August 14, 2022

Ranking the ACC’s best running backs of 2022

The ACC's best running backs of 2022

Clemson running back Will Shipley carries the ball during the second quarter against Iowa State Wednesday December 29, 2021 at Camping World Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

The east side of the country has a lot to offer on the offensive side of the ball this fall.

Despite the early kickoffs, the ACC will boast some underrated rushers on the gridiron. The league doesn’t have a plethora of 1,000-yard rushers yet, but with all of the young talent and a few veterans, the ACC is bound to shock the College football world.

Although some of these rushers haven’t been nabbed as certified starters, they’ve built enough buzz with their past production for the fans to feel good about the outlook of 2022.

14. Mike Hollins, Virginia: The Baton Rouge native finished third on the team in carries last season. Hollins carried the ball a season-high, 10 times for 38 yards and a touchdown in the victory at Miami. He also generated a rushing score against Pittsburgh. Not to mention Hollins rushed for a season-high, 44 yards against Notre Dame. Hollins will battle Miami transfer Cody Brown for that No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Brown finished third on the Hurricanes in rushing touchdowns last year. Brown carried the ball 14 times for 77 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over Central Connecticut State, which were all season-highs. The former four-star prospect also generated a rushing score at North Carolina. New Coach Tony Elliott could split carries between the two backs if one can’t seal the job in fall camp.

13. Jordan Waters, Duke: The Blue Devils must replace 1,000-yard rusher Mateo Durant for 2022, and the former three-star prospect has patiently waited his turn. Waters has carried the ball 57 times for 305 yards and scored four total touchdowns over the past three seasons. The North Carolina native did most of his damage early on in 2021, and generated 167 of his 197 rushing yards through Duke’s first four games. Waters hauled in a 43-yard touchdown pass in the opener at Charlotte. He also stockpiled a career-high, 78 yards on the ground against the 49ers in 2020. Waters had 11 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown in the victory over Kansas last year, which were all season-highs. With the right number of carries this fall, Waters has the potential to become the Blue Devils’ second-straight 1,000-yard rusher.

12. Justice Ellison, Wake Forest: The former three-star prospect was the Demon Deacons’ second-leading rusher last year. Ellison had a season-high, 86 rushing yards and a touchdown in the victory at Virginia. He steamrolled for 81 yards on the ground at North Carolina. The Virginia native carried the all 17 times and generated 2 rushing scores against NC State, which were both season-highs. Ellison also found the endzone in wins over Florida State, Louisville, Army and Rutgers. He’ll be in a heated battle in fall camp with Christian Turner, who racked up five rushing scores with Wake Forest in 2021. Turner had 64 carries for 266 yards and a touchdown during his time at Michigan. The Georgia native registered 75 yards on the ground against Duke, and 18 carries at Boston College, which were both season-highs.

11. Jordan Houston, NC State: The former three-star prospect has paid his dues over the past three seasons with the Wolfpack, and now he’s about to get his shine. Houston has steamrolled for 752 yards on the ground and six touchdowns during that span, despite backing up Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr. He has also caught 32 balls out of the backfield. The Maryland native recorded his only rushing touchdown last season in the opening win over South Florida. NC State fans are expecting Houston to return to his 2019 form, when he rushed for 526 yards. The 5-foot-10, 192-pounder looked solid throughout the spring in limited action, and even stepped up his blocking. The Wolfpack finished 13th in the ACC and 99th in the FBS in rushing offense last year, so any type of improvement will help.

10. Treshaun Ward, Florida State: The Florida native has had an amazing journey, going from a former walk-on, to Florida State’s third-leading rusher last season. Ward generated 76 yards on the ground and touchdown in the opener against Notre Dame. He had 48 rushing yards and caught an eight-yard touchdown pass at Wake Forest. In back-to-back games against Louisville and Syracuse, Ward combined for 116 rushing yards and caught nine balls. The 5-foot-10, 189-pounder carried the ball a season-high, 12 times for 77 yards against North Carolina. Not to mention Ward steamrolled for 57 yards and a touchdown in the victory over Massachusetts. Ward also had a rushing score at Florida. Oregon transfer Trey Benson is preparing to battle Ward in fall camp for that No. 1 spot on Florida State’s depth chart.

9. British Brooks, North Carolina: He’ll the Tar Heels’ most experienced rusher in a deep backfield this fall. Brooks was North Carolina’s third-leading rusher last season and averaged a jaw-dropping, 9.5 yards per carry. The 5-foot-10, 226-pounder is super elusive and closed out his 2021 campaign on a high note too. The North Carolina native rushed for 285 of his 295 yards over the Tar Heels’ final three games. Brooks generated 89 yards on the ground and two rushing scores in the victory over Wofford. His 15 carries for 124 yards at NC State were both season-highs. Brooks left a lasting impression with 72 rushing yards and a touchdown in the bowl against South Carolina. Not to mention he had a rushing score in the win over Georgia State. True freshman phenom George Pettaway is expected to push Brooks.

8. Malachi Thomas, Virginia Tech: The Georgia native was solid early on in spring ball, but suffered an ankle injury that made him miss the Maroon and White Game. Thomas was the Hokies’ third-leading rusher in 2021, and tied for second on the team in rushing touchdowns. He rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse, which were both season-highs. The following week Thomas had a season-high, 25 carries for 103 yards in the victory at Georgia Tech. Jalen Holston and Keshawn King are the other rushers who stepped up their game in Thomas’ absence. Holston rushed for a touchdown against Middle Tennessee and had a receiving score against West Virginia.  King rumbled for 27 yards on five carries in Virginia Tech’s spring game. The Hokies may have a running back by committee approach this fall.

7. Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh: The reigning ACC Champs are loaded in the backfield and return their top-three rushers from last season. Abanikanda led the Panthers in yards on the ground and rushing touchdowns. He carried the ball 21 times for 140 yards in the victory at Virginia Tech, which were both season-highs. Abanikanda generated two rushing scores at Georgia Tech and in the ACC Championship Game. The Brooklyn native also found the endzone against New Hampshire and Miami. Abanikanda doesn’t have the position on lock by any means. Vincent Davis and Rodney Hammond will be involved in the rotation. Davis led Pittsburgh in carries in 2021, and rushed for 100 yards in the win over Virginia. Hammond rumbled for 100 yards on the ground and three touchdowns against the Wildcats.

6. Jalen Mitchell, Louisville: The Florida native finished second on the Cardinals in carries, yards on the ground and rushing scores in 2021. Mitchell is as elusive as they come and had 90 rushing yards on a season-high, 18 carries in the victory over Eastern Kentucky. He steamrolled for 89 yards on the ground at Wake Forest. The former three-star prospect recorded a season-high, 102 rushing yards in the win over Syracuse. Mitchell punched the ball across the goal line against UCF, Virginia, Boston College, Clemson and Duke. Not to mention he dazzled in Louisville’s spring game and scored three touchdowns. Mitchell will be battling Trevion Cooley for the starting spot in fall camp, but has one leg up approaching summer workouts. Cooley rushed for a season-high, 112 yards in the win over the Eagles last year.

5. Dylan McDuffie, Georgia Tech: The former two-star prospect led Buffalo in carries, rushing yards and total touchdowns last season. Not only did McDuffie eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in rushing, but he also earned third-team, All-MAC honors. He rushed for two touchdowns in the opening victory over Wagner. McDuffie also had two rushing scores, to go along with 166 yards on 34 carries, which were both season-highs. The New York native went over 100 yards rushing against Ohio, Akron and Northern Illinois. McDuffie will have to beat out Dontae Smith, who tied for second on the Yellow Jackets in rushing touchdowns, and found the endzone in four of their first seven games. Hassan Hall, who rushed for 1,299 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past four seasons at Louisville, will be in the mix too.

4. Jaylan Knighton, Miami: The former four-star prospect led the Hurricanes in carries, rushing yards and touchdowns on the ground last season. Miami has a deep backfield in 2022, but Knighton has the most production and the softest hands. The Florida native generated two rushing scores, and hauled in a 60-yard touchdown pass at North Carolina. The next game Knighton caught six passes, including a 53-yard touchdown in the win over NC State. He carried the ball 32 times for 162 yards against Georgia Tech, which were both season-highs. Knighton had two rushing scores apiece in victories over Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. Although Knighton missed spring ball with an injury, he’ll battle Ole Miss transfer Henry Parrish in fall camp. Parrish rushed for 111 yards against Arkansas, and scored in two other SEC tilts last season.

3. Will Shipley, Clemson: The former five-star prospect led the Tigers in carries, rushing yards and touchdowns on the ground as a true freshman in 2021. Shipley generated two rushing touchdowns apiece in wins over South Carolina State, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Wake Forest. The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder had 25 carries for 128 yards against the Seminoles, which were both season-highs. Shipley steamrolled for 111 rushing yards against the Demon Deacons, plus he churned out 128 more, to go along with a touchdown against South Carolina. He also took the pigskin across the goal line against NC State and Iowa State. Not to mention Shipley’s 11 rushing touchdowns ranked third among ACC running backs last season. Although Shipley missed the spring game nursing a foot injury, he’ll be a full go in fall camp.

2. Patrick Garwo, Boston College: The Pennsylvania native is the Eagles’ workhorse, who has some power behind his five-foot-eight, 208-pound frame. Garwo finished fourth in the ACC with 1,045 yards on the ground last season. He rumbled for 160 rushing yards in the victory over Massachusetts. The former four-star prospect generated a season-high, 175 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the win over Missouri. Garwo recorded a season-high, 30 carries, to go along with 116 yards against Virginia Tech. The next game Garwo steamrolled over Georgia Tech’s defense with a 104-yard rushing performance. Not to mention he capped off his 2021 campaign with second-team, All-ACC honors. Eagle fans are hoping Garwo can maintain his success this fall, operating behind a young an inexperienced offensive line.

1. Sean Tucker, Syracuse: Last season he emerged from the shadows and took the ACC by storm. Not only did Tucker finish first in the conference and sixth in the FBS with 1,496 rushing yards, but he earned first-team, All-ACC and second-team, AP All-America honors. The former three-star prospect averaged 124.7 rushing yards per game, which was fourth-best in the nation. Tucker was No. 2 in the league in touchdowns on the ground and yards per carry. The 20-year old eclipsed the century mark in rushing in eight games, including a season-high, 207 yards in the win over Boston College. Tucker was one of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award too. However, he won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around. Defenses will be loading the box to stop Tucker, so he’ll need to contribute more in Syracuse’s aerial attack.