Penn State Football: 15 best running backs in Nittany Lions history

Saquon Barkley, Penn State Nittany Lions. (Photo by Evan Habeeb/Getty Images)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State Nittany Lions. (Photo by Evan Habeeb/Getty Images) /
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Lydell Mitchell
Lydell Mitchell. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /

Lydell Mitchell undoubtedly cracks the Mount Rushmore of Penn State Football running backs. He had an excellent NFL career, making three Pro Bowls with the then-Baltimore Colts in the late 1970s, but his football legacy is far more reaching in college than it ever was professionally.

Mitchell played at Penn State from 1969 to 1971 in the same backfield that produced another elite running back in the form of future Pro Football Hall of Famer Franco Harris. Harris certainly had the more prolific pro career, but it was Mitchell who ended up being a College Football Hall of Fame player while at Penn State.

With Harris serving as his primary lead blocker, Mitchell put together an outstanding three-year tenure in Happy Valley. In 1969, Mitchell had 113 carries for 616 yards and six touchdowns. He would match the half-dozen trips to pay dirt in 1970, increasing his rushing yards total to 751 on 134 carries.

Then in 1971, Mitchell became a college football legend. He would be named a First-Team All-American by running for 1,567 yards on 254 carries for an out-of-this-world 26 rushing touchdowns. He ended up with 501 career carries at Penn State for 2,934 yards and 38 rushing touchdowns, as well as 38 catches for 470 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield.

Mitchell ended up being a second-round pick by Baltimore in the 1972 NFL Draft, where he played his first six professional seasons. He spent the 1978 and 1979 NFL campaigns with the then-San Diego Chargers before playing his final season of professional ball with the 1980 Los Angeles Rams. As a pro, Mitchell earned a reputation as being one of the better multi-purpose backs of his era.

In 2004, Mitchell would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for his terrific three years at Penn State. Together with Harris, the Nittany Lions began their march towards being a national power with Joe Paterno as their head coach. Harris might have been the better pro, but Mitchell was the better college player, which reflects why he lands four spots ahead of his former backfield mate.