Best ACC Running Backs Returning for 2024

Three yards and a cloud of dust. The fullback. Running the ball 35 times a game. This is how football was characterized for most of its existence. You don’t have to look very far to realize that football is changing. From conference realignments to the Transfer Portal, our game is changing. On the field, the game continues to evolve. Teams are more likely to use a 10-personnel formation (one running back and four receivers) than a 22-personnel setup (two running backs, two tight ends, and one receiver). Today’s running backs are expected to break a few big runs rather than carry the ball 25+ times a game. So, what were the criteria for selecting top returning ACC running backs for 2024? We looked at career yards. Explosive plays. And the “it” factor. We also went out of the box; more on that later.

Best ACC Running Backs Returning for 2024

#5 RB Jaylan Knighton, SMU

Knight enters his second season at SMU and comes in at #5 on our ACC running back’s list. Knighton began his career with Miami, playing three seasons in Coral Gables. In 2021, despite being limited to eight games due to injury, he led the Hurricanes in rushing with 561 yards and eight touchdowns.

Last year in Dallas, he appeared in 12 games, leading SMU with 745 rushing yards and tying for the lead with seven touchdowns. Knighton finished the season with 834 total yards, the highest on the team, and recorded the second-longest run in program history with a 95-yard touchdown at Charlotte. He was named to Athlon Sports’ Preseason 4th Team All-ACC this season.

#4 QB Thomas Castellanos, Boston College

Before my editor yells at me, there’s a good reason why we have a quarterback listed as one of the top returning ACC running backs in 2024. Castellanos transferred to Chestnut Hill after his freshman season at UCF, where he played all 13 games for the Eagles, starting 12. His stats were electric—unless your team played BC, you probably didn’t hear about him.

Castellanos racked up 2,248 passing yards and 1,113 rushing yards, making him the first 2,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in BC history and only the fifth in ACC history since 1996. While his passing stats deserve their article, his legs did the talking. Castellanos averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored 13 rushing touchdowns, ranking third in the ACC. He had back-to-back 100+ yard rushing games against Army and Georgia Tech. He capped off the season as Offensive MVP of the Fenway Bowl with 156 rushing yards, two touchdowns against SMU, and 102 passing yards. Proving once and for all that quarterbacks can be running backs, too!

#3 RB LeQuint Allen, Syracuse

Allen is a third-year running back for the Orange. He was the Orange’s #1 running back last year and made his impact known right away. Allen earned Second Team All-ACC running back and Honorable Mention All-ACC all-purpose player in 2023. He rushed for 1,064 yards (12th in program history) on 245 carries (6th most) with nine touchdowns, leading the team. Allen also had 38 receptions for 210 yards and a touchdown. He tied for second in program history with seven 100-yard games and had four consecutive 100-yard games, tying for third-most. He ranked fifth in the ACC in all-purpose yards per game (105.0), third in rushing yards (1,064), and ninth in rushing touchdowns (9). Entering 2024, he has appeared in 26 games with 14 starts, totaling 1,338 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and ranking 37th on Syracuse’s all-time rushing list.

#1A RB Omarion Hampton, North Carolina

The awards are long for the third-year running back out of Chapel Hill: Walter Camp First-Team All-American (2023), Doak Walker Award Finalist (2023), and First-Team All-ACC (2023). Hampton is coming off one of the best performances by a running back in 2023. He recorded 253 carries for 1,504 yards and 15 touchdowns, and  29 receptions for 222 yards and a touchdown.

His 1,504 rushing yards rank second on UNC’s single-season list, while his 15 touchdowns rank sixth. He rushed for over 100 yards in seven games and posted six consecutive 100-yard games. Hampton scored multiple touchdowns in six games and finished fifth in the FBS in rushing yards, rushing yards per game (115.7), and yards from scrimmage per game (132.8). He led the ACC in rushing yards, attempts, touchdowns, and yards per game while ranking second in all-purpose yards per game (132.8). Hampton would have locked out the top  ACC running back spot if the conference had not expanded West.

#1B RB Jaydn Ott, California 

Berkley had a few bright spots on the gridiron in 2023. One of the few was running back Jaydn Ott. After a solid freshman year with 897 yards and 8 touchdowns, Ott excelled in his second season at Cal. The sophomore averaged over 18 carries per game, totaling 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns.

As the 2024 season begins, Ott ranks second among active FBS players with an average of 92.2 rushing yards per game and fourth with 119.58 all-purpose yards per game. He has accumulated 2,212 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on 416 carries (5.3 yards per carry), 71 receptions for 514 yards and 5 touchdowns, and one kickoff return for a touchdown. Ott has the second-most rushing yards through 24 games in Cal history, behind J.J. Arrington (2,452, 2003-04), and has six games with 150+ rushing yards and five touchdown runs of 40+ yards. Not bad for the top ACC running back, even if they are on the other coast!

Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports


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