart.
Javorius Allen, RB, USC (6-0, 215): “Buck” Allen came out of nowhere during the second half of 2013. After rushing for 115 yards and no touchdowns during the first six games of that season, he had four games of at least 123 during the final six games to finish with 817 yards and 14 touchdowns He picked up where he left off in 2014, as the redshirt junior rushed for 1,489 yards (5.4 average) and 13 scores. He added an impressive 41 receptions for 458 yards. Allen overcame a lot of adversity to get to this stage. He was raised from a toddler by his grandmother. When he was 12, his older brother and lone male role model was sent to prison for attempted murder. Some friends, Alice and Mickey Cullen, took him under his wing and kept his life from unraveling. “It just hurts to go home and see the situation they are in,” he said. “Everybody’s counting on me.”
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn (5-10, 213): After rushing for about 3,400 yards during two seasons at Allan Hancock (Calif) Community College, Artis-Payne starred for the Tigers. As a senior, he rushed for 1,608 yards (5.3 average) and 13 touchdowns. Artis-Payne is sick of being considered second — whether it was LeSean McCoy from his prep days in Harrisburg, Penn., to Georgia’s Todd Gurley in the SEC. “I’m trying to get out of the second tier completely,” he said, “because I don’t feel like I’m the second tier of anything.” After playing one year of high school football, Artis-Payne went to a prep school, then spent two years “on the couch”, before going the juco route.
Dominique Brown, RB, Louisville (6-2, 232): The bruising Brown — who started his collegiate career at quarterback — rushed for 397 yards (3.9 average) and four touchdowns during his senior season. He carried just once in the final six games. It was shockingly low production, considering he bludgeoned Miami for 143 yards and a touchdown on 33 attempts in the season-opening game. After missing all of 2012 with an injury, he bounced back for a team-high 825 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior. At the East-West Shrine Game, he rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas (5-11, 230): As a senior, he started all 13 games at running back. He was second-team all-Big 12 on the field and in the classroom. Brown led the Longhorns with 708 rushing yards and was second with six touchdown runs as a senior, and paced the team with 904 rushing yards as a junior. In 44 career games (25 starts), he finished ninth in school history with 2,678 rushing yards. Brown was born in Biloxi, Miss., and lived in Florida, Turkey, Guam, San Antonio and Washington, D.C., before moving to Cibolo, Texas, in 2005. As a high school junior, he was selected as the National Language Arts Award Winner and National Leadership and Service Award Winner by the United States Achievement Academy. Brown, who was Scout.com’s top-ranked prep running back, carried on during a tough season and disappointing career in Austin.
B.J. Catalon, RB, TCU (5-9, 190): Catalon was only honorable mention all-conference but one of five finalists for the Paul Hornung Award, which goes to the nation’s most versatile player. As a junior in 2014, he rushed for 493 yards (5.0 average) and 10 touchdowns, caught 14 passes for 163 yards (11.6 average) and one touchdown and 31.8 yards with one touchdown on kickoff returns. He sustained a concussion on Nov. 1 at West Virginia that sidelined him for the rest of the season.
David Cobb, RB, Minnesota (6-1, 222): In the star-studded Big Ten backfields, Cobb floated under the radar. As a senior, he started all 13 games and rushed 314 times (school record) for 1,626 yards (school record) and 13 touchdowns (third in school history). He averaged 5.2 per carry, had seven 100-yard rushing games and added caught 16 passes for 162 yards. Cobb also rushed for 1,202 yards as a junior en route to a career total of 2,893 yards. Not bad for a guy who was No. 3 on the depth chart as a sophomore. He listened to his mother’s advice she penned in a note before Cobb departed for Minnesota from their home in Kileen, Texas. Be careful with drinking and drugs, and texting and driving. "When you're 18, you think you know it all," Cobb said. "You want your mom to get out of your room and you don't want your roommates to see your mom babying you. When I cleaned my room the other day, I was reading the note. She's been there for me since Day 1. She calls me every day, still asks me (if) I need food and stuff like that and treats me like her baby. It's been great having that family support. The years have gone by so fast." He goes by “Hercules” on Twitter.
Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana (6-0, 205): Melvin Gordon took the accolades but Coleman played a mean second fiddle in the Big Ten. The junior rushed for 2,036 yards — becoming the 18th player in FBS history to hit two-grand. He did it in 264 attempts, the fourth-fastest to 2,000 behind Gordon, Larry Johnson and Mike Rozier but faster than Barry Sanders. In the process, he became Indiana's third unanimous consensus All-American (Anthony Thompson, 1989; Vaughn Dunbar, 1991) and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting. Despite all of that, he somehow flew under the radar, due in part to Indiana’s problems minus its star quarterback. Among his four 200-yard games was a 228-yard performance that included touchdown runs of 90 and 58 yards at Ohio State. His average of 169.7 rushing yards per game ranked higher than 70 of the 125 FBS teams. Coleman enjoyed a friendly rivalry with Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah.
John Crockett, RB, North Dakota State (5-11, 211): Crockett was a second-team FCS All-American after setting school records for all purpose yards (2,419), rushing yards (1,994) and rushing attempts (368), and his 21 touchdown runs were two shy of the team record. He put together three straight 1,000-yard seasons and finished second on the NDSU career rushing chart with 4,309 yards and 5,131 all-purpose yards — despite playing only three seasons, all of which ended with national championships. His fourth-grade basketball coached called him “Tasmanian devil” because Crockett was always going email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.