Pitt’s running back corps has been in transition since the end of the 2018 season, but historically, it has been a source of some of the program’s greatest talent. Because of that fact, Pitt is one of a handful of schools often referred to as “Running Back U,” and that trend continued last week, as Pitt came in 10th in an NFL.com ranking of Running Back U’s.
The list focused exclusively on running backs from the past 20 years, and it was organized based on each college’s ability to prepare athletes for the professional ranks. So each running back that moved from college to the NFL was included in a school’s score, and they were graded based on draft position, number of pro starts and career accolades.
Alabama topped the list with a score of 309 points and headliners like Eddie Lacy, Shaun Alexander, Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry. Between Alabama and Pitt, the top 10 was rounded out by LSU, Miami, Auburn, Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Pitt’s score was 136 points, and its top three running backs of the last 20 years were LeSean McCoy, Kevan Barlow and James Conner. Others who contributed to Pitt’s score included Kris Wilson, Henry Hynoski, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Nick Goings, Dion Lewis, Lousaka Polite, Brandon Miree and Qadree Ollison.
McCoy is the most high-profile running back in the group representing Pitt, as he has 11,071 career rushing yards and is the only All-Pro selection in the bunch. The Pitt product also won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs last season — although he never saw the field in the big game — but has since hit free agency and is looking for another team with which to close out his NFL career.
However, while the sun is setting on McCoy’s NFL career, the future is bright for Pitt running backs in the NFL, as Conner has secured a starting role with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Qadree Ollison could see his role increase with the Atlanta Falcons. Even Lewis, who has spent several years in the league, is likely to see action with the New York Giants as the second-stringer behind Saquon Barkley.
What hurt Pitt in the NFL.com ranking was its cutoff in 2000. Without that in place, Pitt likely finishes much higher in the ranking on the strength of NFL standouts like Tony Dorsett, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward and Curtis Martin. Dorsett and Heyward were selected in the first round of the NFL draft, and Dorsett and Martin earned All-Pro honors and enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Earlier this year, Pitt was ranked sixth among Running Back U’s by ESPN. Once again, Alabama came in first in that ranking, and again, Pitt was outranked by Wisconsin, LSU, Oklahoma and Miami. That list was based on a different set of criteria than the NFL.com list, but it also did not look back to Dorsett’s era in its evaluation of college running backs.