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Stan Becton | NCAA.com | June 18, 2022

The top 5 returning FCS running backs in 2022

Pierre Strong Jr. rushes for 185, throws TD in South Dakota State's first round win

Seven of the top 10 FCS rushing offenses made the playoffs in 2021, proving the importance of having a great rushing attack. One key to such success? An elite running back. After all, the sub-division's offensive player of the year award is named after legendary running back Walter Payton.

But what running back will be next to rise to the pinnacle of the FCS? It starts with the returning running backs.

The key word is returning. That means no incoming freshmen and no transfers, regardless of if they played at an FCS school in the year prior. 

MORE TOP RETURNERS: Quarterbacks | Wide Receivers | Defensive Players

That said, let's break down the best of the best.

Top 5 returning FCS running backs

Darius Hale | Central Arkansas

Darius Hale was only a freshman last year, but he led all running backs in rushing touchdowns (17) during the 2021 regular season, while finishing as one of 16 running backs to run over 1000 yards (1,021). That was with Central Arkansas having two of the FCS's best wide receivers on the outside.

Now, Hale enters 2022 with a year of experience under his belt and new pieces around him. He'll likely carry a bigger load, but his 5.15 yards per carry shows he's capable of doing so, challenging for the spot as the FCS's best running back.

🔮: Way-too-early 2022 FCS playoff bracket predictions

Isaiah Ifanse | Montana State

When it comes to experience and production, there might not be a better returning FCS running back than Montana State's Isaiah Ifanse. Ifanse's 3,461 career rushing yards are the most of any returning running back and he rushed for 1,623 yards — the second-most in the FCS — last year. 

More impressively, Ifanse showed he can carry a heavy workload averaging 115.9 yards per game on 280 carries. Even in an underwhelming Bobcat performance in the 2021 national championship game, Ifanse still averaged 4.7 yards per carry. 

Ifanse enters 2022 looking to stake his claim as the FCS's best running back and get Montana State over the hump.

UP NEXT: 9 potential breakout FCS teams in the 2022 season

Malik Grant | Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart's Malik Grant entered 2021 in a backup role to one of the FCS's premier running backs and Walter Payton Award finalist, Julius Chestnut. Then Chestnut got hurt in the first game of the season, thrusting Grant into a starting role.

There wasn't a drop-off in the slightest. Grant finished the season with 1,347 rushing yards, the fourth-most in the nation, and finished 20th in Walter Payton Award voting. Grant helped lead Sacred Heart to back-to-back NEC championships.

Grant now enters 2022 in a lead-back role, with a full offseason as a starter. He should build off his breakout season. 

LOOKING AHEAD: 16 FCS transfers who could have the biggest potential impact in 2022

Isaiah Davis | South Dakota State

South Dakota State's Isaiah Davis entered the 2021 season as a freshman All-American but missed a significant portion of the season with an injury. When he did play, he split carries with fourth-round NFL draft pick Pierre Strong Jr. However, when Davis was on the field it was electric. 

Davis ran for six touchdowns and 499 yards in South Dakota State's three playoff wins, highlighted by his three-touchdown performance against Villanova.

2022 figures to be Davis' best year yet, entering with a full healthy offseason and without Strong splitting carries. Davis in the backfield makes the Jackrabbits a national title contender.

PORTAL: These FCS teams have been most active in the transfer portal this offseason

Geno Hess | Southeast Missouri State

Southeast Missouri State's Geno Hess finished the 2021 season in the top 10 nationally in rushing yards (1,115), rushing touchdowns (14) and rushing yards per game (111.5), leading the OVC in all categories and earning multiple All-American honors in the process. As impressive as 2021's fall was, it came after Hess led the FCS in rushing touchdowns in the spring.

Hess has consistently been one of the top FCS running backs since receiving the reins for the Red Hawks. Expect it to continue in 2022. 

MOVEMENT: Making sense of FCS conference realignment

The next 5

Here are the returning FCS running backs who just missed the cut.

  • Jacob Saylors | ETSU
  • Juwon Farri | Monmouth
  • Hunter Luepke | North Dakota State (yes, he's a fullback, but he's that good)
  • Javon Williams Jr. | Southern Illinois
  • Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. | UC Davis

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