AAC RB Rankings 2023: Jermaine Brown Jr. and Kevorian Barnes Headline an Infusion of Tremendous Talent

Jermaine Brown Jr. emerges from the shadows of his former teammate as the UAB Blazers running back leads our 2023 AAC RB rankings.

The times, they are a’changing in the American Athletic Conference. Multiple teams have left for fresh pastures, but several more have arrived to replace them. These changes bring an infusion of running back talent to compete with some top-level returning rushers. Our early 2023 AAC RB rankings seek to understand how all that talent shakes out for this season.

PFN Mock Draft Simulator - Desktop

2023 AAC RB Rankings

1) Jermaine Brown Jr., Lee Witherspoon, A.J. Gates, Lee Beebe, Demetrius Battle | UAB

With nation-leading back DeWayne McBride running all over defenses last fall, Jermaine Brown Jr. got somewhat lost in the shuffle. However, as the Blazers transition from Conference USA, the 5’8″, 195-pound back’s standing atop our 2023 AAC RB rankings speaks to his potential.

Last fall, Brown took 17.46% of his carries for 10+ yards while averaging 5.7 yards per carry in McBride’s shadow. He can navigate traffic well at the line, has plenty of juice, and plays with jarring physicality and impressive contact balance.

Lee Witherspoon also averaged over five yards per carry last fall, while Lee Beebe is a redshirt freshman to be aware of. Meanwhile, the Blazers added former West Alabama running back Demetrius Battle in the transfer portal. Battle was highly productive at his last spot, and was on the 2023 East West Shrine Bowl watchlist ahead of the 2022 college campaign.

2) Kevorian Barnes, Robert Henry, Rocko Griffin, Kaedric Cobbs | UTSA

Stepping up to replace Sincere McCormick last fall, Kevorian Barnes led the Roadrunners with 845 yards and 6.3 carries. Of his carries, 15.5% resulted in over 10 yards, while the 5’9″, 215-pound UTSA back also flashed upside as a receiving option out of the backfield for Frank Harris. Oh, and he did it all as a redshirt freshman.

MORE: FREE NFL Mock Draft Simulator (With Trades)

Barnes is only getting better. While his speed and power help UTSA secure the second spot in our 2023 AAC RB rankings, the addition of JUCO Offensive Player of the Year Robert Henry gives the Roadrunners a potent one-two punch. Henry held Power Five offers coming out of Jones College this winter, and is set to make a big impression. He’s capable of mind-blowing playmaking.

3) Blake Watson, Jevyon Ducker, Brandon Thomas, Sutton Smith, Ke’Travion Hargrove | Memphis

Memphis leads the returning American teams in our 2023 ACC RB rankings, but it’s a newcomer to the conference who leads the way for the Tigers this fall.

Blake Watson was one of the top backs in the transfer portal and gives Memphis a productive weapon who can be impactful both on the ground and as a receiving option for quarterback Seth Henigan. Watson boasts excellent contact balance and speed, and cuts well in space. He’s also impressively strong, grinding out yardage with a powerful lower body.

Watson tallied over 1,000 yards last fall while taking 15.18% of his plays for over 10 years and has the talent to replicate that success this fall.

A talented RB room also contains former 1,000-yard rusher Jeyvon Ducker, while Brandon Thomas led the team with nine scores in 2022. Meanwhile, they picked up former four-star recruit Ke’Travian Hargrove from the transfer portal after playing in five games for Mississippi State in the last two seasons.

4) Ayo Adeyi, Ikaika Ragsdale, Oscar Adaway III | North Texas

North Texas has an embarrassment of riches in their RB room, securing fourth place in our 2023 AAC RB rankings following the transition from Conference USA for this season. Picking a projected starter from this trio of running back beasts is difficult, but ultimately pointless, as they’re all equally capable of getting the job done for the Mean Green this fall.

Ikaika Ragsdale led the team in carries last fall, bringing power and explosion to the offense. However, it was Ayo Adeyi’s speed that made him a big-play threat on every down. The 5’7″, 197-pounder leads all AAC projected starters after taking 19.64% of his carries for over 10 yards last fall. Meanwhile, Oscar Adaway III is a difficult man to stop in the open field.

5) Jaylan Knighton, Tyler Lavine, Camar Wheaton, Velton Gardner, LJ Johnson Jr. | SMU

If North Texas has an embarrassment of riches, I’m not sure how you’d describe SMU’s RB room. Leading rusher Tyler Lavine returns, as does Velton Gardner, and Camar Wheaton. Both Gardner and Wheaton averaged over five yards per carry last season.

Solidifying their status near the top of our 2023 AAC RB rankings, SMU added Jaylan Knighton and LJ Johnson — two backs with Power Five experience. Knighton reunites with his former offensive coordinator, which should be an exciting prospect for anyone who witnessed his multi-faceted usage in Rhett Lashlee’s system during the 2021 season.

With Lavine recovering from surgery and Wheaton having some academic complications ahead of spring practice, Knighton could emerge as the leader of SMU’s offense this fall. Whoever leads the way, Lashlee believes that competition can only make the program stronger.

“The competition in the room, that’s what you want,” he told 247 Sports. “You want a room like that for them to compete with each other. There’s a big-time competitive excellence in the room right now. They’re coaching each other up, they’re talking to each other, they’re building a brotherhood in the room.”

6) Shaadie Clayton-Johnson, Iverson Celestine, Arnold Barnes III | Tulane

Losing the AAC’s leading rusher in yardage and touchdowns stings for the reigning champion Tulane Green Wave. Tyjae Spears was the propellent for an offense that was on fire last season. However, his departure presents an opportunity for those behind him on the roster, and there’s no shortage of talent in that regard. Tulane will be just fine running the ball this year.

MORE: Tulane Spring Game — Arnold Barnes Sets Sights on Emulating Tyjae Spears

The 6’1″, 205-pound Shaadie Clayton-Johnson is more than capable of bouncing outside and imposing his will on opposing defenses. He took an impressive 17.54% of his carries over 10 yards last fall, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. True freshman Arnold Barnes III is impressed in spring camp and there’s an expectation that he’ll challenge for carries this season.

7) Larry McCammon III, Zuberi Mobley, Marvin Scott III, Kobe Lewis | Florida Atlantic

Another convert from Conference USA rounds out the top half of our 2023 AAC RB rankings. Last year, Florida Atlantic’s ground game was led by Larry McCammon III, and the 5’11”, 204-pound rusher is the only back suiting up in the American this fall that surpassed 1,000 yards during the 2022 season.

McCammon can burst through defenses, bounce to the outside, and bounce off contact as he rumbles his way downfield. Teammate Zuberi Mobley is no slouch either, rushing for more yards per carry than McCammon last fall while taking 13.86% of his carries for 10+ yards. Kobe Lewis and second-year Owl Marvin Scott III bring previous Big Ten experience to the roster.

8) Shadrick Byrd, Chavon McEachern, Henry Rutledge, Durell Robinson | Charlotte

Charlotte 49ers leading rusher Shadrick Byrd returns to lead the team as they enter a new era in the AAC. The former Iowa RB has showcased power in the red zone, the ability to make a man miss with the ball in his hands in the open field, and adds pass-catcher value with over 200 yards in each of his two seasons with the program.

When called upon, both Chavon McEachern and Henry Rutledge have proven impactful for Charlotte. There’s also a real excitement about true freshman Durell Robinson — a three-star runner with connections to new head coach Biff Poggi.

“Coach Biff (Poggi) is a legend in my area,” Robinson told On3 following his commitment to the 49ers. “He’s known for going to programs such as St. Frances that are 0-12 and flipping them to the number one team in the country. Everyone says it’s different at the college level, and he might be able to do it again.

“The guys that he’s shown me and the guys that I was on my official visit with are just as hungry to win as me. It doesn’t get any better than that with a hungry group. All of a sudden, this is just as good as a Power Five. We have everything that they have. With those guys and our heart, our will to win, I don’t think many schools are going to be able to stop us.”

9) Rahjai Harris, Marlon Gunn Jr., Gerald Green | East Carolina

With Keaton Mitchell heading to the 2023 NFL Draft, Rahjai Harris is set to lead East Carolina’s running back room. The fourth-year rusher joined the Pirates at the same time as Mitchell and earned Co-Rookie of the Year honors from the AAC after rushing for 624 yards and four scores as a true freshman.

Harris has battled injury and inconsistency, also suffering from a few fumbles early in his career. However, on his day, he’s a hard-hitting, physical runner, who is extremely decisive as a rusher. He’s flashed pass-catching prowess too. Meanwhile, the Pirates’ RB room is bolstered by Georgia Southern’s Gerald Green, who’s averaged 5.7 yards per carry during his career.

10) Nay’Quan Wright, Dominic Gonella, Michael Dukes, K’Wan Powell, Kelley Joiner Jr. | USF

It’s a new era for USF football in more ways than one. Leading rusher Brian Battie ran his way out of town and to the SEC. Meanwhile, head coach Alex Golesh travels in the opposite direction, having directed one of the most high-octane offenses in college football last fall at Tennessee.

While there’ll be a focus on the passing game under Golesh, his Tennessee offense actually rushed for just under 200 yards per game in the 2022 season.

Another SEC feature is set to lead USF’s ground game, with Nay’Quan Wright arriving after four years in Florida. Wright’s burst and power are reminiscent of what Golesh had with Jabari Small last season. Kelley Joiner Jr. brings explosion to the room, while Michael Dukes was a standout freshman at Clemson and found the end zone five times for the Bulls last fall. K’Wan Powell, meanwhile, averaged over five yards per carry in limited exposure.

While Wright should handle the bulk of the workload, former North Dakota State rusher Dominic Gonella is another transfer that could be productive for this Bulls offense. He led the Bison as a freshman, with the ability to beat up on a defense.

11) Edward Saydee, Darvon Hubbard, E.J. Wilson | Temple

In the second year of the Stan Drayton era, a focus on the threat that quarterback E.J. Warner brings to the offense might open the ground game up for Temple. Lead RB Edward Saydee is more than capable of contributing in both facets of the game.

MORE: MAC RB Rankings 2023

Last year, Saydee led the team with 639 rushing yards and six touchdowns, while adding another 262 yards as a receiver. He’s a tough runner who laughs in the face of first contact. He’s joined in the Owls’ backfield by Darvon Hubbard, who broke 10 yards on 11.53% of his 2022 carries. Transfer E.J. Wilson and freshman Kyle Williams add depth to the room.

12) Juma Otoviano, Ari Broussard, Dean Connors, Quinton Jackson | Rice

Rice’s leading rusher from 2022, Cameron Montgomery, is no longer on the roster. After averaging 5.9 yards per carry during his Rice career, his loss certainly impacts the Owls’ positioning in our 2023 AAC RB rankings. That’s not to say there’s no talent remaining in this RB room, though.

Juma Otoviano is a vastly experienced rusher who showcased his ability to create big plays last year. His 0.302 predicted points added (PPA) from last season is the highest amongst all the running backs listed in these rankings. Ari Broussard flashed in 2021 and found the end zone nine times last fall but has only played a full season once since 2019.

13) Jordan Ford, Bill Jackson, Anthony Watkins, Tahj Gary, Braylin Presley | Tulsa

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane finished near the bottom of the AAC in a number of rushing metrics last season, and they lose their two leading rushers in Deneric Prince and Steven Anderson.

With standout Anthony Watkins missing the entire season, Tulsa doesn’t have a running back on the roster who scored a rushing touchdown last fall. Watkins is back on the roster for the 2023 college football campaign, but former JUCO RB Jordan Ford has the best chance of asserting his dominance on the room.

A genuine speedster, Ford registered 21.1 mph while at Garden City, as per Reel Analytics. Bill Jackson might not have found the end zone last year, but he did average six yards per carry on a small load.

Meanwhile, the Golden Hurricane added former Oklahoma State back Braylin Presley, a true sophomore who saw action in seven games. Although he took just two carries for three yards, he’s a former four-star recruit who was the 2021 Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year.

14) Daba Fofana, Amin Hassan, Fabian France, Anton Hall Jr., Brandon Chatman, Alex Tecza | Navy

There’s a new dawn for Navy football under head coach Brian Newberry, but there’ll be no major deviation from the triple-option offenses that make the service academies such a joy to behold. However, with 18 total “running backs” split between fullbacks and slotbacks, evaluating the unit isn’t the same as for other teams on our 2023 AAC RB rankings.

While they may be ranked at the bottom of the conference, there are talented individuals on the roster. Daba Fofana is the cream of Navy’s crop, leading the Midshipmen with 769 yards, six touchdowns, and registering 15 runs over 10 yards. He has the speed to run away from defenses, and the frame (5’8″, 205 pounds) to withstand contact and keep on moving.

Share your thoughts!x