CLEMSON FOOTBALL

Clemson Position 360: Running back
Phil Mafah leads Clemson's running back room into 2024.

Clemson Position 360: Running back


by - Contributor -

This offseason we’ll give you a full 360 on each position group, evaluating how they performed last season, who they lost and gained, and what to expect in 2024. We’ve gone through the entire defense and now begin the offense with the running backs.

2023 Performance

Phil Mafah and Will Shipley were a two-headed monster at running back. They split carries fairly evenly, with Mafah getting 179 carries to Shipley’s 167. Early in the year, Shipley was the clear lead-back, with Mafah getting only about eight carries per game. Shipley was injured against NC State, which shifted the spotlight to Mafah.

Taking over against NC State, Mafah played very well, netting the Tigers’ only two touchdowns in the eventual loss. The next week, he started versus Notre Dame and carried the offense with a spectacular performance. He finished the Notre Dame game with a whopping 36 carries for 186 yards and two rushing TDs. Shipley returned the next week versus Georgia Tech, but now the split was more even – favoring Mafah slightly.

Overall, both backs had good years that were held back by inconsistent offensive line play and their own issues with fumbles. Each lost two fumbles apiece, playing major roles in the losses to Duke (Mafah) and Miami (Shipley). Mafah was the more explosive of the two backs, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He finished the year with 965 rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs. Shipley navigated traffic well but didn’t have his first 30+ yard run until November 11th vs. Georgia Tech. He finished the year with 5.0 yards per carry and a total of 827 yards and five rushing TDs.

Keith Adams Jr. combined for 29 carries. No other running back had more than six carries.

Departures & Additions

Shipley was selected in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles. Thomas transferred to Georgia State. Upon their head coach leaving to become the TE Coach at South Carolina, he transferred again, this time landing at a much more acclaimed destination – Ole Miss.

David Eziomume from Cobb County, GA (metro Atlanta) joins the team and could provide explosive play ability with his track speed.

2024 Expectations

Shipley going pro is undoubtedly a big loss, both in terms of leadership and on-field production. On the positive side, however, it forces the staff to put the ball in the hands of their highest-graded offensive player – Mafah – more often. PFF graded Mafah at 81.0 (compared to Shipley at 72.9). While Shipley was the better receiver, PFF lauds Mafah’s ability as a pure runner with an excellent 87.4 grade in that department.

Mafah has a chance to be an old-fashioned bell-cow running back and lead all Clemson non-QBs in yards from scrimmage for the second year in a row. If healthy, he should have a tremendous statistical season. Behind him is a stable of four unproven running backs from which at least one should emerge as a more-than-adequate backup. Adams Jr. is the most experienced of the bunch and, at minimum, should provide some relief in short yardage, given his physical style. Jarvis Green and Jay Haynes each saw minimal time while redshirting and should now be ready to make bigger contributions. Lastly, the aforementioned Eziomume has a chance to come in and make a splash. Like most freshmen running backs, he’ll likely need time to fully learn all the protections to stay in for passing downs, but any added explosiveness for the offense will be welcome.

Overall, this group is one to be excited about. It contains Clemson’s most reliable player on offense and some unproven but interesting depth behind him. Mafah needs to clean up the fumbles and get a little more help from his offensive line and passing game, but if Clemson’s offense struggles, it almost certainly won’t be because of this position group. Rather, they’ll be the ones setting the tone and opening up everything else for the offense.

Past 360s:

Cornerback

Defensive tackle

Defensive end

Linebacker

Safety

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