The Sun Belt was the home to four 1,000+ yard rushers last fall, and with only Khalan Laborn departing for the NFL — three of them are returning for action in the 2023 college football season. How do they stack up in our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings? Let’s find out!
2023 Sun Belt RB Rankings
1) Rasheen Ali, Ethan Payne, A.J. Turner | Marshall
After earning multiple accolades from a breakout in 2021, there were great expectations around what Rasheen Ali could achieve in the 2022 campaign among the college football community. Then, in August, it was announced that the star running back would be away from the program indefinitely. As a result, his teammate, Laborn, shouldered the load for Marshall.
Upon his late-season return, however, Ali showcased why he sits atop our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings. Outpacing his teammate down the stretch, the Marshall RB turned an astounding 21.27% of his carries into “explosive” plays (classed as 10+ yards). Meanwhile, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry and had one of the highest predicted points added (PPA) in the Sun Belt (0.226).
The 6’0″, 200-pound Thundering Herd back is a playmaking dynamo who has explosion, lateral agility, and quick footwork as weapons in his arsenal. While he can get upfield in a hurry, Ali also demonstrates patience at the line to maximize his success potential. The fourth-year rusher is also a potent weapon in the receiving game.
Ali’s ability sees the Herd thundering to the top of our 2023 Sun Belt rankings. However, he’s not alone in the Marshall backfield. Both Ethan Payne — who is expected to be the primary backup this fall — and A.J. Turner are capable of producing positive plays, and both averaged over five yards per carry on a light workload last season.
2) Frank Gore Jr., Rodrigues Clark, Kenyon Clay | Southern Miss
The summit of our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings was a closely contested affair, with Ali just nosing out one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in college football. Like his namesake father, Frank Gore Jr. has been a game-changing force at the college football level. He could have taken those talents to the NFL this fall, but we’re extremely glad he’s back in college.
The Southern Miss running back is a 5’8″, 195-pound powder keg of speed, elusiveness, change of direction ability, goal-line power, and stiff arm prowess. Gore rips off big plays for fun, with 20.17% of his 228 carries last season going for over 10 yards. He also averaged 6.1 yards per carry on his way to 1,382 yards — a feat that wouldn’t be surprising to see repeated in 2023.
Gore also adds value as a receiver and wildcat quarterback, throwing seven touchdowns in the last two seasons. His primary backup from last year, Janari Dean, has retired from football but Rodrigues Clark arrives from Memphis and has impressed in spring practice, leading the backfield in their final spring scrimmage. Expect Kenyon Clay to feature as well.
“We feel like we have a really legitimate, bonafide Division I running back room,” head coach Will Hall told the Sun Herald. “That’s just another position where when we got here, we had some good players. Now we have a lot of good players.”
3) La’Damian Webb, Braylon McReynolds, Kentrel Bullock | South Alabama
Former FSU-RB-turned-JUCO standout La’Damian Webb made his return to the FBS level look simple last year, as he cruised past 1,000 yards at the forefront of the South Alabama Jaguars’ rushing attack. The 5’7″, 208-pound back averaged 5.1 yards per carry and found the end zone 13 times on the ground, earning first-team All-Sun Belt honors.
A physical back who thrives in bulldozing over defensive obstacles, Webb also has the contact balance to withstand a hit and keep on rumbling down the field. Meanwhile, the South Alabama running back has impressive ball-carrier vision and can act upon what he sees with his lateral agility to cut and find a hole. There’s receiving upside to his game too.
In addition to the returning Webb and Braylon McReynolds — who topped Webb with 5.5 yards per carry in a light workload last fall — the South Alabama running back room boasts some intriguing additions that help solidify their standing near the top of our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings.
True freshman arrival Patrick Martin is a three-star RB, per 247 Sports, who chose South Alabama over a Power Five offer from Purdue. Meanwhile, Kentrel Bullock is a former four-star recruit who has seen action in the SEC with Ole Miss.
4) Nate Noel, Ahmani Marshall, Anderson Castle, Maquel Haywood | Appalachian State
Appalachian State has been a consistent producer of quality running backs, and with Nate Noel opting to return for another go-around, they boast a running back worthy of a place near the top of our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings. Although he had fewer carries than teammate Camerun Peoples last fall, Noel led the team in rushing yards, yards per carry, and touchdowns.
The 5’10”, 185-pound running back is a big play waiting to happen on every carry. He took 19.54% of his carries last fall over 10 yards, while his 0.421 PPA is the highest of any projected Sun Belt starter. He boasts excellent footwork, impressive burst, and speed, and has showcased tackling-breaking potential throughout his Mountaineers career.
While Noel will be the focal point of the Appalachian State rushing attack, the Mountaineers have been historically successful splitting carries, and there is the talent behind their RB1 to do so again this fall. Returning backs Ahmani Marshall and Anderson Castle both surpassed five yards per carry last year, with Castle taking 26.92% of his attempts over 10 yards.
The Mountaineers have also bolstered their running back room in the transfer portal and recruiting cycle. They landed three-star Jaylon Calhoun out of Lanier County High School, GA, while former Navy standout Maquel Haywood arrives in Boone fresh off a 6.5-yard per rush campaign for the Midshipmen.
5) Reese White, CJ Beasley, Braydon Bennett, Max Balthazar, Javin Simpkins | Coastal Carolina
If pure strength in depth was the measure of success in our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers would be sat right at the very top. There isn’t another running back room in the conference that boasts as many exciting playmakers, and they return all of their top talent from the 2022 college football campaign.
While CJ Beasley led the team in rushing yards last fall, Reese White has the potential to be the true danger man for the Chanticleers’ ground game. He’s a genuine speedster who can run away from defenses for fun but is also capable of varying his tempo to deceive opponents. When he’s not sprinting away, he showcases good line-of-scrimmage vision and patience.
The result? 19.19% of his 2022 carries went for over 10 yards. Attempting to compete with White as the speed-back in the Coastal offense is Braydon Bennett, a former track star who not only has excellent straight-line speed but has stellar change of direction ability. Meanwhile, the returners are rounded out by Max Balthazar, who is more than just an incredible name.
Meanwhile, there’s genuine excitement over the potential of true freshman Javin Simpkins. Named one of College Football Network’s “Impact True Freshmen Running Backs,” Simpkins had a slew of Power Five interest. He brings speed, spin moves, and pass-catching chops to a Coastal offense buoyed by the return of quarterback Grayson McCall.
6) Kimani Vidal, Asa Martin, Damien Taylor | Troy
As Troy powered to a Sun Belt title behind one of the best defenses in the nation, their offensive attempts were driven by standout Kimani Vidal. In his third season as a starter for the Trojans, the 5’8″, 218-pound back powered his way to a career-high 1,132 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Meanwhile, 16.88% of his carries resulted in a gain of 10 yards or more.
A compact running back, Vidal has the ability to churn out yardage with impressive lower body strength. Meanwhile, his big play ability is fuelled by decent speed, impressive contact balance, and change-of-direction capability.
Despite losing primary backup DK Billingsley — 142 carries, 670 yards, eight touchdowns in 2022 — the Troy running game has solid returning talent that helps secure their place near the top of our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings.
Damien Taylor has the burst and physicality to be a big play threat with more carries. The Trojans also added Memphis running back Asa Martin, who averaged over five yards per carry and found the end zone seven times last season as a result of his ability to shake off/barrel through contact.
7) Dre’lyn Washington, Terrence Williams, Jacob Kibodi, Zylan Perry | Louisiana
Chris Smith had been a leading fixture of the Louisiana Rajin’ Cajuns running back room for the last few seasons, and his departure leaves a significant hole to fill. However, the talent of Dre’lyn Washington and Terrence Williams ensures that the program doesn’t slip past the midway point of our 2023 Sun Belt RB Rankings.
Williams was the next man up last fall in Louisiana, but don’t be surprised to see Washington emerge as the true RB1 for this offense. He led the team with 5.5 yards per carry in 2022, while 18.75% of his carries resulted in a gain of 10 yards or more. He’s a former track star who generates big playmaking speed from his 5’9″, 225-pound frame.
According to head coach Michael Desormeaux, via The Advocate, Washington has spent the spring improving his ability as a pass protector. Meanwhile, Washington himself says he’s been working on his consistency. Already a spark plug, he’s about to be the motor that drives the Louisiana offense.
“He’s really done a good job in the backfield, getting to the press points and putting his foot in the ground and knowing when to finish vertical,” Desormeaux added. “All the way around, he’s had a heck of a spring. That’s what we all saw flashes of all fall. He’s doing it really consistently right now.”
8) Jalen White, OJ Arnold, Tyler Jordan | Georgia Southern
Perhaps lost in the midst of a program record-shattering passing offense last fall, Georgia Southern’s Jalen White put together a campaign up there with the best in our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings. Taking advantage of teams having to prioritize aerial defense, the 6’0″, 215-pound back took 14.81% of his carries over 10 yards — resulting in a 915-yard, 10-touchdown season.
The loss of Gerald Green impacts the Eagles’ offense, but White has the talent to shoulder the load. The 6’0″, 215-pound back is a physical force who bounces off contact like a pinball in a machine. He can make subtle movements in the open field that deceive defenders and allow for big plays. Fellow returners OJ Arnold and Tyler Jordan have also shown big play potential.
9) Lincoln Pare, Calvin Hill, Josh Berry | Texas State
Under new head coach G.J. Kinne, Texas State could have one of the highest-tempo offenses in the nation this fall. While there’s an assumption that we’ll see a greater focus on the passing attack, don’t discount the running back room led by Lincoln Pare from making plays for the Bobcats in 2023.
Pare boasts impressive footwork, receiving ability, and enough juice to take a long run to the house. He’s one of just a handful of returning running backs who registered a 60+ yard rush last season.
While Pare and Calvin Hill may lead the way again for the Bobcats, watch out for Josh Berry to make an impression. He averaged over five yards per carry on a light workload last fall, taking an impressive 18% of his carries over 10 yards. Berry was a JUCO standout for Blinn prior to joining the Bobcats.
Rounding out the ninth-ranked room in our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings, Texas State added a three-star true JUCO talent in Donerio Davenport from Kilgore College, while Ismail Mahdi arrives after averaging 5.1 yards per carry for Houston Baptist last fall.
10) Latrele Palmer, Kaelon Black, Ty Son Lawton, Solomon Vanhorse | James Madison
The loss of Percy Agyei-Obese to the NFL Draft hurts James Madison’s positioning in our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings. A longtime leader of the offense, he’d been a devastating thorn in FBS defense’s sides as the program emerged as an FBS transition success story last fall.
However, all is not lost, with potential in the player returning to the Dukes for the 2023 college football season. Latrele Palmer is a 6’0″, 222-pound bruiser who is practically unstoppable when he gathers a head of steam.
Meanwhile, Kaelon Black took an impressive 20.2% of his carries last fall for over 10 yards. His combination of breakaway speed, jitterbug lateral agility, and receiving capability could see the 5’10”, 211-pound fourth-year back emerge as the top playmaker for this James Madison running back room.
Adding competition to the room, Ty Son Lawton arrives after a 1,000+ yard campaign in his final season at FCS program Stony Brook. Lawton is a dangerous threat at all levels of the field, showcasing strength to punch it in between the tackles on short-yardage carries and the burst and speed to get around the edge and into the open field.
11) Marcus Carroll, KZ Adams, Jay Dixon, Charlie Pace, Freddie Brock | Georgia State
With the loss of Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams, Georgia State goes from having one of the top running back combinations in the conference to uncertainty that impacts their positioning in our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings.
Their current roster also lacks depth, with just three running backs currently listed (Charlie Pace doesn’t have a position assigned, yet) and little experience among them. The Panthers attempted to rectify this in late spring, bringing in former Maine running back Freddie Brock from the transfer portal.
Marcus Carroll will be the unchallenged leader of the backfield. The senior rusher was actually more efficient than Gregg, with 4.9 yards per carry last fall, while finding the end zone six times.
Carroll does his best work as a downhill thumper between the tackles, using his sheer strength to force his way through tacklers.
12) Thad Franklin Jr., Isaiah Woullard, Isaiah Phillips, Zack Martin | Louisiana-Monroe
Lousiana-Monroe sees the biggest transformation from last season in our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings. Leading rushers Malik Jackson and Andrew Henry have both left the program alongside quarterback Chandler Rogers, who took his team-high 145 carries out the door and into the transfer portal.
However, turnover breeds opportunity, and the Warhawks have been active in the transfer portal to replace the departed talent. Thad Franklin Jr. arrives from the Miami Hurricanes having averaged 5.2 yards per carry with seven touchdowns in two seasons.
Further Power Five reinforcements come from long-time Ole Miss running back Isaiah Woullard. He saw a substantial workload for the Rebels in 2018 but has since been a bit player as more talent arrived around him. The two backs are set to play a significant role for offensive coordinator Matt Kubik.
“I’m a fan of a bigger back, and that’s what I’m used to having,” Kubik said via the team website.”Especially in this zone scheme… To get some bigger backs in there is a big deal. To add Thad Franklin in there as a downhill back and Isaiah Woullard is the same thing. He’s built like a lot of the backs I’m used to.”
13) Brian Snead, Ja’Quez Cross, Mike Sharpe II | Arkansas State
Arkansas State finished at the rock bottom of the Sun Belt last fall in yards per carry (2.78), rushing yards (1,058), and yards per game (88.17). While there are some scheme and situational elements that provide important context to the numbers, the Red Wolves rushing game wasn’t something to hold their hat on during the 2022 college football campaign.
With the departure of leading rusher Johnnie Lang, it likely won’t get too much better in the near future. That said, both Brian Snead and Ja’Quez Cross showed flashes of promise when called upon last fall, with Snead taking 12.34% of his carries for over 10 yards. Cross’ lateral agility and receiving upside could see him assume RB1 responsibility eventually.
14) Keshawn Wicks, Kadarius Calloway, Obie Sanni, Tariq Sims | Old Dominion
A number of Sun Belt teams suffered significant losses from their running back rooms this offseason. However, no loss has as much power to have such a detrimental impact on a program’s positioning in our 2023 Sun Belt RB rankings as Blake Watson’s departure from Old Dominion.
He leaves behind an inexperienced room, with Keyshawn Wicks’ 49 career carries leading the way. No returning running back registered a positive PPA last season. However, the arrival of JUCO standout Kadarius Calloway gives the team a productive and physical force out of the backfield who boasts good speed for his size.