When coming up with top 5’s for an upcoming seasons, a good amount of players are based on projections and upside in their respective situations. That is not the case with our number one choice as we all are familiar with Eno Benjamin. As a sophomore, he finished fifth in the nation with 1,642 yards on 300 carries. In addition, Benjamin racked up 16 touchdowns, 18 total if you include receiving. That’s a serious amount of yards and touchdowns for any running back. Benjamin was a workhorse for the Sun Devils and will step in as the undisputed bell-cow back for ASU. He is probably going to be on about every 2019 watch list a running back can be on, including the Heisman.
We don’t even have to look out of the state when going from number one to number two. J.J. Taylor is another star at running back that will receive notice on a national scale. Taylor also cracked the top ten in 2018 NCAA rushing leaders as he came in at number 7, finishing just two spots behind Benjamin. His rushing totals finished at 1,434 rushing yards to go with 6 touchdowns on the year. A huge factor that Taylor has going for him is sharing a backfield with several other solid running backs. Arizona like to rotate running backs in different situations to keep everyone’s legs fresh, so a big workload shouldn’t be a massive issue for Taylor. Pairing him with star quarterback Khalil Tate also can’t hurt his chances, neither.
3. CJ Verdell (Oregon Ducks)
One of the younger players on this list, CJ Verdell is a player poised to breakout in a big way in 2019. Verdell quietly rushed for over a thousand yards on 202 carries to go with 12 total touchdowns. Now, Verdell is the undisputed number one back for the Oregon Ducks and should see that workload expand. The offensive line failed Verdell at times last year, but another year under Cristobal and staff should do wonders for the run blocking. The Ducks have a strong rushing game year in and year out, and this year should be no different. In addition to a strong rushing game, defenses will have to respect the playmaking ability of Justin Herbert which will open up more running lanes for Verdell. CJ Verdell will play a huge role in making this Duck offense take off. Expect him to step up to the role and break out for a huge 2019 season.
Here is our first real projection “guess” for running backs. Salvon Ahmed is a player that is getting a lot of hype out of U-Dub. As Myles Gaskins backup, Ahmed racked up 608 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 104 carries, which comes out to just under six yards per carry. One of Ahmed’s biggest assets is his speed, as he has been hand-clocked at a 4.32 40-yard dash. Even if the real time is slightly slower, the dude can still outrun most people in the NFL. Speed has to be respected, and Ahmed’s will warrant plenty of concern. Ahmed should get first crack at the starting job and if he can breakout, the junior could be leading the conference in every rushing category imaginable.
It seems criminal to rank a talent such as Zack Moss so low, but his ranking is dependent upon how he recovers from his season-ending leg injury in 2018. If he returns to full strength, or close to it, he will be one of the better running backs in the entire conference. Prior to his injury, Moss had amassed almost 1,100 yards rushing in addition to 12 total touchdowns on just 179 carries over the nine games that he played. Moss is a back that has all the tools necessary to thrive; from power to speed, he can do it all for an offense. How the Utes work him back from his injury will go a long way in dictating his 2019 season.
Other 2019 Opponent Top 5 Positional Previews: