ACC Football: Top 5 Running Backs List for 2015

Our top five positional player lists continue on InsideTheACC, as we now preview the conference’s best running backs for the 2015 season. Summer workouts are beginning to wrap-up across the ACC and across the country, and fall camp is right around the corner, as we sit less than 50 days from the start of the 2015 college football season. There are a couple of mainstays on this list, but I guarantee there will be a name or two that may surprise you, so without further a do, let’s take a look at the ranking.



Honorable Mentions


Dalvin Cook, Florida State

Dalvin Cook qualifies as our ACC idiot of the month, as he became the second player for the Seminoles in less than two weeks to assault a woman and get himself arrested and subsequently suspended from the team. Excellent work, Dalvin Cook; your career at Florida State, if not over, is in extreme flux at this point. Dalvin Cook
Dalvin Cook

On the field, there is no denying the talent. Cook is without a doubt one of the top three running backs in the conference (and perhaps one of the best in the country) when he’s on the field, but his playing status is murky, at best, heading into the fall. As a freshman last season for Florida State, Cook led the team in rushing as he carried the ball 170 times for 1008 yards and eight touchdowns, showing great burst and potential to emerge as one of the nation’s top rushers heading into this season. Unfortunately for him, he let his off the field issues get in the way of building off of his fantastic freshman campaign in 2014.


T.J. Logan, North Carolina

Logan should be the primary back for the Tar Heels this season, but with QB Marquise Williams providing a dual threat at his position, it is hard to see Logan reaching his full potential. Logan emerged from a crowded backfield at the beginning of last season and rushed for 582 yards, which was second on the team behind Williams. He closed the season strong with two 100+ yard games in the team’s final three contests, leading many to believe that he could be even better if he gets off to a better start this season as the team’s number one option at running back. Ultimately though, I think Williams will carry the ball at the quarterback position a good bit once again, which causes me to place an improved Logan just outside of the conference’s top five.


J.C. Coleman, Virginia Tech

The Virginia Tech Hokies have struggled mightily over the last couple of seasons, and a majority of their offensive issues have come from the lack of a legitimate lead rusher. If there was anything that the Hokies found out towards the end of last season, it was that their veteran running back J.C. Coleman, who has shared the load a majority of the past two seasons after being the primary ball carrier in 2012, has the ability to be the number one guy once again in the Virginia Tech backfield.

With sophomore stud Marshawn Williams recovering from a torn ACL, and sophomore Shai McKenzie currently suspended from the team indefinitely due to an off-season arrest, the job seems like it should be Coleman’s to lose. Over the last four games in 2014, Coleman ran for 468 yards, which included a 157 yard MVP performance in the team’s Military Bowl victory over Cincinnati. If it weren’t for the potential of a running back by committee system for the Hokies once again in 2015, Coleman would be higher on the list. However with the only constant in Blacksburg being change, it’s hard to predict how the rushing attack will shape up once the team kicks off their season in September.


The Top Five


5.) Jon Hilliman, Boston College

If his true freshman season was any indication, John Hilliman has the potential to become one of the conference’s elite running backs. He led the Eagles 860 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, which included a monster performance in the Pinstripe Bowl against Penn State, where he ran for 148 yards on 28 carries in the narrow 31-30 overtime loss. Hilliman will once again be the lead back for the Eagles, and should be capable of carrying an even bigger offensive load in 2015.


4.) Joseph Yearby, Miami (FL)

With the departure of Duke Johnson to the NFL, Joseph Yearby is poised to be the man to try to replace one of the best rushers in Hurricanes history. While difficult to replace, Yearby has the potential to get the job done. In a limited role as a freshman, he did not disappoint, as he carried the ball 86 times for over 500 yards and a lone touchdown run. There will be plenty of touchdowns for him in 2015 as he enters the season as one of the primary call carriers, and the support of quarterback Brad Kaaya, who has suggested that Yearby is one of the hardest workers that he has ever been around.


3.) Shadrach Thornton, NC State

Thornton was extremely impressive for the Wolfpack last year, as he led the team in rushing with 164 carries for 907 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior. With the cusp of the 2015 season upon us, Thornton enters camp as the starting running back, with plenty of other young and talented carriers expecting to share some of the load as well. Junior Matt Dayes ran for 573 yards a year ago and will be the primary backup, but freshman Johnny Frasier and Reggie Gallaspy could make an impact in their first year with the program. North Carolina State should have one of the best rushing teams in the conference, but it all starts with Thornton and his ability to have his best season yet as a senior.


2.) The Georgia Tech Stable 

If there is anything we have learned from Paul Johnson’s Triple-Option Offense at Georgia Tech, it’s that there is no one player who will carry the full load, but all ball carriers will be dynamic and tough to stop. The Yellow Jackets consistently hold one of the nation’s top rushing attacks, and this year should be no different. While their top running back from 2014, Zach Laskey, is gone to the NFL, there is no shortage of talent in the backfield heading into the fall.

Broderick Snoddy is returning from a leg issue that cut his junior season short, but the senior A-back should make a sizable impact and is looking to build on his 10.1 yards per carry on just 28 carries last season.  Quarterback Justin Thomas, who really acts as an additional running back who receives the snaps in this offense, will play as large a role as ever as he looks to top his 1000+ yard effort from last year. With all the change on the offensive side of the ball for the Yellow Jackets, there is one thing that is for certain: They will be one of the nation’s top attacks once again this season.


1.) James Conner, Pittsburgh

Here’s one of those no-brainers that I was talking about in the introduction. In a run-first offense for the Panthers, James Conner represents “workhorse” in every sense of the word Conner is the reigning conference player of the year, tallying 1795 yards last season on 298 carries. His 26 rushing touchdowns ranked third in the country, as he has now gone over 2600 yards in his two-year career. A 2000 yard season in his junior season is not out of the question, as Conner could toss his name into Heisman consideration if he builds on his breakout 2014.


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