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Ranking Notre Dame's Top 10 Running Backs Since 2000

Written by Owen O'Connor ⏐ Writer ⏐ Twitter/X: @Ocon54

Photo By University of Notre Dame Athletics


The University of Notre Dame has had tremendous success at the running back position in its longstanding history. Since the dawn of the football program in South Bend, the rushing attack has always been a staple of the Notre Dame offense. Many fans will reminisce on

the unbelievable run of running back talent the program had in the 1990s. All-time greats such as Jerome Bettis, Ricky Watters, and Fighting Irish all-time leading rusher Autry Denson led the charge through most of this exciting decade of football. Some could argue that the

trio of running backs in the 90s might be the three best to ever wear an Irish uniform at the position.


Since the 2000 season, we've seen many of our talented Fighting Irish recruits live up to their potential both in college and in the NFL. Former Head Coach Brian Kelly and current Head Coach Marcus Freeman prioritized the longstanding tradition of the Fighting Irish rushing attack. Highly recruited talent such as Josh Adams and Audric Estime have proven to be the

truth behind statements from our past and present coaches. Of course, much of the running back success has to do with the outstanding history of recruiting elite offensive linemen to Notre Dame. The recruiting history of the football program has also proven that offensive linemen are always the top priority, but a great RB must follow suit.


Let's take a look at our rankings for the Top 10 Notre Dame Running backs since the the year 2000:


10. Tarean Folston (2013 - 16)


Career Stats: 343 ATT, 1712 yards (5.0 YPC), 11 rushing TDs

   

Tarean Folston's journey at the University of Notre Dame was nothing short of remarkable, epitomizing the resilience and determination that define the Fighting Irish spirit. Hailing from Cocoa, Florida, Folston arrived in South Bend with dreams of making a significant impact on the football field and leaving a lasting legacy at one of college football's most storied programs. In his debut season in 2013, Folston wasted no time making an impression, rushing for over 470 yards and averaging an impressive 5.1 yards per carry. He quickly established himself as a reliable option in the backfield, showcasing his ability to break tackles, find running lanes, and contribute in the passing game.


Despite the obstacles he faced with injuries during his career, Folston continued to make significant contributions to the Fighting Irish offense. Cementing his status as one of the team's most dependable playmakers at the time. He embodied the values of hard work, resilience, and perseverance that define the Fighting Irish tradition, serving as a role model for his teammates. Today, Tarean Folston's legacy at Notre Dame endures as a testament to his talent, dedication, and unwavering determination.




9. CJ Prosise (2013 - 15)


Career Stats: 167 ATT, 1155 yards (6.9 YPC), 12 rushing TDs

                       62 REC, 896 yards (14.5 Y/Catch), 3 Rec TDs


CJ Prosise was initially recruited as a safety, which makes it insanely impressive that he made his way onto this list. Like Theo Riddick, Prosise is a perfect example of how a true playmaker can find the opportunity to play no matter where he is on the field. Prosise's breakout season came in 2015, his junior year, when he emerged as the starting running back for the Fighting Irish. He showcased his speed, agility, and playmaking ability, becoming a key offensive weapon for the team. Throughout the season, Prosise demonstrated his ability to break tackles, find running lanes, and contribute both as a rusher and a receiver out of the backfield. Thanks to his unbelievable yards-per-average stats in both receiving and rushing categories, the Irish found a way to feed him often.


After his junior season, Prosise decided to forgo his senior year and declared for the NFL Draft. He was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round, transitioning to the professional level to continue his football career. Prosise continued to show his talent for a few seasons in Seattle as one of their premier backs. While Prosise's time at Notre Dame was relatively brief, he found his way on this list due to his true playmaking ability as a football player. He still is one of the most exciting running backs Notre Dame has had in recent memory due to his flexibility on the field.


8. Dexter Williams (2015 - 18)


Career Stats: 257 ATT, 1636 yards (6.4 YPC), 20 rushing TDs

22 REC, 162 yards, 2 Rec TDs


Williams had a limited amount of rushing attempts compared to others on this list, but there's no doubt he was one of the most explosive backs to wear the Blue and Gold in recent memory. Throughout his time at Notre Dame, Williams faced various challenges but ultimately made significant contributions to the team's offensive success. He showcased his talent and explosiveness on the field, earning him a reputation as a dynamic playmaker. The Florida native earned an elite reputation thanks to his impressive 6.4 YPC and ability to help in the passing game.


After completing his senior season, Williams entered the NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the sixth round. While his time at Notre Dame had its ups and downs, Williams left a lasting legacy as a talented running back who overcame adversity to make a positive impact on the Fighting Irish football program.


7. Theo Riddick (2009 - 12)


Career Stats: 244 ATT, 1169 yards (4.8 YPC), 5 rushing TDs

                       120 REC, 1263 yards (10.5 Y/Catch), 8 Rec TDs


Theo Riddick's career occurred during one of the most memorable stretches of recent Notre Dame football history. Riddick played for the Fighting Irish from 2009 to 2012, showcasing his versatility as both a running back and a receiver. He was known for his elusiveness, agility, and ability to make plays in open space. Throughout his collegiate career, Riddick demonstrated his value as a dynamic offensive weapon. Along with fellow RB Cierre Wood, Riddick was a huge part of the 2012 National Championship run. He showcased his versatility by leading the team in rushing yards while also ranking among the top receivers. His performance earned him recognition as one of the top offensive players in college football in 2012.


Off the field, Riddick was known for his leadership and work ethic, serving as a role model for his teammates. He was also praised for his academic achievements and community involvement, reflecting his commitment to excellence both on and off the field. After graduating from Notre Dame, Riddick pursued a career in the NFL, where he continued to make an impact as a running back for teams like the Detroit Lions and the Las Vegas Raiders. In his impressive 7-year NFL career, he collected 3,318 yards and 19 TDs while also being a key player on special teams.



6. Ryan Grant (2001 - 04)


Career Stats: 560 ATT, 2220 yards (4.0 YPC), 18 rushing TDs


Grant's journey to Notre Dame was marked by perseverance and determination. Initially overlooked by major college programs, he attended a prep school to improve his academic and athletic profile before catching the attention of Notre Dame's coaching staff. In his sophomore and junior seasons, Grant showcased his potential as a top-tier running back, recording impressive rushing yardage and touchdown totals. However, it was during his senior year in 2004 that he truly shined, rushing for over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns, solidifying his status as one of the premier running backs in college football.


Following his successful college career, Grant went on to pursue a professional career in the NFL. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the New York Giants in 2005 and enjoyed a productive career in the league, playing for several teams over the course of nine seasons.

Ryan Grant's time at Notre Dame is remembered as a period of excellence and achievement, where he left an indelible mark on the football program with his talent, dedication, and leadership.



5. Julius Jones (1999 - 03)


Career Stats: 634 ATT, 3018 yards (4.8 YPC), 26 rushing TDs


Jones entered Notre Dame as a highly touted recruit and quickly made his presence felt on the field. While his average may not be the best, his amount of carries over his career earned him well-deserved respect at the end of his career. In his freshman season in 1999, he showcased his talent by rushing for over 1,000 yards, becoming only the third freshman in Notre Dame history to achieve this milestone. His impressive performance earned him recognition as the team's Offensive MVP.


Despite facing some challenges during his sophomore year, including injuries and changes in the coaching staff, Jones bounced back in his junior season. In 2001, he had a standout year, rushing for 1,268 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns. He played a crucial role in Notre Dame's offense and helped lead the team to a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. Following his junior season, Jones decided to forgo his senior year and declared for the NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round. He managed to have over 6,000 total yards in his NFL career with 24 rushing TDs.



4. Kyren Williams (2019 - 21)


Career Stats: 419 ATT, 2153 yards (5.1 YPC), 27 rushing TDs


Williams burst onto the scene in the 2020 season, his sophomore year, emerging as one of the top running backs in college football. He quickly established himself as a reliable playmaker for the Fighting Irish, showcasing his ability to both run the ball effectively and contribute in the passing game. Throughout the season, Williams displayed impressive vision, elusiveness, and strength, consistently making big plays and helping lead Notre Dame to a successful season. One of Williams' standout performances came in a memorable victory over Clemson, where he played a crucial role in Notre Dame's upset win with his impressive rushing and receiving abilities. His performance in that game and throughout the season earned him widespread recognition and accolades, including being named to various All-American and All-Conference teams.


At the moment, Kyren Williams is doing very well in the NFL. This past season was his first stint as a starting RB and it went well beyond expectations. The Los Angeles Rams decided

to start Williams after they loved what they saw from him in practice his rookie year. During his first and only season of playing time, Kyren finished with 1,144 yards, which was 3rd in the NFL for most rushing yards in 2023. He also finished with 12 rushing TDs while averaging 5.0 YPC. One could argue that he belongs in the discussion for the current top 5 running backs in the National Football League. While his time at Notre Dame was relatively brief, Williams' contributions and achievements solidified his place as one of the standout running backs in the program's history.



3. Josh Adams (2015 - 17)


Career Stats: 480 ATT, 3201 yards (6.7 YPC), 20 rushing TDs


The hardest decision on this list was deciding who the top RB was going to be between the first three players. All three of these former-star Fighting Irishmen are some of the most talented players the program has had in the backfield in 20 years. Adams made an immediate impact upon joining Notre Dame in 2015. As a freshman, he emerged as a key contributor in the backfield, showcasing his explosive running style and earning the respect of teammates and fans alike. Despite battling through injuries during his sophomore year, Adams continued to demonstrate his talent and resilience, solidifying his role as a top running back for the Fighting Irish. As you can see from his YPC and total yards, Josh Adams had one of the most elite field visions Notre Dame has seen in years. Adams always had his man beat when it came to his length of stride and breakaway acceleration, leading to his insane 6.7 YPC stat. This is even more impressive when you factor in Adams' total rushing attempts as well.


Off the field, Adams was known for his humility, work ethic, and leadership qualities. He embodied the values of the Notre Dame football program, excelling both academically and athletically. After his time in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and other franchises, Adams chose to begin coaching at the University of Vanderbilt as an Offensive Quality Control Coach.



2. Audric Estime (2021 - 23)

   

Career Stats: 373 ATT, 2321 yards (6.2 YPC), 29 rushing TDs


If there is one back who has shown the proper use of their time as a starter, it's Audric Estime. The 4-star RB from New Jersey was the 16th-ranked running back in the recruiting class of 2021. During his 3 year career in South Bend, he only saw the majority of his snaps in his Sophomore and Junior seasons, where he made the most of his opportunity. He was crowned the starting RB at the start of 2022 after Kyren Williams declared for the NFL draft, who also found his way into this Top 10 list. When Estime was on the field, the rushing attack for the Irish could not be stopped. Estime collected an impressive 29 TDs on the ground behind the powerful Offensive Line duo of Joe Alt and Blake Fisher. Even with a powerful offensive line, Estime having 29 TDs in only two seasons as a starter is one of the most impressive accomplishments for a Fighting Irish RB. The great Autry Denson, who some consider to be the best Fighting Irish RB of all time, needed over 200 more carries before he matched Estime's TD total. Other players at the position such as No.1 ranked player Darius Walker or Steelers great Jerome Bettis never accomplished reaching 29 collegiate rushing TDs either. Even with Walker having 300+ more carries and 1100+ more yards than Estime, he could not achieve the number.


Estime was not only an incredible player on the field, but one of the most well-respected student-athletes on campus during his time. Audric Estime brought leadership, character, and the true identity of Notre Dame football to the program. After unfortunately losing his mother at the age of 10, his character and passion for football only improved and landed him in the perfect spot in South Bend. This also motivated him to major in Political Science and pursue his passion. His dedication on the field and great leadership in the locker room earned him "The Irish Tribune 2023 Student-Athlete of the Year". Currently, Audric Estime is on the Denver Broncos. He was selected in the 5th round of the 2024 NFL Draft less than two weeks ago and will look to make an immediate impact.




1. Darius Walker (2004 - 06)


Career Stats: 693 ATT, 3249 yards (4.7 YPC), 23 rushing TDs


Darius Walker did nothing but impress during his longstanding career with the Fighting Irish.

Arriving at Notre Dame in 2004, Walker quickly made an impact as a freshman, earning the starting role and rushing for over 1,000 yards, a rare feat for a first-year player at the university. His dynamic running style and ability to find openings in opposing defenses made him a key asset to the team. Throughout his three-year tenure at Notre Dame, Walker continued to excel on the field, demonstrating consistency and durability as a running back. He showcased his versatility by not only being a threat on the ground but also contributing as a receiver out of the backfield with 100 career receptions. One of Walker's most memorable moments came in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, where he played a crucial role in Notre Dame's offense, despite the team ultimately falling short in a close game. Throughout his time at Notre Dame, Walker's work ethic and leadership qualities made him a respected figure both on and off the field.


In addition to his athletic achievements, Walker was also recognized for his academic accomplishments, maintaining a strong commitment to his studies while balancing the demands of collegiate football. After his junior year, Walker decided to forego his senior season and declared for the NFL Draft in 2007. While his professional football career didn't reach the same heights as his time in South Bend, his time at Notre Dame remains a significant chapter in the university's football history, with Walker's contributions leaving a lasting impact on the program and paving the way for many future greats at the position.





Stats according to www.sports-reference.com


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