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ACC’s Best Returning Running Backs for 2023

ACC's Best Returning Running Backs

The ACC returns some nationally recognized and heralded quarterbacks, such as Heisman contenders in Florida State’s Jordan Travis and North Carolina’s Drake Maye. The success of dynamic quarterbacks like these cannot be sustained without their sidekicks in the offensive backfield; the running backs. The conference is very top-heavy this year, with a lot of names the common fan wouldn’t recognize. However, each is vitally important in their respective offense’s game plan, flow, and execution.

Here is LWOS’s list ranking the ACC’s best returning running backs for 2023.

5. Justice Ellison; Wake Forest

The former three-star product out of Virginia finished the 2022 season posting 699 rush yards with six touchdowns. What really stands out on tape is his patience and vision out of the backfield, especially when bouncing to the outside. Ellison was awarded All-ACC Third Team honors for his play. However, his lack of involvement in the passing game was a bit of a concern. Ellison only finished with six catches on the year, and 176 plays from scrimmage overall. With former star quarterback Sam Hartman now at Notre Dame, look for Ellison’s role in the office to increase. His leadership in the running game will be crucial, and his production as a pass catcher should improve.

 

4. Jawhar Jordan; Louisville

Jordan is potentially the most athletic back in the conference. He’s also the biggest question mark. Splitting carries with dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham and Tiyon Evans, Jordan still finished as the Cardinals’ leading rusher. He finished the 2022 campaign with 815 yards off 142 carries and four touchdowns. That comes out to a solid 5.7 yards per carry average. Standing at 5-9, his low center of gravity helps his burst through holes and agility in the open field. Both Cunningham and Evans are gone, leaving Jordan as the primary option. Head coach Jeff Brohm is looking to expand the offense more and, similar to what he did at Purdue, lean more on passing to running backs. Marking a huge transition from Cunningham, pocket-passing Cal transfer Jack Plummer is slated to start at quarterback. This only bodes well for Jordan’s upside as a pass-catcher in his final season.

3. Henry Parrish, Jr.; Miami

When it comes to consistency, you can’t ask for much better than Parrish. The former Ole Miss transfer is also the second most well-rounded back on this list. Splitting time with Jaylan Knighton and Thaddius Franklin Jr., in Miami, Parrish collected 130 attempts for 616 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He also gathered 17 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Parrish was able to find the endzone and simply made plays when it mattered most. Overall, he was a rare bright spot on a disappointing 5-7 Miami squad. He was named to the All-ACC Third Team for his contributions. Coming into his final year, Parrish has established himself as the Canes’ premier option out of the backfield. He could really make a significant jump in Mario Cristobal’s second year at the helm.

2. Trey Benson; Florida State

Benson had a breakout 2022 campaign for the Seminoles. The former Oregon transfer was the lead back of a “three-headed monster” backfield. Treshaun Ward and Lawrance Toafili stole 188 attempts and a lot of production. Benson still had 154 carries for 990 yards and nine touchdowns, with a staggering 6.4 yards per carry. Much of his success can be attributed to his play style. The definition of an old-school power back, Benson had a historic season as a tackle-breaker. His 51% forced missed tackle rate set a PFF record. Seventy-nine total forced missed tackles were good enough for third in the Power Five. Benson was awarded Second-Team All-ACC honors. PFF has him slotted as the sixth-best returning running back in the nation for 2023. Some analysts and NFL scouts even have him listed as the top prospect at the position for the 2024 NFL Draft.

Benson added 13 catches for 144 yards in the passing game. However, he needs to show more in that aspect to round out his game and truly be seen as an elite back. Ward transferred out of the program, and Toafili is more of a receiving threat, so Benson has the full green light as FSU’s workhorse.

1. Will Shipley; Clemson

The former five-star has certainly lived up to the billing so far. Shipley is the only player on this list who is the unquestioned top option and featured back in his offense. What also gives him the edge over Benson is his more dynamic and balanced style of play. Shipley had a terrific sophomore campaign for the Tigers, posting 1,182 yards and 15 touchdowns, good for second and first in the ACC, respectively. His 5.6 yards per carry also reflects his big-play ability. Shipley is the only returning back who eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark last season. Go ahead and expect him to replicate similar production on the ground again this year, given he stays healthy.

Shipley also shined in Clemson‘s passing game. 38 receptions was the most by a running back in the conference. His 242 yards along with that was good enough for third. For his efforts, Shipley was named First-Team All-ACC. With the emergence of Cade Klubnik as Clemson’s next star quarterback, Shipley could be even better this year. Perhaps we’ve only just begun to see him tap into his potential. The Tigers will need to lean heavily on Shipley in hopes of making another playoff run.

 

ACC's Best Returning Running Backs

Photo courtesy: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

 

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