All seven of Arizona State’s running backs are underclassmen. The Sun Devil active leading rusher is quarterback Manny Wilkins, while probable starting halfback, sophomore Eno Benjamin, has just 23 carries in college so far. But the youth movement at this position should not be overlooked — there is a lot of potential here.
First off, Benjamin, who was ASU’s top recruit in the class of 2017, was a four-star prospect from Wylie East High School in Texas. After a senior season in which he ran for over 100 yards in 12 of 13 games, he was rated the sixth-best running back prospect in the nation by 247 Sports.
Last year, as a freshman playing behind two senior halfbacks, he didn’t get a ton of opportunities off the bat. Yet there were a couple of games when he got to display his abilities. He had five rushes in the Sun Devils’ win over Colorado, running for 52 yards and a touchdown during that week nine outing. In ASU’s Sun Bowl loss against NC State, Benjamin rushed for 42 yards in five carries while also catching two passes for 19 yards.
During last season, he displayed good breakaway speed and strength along with advanced ability to read the holes and exploit them. Sure, he only received a handful of carries as a freshman, but he showed promising signs of becoming a force for this Sun Devil offense.
Benjamin isn’t the only halfback who could inflict damage on defenses in 2018 though. Fellow Texan sophomore Trelon Smith ran with ASU’s first team during their annual spring game because Benjamin was unavailable due to injury. There, he displayed strong acceleration and once he gets in the open field, his speed makes him tough to catch up with.
Although Smith ran the ball just once as a freshman, he is likely to be the second rusher behind Benjamin this year. Arizona State’s top two running backs worked as a tandem in 2017, so perhaps if Smith can show similar skills as he displayed during his impressive outing at the spring game, they could run a similar set for the next couple of years.
After Smith on the depth chart, a couple of freshmen could end up being difference makers at some point this season and especially beyond.
Brock Sturges continued the trend of ASU scooping up running backs from Texas. As a senior at Allen High School, the new ASU back ran for just under 2000 yards with 27 touchdowns. His elusiveness through strength sets him apart, as tape from high school shows his ability to escape tackles and pick up yards after contact.
Then there’s A.J. Carter, who is now ASU’s biggest halfback at 6’0”, 223 pounds. In high school at Many, Louisiana, he averaged 9.6 yards-per-carry with 190 rushes in nine games. He could be especially useful for goal-line situations where the Devils would look to punch the ball through.
ASU may not have the best back in the Pac-12 — Stanford’s Bryce Love is most likely to take that honor after a stellar 2017, but they could have one of the deepest cores. Plus, with Benjamin and Smith being sophomores and Sturges and Carter being freshmen, this group could develop into a threat to be feared for opposing defensive coordinators down the road.