Mountain West RB Rankings 2023: Boise State Broncos Boast Bona Fide Backfield Led by George Holani

George Holani leads a rampant Boise State backfield that dominates our 2023 Mountain West RB rankings. How does the rest of the MWC compare?

The Mountain West conference produced six 1,000+ yard rushers last fall, but only one of them returns for the 2023 college football season. Don’t be fooled into thinking there’s a lack of talent, however, as the conference is packed full of impact-making backs. Our 2023 Mountain West RB rankings attempt to separate the great from the good.

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2023 Mountain West RB Rankings

1) George Holani, Ashton Jeanty, Jambres Dubar, Tyler Crowe | Boise State

As the headline of our 2023 Mountain West RB rankings suggests, Boise State boasts a backfield that could compete with any in the nation, let alone the conference. George Holani is the only returning 1,000+ yard rusher from last fall, racking up 1,157 yards at 5.2 yards per carry and finding the end zone 10 times. The redshirt senior also added three receiving scores in 2022.

Behind the impressive numbers lies an even more impressive running back. The Boise State RB is insanely difficult to bring down, boasting excellent contact balance and lower leg drive to carry men on his back. He might not be a 4.3-second 40-yard dash straight-line speedster, but his fluidity of movement adds to his elusive qualities.

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While Holani returns as the leader of the team, Ashton Jeanty is undoubtedly the future of the running back room. As a true freshman, the 5’8″, 206-pound back outstripped his illustrious teammate in yards per carry (5.3), predicted points added (0.156), and percentage of carries that went over 10 yards (15.38%).

Adding to an embarrassment of riches, the Broncos reeled in three-star Anna High School standout Jambres Dubar, who is a verified 10.63-second 100m runner. On top of breakneck speed, Dubar breaks tackles with contact balance and ankles with mind-boggling change-of-direction ability. Tyler Crowe also produced big plays on limited carries last fall.

2) Harrison Waylee, D.Q. James, Dawaiian McNeely | Wyoming

Harrison Waylee was one of the top rushers in the MAC last fall but hops over to the Mountain West with the Wyoming Cowboys as the probable replacement for the departed Titus Swen. The former Northern Illinois rusher had a remarkable five-game stretch in the middle of last year when he tallied over 100 all-purpose yards, showcasing his multi-faceted ability.

The hallmark of Harrison’s game is impressive speed, topping 20.8 mph during the Huskies’ win over Eastern Michigan. While he can leave defenses trailing, he’s showcased the ability to work through traffic with good vision and bounce, possessing the body control to make himself skinny between the tackles.

Although Swen was the workhorse back for Wyoming last season, both D.Q. James and Dawaiian McNeely demonstrated big-play ability, giving Craig Bohl a triple-headed backfield monster to utilize this season. Waylee recently opened up about the second-ranked running back room in our 2023 Mountain West RB rankings to Wyoming News Now.

“D.Q. being really shifty, Dawaiian being in between shifty and heavy type of back, and the other guys just being who they are, we’re all building off each other. I like the fact that they teach me some stuff that I’ll probably be able to do in the game. So I can put that in my arsenal just in case I have to or if I need to.”

3) Vincent Davis, Courtney Reese, Jordan Younge-Humphrey, Jayvaun Wilson | UNLV

After tallying 1,813 yards across four seasons with 16 touchdowns for the Pittsburgh Panthers, Vincent Davis transfers to the UNLV Rebels, aiming to be the program’s third consecutive 1,000-yard rusher. His explosive, one-cut, and trail-of-dust brand of play should ensure success at the Group of Five level, and his experience and ability as a receiving back solidify UNLV’s spot in our 2023 Mountain West RB rankings.

Behind him, Courtney Reese offers an exciting mix of jukes and spin moves, boasting quick feet and the speed to get downfield in a hurry. The 5’8″, 165-pound back converted 17.64% of his carries into 10+ yard runs last fall. Meanwhile, Jayvaun Wilson has the size at 6’2″, 210-pound that is lacking with the departure of Aidan Robbins to the Big 12 with BYU.

4) John Lee Eldridge III, Owen Burk, Sione Angilau, Jalen Johnson, Aidan Calvert | Air Force

The Air Force Falcons lost the Mountain West’s leading rusher with the departure of Brad Roberts, and replacing him is one of several big question marks facing Troy Calhoun’s team as spring transitions into summer camp. The service academy doesn’t use a running back in the traditional sense of the word, leaning on a fullback or “Superback” and a slotback.

John Lee Eldridge occupied the slotback role last fall, averaging 7.7 yards per carry and using his sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash speed to turn 26.26% of his carries into runs of 10 yards or more. The 5’9″, 195-pound back spent the spring working toward filling the fullback role vacated by Roberts but could see time in both positions, as he explained to The Gazette.

“I feel like for me and the team, it would be best if I played a little bit of both. The combination, showing my speed on the edge and tricking the defense when I go in the middle, giving other guys the chance to get the ball on the edge, I think that would be best for the team.”

If Eldridge’s full-time transition to fullback doesn’t pay off, look for Owen Burk or Sione Angilau to run the rock up the middle. Meanwhile, Jalen Johnson showcased his big-play ability as a tackle-breaking slotback with an 80-yard touchdown run on one of his two carries last fall. Aidan Calvert is another potential option for the Falcons at the slotback position.

5) Tylan Hines, Nasjzaé Bryant-Lelei, Jordan Johnson | Hawaii

Racking up gaudy rushing numbers might not be a component of Timmy Chang’s throwback run-and-shoot offense at Hawaii, but that doesn’t mean the talent on the roster should automatically sink to the bottom of our 2023 Mountain West RB rankings. Although the Rainbow Warriors’ leading rusher from 2022, Dedrick Parson, has departed, a returning RB has star potential.

Tylan Hines has flashed game-changing speed, and for a RB who measures in at 5’7″, 175-pound, he’s demonstrated the ability to grind it out between the tackles. As a true freshman last fall, he averaged 7.6 yards per carry while taking 21.68% of his carries over 10 yards. His 0.325 predicted points added per game is one of the highest amongst returning Mountain West RBs.

6) Kairee Robinson, Jabari Bates | San Jose State

San Jose State had the top passing offense in the Mountain West one year ago, but their rushing offense floundered near the bottom of the conference in a number of metrics. However, that was more a case of a lack of touches rather than a talent deficiency.

The Spartans return lead back from last fall Kairee Robinson, who tallied 752 rushing yards while proving a reliable outlet for the passing game. The 5’7″, 189-pound back took 14.64% of his carries over 10 yards in 2022.

While he’s of smaller stature, Robinson isn’t afraid to do the dirty work between the tackles, while boasting that twitchy agility you’d expect from a back of his size. He’s also shown impressive flashes in pass protection, offering an all-round skill set that should be considered one of the best in the conference.

Adding depth, they also return Jabari Bates who is a former Offensive Player of the Year at St. John Bosco who brings an extra dimension to the Spartans. Meanwhile, Quali Conley was extremely productive at Utah Tech in 2022 (1,095 yards and eight rushing touchdowns) and his tape contains some jaw dropping truck sticks and impressive breakaway speed.

7) Damien Moore, Malik Sherrod, Elijah Gilliam | Fresno State

Although he ran the rock just 22 times for Cal last fall, Damien Moore’s 2021 campaign for the Bears can give Fresno State fans reason for excitement as they look toward life without Jordan Mims. The fourth-year back led all Cal rushers in touchdowns as a sophomore while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Finding that form could see him lead the Bulldogs running back room.

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Moore is a 5’10”, 210-pound ball of speed, agility, and power. Even on his freshman tape, there are some brutal stiff arm examples, and he’s not afraid to get down and dirty in short-yardage situations. The return of Malik Sherrod and Elijah Gilliam makes for an exciting running back room, with Gilliam showing big-play ability in limited opportunity last fall.

8) Ashton Hayes, Sean Dollars, Wesley Kommer, Cross Patton | Nevada

With significant turnover at the running back position, Nevada leaned on the transfer portal this offseason, reaching into the Power Five rushing ranks and plucked out two players who have little production but big potential. Sean Dollars might not have lived up to his four-star billing, but he has the speed to work outside and the toughness to battle between the tackles.

However, it’s Ashton Hayes who fires the Wolf Pack up our 2023 Mountain West RB rankings. The 6’0″, 200-pound local boasts speed, cut-ability, and has the athleticism to hurdle his way down the field. The former Cal rusher also has kick return ability. Wesley Commer and Cross Patton headline the returning talent but only have 26 career carries for 70 yards between them.

9) Jaylon Armstead, Kenan Christon, Cam Davis, Martin Blake, Lucky Sutton | San Diego State

You can expect the San Diego State Aztecs to run a backfield committee once more this fall. In the 2022 college football campaign, five different players carried the ball over 50 times, including quarterback Jalen Mayden.

Leading rusher Jordan Byrd is no longer with the program, leaving an opportunity for one of the eight backs on the roster to emerge as the RB1.

After rolling for 6.0 yards per carry, with over 17% of his runs going over 10 yards in 2022, Jaylon Armstead is in prime position to take that step. He’s an explosive rusher with elusiveness and speed who has fresh tread on the tires after amassing just 77 carries in three years.

While former USC rusher Kenan Christon is the likely next man up after Armstead, Martin Blake and redshirt freshman Lucky Sutton are two players who have made the most of their opportunity through spring practice and could see significant action. Sutton is a power back with quick feet and impressive balance.

10) Robert Briggs, Davon Booth, Cooper Jones | Utah State

Calvin Tyler Jr. has been a consistent presence at the heart of the Utah State Aggies running back room for the two seasons, and his departure leaves a significant hole, impacting the program’s ranking in our 2023 Mountain West RB rankings.

All is not lost for the Aggies, however. On his college debut last August, Robert Briggs showcased an explosive but patient style that could see him have a breakout campaign. The 5’6″, 175-pound back is set for a leap in production as the potential leader of the Utah State ground game.

Challenging Briggs for carries will be Cooper Jones — who led the team with 114 yards and two scores in the Aggies’ spring game — and Davon Booth, who arrives for the 2023 college football campaign after a productive JUCO career.

The 5’10”, 200-pound back averaged 6.5 yards per carry on his way to 1,442 yards and eight touchdowns for Cerritos, showcasing an alluring combination of speed, agility, and vision.

11) Andrew Henry, Christian Washington, Sherod White, Zach Vigil | New Mexico

New Mexico is another team in our 2023 Mountain West RB rankings who are likely to operate a committee approach to the ground game this fall. Last season, four players had 50+ carries, and they have nine running backs on their roster as they seek to replace leading rusher Nate Jones.

The Lobos landed Andrew Henry from the transfer portal, and the former Louisiana-Monroe back offers good speed, cut-ability, and receiving upside out of the backfield.

5’10”, 200-pound Christian Washington is the leading returning rusher, while Zach Vigil — a former New Mexico Gatorade Player of the Year — has earned praise for his ability as a pass protector and blocker from the running back position.

No running back found the end zone more for the Lobos last fall than Sherod White, who saw significant touches early in the year. His toughness and contact balance could see the former JUCO standout earn more than the 40 carries he tallied last fall.

12) Keegan Holles, Damian Henderson, Vann Schield | Colorado State

With all due respect to the Colorado State Rams, their running back situation coming out of the spring and barrelling towards summer camps is less than ideal, resulting in their positioning at the bottom of our 2023 Mountain West RB rankings.

At the time of writing, they only had one scholarship back on the roster — Keegan Holles — who had just 10 carries a year ago. The Rams’ leading rusher from last fall — Avery Morrow — is indefinitely suspended from the program with a legal case hanging over his head.

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There are likely to be more additions to a running back room that includes former Blue Grey All-American Vann Schield when the transfer portal window reopens, and former JUCO back Kenyard Edwards is set to join the program before the start of the season.

There is an even brighter light at the end of the running back tunnel, however. Three-star rusher Damian Henderson was the highest-ranked recruit of the 2023 cycle for the Rams, and he could be an impact-maker as a true freshman. At 6’2″, 200 pounds, he’s a tough runner who boasts 11.00-second 100m speed.

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