February 05, 2018
Changing The Wisconsin Running Back NFL Narrative

Wisconsin football has attacked the Big Ten with a brute force rushing attack since Barry Alvarez arrived on campus in 1990, and produced some of the best college running backs around year in and year out. That success in college hasn't exactly transferred over to the professional level, but the current group of Badgers in the NFL is changing that narrative.

The list of Wisconsin players from the past two decades who were world-beaters in Madison but flamed out in the NFL is long.

Heisman Trophy-winner Ron Dayne (11th pick in 2000) ran for 3,722 yards and 28 touchdowns in 7 NFL seasons. Michael Bennett (27th pick in 2001) ran for 3,703 yards and 13 scores in 10 season. Terrell Fletcher (51st pick in 1995) ran for 1,871 yards and 10 touchdowns and amassed 1,943 receiving yards in 8 seasons. Montee Ball (2nd rounder), Brian Calhoun (3rd rounder) and other undrafted backs barely made an impact.

But this next crop of Badgers running backs -- Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement -- are proving that Wisconsin running backs can succeed in the NFL.

White was selected in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Patriots, and after appearing in just three games his rookie season has established himself as a weapon out of the backfield in the New England offense. He has 217 catches for 1,413 yards and 12 touchdowns, adding 431 rushing yards and two scores on the ground in his regular season career. 

In the playoffs alone White has 34 catches for 293 yards and three touchdowns, with 105 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground. He's scored 50 points in the playoffs and holds two Super Bowl records -- 20 points scored and 14 total receptions.

Gordon, the 15th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Chargers, has established himself as one of the top all-purpose backs in the league. After struggling in his rookie season (641 yards, 0 TDs), Gordon had a 997-yard sophomore campaign and just finished a 1,105-yard third season. He has 2,743 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground and 1,87 yards and 6 touchdowns through the air.

Clement, undrafted in 2017, stepped into a larger role with the Philadelphia Eagles after Darren Sproles was injured midway through the season. Clement rushed for 321 yard and 4 TDs and caught 10 passes for 123 yards and 2 TDs in the regular season. In three playoff games he recorded 10 receptions for 139 yards and a score, with 33 rushing yards, as well. He caught four passes for 100 yards and a score in the Eagles Super Bowl LII win.

For years, Wisconsin running backs finished stellar Badgers careers then tanked in the NFL, or were average players at best. This trio -- who were all in the same backfield in 2013 and combined for 3,600 rushing yards 22 touchdowns (Melvin Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards, 12 TDs; James White rushed for 1,444 yards, 13 TDs; Corey Clement rushed for 547 yards, 7 TDs) are quickly changing that expectation.

That was evident in Super Bowl LII as two Badgers dueled and combined for 174 total yards and a pair of touchdowns in the game.

Corey Clement is one of two rookies in the history of the NFL to have 100 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown in the Super Bowl (Torry Holt is the other, Super Bowl XXXIV), and he was the only one to do it as an undrafted free agent.

Clement, White and Roger Craig (Super Bowl XXIII) are the only running backs to record 100 receiving yards in a Super Bowl.

The current crop of professional Badgers running backs are re-writing the narrative that former Badgers running backs don't succeed in the NFL -- and they're doing it on the biggest stage.

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By Jim Oxley | Hero Sports