joe mixon samaje perine

The Oklahoma Sooners got some great news on Saturday when T.J. Pledger announced his commitment to the program. T.J. Pledger is 5’8”, 190 pounds, and the nation’s second-rated all-purpose back out of IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.).

T.J. Pledger chose Oklahoma over Clemson, Notre Dame, Tennessee, USC, UCLA, Nebraska and plenty of others.

The Sooners continue to kill it at running back. Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are heading to the NFL Draft. Meantime, Pledger becomes just the latest highly-rated recruit to join OU at the position, with 4-star players Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks signing with the Sooners last month.

Oklahoma returns Abdul Adams, along with Rodney Anderson back from injury, and JUCO transfer Marcelias Sutton is expected to be an impact player as well.

It’s finally time to start the conversation again: Is Oklahoma now Running Back U?

When you think of Running Back U, most people would say Alabama, Miami and USC in different orders. You can make a strong case for those three, but as it stands right now, it’s the Sooners in the top spot.

First off, look at the NFL. There is one non-quarterback since 2006 to win the MVP. That would be Adrian Peterson in 2012. When you think of the best running backs in the NFL over the past 10 years, Adrian Peterson’s name is likely the first that comes to mind.

Yes, Peterson has been banged up on-and-off for a few seasons now, but that says more about how much NFL teams value (or don’t value) the position that there really aren’t any superstars at the position. Yet Peterson is still just one season removed from leading the NFL in rushing.

In the past 9 seasons, an Oklahoma running back has led the NFL in rushing four times. Peterson did it three times (2008, 2012, 2015) and then Demarco Murray in 2014.

The other schools to have running backs to lead the league in rushing over that time span included Ohio State (Ezekiel Elliot), Pittsburgh (LeSean McCoy), UCLA (Maurice Jones-Drew), East Carolina (Chris Johnson), Tennessee (Arian Foster).

No Alabama, Miami, USC, Georgia, or Texas running back has led the NFL in rushing in the past decade.

Alabama can make the best case against OU with the likes of Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon, Eddie Lacy, Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram in recent years. But if we are being honest, most of those guys have not lived up to expectations.

As for the upcoming NFL Draft, sure maybe Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey become superstars, but the Sooners have two top running backs entering the draft that could easily become household names themselves.

Joe Mixon is the more explosive back who I expect to be drafted higher than Samaje Perine, with the chance to make an immediate impact in the backfield and in the return game. But don’t sell Perine short. While he can’t catch the ball out of the backfield, I could see him landing with a playoff-caliber team and being a mid-round steal.

Coincidentally, Mixon was the second-best running back prospect in the country in 2014, behind only… Leonard Fournette.

So maybe Fournette takes the NFL by storm in 2017 and next year fellow LSU running back Derrius Guice becomes a top pick and LSU becomes the new “Running Back U”.

But right now? It’s the Oklahoma Sooners, and everyone else is battling for second place.

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