While the star-power among the draft-eligible running backs across the nation mostly resides in other conferences, the ACC features several backs capable of contributing in an NFL offense. With that said, the group largely lacks versatile enough skill sets to be considered potential feature backs at the next level. Headlined by Travis Homer as the clear-cut top draft-eligible prospect, let’s examine the ACC’s top five entering the season.
1. Travis Homer, Junior, Miami (5-11, 200)
When lead-back Mark Walton went down with an injury last season, Homer emerged in his absence and showcased and exciting skill set. As a sophomore, Homer carried the ball 163 times for 966 yards (5.9 YPC) with eight touchdowns.
My top draft-eligible back in the ACC entering the seasons, Homer offers a blend of speed, elusiveness, vision and power that make him appealing. He sees the field cleanly and has outstanding burst to and through the hole. He knows how to reduce his surface area and work through tight spaces. In the open field, Homers showcases a good second gear and has the wiggle and twitch to make tacklers miss in space. And while he isn’t necessarily built like a bruiser, Homer isn’t afraid to reduce his pad level and challenge tacklers with physicality. He is a highly competitive runner that battles of every inch. Homer runs with a low center of gravity and always keeps his feet moving.
An every down contributor, Homer's dynamic movement skills serve him well as a route-runner and creator in space after the catch. With that said, his hands are only average so displaying more comfort hauling in passes is important. In pass pro, Homer does well to sink his hips and land his hands to work rushers away from the quarterback.
The primary area of concern with Homer is how his frame meshes with his running style. While it’s exciting to see him avoid going out of bounds to lower his shoulder against a potential tackler, there are times he needs to be smarter about not taking unnecessary hits.
Miami does have some talented young backs but Homer is likely to shoulder the running load for the Hurricanes and serve as the focal point of the offense. If he plays up to his potential, Homer will find himself in the conversation as one of the top runners in the 2019 class.
2. Jacques Patrick, Senior, Florida State (6-3, 235)
The buzz when it comes to the Florida State running backs is usually centered around freshman-sensation Cam Akers but he won’t be eligible until 2020. His backfield mate Patrick, however, is a senior and a good prospect in his own right. Complementing both Akers and the record-setting Dalvin Cook throughout his career, Patrick has averaged 5.5 yards per carry on 258 rushes with 16 touchdowns.
A physical downhill runner, Patrick sees the field cleanly and knows how to work off his blocks. He excels in one cut situations and runs with good pace and timing. A decisive runner, Patrick attacks gaps as the open and rarely yields a negative play.
A powerful runner, Patrick has the strength to move piles and can burst through arm tackles to finish runs. He absorbs contact well, sustains his momentum through contact and maximizes his touches.
While he lacks elusive traits to be a dynamic passing game option, Patrick showcases reliable hands when he has the opportunity to catch it. In pass pro, Patrick does well to diagnose the defense, square up rushers and halt their rush.
Like most power backs, Patrick lacks the suddenness and explosive burst of a true game-changing back. He offers little in the way of wiggle and lacks a second gear. He offers a good amount of surface area to the defense and isn’t effective working laterally.
For a team in search of a battering ram with skill, Patrick profiles nicely as a between-the-tackles banger.
3. Tavien Feaster, Junior, Clemson (5-11, 220)
Sharing the backfield role with the electric Travis Etienne, Feaster provides the downhill-style power back in a pair of runners with complementary skill sets. And providing the thunder in an NFL offense is exactly what Feaster can do at the next level.
A physical runner, it takes an honest effort from a tackler to drag him down. Feaster runs with good balance and absorbs contact well, leading to considerable yardage gained after contact. His leg drive is powerful and his feet are always moving. Both to and in the hole, Feaster illustrates sound vision and sees the field cleanly. His blend of vision and power is what enabled him to average over six yards per carry so far in his career.
While Feaster does have good straight line speed, his lateral mobility does limit his upside to be productive outside the tackles. His elusive traits and ability to stop-start are below average which impact his aptness to win in space and as a route runner.
Feaster may not be an overly dynamic back but his blend of power and vision makes him appealing.
4. Matt Colburn, Senior, Wake Forest (5-10, 200)
Colburn has displayed steady improvement since stepping foot on campus and it has led to an expanding role on Wake Forest’s offense. Coming off a third consecutive season where he increases his production in every statistical category, Colburn is expected to be the focal point of the Demon Deacons backfield in 2018 as a senior.
Colburn isn’t the biggest back but he is a compact runner that is slippery for tacklers to get their hands on. He has good vision and knows how to get skinny and break through gaps. He is twitchy in space and offers an impressive second gear. Capable of pressing the line of scrimmage or working outside the tackles, Colburn has the elusiveness and flexibility to turn tight corners. Colburn enters his senior season amid a streak of 340 consecutive carries without a fumble.
A three-down weapon, Colburn offers good hands and the physical traits needed to create separation as a route runner. Wake frequently lined him up in the slot and gave him opportunities to win as a receiver.
While Colburn is a competitive runner, he isn’t going to be confused for a powerful runner. His yardage after contact generally comes as a result of his wiggle and balance. And even though he is elusive, he isn’t overly dynamic in terms of creativity to make things happen in space as expected for a back of his style.
Racking up 721 rushing yards and five touchdowns over final seven games to close out the 2017 season, Colburn is primed for a productive final season in Winston-Salem.
5. Darrin Hall, Senior, Pittsburgh (5-11, 225)
Emerging late in 2017, Hall tallied 520 rushing yards and eight touchdowns across Pittsburgh’s last five contests. Expected to be the Panthers’ lead back in 2018, Hall is looking to carry his late season momentum into a productive senior season and challenge to become a draft pick next spring.
Hall is a straight ahead runner that runs with power and physicality. He battles for yards after contact and is decisive when attacking gaps. His lower body is strong and capable of moving piles and winning after contact.
Like most power backs, Hall lacks the shiftiness, wiggle and elusiveness to be a truly dynamic runner that wins in space. His ability to work laterally and turn corners is inhibited by his tight hips and lack of flexibility. In addition, Hall has a tendency to run upright and offer a considerable amount of surface area to tacklers. Hall has performed well in pass pro but his ability to win as a receiver is modest.
No longer a secret, Hall faces a critical senior season to prove he can sustain production and showcase an expanded skill set in 2018.
Others to keep an eye on:
KirVonte Benson, Georgia Tech
Qadree Ollison, Pittsburgh