Ranking Michigan football's top 5 running backs heading into 2018 season

Karan Higdon, Chris Evans provide dangerous combination for Michigan offense

Karan Higdon and Chris Evans will be a dangerous 1-2 punch for Michigan this season. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Michigan's passing game took the brunt of the criticism for last year's offensive struggles -- and rightfully so -- but the rushing attack wasn't overly effective either.

The Wolverines averaged 4.37 yards per carry last season, good for 61st in the nation. Michigan was 44th with 26 rushing touchdowns and 49th in total rushing yards per game. Overall, the ground game was only slightly above average.

This season, Michigan's schedule is tougher and the expectations are higher. Jim Harbaugh typically uses several running backs in his offense, and they'll need to improve on the 2017 numbers if the team hopes to make significant strides.

Here are the top five running backs on Michigan's roster heading into 2018.

5. Christian Turner

Last season: True freshman

Michigan didn't land any high-profile running backs in the 2018 recruiting class, but Turner was the best in terms of rankings.

A three-star prospect, Turner was the No. 22 running back in the 2018 recruiting class and the No. 54 player from the state of Georgia.

While there's no guarantee Turner will earn playing time this season, Harbaugh isn't afraid to put true freshmen on the field. Last season, three true freshmen -- including a running back and a fullback -- got carries on offense.

Turner rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns his final two seasons in high school, and his vision will help him adapt to Michigan's offense more quickly.

4. Tru Wilson

Last season: No carries

Wilson was brought to Michigan as a preferred walk-on in 2016, ranked the No. 2,473rd overall player in the class and No. 62 in the state. As a two-star safety, his only Division I offer came from the three service academies.

But now, Wilson has worked his way into the mix for the third-string running back job, according to Harbaugh. That might not sound like a big deal, but Ty Isaac got 88 carries as Michigan's third-string running back in 2017. In 2016, Isaac got 72 carries and Karan Higdon got 72 carries in the battle for third-string running back.

In Harbaugh's offense, the No. 3 guy on the running back depth chart plays a significant role in the offense.

Wilson has been limited to special teams play in his first two college seasons, but it appears he will get a chance on offense in 2018. He might not have the size or speed of Michigan's other options, but Harbaugh clearly thinks highly of the De La Salle product.

3. O'Maury Samuels

Last season: 8 carries for 13 yards

Michigan RB O'Maury Samuels (Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Harbaugh hinted that Wilson is in the lead for the No. 3 running back job, but Samuels is also in the mix.

The top running back in Michigan's loaded 2017 recruiting class, Samuels was a four-star prospect and the No. 1 player in New Mexico. He was the No. 20 running back in the nation, according to 247 Sports.

Samuels didn't have much success in a mop-up role last season, averaging just 1.6 yards per carry on eight touches. But he worked his way into the mix throughout the season, getting carries in three straight blowout wins over Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland after earning just one carry in the team's first seven games.

Samuels is a true home run threat because of his speed, so Michigan would love to get him more involved in the offense. Even if Wilson wins the No. 3 running back job, Samuels will likely see some carries.

2. Chris Evans

Last season: 135 carries for 685 yards and 6 touchdowns, 16 catches for 157 yards and 1 touchdown

Chris Evans of the Michigan Wolverines runs for a 49-yard touchdown in the 4th quarter of a game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on Sept. 23, 2017 in West Lafayette, Indiana. Michigan won 28-10. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

While he struggled at times last season, Evans is the most explosive player Michigan has at the position. His elusiveness and breakaway speed earned him the backup role as a true freshman in 2016, and it took a breakout season from Higdon last year to keep him out of a starting role.

Evans averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season, but inconsistency prevented him from becoming a true star. He averaged fewer than 4 yards per carry in five games and disappeared in some of Michigan's biggest games, such as Michigan State, Wisconsin and South Carolina.

There were also times when Evans was clearly the best running back on the roster. He exploded for 191 yards on just 13 carries against Minnesota, averaged 6.9 yards per carry at Purdue and had more than 100 total yards against Ohio State.

Michigan's best-case scenario is that Evans reaches his full potential and earns the most snaps at running back, but if he remains the backup, he's still a major weapon.

1. Karan Higdon

Last season: 164 carries for 994 yards and 11 touchdowns, 8 catches for 131 yards

Karan Higdon #22 of the Michigan Wolverines runs for a touchdown during the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

There's no debate at the No. 1 spot, as Higdon leaped from a backup role to the undisputed starter in 2017.

Higdon forced his way into the running back mix in 2016 by averaging 5.9 yards per carry and scoring six touchdowns. In 2017, he led the team in every major rushing category, averaging 6.1 yard per carry and finding the end zone 11 times.

He fell 6 yards short of becoming Michigan's first 1,000-yard rusher since Denard Robinson in 2012.

Higdon might not have a standout skill, but he's so well-rounded that the final product is extremely effective. He's fast enough to break a big run in space, strong enough to shed weak tacklers and smart enough to find holes.

He was only a three-star recruit, but Higdon has improved dramatically each season at Michigan, and he'll begin his senior year as the unquestioned starter.

Other running backs in consideration

Joe Hewlett: A fifth-year senior and former walk-on, Hewlett got his only two career carries in 2016, for a loss of 1 yard. He was a major special teams contributor throughout 2017.

Kurt Taylor: Taylor is like a younger version of Higdon, as he's a well-rounded, but not flashy running back. After redshirting last season, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Taylor get onto the field in 2018.

Hassan Haskins: Michigan's other running back commitment from the 2018 class, Haskins was a three-star who could see playing time thanks to the new rule allowing players to appear in four games at any time in the season without burning a redshirt.

Berkley Edwards: The younger brother of former Michigan star wideout Braylon Edwards transferred to Michigan for his senior season after two years at Minnesota and a year at Central Michigan. He carried the ball 35 times at Minnesota but didn't see the field much last year at CMU.

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