Penn State Football

Penn State legend Blair Thomas shares his picks for Nittany Lions’ top-5 greatest RBs

Saquon Barkley on youth camp at Penn State

The former Penn State running back and NFL star returned to campus this weekend to host his first youth football camp.
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The former Penn State running back and NFL star returned to campus this weekend to host his first youth football camp.

Blair Thomas is a Penn State legend, one of the Nittany Lions’ greatest running backs of all-time. So, while every PSU fan has his own opinion on position rankings, Thomas’ especially carries weight.

We recently caught up with the 1989 Penn State grad during his bobblehead night with the State College Spikes and discussed the best PSU running backs of all-time. After a lot of thinking out loud — “Franco (Harris) ain’t in; he didn’t come alive until the pros,” Thomas said with a laugh — Thomas settled on his top five.

The former Heisman finalist decided not to include himself to be fair, despite the temptation to put himself at No. 2. And he apologized to D.J. Dozier for leaving him off: “Shoot, I used to try to patent his spin move. That was tight.”

Here is Thomas’ list of top-five all-time Penn State running backs:

1. Saquon Barkley, 2015-2017

Career stats: 671 carries; 3,843 yards; 5.7 ypc; 43 rushing TDs; 102 catches; 1,195 receiving yards; 8 receiving TDs

Notable accolades: 2-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, consensus All-American, Paul Hornung Award winner, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

Blair Thomas says: “He’s an incredible, incredible back. He’s done unbelievable things. ... We’re seeing ‘Quon in his prime where the game has elevated and, in my opinion, he’s at the top of the position. Even though the game has changed, with his style of play, even in our offense, I still think he would’ve been just as successful.”

2. Lenny Moore, 1953-1955

Career stats: 382 carries; 2,372 yards; 6.2 ypc; 23 rushing TDs; 13 catches; 125 yards; 1 receiving TD

Notable accolades: 2-time first-team All-American, NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, 7-time Pro Bowler, Pro Football Hall of Famer

Blair Thomas says: “I only saw old films of Lenny Moore, but it was nasty stuff. And with the (Baltimore) Colts and the highlights you used to see back in the day growing up — because I used to always emulate the backs that were older than me — so that’s why Lenny Moore.”

3. Curt Warner, 1979-1982

Career stats: 649 carries; 3,398 yards; 5.2 ypc; 24 rushing TDs; 56 catches; 662 yards; 6 receiving TDs

Notable accolades: 2-time All-American, College Football Hall of Famer, 3-time Pro Bowler, 2-time AFC Offensive Player of the Year

Blair Thomas says: “Curt Warner was another guy that I thought I ran like him. If you saw the two styles at times, on certain plays, it just looked like a change in jersey numbers. I just loved his style of play.”

4. Ki-Jana Carter, 1992-1994

Career stats: 395 carries; 2,829 yards; 7.2 ypc; 20 rushing TDs; 20 catches; 172 yards

Notable accolades: Consensus All-American, Heisman Trophy runner-up, Rose Bowl MVP, No. 1 overall NFL draft pick

Blair Thomas says: “He’s one of those guys that had a great offensive line, but he also had the vision to make people miss and then take it the distance. They had a complete team and when you have a complete team like that, you can’t overcompensate. People can’t be like, ‘Oh, I’m worried about Ki-Jana.’ They had to play a true defense, and he did his thing.”

5. Larry Johnson Jr., 1999-2002

Career stats: 460 carries; 2,953 yards; 6.4 ypc; 26 rushing TDs; 65 catches; 681 yards; 7 receiving TDs

Notable accolades: Maxwell Award winner, Walter Camp Award winner, Doak Walker Award winner, unanimous All-American, 2-time Pro Bowler

Blair Thomas says: “That’s a darkhorse that just came out of nowhere because it was at a time when the program needed him most. And he came up big. Big. He had several 200-yard games and he was just pounding it. And they had to play him because that’s all we had at the time.”

Josh Moyer earned his B.A. in journalism from Penn State and his M.S. from Columbia. He’s been involved in sports and news writing for nearly 20 years. He counts the best athlete he’s ever seen as Tecmo Super Bowl’s Bo Jackson.