The anticipation for the upcoming 2023 college football season is palpable, with an exciting array of talent ready to take the field.
As we gear up for another exhilarating year of college football action, it’s time to shine the spotlight on the most electrifying running backs who are set to dominate the gridiron. In this piece, we’ll delve into the rankings and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the top running backs, as well as offer a unique perspective on their potential impact in the upcoming season.
Tier 1: The best of the top running backs in the country
- Nicholas Singleton, Penn State
Kicking off our list at No. 1 is Nick Singleton from Penn State. Singleton’s freshman season showcased his growth and evolution as a force to be reckoned with. Standing 6’0″, 228 pounds, Singleton possesses a rare combination of speed and power.
Last year’s stats as a true freshman speak volumes about his ability and potential: 1,061 yards on 156 carries with an impressive 12 touchdowns and an average of 6.8 yards per carry.
Strengths: Singleton has added a new dimension to his game, mastering the art of generating yardage between the tackles. His ability to burst through defenses and his knack for making explosive gains have set him apart from the pack. Notably, he achieved over 15.38% of his carries resulting in gains of 10 or more yards, a feat that surpasses his contemporaries. Singleton also shattered records, becoming the second Penn State freshman to surpass 1,000 yards and setting a new program freshman record with 12 touchdowns.
Weaknesses: While Singleton’s ground game is unmatched, he still needs to improve on his receiving skills and yards after initial contact.
Opinion: Singleton isn’t just a standout player; he’s the most talented running back in the nation. His potential is hard to overstate, with a projected first-round draft pick on the horizon. Keep an eye out for Singleton as he leads the Nittany Lions towards a Big Ten championship and a coveted College Football Playoff berth.
- Will Shipley, Clemson
Shipley is a dynamic playmaker who exploded onto the scene as one of the top running backs in all of college football. Shipley’s prowess in the passing game is noteworthy, with his natural hands and quick transitions making him a threat on screens and wheel routes.
His stats from last year—1,182 yards on 210 carries with 15 touchdowns—underscore his impact.
Strengths: Shipley’s ability to maneuver in space and create separation is a sight to behold. His quick feet, coupled with strategic cut decisions, give him the edge in finding openings in defenses. Although not a pure speedster, Shipley’s agility and balance allow him to make significant yardage even when nothing seems available.
Weaknesses: Shipley’s build is a limitation, as he lacks the power to grind out yardage between the tackles. Additionally, his route-running skills need refinement.
Opinion: As a Notre Dame fan, it pains me to acknowledge Shipley’s brilliance at Clemson. Nonetheless, credit is due where it’s earned. An All-American at three positions last season (running back, kick returner, all-purpose), Shipley’s playmaking abilities are second to none.
Tier 2: Dominant backs
- Audric Estime, Notre Dame
Audric Estime from Notre Dame is poised to make waves in the 2023 season. Last year, he showcased his prowess with 920 yards on 156 carries, finding the end zone 11 times. Strengths: Estime’s athleticism shines through his fluid footwork and sharp cuts. He possesses a natural sense for finding running lanes and making quick, decisive moves. His ability to accelerate upfield rapidly and burst through defenses is a defining trait. Weaknesses: Estime’s limitations lie in his size and preference for contact. His tendency to power through tacklers can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, making it essential for him to diversify his playing style.
Opinion: I may not be completely impartial, but as a Notre Dame fan, I watched Estime a lot more closely than national media pundits. He is incredibly talented, and reportedly got much faster in the offseason. He shared carries with three other backs last year, but this season, he’ll get the lion’s share of touches and will prove his place among college football’s best running backs. Look for him to make a statement in Notre Dame’s season opener against Navy.
- Braelon Allen, Wisconsin
Allen is a powerhouse to watch out for this year. With 1,242 yards on 230 carries and 11 touchdowns in the previous season, his importance to the success of the Wisconsin offense is undeniable, even as the Badgers move to an Air Raid offense.
Strengths: His physicality is a standout feature. His knack for exploiting openings and bulldozing through defenses has earned him a reputation as a natural playmaker. His impressive strength and exceptional balance give him the edge in both power and evasion. Weaknesses: Allen’s route-running skills and versatility in the passing game need improvement. Additionally, he could work on his ability to create separation.
Opinion: Allen is poised for huge season. His power and speed combination, coupled with his impressive strength will force new head coach Luke Fickell to feed him the rock in spite of his desire to air it out.
- Raheim Sanders, Arkansas
Sanders enters the spotlight as an emerging star for the 2023 season. His impressive performance last year—1,443 yards on 222 carries with 10 touchdowns—proves his potential impact.
Strengths: Sanders’ vision and ability to read defenses stand out. His talent for identifying cut-back lanes and swiftly breaking into open field is a game-changer. His combination of size and toughness makes him a formidable weapon in both the ground game and screen plays.
Weaknesses: Sanders’ penchant for seeking out contact rather than avoiding it can be both an asset and a drawback. He could work on improving his route running and creating separation.
Opinion: Despite flying under the radar on an average Arkansas team last season, Sanders’s numbers speak for themselves. He’s primed to showcase his exceptional abilities and assert himself as one of the SEC’s finest. All eyes are on Sanders’s draft stock, but he’s locked in on the 2023 college football season.
Tier 3: Exceptional talents with some question marks
- Blake Corum, Michigan
Corum is a name that’s been circulating heavily in the college football sphere. Last year, he accumulated an impressive 1,463 yards on 247 carries with 18 touchdowns and is projected by most scouts as not only one of the top running backs in the country, but also the top NFL draft prospect at his position.
Strengths: Corum’s patience and decision-making while following blockers make him a versatile asset to the offense. His ability to sidestep defenders and create separation in open space is a testament to his agility and balance.
Weaknesses: Corum’s lack of size and his unimposing frame raise questions about his consistency in running between tackles. His route-running skills and pass protection techniques also need refining.
Opinion: Everyone is crowning Corum as the best running back in the country, but I think he’s a bit overrated. Yes, he was incredibly productive last year, but I question how that knee injury affected his explosiveness. Michigan insiders are saying he’s back to 100 percent, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I don’t love his size, and I think Michigan’s outstanding offensive line inflated his statistics last year.
- Trey Benson, Florida State
Benson takes his place on the list with a solid track record. Last season, he racked up 990 yards on 154 carries, scoring nine touchdowns.
Strengths: Benson’s vision and ability to spot cut-back lanes, coupled with his size and toughness, are his calling cards. His proficiency in the screen game and knack for evading defenders in open field make him a versatile weapon.
Weaknesses: Benson’s inclination towards contact over evasion can limit his options in various scenarios. His route running could use improvement, as could his separation-creating techniques.
Opinion: He’s a really solid player who is going to be a major contributor in Florida State’s up-and-coming offense this season. If Florida State beats out Clemson for the ACC title, it’ll have a lot to do with Benson’s play.
- Treveyon Henderson, Ohio State
Ohio State’s Treveyon Henderson enters the conversation with promise and potential. Last year, he amassed 571 yards on 107 carries with six rushing touchdowns.
Strengths: Henderson’s patience and ability to read blocks translate into impressive cut-back decisions. His rapid acceleration and explosive speed enable him to exploit defensive openings and create explosive plays.
Weaknesses: Pass protection and blocking skills are areas in which Henderson could make improvements. His ability to create separation and refine route running techniques also require attention.
Opinion: Henderson missed a lot of time with a broken bone in his foot last season, and as I stated with Corum, I don’t fully trust that he’s playing at 100 percent. I think he’s also a bit overrated and benefits from having defenses center their focus on stopping Ohio State’s perennially outstanding receiving corps.
- Bucky Irving, Oregon
Oregon’s Bucky Irving steps into the spotlight with potential to make waves. With 1,058 yards on 156 carries in the previous season, his influence is evident.
Strengths: Irving’s agility and sidestepping skills shine when evading defenders in open field. His knack for generating yardage from unpromising situations reflects his potential to thrive under pressure.
Weaknesses: Irving’s size and build raise concerns about his durability and suitability for grinding out yardage. Improved route running and route separation techniques are areas for growth.
Opinion: Irving will be a major factor in Oregon’s high-flying offense, and quarterback Bo Nix will certainly lean on him in third down situations. He projects as a nice role player in the NFL because of his dynamic receiving ability.
- Carson Steele, UCLA
Rounding out our list is Carson Steele from UCLA, a player with a strong foundation and upward trajectory. Last season, Steele racked up an impressive 1,556 yards on 289 carries with 14 touchdowns.
Strengths: Steele’s blend of strength and speed, along with his knack for evading tacklers, makes him a force in the backfield. His exceptional power and balance enable him to excel in challenging situations.
Weaknesses: While Steele is a strong cut-blocker, his route running and separation creation could be enhanced. Additionally, concerns about his playing speed have been raised. Opinion: Steele’s physical prowess and versatility in the UCLA offense are not to be underestimated. As he continues to evolve, he’ll play a pivotal role in propelling UCLA forward and I expect him to lead the PAC-12 in rushing this year.
With the stage set for the 2023 college football season, these running backs are primed to take center stage and showcase their unique talents. Each player brings their strengths, weaknesses, and distinct qualities to their respective teams, promising a thrilling season filled with breathtaking moments on the gridiron. As the competition heats up, fans can look forward to witnessing these exceptional athletes leave their mark on the world of college football.