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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Larry Johnson, Penn State Nittany Lions
Larry Johnson, Penn State Nittany Lions. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Squire/Allsport /

Larry Johnson coming in at No. 10 seems a bit low, in all honesty. He was a phenomenal running back for Penn State as a senior in 2002. That being said, having him come in at No. 10 is perhaps a better reflection of how truly dominant the Nittany Lions have been in the ground game over the last century-plus.

Johnson first came to Happy Valley in 1999, but played sparingly as a tailback during his first three seasons with the team. He never had 100 carries, 400 yards rushing or four rushing touchdowns in any season with the Nittany Lions from 1999 to 2001. But all of that would change in his spectacular senior season in 2002.

He exploded in a huge way for Penn State, as Johnson had 271 carries for 2,087 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns, to go along with 20 catches for 41 yards and three receiving touchdowns. The local product from State College had one of the greatest seasons by a college running back without winning the Heisman Trophy.

Even if he didn’t earn that highly coveted honor, Johnson still took home a ton of hardware in 2002. He was a unanimous All-American, First-Team All-Big Ten and won the Doak Walker, Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards. Johnson’s outstanding 2002 campaign led to him being a first-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2003 NFL Draft.

Johnson played with four NFL teams over nine seasons, predominantly with the Chiefs. He made back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2005 and 2006, being named First-Team All-Pro in 2006 and Second-Team All-Pro in 2005. Johnson finished his pro career in 2011 with 6,223 rushing yards and 55 rushing touchdowns.

Overall, Johnson amassed 2,953 rushing yards on 460 carries for 26 touchdowns in Penn State. Though his senior season was absolutely electrifying, his larger body of work leaves something to be desired. If his first three seasons at Penn State weren’t so bland, we might be looking at a top-five player in Nittany Lions football history. Perhaps he should have been given the rock more often sooner? He did tremendous things as a bell-cow, both collegiately and professionally.