College football may be a ways away, but we’re already anxious and ready to start looking forward to 2018 (things are different when you’re the hunter and not the defending National Champions). To quell the craving we’ll take a look at some of the players we expect to make a major impact in 2018. In this article, we start with the top five ACC running backs you should know. You can watch the discussion in the video below or read on (or both!):
5. KirVonte Benson: The B-back, lining up behind QB in the Ramblin’ Wreck Triple Option Offense, is generally the short-yardage back. Benson is that and much more. Last season, Benson averaged 5.2 YPC en route to 1,053 rushing yards and 6 TDs in 11 games (one game was cancelled and they did not play in a bowl). He has a low center of gravity and breaks tackles, but can also get to the outside when the play dictates and make defenses pay. Georgia Tech brings back nearly their entire offense (nine starters return), but will still need Benson to build on his strong sophomore campaign.
4. Travis Homer: When star running back Mark Walton had a season-ending ankle injury, Travis Homer stepped, tallying 759 yards in Miami’s last nine games. Despite the injury, Walton was still selected in the fourth round of the NFL draft, leaving Travis Homer as the primary option in the Hurricane backfield to start 2018.
Befitting the name, Homer is a major home run threat. He collected 288 of his 620 ACC rushing yards on nine big runs. He is an above average pass blocker too, something that figures to cement him atop the depth chart despite a highly-touted freshman entering the fray.
3. Travis Etienne: Coach Swinney surprised many Clemson fans by listing rising sophomore Travis Etienne #1 on the spring depth chart above the more veteran Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice. Etienne emerged last season to average 7.2 YPC with big plays of 15 yards or more in nine of the 13 games in which he received carries (despite a limited numbers of opportunities in those games). His explosiveness may remind some of former Clemson great CJ Spiller.
Clemson will share the load across three very good running backs, but if Travis Etienne can improve his pass blocking he can be the lead dog of the group and one of the best running backs in the conference. He’ll certainly be among the most exciting to watch.
2. Cam Akers was a elite prospect from Mississippi that decided to join the Seminoles and attempt to fill the massive void left when Dalvin Cook was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. As a true freshman, he had 181 carries (Jacques Patrick has 118) and averaged 5.1 YPC despite having a freshman QB that needed to lean on the running game and an offensive line that struggled at times.
The elusive back blew up against Miami (121 yards) and Syracuse (199 yards) with 40+ yard runs in each. He’ll headline a dynamic backfield duo with Jacques Patrick in 2018 as an improved offense should help them thrive and lead the Seminoles to a bounce back campaign.
1. AJ Dillon had a tremendous freshman year, posting 1,589 rushing yards despite playing in a one-dimensional offense that had the second fewest passing yards in the ACC. He didn’t immediately get off to such a hot start. In his first four collegiate games (NIU, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Clemson), he had just 178 total rushing yards and one touchdown on 54 carries. His longest carry to that point was just 12 yards and the Eagles were 1-4.
Then something clicked. AJ Dillon averaged 157 yards per game through Boston College’s final nine games in which they posted a 6-3 record. Dillon averaged 5.6 YPC and picked up 13 of his 14 rushing touchdowns during that stretch.
The 240 lbs AJ Dillon isn’t as explosive as Akers or Etienne, but nobody else in the conference epitomizes the term “feature back” quite like him. The Eagles return their entire starting offensive line, but may still have some struggles in the passing game. As such, they’ll continue to rely heavily on Dillon. He’s the best bet to lead the ACC in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.