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2023 Vanderbilt Football Position Preview: Running Back

This one’s a big question mark.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Like at quarterback, Vanderbilt saw a Portality (really, two) at the running back position after the 2022 season. Unlike quarterback, there’s no way I’m going to spin this one: losing Ray Davis is bad.

Losing Ray Davis to Kentucky is really bad. A brief “OK, Boomer” rant about this; no, you don’t get to transfer to a conference rival and still be in fans’ good graces. I don’t care if you think you had a good reason for leaving the program. If you wanted people to like you, either stay or transfer to a program that we’re all neutral about. Do I care if you transfer to Oklahoma State? No. Do I care if you transfer to Kentucky? Yes. (Same for Mississippi State, really — they’re not on the schedule every year, but we’ve all dealt with their fans. Including Mike Wright. Don’t make me find the photo of him getting flipped off by a Mississippi State fan.)

Also gone: Rocko Griffin, who was the team’s third-string running back while he was here and also blocked Anchor of Gold on Twitter, something I only discovered when he transferred. Cool. And Maurice Edwards got dismissed from the team before playing a game.

In: three freshmen. There are two guys back at the position, but neither of them are proven. We’ll see how this works out, but this all doesn’t sound promising.

Patrick Smith, junior: Weird year. Smith rushed 82 times for 360 yards as a true freshman and seemed to be on track to be the running back of the future. Then last season, he missed four games for reasons that Clark Lea wouldn’t talk about (and Clark Lea is normally fine talking about injuries), then came back and didn’t look remotely like the guy he had as a freshman. He ran 56 times for 151 yards and a touchdown. A 2.7 yards-per-carry average isn’t going to cut it. I wouldn’t even call him the presumptive starter at this point.

Chase Gillespie, redshirt freshman: In Smith’s absence, Gillespie got into four games early in the season before being shut down to preserve his redshirt — and honestly, he looked more impressive than Smith ended up looking, rushing 27 times for 118 yards and a touchdown. He could easily displace Smith as the starter, though honestly, he might not hold off the freshmen.

Sedrick Alexander, freshman: Probably the most heralded of Vanderbilt’s three freshman running backs (all three of whom come from Texas), Alexander put up a video game stat line (175 carries, 1982 yards, 28 touchdowns) as a senior. He also appeared on Friday Night Tykes. And he has a good, compact build at 5’9” and 199 pounds. I won’t be surprised if he’s the starter by the end of the season.

Deago Benson, freshman: Another Texan, Benson also has a solid build at 5’11” and 204 pounds and good speed, with a personal best of 10.85 in the 100 meters. The four-game redshirt rule means we’ll probably see him on the field this season.

AJ Newberry, freshman: Where Alexander and Benson have the makings of power backs, Newberry, at 6’1” and 182 pounds, might end up being more of a gadget player who can be a pass-catching threat out of the backfield. He had over 2000 yards of total offense as a high school senior at the 6A level in Texas.