2023 College Football Running Backs - Next Man Up

College football is a sport that sees constant turnover, as players graduate or leave early for the NFL draft. This year, some of the biggest names in college football are no longer playing, leaving a significant void for their respective teams. Among these players are some of the best running backs in the country, who have moved on to the next chapter of their lives. However, as one door closes, another one opens, and the next man up mentality comes into play. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at 10 teams, including Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Georgia, and who could potentially step up to replace their departed running backs and lead their team to success in the 2023 college football season.


Texas- Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson

  • Keilan Robinson – Keilan Robinson was granted an opportunity to showcase his abilities at the Alamo Bowl, but he struggled to make an impact, rushing for only 27 yards on eight carries, with his longest run being only seven yards. Although he is recognized for his dynamic skills on special teams, it remains to be seen whether he can translate them to the running game and genuinely compete at the running back position. Only time will tell.
  • Jonathon Brooks – In 2022, Jonathon Brooks made the most of his opportunities on the field, tallying 197 yards and five touchdowns over 30 carries. His standout performance came during the blowout win against Kansas, where he rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries, including an explosive 70-yard touchdown run. Despite his weight of 202 pounds, Brooks has showcased his speed, agility, and ability to evade defenders in tight spaces, along with flashes of impressive contact balance.
  • Cedric Baxter – After a sensational senior year in high school, Cedric Baxter Jr. ended the season as the nation’s top-ranked running back recruit. Baxter is a big and upright runner with a physical and no-nonsense style that enables him to maintain his momentum while running north-south and power through arm tackles. In addition, he possesses quick and agile footwork, which he uses to navigate through and around defenders at the line of scrimmage when necessary.
  • Jaydon Blue – Once hailed as one of the top running backs in the 2022 class, Jaydon Blue’s stock took a hit when he decided to take his senior year off and fell out of football shape. Due to his limited opportunities, Blue was unable to demonstrate the impressive 10.7 100-meter speed that he had displayed in high school, and he only managed to secure 15 carries in 2022. As a redshirt freshman in the upcoming spring season, Blue faces a critical juncture, with competition from talented running backs like Baxter on campus making it challenging for him to earn a spot in the rotation.

Pitt - Israel Abanikanda

  • Rodney Hammond – During the fall of 2022, Rodney Hammond Jr. was competing with Abanikanda for the starting role and outperformed him in the Panthers’ season-opening win over West Virginia. Hammond Jr. shone in that game, scoring two touchdowns, but unfortunately suffered an injury and was sidelined for six weeks. Despite his setback, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi holds Hammond Jr. in high esteem, recognizing him as a talented football player in whom he has complete trust.
  • C’Bo Flemister – With only 40 carries for 221 yards and two touchdowns in the last season, C’Bo didn’t see much action and may continue to be overshadowed by Rodney Hammond, who is currently projected to be the Panthers’ starting running back. I do believe he will be number two behind Hammond though.
  • Derrick Davis – Derrick Davis, a 4-star prospect from Pennsylvania in the 2021 recruiting cycle, will be returning to his hometown university to play. Although he initially played safety, he later transitioned to running back, but has primarily played on special teams so far in his college career.

Oklahoma - Eric Gray

  • Jovantae Barnes – Sophomore Jovantae Barnes is expected to take on the top role in the backfield after serving as the primary backup for Gray in the previous season. Barnes recorded 519 rushing yards, five touchdowns, and an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
  • Gavin Sawchuk – In the Cheez-It Bowl against Florida State last December, Sawchuk rushed for 100 yards on 15 carries, averaging 6.7 yards per carry and scoring a touchdown on a 15-yard run. The Denver, Colorado native has reportedly gained 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, which is expected to enhance his performance and durability as he gears up for his second year at OU.
  • Marcus Major – Despite showing glimpses of brilliance on the field, Major’s previous three seasons have been plagued by injuries, which have cut them short. He had an impressive start to last season, scoring five touchdowns in Oklahoma’s first three games, but only played three more games due to injuries. However, if he manages to stay healthy, Major has the potential to make a significant impact and add depth to the Sooners’ running back position.

UCLA - Zach Charbonnet

  • Carson Steele – Earlier in the offseason, Carson Steele joined the team as a transfer from Ball State. With a similar physical profile to Charbonnet, Steele stands at 6-foot-1 and weighs 215 pounds. In his sophomore season, he displayed his abilities by recording 1,722 yards and 15 touchdowns from scrimmage on 318 touches.
  • Anthony Adkins – Anthony Adkins, who previously played for Army, also transferred to the team for the upcoming season. At 6-foot-1 and weighing 255 pounds, Adkins is a powerful running back who rushed for 355 yards and scored five touchdowns on 76 carries in his last season with Army in 2021.
  • Keegan Jones – Among the returning UCLA backs, Keegan Jones has the most experience as he served as a backup to Charbonnet in the previous season. Standing at 5-foot-9, Jones is a shifty receiving back who caught 21 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball 73 times for 320 yards and four touchdowns.

Illinois - Chase Brown

  • Josh McCray – 6’1 235 lbs will be the lead RB, but this will be more of a ‘by committee’ approach. That said, it’s still a Beilema offense that features running backs and McCray will be fantasy relevant. 
  • Reggie Love III – Had a couple solid performances late in the 2022 season and will serve as the backup and still get some solid touches. If McCray was to get hurt again, Love could be an elite option off of the waiver wire. 


Utah - Tavion Thomas

  • Ja’Quinden Jackson – During the 2022 season, Jackson made a transition from quarterback to running back. As a running back, he carried the ball 78 times and amassed a total of 531 rushing yards, scoring nine touchdowns along the way.
  • Micah Bernard – Micah Bernard, who had 106 carries for 533 yards and four touchdowns last season, entered the transfer portal before deciding to return to the program.

    Bernard has been sidelined from spring practices due to an injury. However, coach Whittingham expressed optimism that he will return to the practice field in the near future.
  • Jaylon Glover – Glover ran 78 times for 360 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman.

Georgia - Kenny McIntosh

With Kendall Milton sidelined by a hamstring injury, Daijun Edwards contending with his own hamstring problems, and Andrew Paul still limited in his return from a torn ACL, the remaining ball carriers have stepped up to contribute and be productive for the team.

The void of Stetson Bennett also presents an opportunity for increased production from the running backs, especially in the red zone. Bennett ran for 10 TD in 2022.

  • Kendall Milton – Due to a hamstring injury, Milton will be sidelined for the remainder of spring practice. The veteran running back is among the many returning offensive components from the 2022 season for Georgia. In the previous year, Milton recorded 590 rushing yards on 86 attempts and scored eight touchdowns. He also became the fourth Georgia running back since 2000 to average at least 6.9 yards per carry on 85+ attempts, joining the ranks of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Todd Gurley.
  • Daijun Edwards – Had 140 att for 769 yd and 7 TD. 
  • Branson Robinson – As Milton remains absent and Edwards continues to face limitations, the buzz surrounding Branson Robinson has been prominent this spring. The sophomore, who played a notable role in 2022, has been praised by coach Smart for his diligent efforts during his first spring at Georgia (following his enrollment last summer) and the continued positive progression in his skills.

Alabama - Jahmyr Gibbs

  • Jase McClellan – Despite facing various challenges along the way, Jase has finally reached spring camp as the expected successor. Despite previously serving as a backup for esteemed players such as Najee Harris of the Steelers, Brian Robinson Jr. of Washington, and future NFLer Gibbs, as well as recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him in Game 5 of 2021, the fourth-year player now appears to have a clear path forward. 
  • Roydell Williams – During his tenure at Alabama, Roydell has consistently played second fiddle to Jase, much like Robin does to Batman. In fact, he suffered a knee injury during the same season as Jase. While he has proven to be a dependable backup, there is a possibility that he may be surpassed in the upcoming season.
  • Jam Miller – As a freshman, Miller displayed brief moments of outstanding performance, such as his impressive 40-yard touchdown run against Vanderbilt. Despite his potential, he likely deserved additional playing time during the 2022 season. However, he now has an opportunity to truly shine.
  • Justice Haynes – Regarded as a 5-star recruit and the 24th best prospect in the 2023 class, Haynes showcased his talents in 12 games during his senior year at the highly-regarded Buford High School. He amassed a staggering 1,695 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns, in addition to three receiving touchdowns and two kickoff returns for scores. With such a remarkable performance, he possesses immense potential to become the next star running back for Alabama.

Texas A&M - Devon Achane

  • Amari Daniels – 36 carries, 200 yards, 5.6 yards per attempt. Daniels will likely be named the starter for Week 1 in an important season for HC Fisher, while Moss will receive some snaps intermittently. However, once Owens finds his rhythm, his exceptional talent could become impossible to overlook, and he may ultimately claim the title of RB1 by the end of the season.
  • Le’Veon Moss – 27 carries, 114 yards, 4.2 yards per attempt, 1 rushing touchdown
  • Rueben Owens – When evaluating based purely on talent, the advantage goes to the newly-enrolled freshman Owens. As a five-star recruit, he undoubtedly possesses exceptional skills, and history has shown that true freshmen are certainly capable of playing significant snaps for the Aggies.

Kansas State - Deuce Vaughn

  • Treshaun Ward – Treshaun Ward showcased his talents at Florida State in 10 games this season, six of which he started, and emerged as the second-highest rusher on the team, accumulating 649 yards and seven touchdowns on 95 carries. His impressive performance earned him an All-ACC Honorable Mention recognition, and he was also named a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy. Notably, he averaged an impressive 6.5 yards per carry throughout the season.
  • DJ Giddens – Having appeared in every game, DJ Giddens secured the third spot on the team’s rushing leaderboard, having carried the ball 89 times for 518 yards and six touchdowns. His remarkable performance earned him votes from the Big 12 coaches for the Offensive Freshman of the Year award, ultimately earning an honorable mention for the 2022 accolade. Notably, he also holds the distinction of being the third highest-ranking freshman rusher in school history.

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