September 26, 2023

Ranking the SEC’s best running backs of 2023

SEC's best running backs of 2023

LSU running back Noah Cain carries the ball against Purdue in the second quarter of the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl Monday January 2, 2023 at Camping World Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

It’s the almighty SEC, so the speed and physicality is always on another level.

The conference lost Jahmyr Gibbs, Christopher Rodriguez, Tank Bigsby and Devon Achane to the NFL. However, there’s still plenty of talented rushers remaining in the league for 2023 to keep explosive plays coming.

Some of them are looking to add to their legacies, while others are looking to make their mark. And they all have one goal in common, and that’s to help their team succeed.

14. Sedrick Alexander, Vanderbilt: The Commodores lost 1,000-yard rusher Ray Davis after he transferred to Kentucky. Now Coach Clark Lea has three capable running backs in Alexander, Chase Gillespie and Patrick Smith. Alexander is an early enrollee, who looked promising in Vanderbilt’s spring game. The true freshman carried the ball seven times for 56 yards and a touchdown. Gillespie rushed for 118 yards as a true freshman last season, and generated 93 on the ground in the event. Smith is the veteran of the bunch, and was Vanderbilt’s third-leading rusher in 2022. The team ranked 58th nationally in rushing offense. That must improve in order for Vanderbilt to make strides.

13. Amari Daniels, Texas A&M: The Miami native was Devon Achane’s backup last season, and finished second on the team in rushing yards. Daniels recorded a season-high, 17 carries for 67 yards in the win over Massachusetts. The former four-star prospect generated 39 yards on the ground in the victory over LSU. Daniels’ 83 rushing yards at Auburn were a season-high. Le’Veon Moss will be in the mix too. He rushed for 114 yards last season, including 72 and a touchdown against the Minutemen. Not to mention true freshman Rueben Owens is expected to be in the Aggies’ rotation. After all, the former five-star prospect was the nation’s top running back out of the 2023 recruiting class.

12. JuJu McDowell, South Carolina: The Gamecocks lost last year’s leading rusher Marshawn Lloyd. However, McDowell is capable of filling his void. He was South Carolina’s fourth-leading rusher last season, and scored three total touchdowns. McDowell rushed for 35 yards and a score at Arkansas. The Georgia native posted a rushing score in the victory over Charlotte, and hauled in a 65-yard pass in the win over Clemson. Mario Anderson, who entered the program from the Division II ranks, is expected to push McDowell. Converted wideout Dakereon Joyner recently switched to running back, and will contribute too. Joyner had a passing, rushing, and receiving touchdown in 2022.

11. Jo’quavious Marks, Mississippi State: The former four-star prospect led the Bulldogs in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns last season. Marks also caught 48 passes out of the backfield. He rushed for two touchdowns in the opening victory over Memphis. The Atlanta native also found the endzone against Arizona, LSU, Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn, East Tennessee State and Ole Miss. Marks even caught 11 passes against the Razorbacks. His 76 rushing yards in the Egg Bowl were a season-high. Marks generated a rushing score in five different SEC games. Not to mention Marks has stockpiled 2,350 all-purpose yards, and scored 21 total touchdowns over the past three seasons.

10. Cody Schrader, Missouri: The St. Louis native started 11 games last season, and led the Tigers in carries, rushing yards and touchdown on the ground. Schrader rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown in the opening victory over Louisiana Tech. He also had 70 rushing yards, to go along with two touchdowns in the win over New Mexico State. Schrader rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas. The five-foot-nine, 214-pounder also generated a rushing score against Kansas State, Auburn, Florida and Wake Forest. Schrader’s 89 yards on the ground against Georgia were a season-high. With better blocking up front this fall, he should be able to post a 1,000-yard campaign.

9. Jarquez Hunter, Auburn: The 20-year old was the Tigers’ third-leading rusher last season. Hunter generated three rushing touchdowns in the opening victory over Mercer. He hauled in 62-yard touchdown pass against Georgia. The Mississippi native caught fire down the stretch, and rushed for 364 yards over Auburn’s final three games. Coach Hugh Freeze landed a gem from the transfer portal in Brian Battie. The Florida native rushed for 1,185 yards at South Florida in 2022, which were the fifth-most in a single season at the program. Battie recorded a jaw-dropping, 100-yard games. On top of that he rushed for 693 yards over the Bulls’ final five games. Hunter and Battie will be a dynamic duo.

8. Noah Cain, LSU: Coach Brian Kelly has a stacked running back room approaching the summer. Cain, Josh Williams, Armoni Goodwin and John Emery are all trying to carry the load for the fall. The hometown kid Cain was the Bayou Bengals’ third-leading rusher last season, and ranked second on the team with 10 rushing touchdowns. He rushed for three touchdowns against UAB, and two apiece against New Mexico and Purdue. Cain also had a rushing score against Florida State and Georgia. Williams ranked second on the team in rushing yards. Williams and Emery each recorded six rushing touchdowns, and Goodwin had five. Williams and Goodwin are still recovering from injuries.

7. Jase McClellan, Alabama: The Texas native tied for first on the team in rushing touchdowns last year. McClellan ranked second on the Crimson Tide with 655 rushing yards. He caught two touchdowns against Utah State, and rushed for a season-high, 156 yards and two scores against Austin Peay. McClellan rushed for 97 yards and a score in the victory over Texas. He also registered a rushing touchdown in victoires over Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Auburn and Kansas State. Roydell Williams will be in the mix also, after rushing for 250 yards in 2022. The Alabama native found the endzone twice against LSU. Heralded true freshman Justice Haynes is expected to make an immediate impact too.

6. Kendall Milton, Georgia: Last season he finished second on the reigning National Champs in rushing touchdowns, and third in yards on the ground. Milton rushed for a season-high, 113 yards against LSU in the SEC Championship Game. The former five-star prospect was consistent and generated a rushing score in eight different games. Daijun Edwards was the Bulldogs’ second-leading rusher in 2022. The Georgia native rushed for a season-high, 106 yards and two touchdowns against Florida. Branson Robinson made his mark with 330 rushing yards as a true freshman. Georgia will have a stacked backfield, but Coach Kirby Smart has to find ways to get everyone touches.

5. Montrell Johnson, Florida: The New Orleans native led the Gators in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns last season. Johnson rushed for 103 yard and a touchdown against South Florida. He generated 100 yards on the ground and a score in the win at Texas A&M. Johnson carried the ball 24 times for a season-high, 151 yards and a touchdown in the victory over South Carolina. Sophomore Trevor Etienne is the other half of Florida’s two-headed monster in the backfield. Etienne was the Gators’ second-leading rusher in 2022. He rushed for 100 yards and a score against South Carolina. Etienne had a season-high, 129 rushing yards, and found the endzone against Florida State.

4. Jaylen Wright, Tennessee: The Volunteers have three capable rushers. Wright led Tennessee in rushing yards in 2022. He rushed for a season-high, 160 yards and two touchdowns against Vanderbilt. Wright also generated two rushing touchdowns against Akron. The North Carolina native had a rushing score against Ball State, Florida, Georgia and Kentucky. Jabari Small is durable too, after leading Tennessee in carries and rushing touchdowns last year. Small rushed for a season-high, 127 yards and two touchdowns in the win at LSU. He also posted two rushing scores against Pittsburgh. Dylan Sampson will be in the mix after he rushed for 397 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman.

3. Ray Davis, Kentucky: The Californian rushed for 1,042 yards at Vanderbilt last season. Davis averaged 86.8 rushing yards per game, which ranked fourth in the SEC, and 33rd nationally. He also caught 29 passes, including three touchdowns. The former three-star prospect rushed for 116 yards, and scored two total touchdowns at Northern Illinois. Davis generated 129 yards on the ground and a touchdown in the victory over Kentucky. The 5-foot-10, 216-pounder had a season-high, 30 carries for 122 yards in the win over Florida. JuThan McClain was the Wildcats’ third-leading rusher last year, and will do damage. McClain rushed for 142 of his 278 yards over Kentucky’s final four games.

2. Raheim Sanders, Arkansas: The 20-year old is the most punishing rusher in the conference. Sanders finished the year with 1,443 rushing yards, which was the fifth-most in a single season for a Razorback. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry, which ranked first in the SEC and 10th nationally. Sanders averaged 111 yards on the ground per game, which was second-best in the league, and 16th in the FBS. The former four-star prospect used his six-foot-two, 237-pound frame to register a season-high, 232 rushing yards in the victory over Ole Miss. Sanders went over 100 yards rushing in six other games, and earned second-team, All-SEC. He even caught a 73-yard touchdown against Missouri State.

1. Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss: The former three-star prospect raised several eyebrows across the nation after he led the SEC in rushing yards per game as a true freshman in 2022. Judkins’ 1,567 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground ranked first in the conference, and set a single-season school record. Not to mention he earned first-team, All-SEC honors for his heroics. Judkins eclipsed the 200-yard mark in rushing against Arkansas and Texas A&M. He also displayed workhorse capabilities when he carried the ball 34 times in the victory over the Aggies. The 19-year old was consistent, and went over 100 yards rushing against Central Arkansas, Tulsa, Kentucky, Auburn and Alabama.