SEC RB Rankings 2023: Quinshon Judkins, Raheim Sanders, and Jarquez Hunter Sit Atop the SEC Tree

After his explosive debut season, Ole Miss Rebels running back Quinshon Judkins leads our 2023 SEC RB rankings, but who filters in behind him?

The Southeastern Conference was built on a reputation of hard-nosed, ground and pound, football. Therefore, it’s no surprise to find a plethora of the nation’s top running backs on rosters across the conference. Our 2023 SEC RB rankings attempt to establish the top backs in the conference ahead of the fall.

2023 SEC RB Rankings

1) Quinshon Judkins, Ulysses Bentley IV, Kedrick Reescano | Ole Miss

If football were a pure numbers game, Quinshon Judkins would sit comfortably atop our 2023 SEC RB rankings. The Ole Miss back was a freshman phenom last fall, bursting onto the scene with eye-popping production. No returning back can match his 1,567 rushing yards from a year ago, and no other rusher topped his 16 rushing touchdowns.

Football isn’t a pure numbers game, however, yet Judkins still sits atop our 2023 SEC RB rankings. The Rebels rusher is a multi-faceted back who is as comfortable getting north and south as he is plucking the ball out of the air as a receiver or picking up a blitz in pass protection. As a standout freshman, he’s only going to get better in the next two seasons.

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At 5’11” and 210 pounds, Judkins has the size to be the workhorse RB that he ended up being for Ole Miss last fall. He’s got long speed to break off big plays — 15.32% of his 2022 carries went for 10+ yards — while possessing the burst that allows him to break the line in the blink of an eye. He’s tough to tackle, and a tough measuring stick for the rest of the SEC.

Injury deprived us of seeing Ulysses Bentley IV’s full potential last fall, but he took 25% of his limited carries to the end zone. Add in freshman Kedrick Reescano, a top-300 recruit with a CFN Fusion grade of 92.854 and the ability to make a man miss like few others, and Ole Miss has the basis for another productive and dominant ground game regardless of the QB situation.

2) Raheim Sanders, Rashod Dubinion, AJ Green, Dominique Johnson | Arkansas

Raheim Sanders’ nickname isn’t “Rocket” because he has an affinity for space exploration. It’s because he explodes as if jet-propelled, and once he’s in the open field, he’ll take you to the moon. With size, speed, contact balance, cut-ability, and explosiveness, Sanders should be considered one of the best running backs in the nation and sits second in our 2023 SEC RB rankings.

An SEC All-Freshman in 2021, Sanders continued his upward trajectory last fall by rushing for 1,443 yards at a remarkable 6.5 yards per pop. Of his carries, 18.01% turned into 10+ yard plays, while Sanders found the end zone 10 times on the ground. A true pass-catching threat with WR experience in high school, he also added 271 receiving yards with two touchdowns.

Quarterback KJ Jefferson brings a physical and dynamic running presence, and his return gives Arkansas a dangerous ground attack. However, there’s more talent in the running back room to consider when weighing up Arkansas’ legitimacy as one of the top running games in the SEC.

The duo of AJ Green and Rashod Dubinion served as the primary backup to Sanders last fall, and while Green led the way in yards (414) and yards per carry (4.8), Dubinion’s 19.71 explosive-play percentage was up there with the best in the nation. If Dominique Johnson can stay healthy — he’s had two ACL tears in his career — he can also give defenses trouble.

3) Jarquez Hunter, Brian Battie, Damari Alston, Sean Jackson | Auburn

At the time of writing, Jarquez Hunter’s status for the 2023 college football season is uncertain pending an ongoing investigation related to leaked video content.

Tank Bigbsy is a loss to Auburn’s RB room. Of that, there is no doubt. He achieved remarkable things behind a less-than-stellar offensive line last fall. Yet, there might be a running back on the Tigers’ roster who is more underrated nationally than Bigsby in the form of Jarquez Hunter.

Hunter possesses the longest touchdown run in Auburn history. He also had the highest explosive-play percentage last fall (22.11%) of any player in these 2023 SEC RB rankings. The Tigers’ talent averaged 6.4 yards per carry, tallying 668 yards in a secondary role to Bigsby while finding the end zone nine times — adding 0.259 predicted points added (PPA).

The numbers are impressive, the film even more so. Hunter showcases vision and patience as a ball carrier but possesses the easy explosiveness to get upfield in a hurry. He hits you between the tackles and gets around the outside of the tackle. If you want to stop Hunter in the open field, you’re going to have to be prepared for a hyper-athletic hurdle that he routinely lands.

Hunter leads a running back room that welcomes the captain of elusiveness, Brian Battie, from the USF Bulls, fresh off a 1,000+ yard campaign. However, there’s no doubt over the No. 1 back, with head coach Hugh Freeze describing Hunter as “special” while adding, “I think he’s probably the best running back I’ve ever coached, truthfully,” as per

4) Kendall Milton, Daijun Edwards, Branson Robinson | Georgia

It would be a surprise to find a list of the top running backs in the SEC without there being a Georgia Bulldog right near the top. The program has a history of producing top-tier talent at the position, and with an uncertain QB situation and a change to Mike Bobo as the offensive coordinator, the ground game is set to be the offensive identity of the program again.

Kendall Milton’s standing in our 2023 SEC RB rankings is more than just historically or situationally based, however. The 6’1″, 220-pounder boasts an almost unstoppable combination of physical tools, with the strength and contact balance to fight through multiple tacklers and the speed and quick feet to rip off chunk plays. He’s also an able pass-catcher.

MORE: With Stetson Bennett Gone, Where Does Georgia Rank in the SEC QB Rankings?

Last fall, Milton became just the fourth Georgia RB to average 6.9 yards per carry, joining an elite club with Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Todd Gurley. His 0.334 rushing PPA was one of the highest of all players in these 2023 SEC RB rankings, as was his 17.44 explosive play percentage.

While the expectation is that Milton will lead the room with Kenny McIntosh departed to the NFL, Daijun Edwards and Branson Robinson will form an effective foil to the RB1 in this Bulldogs’ offense. Both backs have bulldozer capability, with deceptive speed for more compact backs. Edwards had just 10 carries less than McIntosh last fall, finishing with 721 yards.

5) Montrell Johnson, Trevor Etienne, Cameron Carroll, Treyaun Webb | Florida

There might not be a better one-two punch in the backfield in all of the SEC than the Florida duo of Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne. Former Louisiana rusher Johnson followed head coach Billy Napier to Gainesville and handled the majority of the duo’s snaps last fall, rumbling to 841 yards and 10 touchdowns at 5.4 yards per carry.

Although Etienne had fewer carries, he averaged 6.1 yards per pop, with six touchdowns, outpacing his teammate with 0.205 PPA while taking 17.79% of his carries for over 10 yards — good enough for fifth amongst projected starting running backs in our 2023 SEC RB rankings.

At 5’11” and 218 pounds, Johnson is a big, physical back who boasts deceptive speed. He has shown to be patient behind the line of scrimmage, allowing his explosiveness to shatter defensive game plans once he has used his football intelligence to assess the most dangerous path of attack.

Etienne’s combination of quick footwork, explosiveness, long speed, cut-ability, and a nasty demeanor makes the 5’9″, 207-pound Gators RB one to watch this fall. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars’ back Travis Etienne emerge as a 1,000+ yard back this fall.

6) Jaylen Wright, Jabari Small, Dylan Sampson, DeSean Bishop | Tennessee

With media focus on the passing game that powered Tennessee’s high-powered offense last fall, the ground game led by Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small went somewhat unnoticed and unheralded. Small might be one of the most underrated RBs in the SEC, with his cut-ability and nimble footwork matched by an unrelenting leg drive to power him in short-yardage situations.

Jaylen Wright is the speedier of the two, but his game isn’t entirely predicated on running away from defenses. The 5’11”, 205-pounder showcases excellent contact balance and uses it to extend runs beyond their natural conclusion. Few players in these 2023 SEC RB rankings can match his 0.343 PPA from last season, and he had 20 carries that went over 10 yards.

While Wright and Small will be the leaders of Tennessee’s RB room, Dylan Sampson has big-time plays on his college tape. Meanwhile, DeSean Bishop — a three-star recruit in the 2023 cycle — drew rave reviews from head coach Josh Heupel during spring football and could factor in as a true freshman this fall.

“Not surprising what DeSean has done,” Heupel told the team website. “He’s handled the transition into college football extremely well. We thought he was extremely athletic, he had great vision, pace as a running back coming out of high school. He’s done a really good job of handling the communication system and not being too big for him since day one.”

7) Jase McClellan, Justice Haynes, Roydell Williams, Jam Miller | Alabama

With Bryce Young now a Carolina Panther and no immediate succession plan, there’s a feeling that the Alabama Crimson Tide is about to rediscover a past offensive identity as a ground-and-pound team. The passing game has been dominant in recent seasons, but a quadruple-headed monster at running back is most likely going to power their offense this fall.

While there isn’t likely to be one standalone ball carrier for the Crimson Tide, we could see more of true freshman Justice Haynes than originally expected.

Alabama notoriously limits their freshmen, but Haynes has made such an impression on the Alabama coaching staff that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him impose himself on SEC defenses this fall.

“Justice is a really good player,” head coach Nick Saban told “He had a great spring. He’s got great maturity about him. Wouldn’t know he’s a freshman if you didn’t know better. The guy, nothing is too big for him in terms of learning, going out and executing.

“He’s not intimidated by anything and the guy’s got toughness. He can run behind his pads. He’s got good speed. He’s a good reciever. He can make you miss. I think he’s got a really bright future and I think he will contribute to the team this year.”

While Haynes may see significant snaps, Jase McClellan likely starts the season as Alabama’s RB1. The 5’11”, 212-pound rusher was the backup to Jahmyr Gibbs last fall, tallying 655 yards with 17.85% of his carries going over 10 yards. He’s a versatile RB whose lower strength can carry men between the tackles but has the speed to work outside.

8) Ray Davis, Demie Sumo-Karngbaye, JuTahn McClain, Ramon Jefferson, La’Vell Wright | Kentucky

Ray Davis swaps schools within the conference but maintains his standing as one of the top running backs in the SEC. The former Vanderbilt RB is one of a handful of returning rushers who surpassed 1,000 yards last fall while adding further yardage as a receiving option—an ability that will make him popular with new Kentucky QB Devin Leary.

Davis is set to replace the production lost with the departure of Christopher Rodriguez to the NFL, boasting a combination of physicality, quick feet, vision, and patience—something he might need if early reports of continued offensive line struggles continue into the 2023 season.

MORE: Will Devin Leary Put Kentucky in a Better Position Than Will Levis Ever Did?

Behind Davis is a room that isn’t short on talent but has lacked consistency due to injury. There were high hopes for former Sam Houston State RB Ramon Jefferson last fall, but an ACL injury curtailed his first season with the Wildcats. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Liam Coen praised JuTahn McClain during the spring.

The Wildcats bolstered their running back room late in the spring with the transfer portal addition of former NC State back Demie Sumo-Karngbaye. A deceptively slippery back for his size—6’0″, 210 pounds—he has the cut capability of a much smaller back. Sumo led the Wolfpack in yards per carry and rushing touchdowns last fall and is set to make an impact in the SEC.

9) Noah Cain, Josh Williams, Armoni Goodwin, Trey Holly | LSU

The most dangerous weapon in the ground game for LSU last fall was quarterback Jayden Daniels. The dual-threat QB had more 10+ yard runs than any other player in the SEC last fall and rushed for over 300 yards more than any other player on LSU’s 2022 roster.

The Tigers’ running back room is talented but has been beset with inconsistency. They have the potential to elevate themselves up our 2023 SEC RB rankings as the season progresses, with a trio of backs who tallied more than five yards per carry last fall. The question is, who will lead the room?

Former Penn State rusher Noah Cain should be the early favorite to emerge as the true RB1. When he’s healthy, Cain has the explosion to hit the hole, the physicality to hit a man, and the pass-protection skills to take a hit protecting his QB. Josh Williams and Armoni Goodwin should push him all the way, however.

With John Emery Jr.’s academic battles continuing through spring, it’s likely that true freshman Trey Holly will compete for playing time this fall. The 5’8″, 180-pound back had a CFN Fusion grade of 94.699 as one of the top 200 prospects in the 2023 recruiting cycle.

10) Jo’quavious Marks, Keyvonne Lee, Simeon Price, Jeffery Pittman | Mississippi State

As Mississippi State gets set to embrace a new offensive identity under head coach Zach Arnett, the ground game could be integral to their success.

With the loss of Dillon Johnson, Jo’quavious Marks should shoulder an even heavier load than the team-high 113 carries, 582 rushing yards, and nine touchdowns that he registered last season.

At 5’10”, 205 pounds, Marks can cut with no discernible drop-off in his impressive long speed and catches the ball out of the backfield with impressive consistency and reliability, while standing firm as a pass protector. He might not boast eye-popping production, but Marks is a solid, all-around RB who benefits the offense in multiple ways.

Meanwhile, Simeon Price showcased his ability to use quick feet, vision, and physicality between the tackles down the stretch of the season, including a standout performance in the ReliaQuest Bowl.

Bolstering Mississippi State’s RB room is the arrival of the No. 1 rated JUCO rusher, Jeffery Pittman. The 5’11”, 205-pounder was highly productive for Hinds Community College in the past two seasons, and his ability to bully opponents in the red zone should make him a valuable asset in his first SEC season.

Pittman wasn’t the final piece of the Bulldogs’ RB room. Late in the spring, Mississippi State plucked Keyvonne Lee out of the transfer portal after the former Nittany Lion found himself as the odd man out in a diabolically talented Penn State room. At 6’0″ and 220 pounds, he’s a versatile piece capable of being physical and elusive in equal measure.

11) Sedrick Alexander, Chase Gillespie, Patrick Smith | Vanderbilt

At this early stage, it can be difficult to project a freshman’s transition from high school to college, especially at the SEC level. There are a number of four and five-star recruits who might be highly ranked but might see very little action as true freshmen. That isn’t the case for Sedrick Alexander, who is already making an impression at Vanderbilt.

“Coming from high school and just getting here early, I feel like it was one of the best decisions I made,” Alexander told the Columbia Daily Herald after dominating the Commodores’ spring game. “Getting here and working with the boys, working with coaches from the staff, I just appreciate every moment. You see that it’s paid off.”

A three-star in the 2023 recruiting class, Alexander already possesses a skill set that should see him lead Vanderbilt into their Week 0 opener against Hawai’i. He has the straight-line speed, cut-ability, receiving upside, and physicality in his 5’9″, 200-pound frame to fill the void left by the transfer of Ray Davis to Kentucky.

Alexander is one of three new faces in the RB room, with fellow three-star recruits AJ Newberry and Deago Benson arriving ahead of summer camp. Returning backs Chase Gillespie and Patrick Smith, with a combined 165 career carries, round out an inexperienced Vanderbilt room.

12) JuJu McDowell, Dakereon Joyner, Mario Anderson, Dontavius Braswell | South Carolina

With a thin running back room, South Carolina may need to lean on newcomers Mario Anderson and Dontavius Braswell this season. Braswell is a four-star recruit and was a big get for the Gamecocks, bringing a multi-phase skill set that saw him play both sides of the ball and feature in the return game for Washington County High School.

Meanwhile, Mario Anderson is a physical player with excellent speed who compiled over 3,300 yards and 35 touchdowns in three seasons for the Newberry Wolves. Anderson can churn between the tackles and has the ability to break big runs to the outside. College Football Network named him one of the top instant impact transfer running backs for 2023.

JuJu McDowell is the leading returner from last fall, and as such, should be considered the de facto RB1 heading into the 2023 season. However, the lack of depth at the position could see wide receiver Dakereon Joyner emerge as a potent threat out of the backfield.

“I think his transition has been, I don’t want to speak for everybody else, but for me, even better than I anticipated it,” head coach Shane Beamer said of his offensive weapon, per “He’s very, very natural at it. He’s got instincts, he’s got vision, he’s tough.”

13) Amari Daniels, Le’Veon Moss, Rueben Owens, David Bailey | Texas A&M

After losing Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane to the NFL in consecutive seasons, Texas A&M entered the spring with one of the least experienced running back rooms in the SEC.

Despite the presence of highly rated true freshman Rueben Owens — the second-ranked back in the CFN Fusion Recruiting Rankings with a grade of 98.594 — Daniels appears to be primed for the lead role for the Aggies in 2023.

A highly productive and dominant back at Miami Central, Daniels also has special teams ability as a returner. His speed, fluid open-field movement, and desire to weaponize his 5’9″, 210-pound frame in red-zone situations could see the second-year player have a breakout season for Texas A&M.

In an attempt to add depth and experience, Jimbo Fisher’s team picked up former Boston College and Colorado State RB David Bailey from the transfer portal. A physical downhill runner, Bailey’s bruising style is in contrast to Daniels. Former Rice center-turned-fullback Jerry Johnson III also offers a physical element to the running back rotation for the Aggies.

14) Cody Schrader, Tavorus Jones, Nathaniel Peat, BJ Harris | Missouri

One of the stories of the season for the Missouri Tigers, former walk-on Cody Schrader led the team in rushing yards and touchdowns last fall after spending his previous four years at the DII level with Truman State, where he racked up 2,074 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns during the 2021 season.

While he’ll face competition from Tavorus Jones and Nathaniel Peat, Schrader will likely lead the room again this fall. He may not be the most explosive RB in the SEC, but Schrader’s ability to rumble between the tackles as a true north-south runner can power the Tigers’ offense.

The bigger question mark for Missouri is over who takes the most carries away from Schrader in what is likely an RBBC. Jones was a high-rated recruit last cycle, and his cut-ability and explosiveness could give him the edge in a battle with Peat.