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ACC Post-Spring Positional Power Rankings: Running Back

Well the spring is absolutely flying by. The Fizz staff will be packing up for the summer over the coming weeks and enjoy a few months away from school. Obviously, the content will continue to pump here as well. We’ve got plenty of football, basketball, and even lacrosse to talk about. Today we’re back to the gridiron. 

Last Friday we unveiled our first ACC post-spring positional power rankings starting with quarterback. North Carolina’s Sam Howell took the top spot, and SU’s Tommy DeVito came in at #13 out of 14. 

Clearly, that’s not very good but what argument can you make that would push us to rank him higher? We’re still waiting on the New Jersey native to breakout, maybe it comes this fall. 

Today, the Orange should fare much better and rank much higher because the running backs are the subject at hand. We’ll rank which ACC teams have the best running back rooms from 1 to 14 and explain our reasoning. 

  1.  NC State – Zonovan “Bam” Knight and Ricky Person Jr., 

> The Wolfpack have one of the more underrated RB duos in the conference in Knight and Person Jr. Knight is back for his junior season after back-to-back 700 yard campaigns on the ground. In 2020 he doubled his scoring though going from 5 in 2019, to 10 in ‘20.

> Person Jr. was solid last season as well finishing with 643 yards and four scores. He owns about 1,400 yards for his career and 9 touchdowns so he’s very seasoned in the realm of college football. Knight and Person Jr. should lead the offense in ‘21 as the Pack tries to find a new signal caller. 

  1. Clemson – Lyn-J-Dixon, Kobe Pace, Will Shipley 

> Before we even get into the names, you can assume these players are very talented. Clemson can recruit and bring in all the big names each and every recruiting cycle. With Travis Etienne off to the NFL, Dixon and Pace have a chance to carve their own legacies. 

> Dixon is a rising senior who enters 2021 with 1,372 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 208 attempts. He enters what figures to be his final season as a Tiger, second in school history in yards per carry at 6.60 (behind Etienne). Now this number is a bit skewed because he hasn’t had the amount of production that could curtail that stat, but still noteworthy. We’ll see if he can step into the spotlight and have a big senior year. 

> Pace is a similar case as Dixon, but much younger. He’s only a rising sophomore that could have seen a lot more run as a freshman if not for Etienne. In 2020, Pace took 18 carries for 75 yards and caught five passes for 26 yards with a score. Obviously the numbers aren’t impressive, but he’s a former blue chip recruit that has the tools to be the #2 back in this offense. 

> It wouldn’t be Clemson if there wasn’t some young player getting lauded with hype early in his career. The 2021 version of this is Will Shipley. He’s a former consensus five-star recruit, according to the 247sports.com composite rankings. He was the #1 all-purpose back prospect and own a verified 4.46 forty-yard dash. He received a pro comparison to Bengals running back Joe Mixon and is a projected 2-3 round pick. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before Shipley is the featured back, he’ll definitely be in the rotation in 2021.  

  1. Florida State – Jashaun Corbin, DJ Williams, Lawrance Toafili 

> The Seminoles always have a talented backfield and that’s no different this year. Say what you want about FSU, tailback has never been a position of weakness. Head Coach Mike Norvell has attacked the transfer portal to bring in former Texas A&M Aggie Jashaun Corbin and former Auburn Tiger DJ Williams to Tallahassee. Of course, the Noles have no problem getting talent from high school either and Toaflili fits the blue chip billing. 

> In 2020 Corbin played in all nine games and totaled 548 all-purpose yards with 18 rushes for 401 yards. He should take on a bigger role in the fall as a tailback and kickoff return threat. Williams enters his first season as a Seminole after falling down the depth chart at Auburn. Williams can be the power rusher for FSU that can move the ball on short yardage situations or just get you some yards on 1st and 2nd down. 

> Toalfili is a former four-star recruit that had a big freshman season in 2020. He took 37 carries for 356 yards and two touchdowns. He earned FSU co-offensive player of the year honors for his big opening campaign. He should be the #2 back entering the season and has all the tools to potentially hit 1,000 yards as a sophomore.  

  1. Miami – Donald Chaney Jr., Jaylan Knighton, Cam’Ron Harris 

> The Canes have a three-headed monster in the backfield heading into 2021. Harris is the headliner after a decent 126 carry, 643 yard, 10 touchdown year in 2020. That was his first season as the starter and he should be even better next fall.  

> Knighton and Chaney Jr. battle for the #2 spot behind Harris. They are both former blue chip recruits and played well in ‘20. Chaney led the way with over 300 yards rushing, and Knighton went over 200, but he may be the biggest dual-threat at the position. In 2020 he caught 11 passes for 135 yards and a score. His receiving ability adds to his offensive arsenal and gives “The U” one of the deepest rooms in the ACC.  

  1. Georgia Tech – Jahmyr Gibbs, Jordan Mason, Jamious Griffin 

> Well the Yellow Jackets have always been good at running the ball, that’s no different this year. Here’s the thing, we’re not talking about the triple option. Head Coach Geoff Collins has installed the spread offense and has plenty of options out of the backfield to make it pop in 2021. 

> Jahmyr Gibbs is the headliner for this Georgia Tech squad. The former blue chip recruit had a solid freshman season taking 71 carries for 384 yards and four touchdowns. He also set a career high with 105 yards against the Orange. He should be the #1 back for GT in 2021. 

> Jordan Mason is a former All-ACC third team performer (2019) and has three seasons under his belt. He saw a huge dip in production last season as he went from 951 yards in ‘19 to just 63 toal in 2020. Why? Jahmyr Gibbs. We’ll see if Mason can figure more prominently in 2021.  

> Jamious Griffin is another former four-star running back that GT beat a lot of strong programs for. He had a solid sophomore season in 2020 taking 47 carries for 240 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Griffin took the #2 spot from Mason last season, we’ll see if he can hold onto that spot but either way this Yellow Jackets tailback room is deep. 

  1. North Carolina – Ty Chandler and Caleb Hood 

> If you aren’t familiar with the name Ty Chandler it’s because he’s new to the ACC. Chandler is a grad transfer from the University of Tennessee and had a spectacular career as a Volunteer. The Nashville native totaled over 2,000 yards over four seasons with 25 starts in 45 games played. Chandler departs Rocky Top fifth in UT history with 3,245 all-purpose yards. He’ll take over as the bell-cow back in the Tar Heels offense now that Javonte Williams and Michael Carter are in the NFL.  

> Caleb Hood is another name that won’t ring a bell because he’s never carried the ball in a game scenario in Chapel Hill. Hood is an early enrollee and was a three-star recruit, according to his 247sports.com composite rankings. Don’t be fooled by that ranking though, the North Carolina native ran a verified 4.40 forty-yard dash at The Opening in 2019. He actually played quarterback in high school as well. Hood threw for over 6,000 yards to go along with nearly 2,000 on the ground over his three years playing prep ball. UNC needs production behind Chandler to be successful, Hood might be the #2 guy. 

  1. Syracuse – Sean Tucker, Jarveon Howard, Abdul Adams

> It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call the SU backfield one of the best in the ACC. The Orange are experienced and deep. Not to mention a freshman burst onto the season in 2020. Sean Tucker returns after grabbing hold of the RB1 spot after a big debut in the 315. Tucker ran for the third-most yards by a freshman in program history, going for 626 in a shortened season. He’ll return as the starter in 2021, but he has some talent  behind him as well.  

> Jarveon Howard and Abdul Adams return to SU after opting-out of the 2020 season. Howard has played in 23 games for Syracuse and totaled 652 yards and 10 touchdowns on 144 carries. He’s a powerful and experienced option for the Orange and should get some share of the carries in the fall. Adams is another seasoned veteran that was actually SU’s backup in 2019. In that ‘19 campaign he went over 300 yards and should be another option for ‘Cuse in the fall. 

  1. Wake Forest – Christian Beal-Smith and Christian Turner

> Beal-Smith returns after an impressive 2020 season that forced Kenneth Walker III to transfer to Michigan State. Beal-Smith finished 9th in the ACC in rush yards last season with 732 and 6th in the conference averaging over 80 per outing. He’s the headliner for this Demon Deacons backfield entering the fall.

> So Walker III hit the portal, but Wake also brought in some talent to replace him. Christian Turner is a transfer from Michigan that saw action in 2018 and 2019 before falling on the depth chart in 2020. He carried 64 times for 270 yards and a touchdown in Ann Arbor and has some playmaking ability. Turner should take over as the #2 back next season.; 

  1. Virginia Tech – Raheem Blackshear, Jalen Holston, Marco Lee

> The Hokies lose former Kansas running back Khalil Herbert to the NFL after an electric 2020 season. However, there’s another former transfer still in the backfield in Raheem Blackshear. The Rutgers transfer was the #2 back last season but could take over as the go-to in 2021. Blackshear is a threat on the ground and as a receiver. Last season he ran for over 250 yards and caught over 150 yards worth of passes. As a Scarlet Knight he ran for over 900 yards and had over 800 receiving. 

> Other names to know include Jalen Holston and Marco Lee. Holston is a rising redshirt-junior that has taken 173 carries for 715 yards and 7 touchdowns. He could battle for the starting job, but either way he’ll be a contributor in the Hokies offense. Lee is a JUCO transfer from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. He ran for 1,232 yards and nine touchdowns in two seasons as a Red Raven. At 5-11, 227 he has the physical tools and production to be an instant impact player for VA Tech.  

  1. Pittsburgh – AJ Davis and Vincent Davis

> A pair of Davis’s headline the #H2P backfield again in 2021. The upperclassmen return to anchor the backfield with quarterback Kenny Pickett. Vincent Davis is a rising junior and doubled his production between his first and second seasons as a Panther. He took 143 carries for 632 yards and six touchdowns in 2020. He also caught 24 passes for 154 yards and one more score. One the depth chart he figures to be 1a, while AJ Davis should be 1b. 

> AJ Davis enters his redshirt-senior season and took 61 carries for 266 yards. This was after arguably his best season as a junior in 2019 when he rushed for over 500 yards and added over 250 yards in the passing game as well. If he can build on last season and sprinkle in more as a receiver he will be a big impact for the Pitt backfield.

  1. Louisville – Jalen Mitchell and Hassan Hall

> The Cards need to replace Javian Hawkins in the backfield and have some options, though not very proven. Mitchell is the best option for the fall. In 2020 he played in nine games and ran 52 times for 347 yards and two touchdowns. At 5-10, 221 he has a similar build to Hawkins and should slide in as the #1 back in 2021. Hall is another reserve that could see more action next season. He’s participated in three seasons and has over 1,000 career yards on the ground. He’s also an electric threat on kick returns with just under 2,000 return yards over three seasons. He ran a 10.3 100 meter in high school so he has all the intangibles to be a threat out of the backfield.

  1. Duke – Mataeo Durant, ? 

> The Blue Devils have some questions to answer at the tailback position in 2021. Luckily, Head Coach David Cutcliffe returns one of the most underrated talents in the ACC in Mataeo Durant. Duke loses Deon Jackson after finishing his career in Durham with over 2,000 yards on the ground. SU fans probably remember Jackson and Durant absolutely torching the defense in http://last year’s 38-24 loss.  

> Durant is a proven commodity that broke out in 2020. The South Carolina native took 120 carries for 817 yards averaging about 7 per touch. Against Syracuse, Durant ran 23 times for 163 yards and a pair of scores. He’ll probably get a lot more carries in the fall because the Blue Devils are once again looking for another quarterback with Chase Brice out the door. So the Dukies have their bell-cow back for next season, but they have no proven options at the #2 spot and no early enrollees from the 2021 recruiting class either. 

  1.  Virginia – Ronnie Walker Jr. 

> UVA has some issues at the tailback spot entering 2021. For starters, the Cavs only have four backs on their 2021 roster. Three of them are underclassmen that have seen little-to no action in college football. The only proven (even that might be a stretch) is Indiana transfer Ronnie Walker Jr. He saw some action in 2020 for UVA, but not a lot. He ran for just 66 yards last season after a solid, but not spectacular career at IU. The Cavaliers are solid at a lot of areas, but running back isn’t one.

  1. Boston College – Big problems, lack of production returning 

> This is one position group in question for the Eagles in 2021. Head Coach Jeff Hafley has talent coming in, but no proven options already on campus. BC’s best option is grad student Travis Levy. He’s played in 48 games and compiled over 600 yards on the ground and through the air in four seasons of action. Still, the Maryland native will be stepping into a bigger role in 2021. 

> As stated, the Eagles have some young talent coming in via the 2021 recruiting class. Xavier Coleman is already on campus. He was a nice recruiting win for BC as he was the second best running back recruit from the state of New Jersey. Boston College also has Lewis Bond already in Chestnut Hill. He’s rostered as a wide receiver and was recruited as a gadget type player (APB), but could see some run in the backfield as a scat back.

The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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