Michigan have a long history of having great college players, many of them moving on to be stars in the NFL. Tom Brady and Charles Woodson to name a few.

But the running backs to come out of Michigan might be some of the best to ever come out of college football.

Who are the Michigan Running Backs in 2023?

The 2023 Michigan football roster currently has two of the best backs in the conference in Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. To Michigan fans delight, they were able to hold on to both. Corum is listed as the starter and Edwards as the backup, but they operate more as a 1a and 1b. 

Last season, Corum rushed for 1,463 yards and 18 TDs. Edwards rushed for 872 yards, 7 TDs and went for 192 and 2 in the receiving game. The two backs complement each other well and provide a balanced 1-2 punch. Following Corum’s knee injury in late November, Edwards took over as the starter. In three games, including the playoff loss to TCU, Edwards rushed for 520 yards and 3 TDs.

The Michigan Wolverines rely heavily on their running backs. Post 2023, they look like they’ve bolstered up their RB room for many years to come with the addition of Cole Cabana and Benjamin Hall. Cabana arrives from Dexter High School, a four-star recruit, where the Michigan native broke every school running back record. Cabana was the No.2 prospect from the state of Michigan in 2023. Hall is a three-star recruit and a powerful runner. Cabana and Hall will most likely sit behind Corum and Edwards for his first year, but their future is exciting.

Michigan Running Backs History

Former Michigan running backs are All-Americans, current NFL running backs, and players who’ve been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Some of these running backs are considered the greatest college running backs of all time. The Michigan RB position is a highly decorated position and anyone who dons the blue and maize is aware of its history.

Active Michigan Running Backs in the NFL

There are currently only three active Michigan RBs in the NFL. Chris Evans, drafted in the 6th round in 2021 by the Cincinnati Bengals, Hassan Haskins drafted in the 4th round in 2022 by the Tennessee Titans and Zach Charbonnet drafted in the 2nd round of the 2022 draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Evans and Haskins have potential, but they were drafted as backups and currently sit behind Joe Mixon and Derrick Henry.

Zach Charbonnet left Michigan in 2021 for UCLA. He was among the top running back prospects in the country prior to college. Charbonnet may yet turn out to be a star in the NFL, as many people had him going in the 1st round. To some people’s disappointment, Charbonnet was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks who already had a young running back in Kenneth Walker, so Charbonnet is currently a backup. His story has only just begun though, and we may see a lot more of him in the future.

Famous Michigan Running Backs

The University of Michigan has produced a legacy of famous college football running backs, including Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon, as well as power runner Tyrone Wheatley. These Wolverines have left an indelible mark on the sport.

Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Michigan Running Backs of all time

  1. Billy Taylor 1969-71

Born in Hoxie, Arkansas, Billy Taylor grew up in Tennessee and Ohio before attending the University of Michigan. Taylor ranks 8th in Michigan history with 30 rushing TDs, he averaged 102 yards per game and rushed for a total of 3,072 yards. He’s considered one of the most accomplished players in Michigan history.

Taylor was named the 1971 MVP for the team that went undefeated in the regular season but unfortunately lost to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

Taylor was drafted in the fifth round by the Atlanta Falcons in 1971. He never quite made the cut, was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and eventually cur after being placed on IR.

  1. Chris Perry 2000-2003

Chris Perry is one of the most memorable names in Michigan running back history. Born in Advance, North Carolina, he attended Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia where he helped his team win multiple VISFA State Championships. He joined Michigan in 2000 and had big shoes to fill following Anthony Thomas’s departure.

Perry sits 5th in scrimmage yards with 4226 and 5th in TDs with 41. Perrys senior year had 18 touchdowns and 1,674 rushing yards which ranked 3rd in the nation. He finished fourth in the Heisman trophy and received the Doak Walker Award, an award given to the nation’s top running back. He was the Big Ten Conference rushing champion and named the Big Ten Conference MVP.

Perry was selected 26th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2004. Despite being a first-round draft pick, Perry never really got his chance. He only played twice in his rookie year and operated as a complimentary back up to Pro Bowl running back Rudi Johnson. In 2008, the Bengals cut Johnson and Perry operated as the starter. Perry rushed for 269 yards and 2 TDs but barely featured after Week 6, and he was released at the end of the season.

  1. Tshimanga ‘Tim’ Biakabatuka 1993-1995

Tim was born in Kinshasa, Republic of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. When he was four years’ old, his family moved to Montreal, Canada. Relatively new to the game, Tim didn’t play football until high school, where he earned the nickname ‘Touchdown Tim’ and got himself a scholarship to Michigan.

Biakabatuka backed up Tyrone Wheatley for most of his time at Michigan, but his performance in his final season with the Wolverines gets him onto this list. In 1995, he ran for 1,724 yards, which ranked 6th in the nation. Perhaps his biggest heroic achievement was his 37 carries for 313 rushing yards and a touchdown vs an undefeated Ohio State.

Tim was drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. His NFL career was riddled with injuries, as he never played more than 12 games in a season and only started 35 times in a six-season span. He managed 2,530 rushing yards, 789 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns.

  1. Ron Johnson 1966-1968

Ron Johnson is a Michigan native who enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1965. He became Michigan’s starting RB in 1967 as a junior, where he averaged 4.7 yards per carry, rushing for 982 yards on 210 carries. The same year he set a Big Ten record with 42 carries and broke the Michigan and Big Ten Conference single-game rushing records with 270 rushing yards on 26 carries.

In Johnson’s senior year, he was nominated as captain. He was the first African American player to receive that honor at Michigan. He rushed for 1,391 yards in 10 games that season. He set an NCAA record by rushing for 347 yards and set a Big Ten record five rushing touchdowns in a single game. His 347 rushing yard record is still held today.

Johnson, like many others on this list, has many honors. He was the 1967 and 1968 Michigan Team MVP, 1968 All-American and the 1968 Big Ten MVP.

Johnson was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 1969 NFL Draft. He started 13 games but only managed 472 yards and seven touchdowns. The Following year, he was traded to the New York Giants.

Johnson became the first player in Giants franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards, when he led the NFL with 263 carries and was second in yards with 1,027. Unfortunately, injuries plagued his next two years but he returned in 1972 with a career high 298 carries for 1,182 yards. Johnson continued being a star running back for the Giants despite more injuries. He signed for the Dallas Cowboys in 1976 but never played for them as he was cut before the season started. In Johnson’s six-year NFL career, he gained 6,456 total scrimmage yards and scored 55 touchdowns.

  1. Willie Heston 1901 - 1904

Born in Galesburg, Illinois, William ‘Willie’ Heston is a crucial part of Michigan Running Back history. Recruited by head coach Fielding Yost, Heston was an elite athlete and part of the Michigan team that had a 43-0-1 record and won four national championships. They were known as the ‘point-a-minute’ teams and are considered one of the most successful teams in college history.

Heston’s statistics may be lost to time as no one has a historically accurate record of his number of touchdowns. The University of Michigan credits Heston with 72 touchdowns, which is the school record. Some historians credit Heston with over 100 touchdowns, but we’ll never know for sure. It’s possible that Heston is worthy of being even higher up this list and gaining the title of the best Michigan Running Back.

Heston will go down in Michigan football history as part of the unofficial TD record holder and a key member of the ‘point-a-minute’ teams.

  1. Tom Harmon 1938 - 1940

Harmon was born in Rensselaer, Indiana. He stands as the only Michigan running back to win the Heisman trophy. In his three seasons, he gained 2,235 scrimmage yards and even rushed for 884 yards whilst playing quarterback. His Heisman winning year saw him rush for 852 yards and 15 touchdowns and pass for 506 yards and six touchdowns.

Harmon has many accolades to join his 1940 Heisman Trophy. He was a 1939 and 1940 All-American, and won the Maxwell Award, Associated Press Athlete of the Year, Big Ten MVP, All-Big Ten and was conducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. Not only did Harmon win the Heisman in 1940, but he also came second in 1939.

In 1941 Harmon was selected by the Chicago Bears with the first overall pick in the 1941 NFL Draft but Harmon did not sign with the Bears. He said he was done playing football and pursued a career in media instead.

During World War II, Harmon served as a pilot in the U.S. Armed Airforce and piloted a bomber nicknames ‘Old-98’ after his football number. It crashed in the South American Jungle, and Harmon was the sole survivor. Later that year, Harmon was assigned duty with the 449th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in China, where Harmon was shot down during a dogfight. He survived and was later rescued. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star for his actions and later promoted to Captain and discharged after the War.

Harmon stated that he was done with football, but due to a hefty tax bill, Harmon signed with the Los Angeles Rams. It was short lived however after he called it quits after breaking his nose 13 times.

  1. Tyrone Wheatley 1991 - 1994

Wheatley is another Michigan native, a decorated high school track student. He won the Michigan High School Track and Cross-Country Athlete of the Year award in 1991. His high-school 100 meters time (10.59 seconds) ranks third in MHSAA history.

Wheatley served as a running back for Michigan and as part of the track team. He won Big-Ten honors on teams that won Big Ten Championships in both sports and earned All-American honors on track. As we know, speed is crucial in football, and Wheatley had speed to spare.

As a freshman in 1991, Wheatley set the Michigan freshman yards per attempt record with 86 carries for 555 yards for 6.4 yards per attempt. The following year was his first of three consecutive first team All-Big Ten selections. By the end of his junior year, Wheatley had the most touchdowns by a running back in Michigan history. He earned the MVP in the 1994 Hall of Fame Bowl. Wheatley ranks sixth in total scrimmage yards among Michigan running backs with 4142 yards and second with 46 total touchdowns.

Wheatley was drafted by the New York Giants with the 17th overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft. His time in the big apple wasn’t successful. He wasn’t wanted by the coaching staff who stated that they would have preferred to draft Korey Stringer or Rashaan Salaam over him. They called Wheatley overweight and questioned his desire to play.

After the 1998 season, Wheatley was traded to the Dolphins. Unfortunately, he was cut after one week of training camp and signed for the Oakland Raiders. During his time at the Raiders, he had much more success. He rushed for 1000 yards in a season, led the Raiders in rushing, made three consecutive playoff appearances and finished in the top 10 for touchdowns in the NFL twice. Wheatley even had a Super Bowl appearance in 2003.

Wheatley spent nine years in the NFL and finished with 4,962 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns. He returned to Michigan as the running back coach in 2015-2016 and is currently the Head Coach of Wayne State University. His son, Tyrone Wheatley Jr also attended Michigan and is currently an offensive tackle for the New England Patriots.

  1. Jamie Morris 1984 – 1987

Jamie Morris hails from North Carolina. Unlike past Michigan running backs, Jamie Morris stood at 5’7” and weighed 185 pounds, not your typical running back build. He was initially recruited to Michigan to be a kick return specialist, but he was promised an opportunity to try out for running back. Michigan never looked back.

What he lacked in height, he made up for in balance and explosiveness. He would always find a hole and could break off for a big play in a flash. His rookie season was the only time when he didn’t pass 1,000 yards. He sits third on the Michigan running back list of all time scrimmage yards with 4,646 yards. When he graduated, Morris was the Michigan record holder in career receiving yards, career rushing yards, career yards from scrimmage, single season yards from scrimmage, career all-purpose yards, single season all-purpose yards, career 100-yard games, single season 100-yard games and career receptions for a running back.

He was the Big Ten rushing champion in 1987, First team All-Big Ten 1986 and 1987 and the MVP of the Fiesta Bowl (Co-MVP) and the Hall of Fame Bowl in 1986 and 1988.

His accolades were overlooked due to his height and Morris ended up being drafted in the fourth round of the 1988 NFL Draft by Washington. In his rookie year, he rushed for 437 yards in 126 attempts and rushed for at least 100 yards twice. In a throw away game where Washington had no hopes of making the playoffs, they gave Morris an opportunity to audition for the starting role the following year. Morris carried the ball for an NFL record 45 carries and gained 152 yards. His impressive display was not enough to earn him the starting role and his career ended in 1990 where Morris operated as a return man for the New England Patriots.

  1. Anthony Thomas 1997 - 2000

Nicknamed ‘A-Train’, Thomas is a Louisiana native who enrolled in the University of Michigan in 1997. He was part of the undefeated 1997 Michigan undefeated team as the backup running back. As a backup, he rushed for over 100-yards twice and gained 768 yards on the season.

His last two years at Michigan was where A-Train really asserted his dominance. As the Michigan starting running back, he rushed for over 1,200 yards each season. His senior year, he totaled 1,790 scrimmage yards and 17 total touchdowns. His 49 rushing touchdowns are a Michigan running back record, yet to be broken. Thomas’s college career ended with 4,848 scrimmage yards and 50 total touchdowns. He was named 1999 second team All-Big Ten, 2000 All-Big Ten, and 2000 Michigan Team MVP. Thomas broke Morris’s career rushing record (later broken by Mike Hart) and broke Tyrone Wheatley’s touchdown record.

Thomas was selected in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. As a rookie, he broke three franchise records. He carried for 33 times and rushed for 188 yards in a single game and averaged 8.55 yards per carry. His 1,183 rushing yards helped lead the Bears to an NFC Central Title with a 13-3 record. The same year, he earned the NFLs Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

For the next two years, Thomas rushed for 721 and 1,024 yards with the Bears. In 2004, he was replaced as lead back and only managed 404 yards. After that, his career fizzled out after short stints with the Cowboys, Saints and Bills where he only managed 559 rushing yards and two touchdowns in two years.

His record setting years at Michigan rank him highly on this list and he could potentially push to be the greatest Michigan running back of all time.

  1. Mike Hart 2004 - 2007

Mike Hart, from Syracuse, New York is Michigan’s all-time rushing leader. He tops the table with 5040 rushing yards and 566 receiving yards. His time at Michigan was hampered by a nagging hamstring injury which makes it even more impressive that he’s the school’s all-time rushing and scrimmage yard leader. He also has the third most touchdowns in Michigan history with 43 total TDs.

As a freshman, he set the record for the most rushing yards in a season by a freshman with 1,455 yards. He has 28 games with over 100 yards and 5 games with over 200 yards which are the most in Michigan history. His 1015 carries are the most by any Michigan running back. Hart has cemented himself as a top-five Big Ten all-time running back.

Hart has a decorated college career, making the All-Big Ten Conference first team three times, he was the 2007 Big Ten Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, 2004 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, 2006 Michigan co MVP, 2007 Michigan MVP. Although he didn’t win a National Award, he was a Doak Walker Award finalist and Maxwell Award semifinalist in 2006 and 2007, made the watchlist for the Walter Camp Award in 2006 and finished 5th in the 2006 Heisman Trophy award.

Hart was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. He primarily operated as a backup behind Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai. He ended his rookie season on IR with a knee injury. He spent most of his second season jumping between the Colts active roster and practice squad.

In Super Bowl XLIV, Hart had two carries in the Colts loss to the Saints. He was eventually released in 2011. Hart then decided to start his career as a coach, in 2021 he returned to Michigan as their running back coach and is currently still in that role.

Parameters for Rankings

These past Michigan running backs have been ranked based on their achievements whilst in college. Their success for other college teams or in the NFL have not been taken into account.


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