Notre Dame Football Spring ’24 Position Breakdown: Running Back

Any balanced attack on offense requires both an effective rushing and passing attack. In recent years, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have been blessed with at least one runner who can handle the workload, helping ease the burden of keeping an opposing defense honest. Entering spring ball this year, the Irish are looking to find their next breakout runner among a group of talented performers.


Whoever emerges in that select group will have some huge shoes to fill now that Audric Estime has taken off for the NFL. In his three seasons at Notre Dame, Estime collected 2,321 yards and scored 29 times on the ground on 6.2 yards per carry. All but 60 of those yards came during the past two campaigns, in which his bullish running style occasionally resulted in a fumble.

Estime could break off a long run and then turn around and get the tough yardage needed. The Irish got a sneak peek of life without him in last year’s Sun Bowl, when he opted out of the clash. At least one returning player is in line to be his replacement. However, given the mix of talent battling it out, that emergence isn’t guaranteed.

Last season, Devyn Ford gained 44 rushing yards and caught four passes but was more of a presence on kick returns. He missed multiple games due to a concussion, and during the offseason, he was switched to the other side of the ball. He’ll now compete for playing time in the secondary, a change of scenery that hopefully works as well as the departed Chris Tyree‘s switch to wide receiver last year.


A pair of early enrollees are hoping to use their first opportunity to vault into contention among the Irish running backs. Both are top recruits, with Kedren Young being compared by some to Estime, given their similar builds. Harnessing his speed and getting his footwork down will help advance that process and getting more comfortable as a passing option will also be a huge benefit. During his high school days, he saw few opportunities to catch the ball, a situation that should be rectified quickly.

Young is joined on the top prospect list by Aneyas Williams, who committed to the Irish in December 2022. He collected more than 4,000 yards rushing for a small Missouri high school. The fact that he also racked up more than 3,000 yards on pass receptions during his high school tenure could give him an early leg up on Young. One comparison of Williams had him linked with former Irish back Kyren Williams, who emerged this past season with the Los Angeles Rams.

A Look Back and Forward

In 2023, Estime served as the workhorse in the backfield, handling the ball on 46 percent of Notre Dame’s rushing attempts. He gained 1,341 yards and scored 18 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry before then sitting out the Sun Bowl. That was a change from the preceding year when he and Logan Diggs essentially split the bulk of the carries.

One notable statistic that shows how much the Irish relied on Estime last year is that the four players behind him in the rushing category COMBINED to carry the ball two fewer times than he did. Estime’s absence in the bowl game offered Jadarian Price the chance to shine, with the second-year-man-to-be averaging 8.2 yards per carry and finishing the contest with a game-high 106 yards.

Jeremiyah Love and Price entered spring ball as the top candidates to succeed Estime, with Price showing no lingering effects of the 2022 Achilles injury that delayed his Notre Dame debut by a year. Love wasn’t used a great deal until the bowl game, carrying the ball only 56 times in the Irish’s 12 regular season matchups.

Gi’Bran Payne is also an option, though he struggled to make an impact, carrying the ball nearly as much as Price and averaging just 3.7 yards on his 45 carries. His presence could be felt more on special teams, where he returned two kickoffs last season. However, the reality is that he needs a strong spring to become more of a consideration for new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock.

If none of the above players make their presence felt, Freeman and Denbrock may end up looking more closely at the progress of Young and Aneyas Williams. Young is a potential star, though how quickly he’s able to adapt to the collegiate game may determine if his stature grows this year or in the following campaigns.

Offering a running back-by-committee approach wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for Notre Dame this coming season, if only because it would offer a continual pair of fresh legs. The Irish are hoping at the very least that someone delivers a breakout campaign like Estime did two years ago.

The Irish’s 2024 schedule begins with a difficult matchup at Texas A&M. The hope is that when the Irish take the field for that game, the team will have multiple weapons to deploy and finally break the frustrating playoff shutout.

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