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OAYP: 2019 ACC Running Back Rankings

By Jim Johnson
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The new OAYP advanced metric ranks the ACC's returning running backs.

In case you missed it, earlier this week I started releasing the Sun Belt marginal OAYP player rankings. Click the link for the quarterback rankings and a basic explanation of the formula.

As we did with the QB’s and will do with all of the other position groups, let’s tier them out into ‘superstars’ (marginal OAYP >1), ‘second tier’ (marginal OAYP between 0.5-1.0), and potential breakout stars (players that didn’t get enough reps to qualify, but posted high OAYP scores on a smaller sample size).

*marginal OAYP in parentheses*


-Travis Etienne, Clemson (2.2)

B.J. Bennett recently claimed that Travis Etienne may end up in the G.O.A.T. conversation after what he did last year:

Etienne, a year ago, rushed for 1,658 yards and a national-best 24 touchdowns on just 204 attempts, a remarkable average of 8.13 yards per carry. He is the first player in major college football history with a 1,600-yard, 20-touchdown season at over eight yards a try. The only Power Five running backs this millennium with a 1,600-yard season and eight yards per attempt are Reggie Bush, Bryce Love and Etienne; the Clemson superstar had a half-dozen more total offensive scores than both…

Just as the 2018 Clemson Tigers have to at least be in the conversion for "greatest ever", Etienne's sophomore season, for running backs, has to be in the discussion as well. Etienne, still with more to come, has a resume, by some measures, that simply stands alone.

That’s obviously a heckuva statement, but, statistically, there is a case to be made.

He led the entire nation in touchdowns with 26, finished in the top four in rushing yards, despite averaging at least three carries per game fewer than anyone ahead of him, picked up over half of those yards after contact, and forced a missed tackle on more than 25% of his touches. If nothing else, I do firmly believe that Etienne was the best running back in the country last year, and will continue to be in 2019. He may not have had the raw yardage productivity that a couple of guys had, but from an efficiency standpoint, there’s no one better.

Second Tier

So, technically no one actually meets the second tier threshold of 0.5-1.0 marginal OAYP, due to a confluence of circumstances. For starters, Cam Akers played behind maybe the worst offensive line in the country last year. Meanwhile, AJ Dillon played hurt for a lot of the year and missed two games in the middle of the season. Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall are both gone from Pitt, among a few other departures around the league. The second highest rated player by marginal OAYP is actually from Georgia Tech, and who knows how that’s going to look now?

But, above all else, the ACC running backs are just getting killed by Travis Etienne. When the national scores come in, a lot of these ball carriers will see a nice bump in marginal OAYP. Remember, these numbers are only in relation to the conference, and with just 14 qualifying returnees, a really high number, like Etienne’s, will hurt everyone else.

For the record, I think it’s safe to say that both Akers and Dillon are better than their rankings. And though we don’t know what to expect from the Georgia Tech guys, it’s also safe to bet on at least of few of the other guys with positive marginal scores to improve and close the gap a little bit -- Deejay Dallas from Miami, for example, seems like a major breakout candidate.

Potential Breakout Star

-Lyn-J Dixon, Clemson (2.48)

Yep, the freshman put up an even bigger number than Etienne, albeit on a much smaller sample size. After the departure of Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster’s transfer, Dixon should be in line for a lot more touches. No, this doesn’t mean that he’s better than Etienne, or will be better than his teammate -- that score will almost certainly regress somewhat towards the mean on a larger sample size -- but for him to be that good already is certainly promising.

The only other non-qualifying running back returnee with a positive marginal OAYP score was Syracuse’s Jarveon Howard.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Qualifying ACC Running Backs

1. Travis Etienne, Clemson (2.2)
2. Jordan Mason, Georgia Tech (0.36)
3. Michael Carter, North Carolina (0.31)
4. Brittain Brown (2017), Duke (0.13)
5. Deejay Dallas, Miami (0.1)
6. Antonio Williams, North Carolina (0.07)
7. Deon Jackson, Duke (0.06)
8. Moe Neal, Syracuse (-0.13)
9. Jerry Howard, Georgia Tech (-0.19)
10. Cade Carney, Wake Forest (-0.3)
11. AJ Dillon, Boston College (-0.31)
12. Cam Akers, Florida State (-0.33)
13. Deshawn McClease, Virginia Tech (-0.76)
14. Ricky Person, NC State (-1.23)

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP