Five thoughts on the 2023 running backs
High school seasons are about halfway done - or more - so this is a good time to take a look at some things happening across the country. Today, Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney gives five thoughts on the 2023 running backs.
MORE: Five thoughts on the 2023 QBs
CLASS OF 2023 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Team | Position | State
CLASS OF 2024 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Team | Position | State
CLASS OF 2025 RANKINGS: Rivals100
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WHO SHOULD BE NO. 1?
No one has the No. 1 spot locked up, as Rueben Owens leads the all-purpose backs and Justice Haynes tops the running back rankings, but a lot of decisions still need to be made following senior seasons and especially all-star games.
Owens and Haynes are having very strong seasons so far, but let’s give credit where it's due because so are USC commit Quinten Joyner and Texas pledge Cedric Baxter, who’s already over 1,000 yards and is pacing toward a 2,000-yard season.
Statistics are only one consideration with running back rankings because some of these players have very weak offensive lines or play in systems where they’re not getting the ball as often as others. That is definitely something to consider and why all-star performances are so crucial to get a real apples-to-apples comparison on these guys.
THE FIVE-STAR DISCUSSION
Rivals rankings are based off expected college performance and also projected NFL Draft position, so that has to play a factor when we look at the running back spot.
Recent history is just not on the side of making running backs five-stars since over the last five drafts there have been only six first-round draft picks, most of them coming toward the tail end of the first round.
Najee Harris was a superstar in high school, a superstar at Alabama and he was a pick later in the first round. Only Saquon Barkley is an outlier as he was the second pick in the 2018 draft and has already missed significant NFL time because of injuries, although he’s still a special talent.
Over the last few years, we’ve made a conscious effort to not completely withhold five-star rankings from running backs but to certainly dial it back. It’s been reflected in the 2022 class and even before as that all-purpose player - someone who not only can run between the tackles but also catch passes out of the backfield - might even provide more value.
GUYS HAVING BIG YEARS
There are a lot of high-profile players at both running back and all-purpose back that are putting up insane stats this season - and they should not go unnoticed.
UCLA commit Roderick Robinson, who just visited Texas A&M and will visit Georgia soon, has 1,501 yards and 21 touchdowns on 121 carries for his San Diego Lincoln squad. He had a great summer and it’s carried over in a big way to his senior year.
Or how about LSU commit Trey Holly, who now holds the Louisiana state record for rushing yards and has 1,177 and 16 TDs so far? Let’s not forget Auburn pledge Jeremiah Cobb, who could push higher in the all-purpose rankings with 1,045 yards and 17 rushing scores to go along with four receiving TDs.
How about Dante Dowdell, an Oregon commit who is being pursued by SEC teams? He has totaled 1,074 yards and 13 scores. Douglasville (Ga.) South Paulding’s Jamarion Wilcox has 1,077 yards and 12 scores on 109 carries and could be pushing for that fourth star.
WILL ANYONE FLIP?
Flip season is coming up. Things slow down drastically during the season when players are in their groove, coaching staffs are generally settled and weeks fly by. But the time of the year leading into the Early Signing Period is crazy and there are some names that will be on flip watch.
Rueben Owens will be one, depending on Louisville coach Scott Satterfield’s job status and whether the El Campo, Texas, standout wants to stay closer to home. Right now, his pledge remains firm.
Roderick Robinson will be another to watch as his Texas A&M visit could not have gone any better, and he’s also visiting Georgia. But UCLA is undefeated, too, and his commitment is strong there.
Will Dante Dowdell stick with Oregon even with Ole Miss and others in the SEC fight for him? Miami is coming after Ohio State pledge Mark Fletcher from Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage. There are also coaching changes at Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and elsewhere to consider as things pick up in a few weeks.
PLAYERS LEAVING HOME
Of the top 10 running backs committed, 80% are headed out of state.
Justice Haynes and Richard Young are committed to Alabama, Quinten Joyner to USC, Cedric Baxter to Texas, Daylan Smothers to Oklahoma, Dante Dowdell to Oregon, Kedrick Reescano to Michigan State and Mark Fletcher to Ohio State.
The only two in-state committed prospects in the group are Kaleb Jackson out of Baton Rouge (La.) Liberty Magnet to LSU and Roderick Robinson to UCLA.
When it comes to all-purpose backs, the numbers are more favorable. Treyaun Webb (Florida), Jeremiah Cobb (Auburn), Tre Wisner (Texas), Trey Holly (LSU), Cole Cabana (Michigan), Parker Jenkins (Houston) and Cameron Cook (TCU) all decided to stay local.