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Iowa football 2023 winter position breakdown: Running backs
Kaleb Johnson coming off eye-opening true freshman season
IOWA CITY — Iowa saw some highs and some lows in its rushing attack in 2022.
Kaleb Johnson becoming the first Iowa running back since Akrum Wadley in 2015 to record 200-plus rushing yards in a football game was certainly a high point.
But even with the true freshman’s emergence, Iowa finished 127th in yards per carry last season — ahead of only Akron, Arkansas State, Colorado State and Boston College.
The 2.9 yards per carry included Iowa’s 38 sacks allowed, though, so some of the rushing woes were outside of the running backs’ purview. Take out the sacks, and Iowa would have averaged about 3.9 yards per carry.
Here is an early overview of Iowa’s running backs ahead of spring football:
Gavin Williams transferred to Northern Illinois after the season. He was the No. 1 running back on the preseason depth chart, but by the end of the season, he was Iowa’s No. 3 running back.
Deavin Hilson is gone from the running backs room, but not from the Iowa football building. He moved positions during the season to defensive back.
Walk-on Nolan Donald was a senior in 2022. He did not see any game action in his Iowa career.
Three of the five players listed at fullback last year — Monte Pottebaum, Turner Pallissard and Johnny Plewa — were seniors.
Pottebaum appeared in 34 of Iowa’s last 35 games as the starting fullback.
Pallissard’s 2022 contributions were almost exclusively on special teams. Plewa did not see game action in his Iowa career.
Kaleb Johnson is coming off an eye-popping true freshman season. The Hamilton, Ohio, native led the Hawkeyes with 779 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns and 5.2 yards per carry.
Leshon Williams, who will be a junior in 2023, averaged 3.5 yards per carry in 2022 as the No. 2 running back.
Jaziun Patterson played in three games in 2022 as a true freshman, so he will be a redshirt freshman in 2023. He had 14 carries for 53 yards, including 17- and 11-yard runs in the Music City Bowl.
⧉ Related article: Jaziun Patterson ‘jumped out’ to Iowa coaches as true freshman in 2022
Walk-ons Zach Brand and Max White also are expected to return.
Eli Miller and Denin Limouris are expected to return at fullback. Miller appeared in two games in 2022 after Pottebaum suffered an injury against Minnesota.
Who’s joining the mix
Terrell Washington Jr., a former Purdue commit before the coaching change there, already is in Iowa City as an early enrollee. Washington is from Wylie, Texas.
Kamari Moulton, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was previously committed to Florida Atlantic before flipping his commitment in November.
Both players have three-star ratings from 247Sports and Rivals.
Rusty VanWetzinga IV, a Pleasant Valley standout, turned down Division I offers from Army, Navy, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois and Charlotte to be a preferred walk-on at Iowa.
Way-too-early two-deep projections
There are no surprises at this position in The Gazette’s depth chart projections:
- Kaleb Johnson
- Leshon Williams
- Eli Miller
- Denin Limouris
The talent is there at running back.
Johnson will have a full offseason to further develop after his standout true freshman year. Williams and Patterson have shown flashes of what can be done when they have adequate space to run.
The question is how much support will they have from up front.
Williams, for example, had at least one 10-plus-yard carry in seven of his 12 games, yet averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. Better blocking up front is essential for this group to succeed in 2023.