ACC RB Rankings 2023: Will Shipley and Trey Benson Lead Dynamic Clemson, FSU Running Back Rooms

Clemson's Will Shipley holds off Trey Benson to top our 2023 ACC RB Rankings, but how do the rest of the conference's talented RBs stack up?

The Atlantic Coast Conference may have lost the leading two rushers from last season to the NFL, but there’s an exciting crop of running back talent waiting in the wings to fill the void. Our 2023 ACC RB rankings break down who to watch out for this fall.

2023 ACC RB Rankings

1) Will Shipley, Phil Mafah, Domonique Thomas | Clemson

Is there really any other place to start our 2023 ACC RB rankings than with Clemson running back Will Shipley? The third-year back is the conference’s leading returning rusher, averaging 84.43 yards per game last fall. Only Pitt’s Israel Abanikanda rushed for more than Shipley’s 15 touchdowns in 2022, as the Tigers running back carried the Clemson offense.

Furthermore, Shipley tallied more predicted points added (PPA) – 0.272 – than any returning full-time running back from 2022. Previous production isn’t a guarantee of future success, but the Clemson running back has proven that he’s got the skill set to be among the best ball carriers in college football this season.

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The 5’11”, 205-pound running back has the speed and vision to terrorize defenses, rattling off chunk plays for fun. No returning ACC running back had more than Shipley’s 38 explosive rushing plays (10+ yards) in the 2022 season. Meanwhile, his frame allows for physicality, and he’s an excellent pass-catching threat.

Shipley leads a stable of 10 running backs currently on the Clemson roster ahead of Garrett Riley’s first season on the coaching staff as offensive coordinator. Phil Mafah is a capable deputy behind Shipley, while Keith Adams Jr. and Domonique Thomas could both see double-digit carries.

2) Trey Benson, Lawrance Toafili, Rodney Hill | Florida State

We’ll look back at the 2022 Florida State Seminoles running back room in future years and marvel at how brutally fantastic they were. Not only does Trey Benson lead a unit that ranks second in our 2023 ACC RB Rankings, but it’s also a stable that loses Treshaun Ward – the third-ranked rusher in our 2023 Big 12 RB Rankings – following his transfer to the Kansas State Wildcats.

Benson paced the Seminoles last fall with 990 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Meanwhile, his 6.43 yards per carry mark is the highest of any returning running back in the ACC. The former Oregon rusher comes back for his second season in the conference with the second most rushing yards per game (76.15 yards per game) of all returning running backs.

At 6’1″ and 215 pounds, Benson has the size to be a powerful force in the ground game, but, as Pro Football Network NFL Draft Analyst Ian Cummings points out, Benson has the “athleticism and fleet-footed style” that is more often associated with a smaller back.

Behind Benson, both Lawrance Toafili and Rodney Hill are capable of producing big plays and should comfortably handle the vacated carries from Ward’s departure. Toafili found the end zone five times last fall, while Hill averaged 5.3 yards per carry in limited exposure.

3) Jawhar Jordan, Isaac Guerendo, Maurice Turner | Louisville

Jawhar Jordan spent two seasons at Syracuse before transferring to Louisville ahead of the 2021 campaign. His performances in his second year with the Cardinals have earned the fifth-year running back significant national attention and a place near the top of our 2023 ACC RB Rankings.

There might not be a player who carries more momentum into the 2023 college football season than Jordan. He rushed for 100+ yards in four of the final five games of the season, helping Louisville overcome Cincinnati in the Fenway Bowl with two touchdowns and a string of big plays.

Meanwhile, he flashed his versatility with a 98-yard kick return touchdown against NC State. Explosive plays are the hallmark of the Louisville speedster’s game. Jordan’s 10 rushes of 20+ yards in 2022 tied Clemson’s Shipley for second among returning ACC backs, while his 26 carries of over 10 yards ranked third.

“For a smaller back, he runs as hard as anybody I have been around for his size,” former Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said of Jordan in the wake of the NC State game. “He is not the 210- or 215-pound back. He still sticks in there and tries to maneuver and get yards. He’s got a lot of speed. He is a tough, tough football player… he is a big-time ballplayer.”

4) Jaquez Moore, Jordan Waters, Jaylen Coleman | Duke

During a year of resurgence for the Duke football team under first-year head coach Mike Elko, the Blue Devils had multiple impressive rushing performances. Quarterback Riley Leonard led the team with 699 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, but that’s not to say that he carried the offense.

Jordan Waters flashed, but Jaquez Moore could potentially emerge as the lead back. The now-junior running back’s potential propels the Blue Devils near to the top of our ACC RB Rankings.

Moore led the team with 6.4 yards per carry last fall, while his rush PPA of 0.279 was not only the best of all Duke running backs but the entire conference. His 6.43 yards per carry ranks second among all returning ACC backs.

Moore boasts impressive speed but also has great vision and showcases patience to allow blocks to develop. Explosive acceleration and cutting ability allow him to take advantage once they’ve developed. As adept between the tackles as he is bouncing outside, the Duke running back could be set for a huge season.

5) Elijah Green, Omarion Hampton, George Pettaway, British Brooks, Caleb Hood | North Carolina

This article’s title might indicate that we’re ranking starting RBs, but the North Carolina Tar Heels running back room is so stacked that figuring out who might be considered the starting running back for the 2023 CFB season as March turns to April is a fool’s errand. Whoever does earn that role will be worthy of a place near the top of our 2023 ACC RB rankings.

Big things were expected of British Brooks ahead of last season, but a spring injury sidelined him for the year. He opted to return for his sixth season on Chapel Hill, where his speed and physical playstyle will make him a dangerous proposition. Elijah Green is the same, with an ability to absorb contact and a verified in-game speed of 20+ mph.

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The Tar Heels landed a pair of true freshman running backs in the 2022 recruiting cycle, and both made their impact felt in their first year with the program. Omarion Hampton broke 100 yards in two of his first three games, with a 101-yard, two-touchdown performance on his debut that earned him Pro Football Network Freshman Player of the Week honors.

Meanwhile, George Pettaway flashed his skills in limited exposure, and Caleb Hood rumbled to 5.8 yards per carry while showcasing his ability as a receiver out of the backfield. Even with quarterback Drake Maye’s contributions to the ground game, North Carolina likes to get multiple RBs involved, and the team certainly has a stable of backs with which to establish the run in 2023.

6) LeQuint Allen, Juwaun Price, Mario Escobar | Syracuse

Sean Tucker left big shoes to fill in Syracuse. While he might not have the breakneck speed or catchy social media persona of his predecessor, LeQuint Allen showed that he could step into those shoes, step up, and deliver when called upon during the 2022 season.

Allen’s selection this high in our 2023 ACC RB Rankings may surprise some, but don’t be surprised when he emerges as a big-play threat for the Orange this fall. In his true freshman campaign, he turned four carries into 112 yards against Wagner, including the only 90+ rushing yard play of any returning ACC running back.

In his only game handling a full workload, Allen rushed for 94 yards at 6.3 yards per carry while also snagging 11 receptions for 60 yards. His PPA of 0.253 is one of the best among any ACC running back. He even threw for a touchdown against Wake Forest, which might not count for much from an evaluation standpoint, but it was damn cool to watch.

Allen might not have Tucker’s speed, but he has enough juice to take it the distance. He’s also physical enough to put his 6’0″, 195-pound frame between the tackles in goal-to-go situations. There isn’t much in the way of experience behind him on the depth chart, so expect the sophomore to handle a substantial load in the 2023 college football season.

7) Henry Parrish Jr., TreVonte’ Citizen, Ajay Allen, Donald Chaney Jr. | Miami (FL)

Miami (FL) running back Henry Parrish Jr. and a talented team of rushers behind him see the Hurricanes round out the top half of our 2023 ACC RB Rankings. A former four-star back out of Goulds, Florida, Parrish spent his first two seasons at Ole Miss before transferring to Miami for 2022.

Although his numbers from last season didn’t register on the national radar, the third-year back set career highs for rushing yards, touchdowns, and receiving touchdowns. Meanwhile, he ranks fourth among returning ACC running backs in yards per game (60.40) and eighth in yards per carry (4.72).

Numbers don’t really do justice to what Parrish brings to the table as a running back this season. He’s a dynamic rusher with easy acceleration, impressive twitch, and lateral agility to cut without any discernible drop-off in speed. The Miami running back also showcases good ball-carrier vision.

With the returning TreVonte’ Citizen and Donald Chaney Jr. set to be the primary backups to Parrish this season, the ‘Canes dipped into the portal and snagged former Nebraska rusher Ajay Allen. An under-the-radar addition, Allen took 21.2% of his limited carries last fall for over 10 yards.

8) Justice Ellison, Will Towns, Demond Claiborne, Tate Carney | Wake Forest

With the departure of Sam Hartman, there could be an increased focus on the Wake Forest run game in the 2023 college football season. Thankfully for the Demon Deacons, they have one of the best in the ACC in the form of Justice Ellison. The fourth-year back rushed for a career-high 699 yards last fall, finishing fifth in the conference with an average of 54.38 yards per game.

Ellison’s vision and ability to make people miss are highly impressive. Meanwhile, there might not be a better pass protector at the position in the ACC.

While the Demon Deacons added two freshman backs to the roster this recruiting cycle, Will Towns, Demond Claiborne, and Tate Carney — brother of productive Wake RB Cade Carney — will likely handle the majority of the carries that Ellison doesn’t.

9) Rodney Hammond Jr., C’Bo Flemister, Daniel Carter | Pittsburgh

With ACC leader Israel Abanikanda and Vincent Davis both departed, there’s a significant amount of production to be replaced from the Pittsburgh Panthers’ running back room.

Rodney Hammond Jr. handled a sizable load in eight games last fall, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and finding the end zone five times. He’s run the rock over 100 times in consecutive seasons.

Hammond will potentially form a potent one-two punch with former Notre Dame running back C’Bo Flemister.

While the long-time Pitt back brings power to the backfield, Flemister is more of an all-around threat who combines cut ability with good burst but can still run through a man if need be. Flemister has just 150 career carries, and there’s not much experience in the rest of the room.

9) Dontae Smith, Trey Cooley, Jamie Felix | Georgia Tech

After leading Georgia Tech to a 4-4 record as interim head coach, Brent Key takes over the lead of the Yellow Jackets full-time in 2023. The former run game coordinator has a history of producing successful running backs, but is there anyone near the level of former Georgia Tech stars like Jahmyr Gibbs? Georgia Tech’s placing in our 2023 ACC RB Rankings would suggest not.

That said, Dontae Smith has the potential to make a mark in the conference this year. Ranking 13th among returning ACC backs with 35 yards per game last year, his mark of 4.83 yards per carry was good enough for seventh. Smith is an unstoppable force with excellent speed, contact balance, body control, and a plethora of tricks and skill moves at his disposal.

10) Jordan Houston, Michael Allen, Kendrick Raphael | North Carolina State

With the departure of Demie Sumo-Karngbaye to Kentucky, the NC State Wolfpack running back room takes a little dip down our 2023 ACC RB rankings. While he didn’t lead the team in yardage last season, he was the returning leader for yards per carry and rushing touchdowns among the program’s running backs.

While Sumo-Karngbaye’s loss will be felt, Jordan Houston is highly regarded within the program, earning the Ted Brown Award for the Wolfpack’s Offensive Back of the Year. The 5’10”, 190-pound back can get upfield in a hurry and isn’t afraid of contact. He’s showcased receiving skills and also brings special teams value as a good all-rounder for NC State.

Houston handled the bulk of the carries last fall, leaving the departed Sumo-Karngbaye and Michael Allen to split the remaining carries. Allen should be the key beneficiary of the hole in the running back room after building momentum late last season. He’s a genuine speedster with 20+ mph plays on his high school tape.

Allen saw time as a true freshman last fall, and Kendrick Raphael may well do the same. Raphael was incredibly productive at Naples High School, Florida, amassing 4,253 all-purpose yards and averaging over 10 yards per carry. He’s agile, fast, and showcases good footwork and vision.

12) Bhayshul Tuten, Malachi Thomas, Chance Black, Bryce Duke | Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech returns just over 300 yards of rushing production from last season, with leading touchdown scorer Jalen Holston and yardage and yards per carry leader Keshawn King both moving on.

That lack of returning production sees the Hokies fall near the bottom of our 2023 ACC RB Rankings. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel that not only keeps them off the bottom of the conference but also promises to propel them up the rankings if the season for one running back matches our preseason expectations.

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That light is Bhayshul Tuten. The transfer from North Carolina A&T is an FCS All-American who tallied over 1,700 total yards and 17 touchdowns last fall. Tuten’s light feet ensure he dances around defenses, and he possesses exciting explosiveness and home-run-hitting speed.

If he can replicate his 100+ yard performance against Duke last season consistently during his first full-time campaign at the FBS level, Tuten could fly up these rankings. That said, the Hokies’ other transfer portal action this offseason might suggest a heightened focus on the passing game for Virginia Tech this fall.

13) Pat Garwo III, Kye Robichaux, Alex Broome | Boston College

Boston College’s offensive line misery from the 2022 college football season makes an effective and fair evaluation of the talent on their roster something of a difficult business. The return of offensive line coach Matt Applebaum and key figures like Christian Mahogany should ensure a more successful ground game this fall.

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The addition of Kye Robichaux, a former walk-on at Western Kentucky who worked his way to a scholarship, adds a versatile presence to the room with good receiving skills and a physical north-south demeanor. Alex Broome showed flashes of potential last season and led the team in yards per carry. Meanwhile, Pat Garwo III can be explosive and shows good vision and patience.

14) Perris Jones, Mike Hollins, Kobe Pace, Xavier Brown | Virginia

Virginia’s running game finished in the bottom half of the ACC last fall across a number of metrics in what was a difficult season for the Cavaliers. Mike Hollins returns to the program, and nothing would make me happier than seeing a feel-good story come out of of the tragedy that struck the university last November.

While the fifth-year rusher earned praise from the coaching staff last season, the Cavaliers will likely be led by former walk-on Perris Jones. He led all Virginia RBs in yards and yards per carry last season and was the only returning rusher with a positive PPA. The transfer of former Clemson back Kobe Pace adds competition for a unit that needs to show improvement in 2023.