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Who Will Replace Andre Ellington for Clemson Tigers in 2013?

Greg M. Cooper – USA TODAY Sports

The Clemson Tigers received a major boost to their 2013 hopes for success when quarterback Tajh Boyd decided to come back to school for his senior season. They weren’t so lucky everywhere on their offense and will have some key contributors to replace next fall. Maybe the hardest to replace will be running back Andre Ellington, who rushed for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and 33 touchdowns during his Clemson career. So who will step up to replace him?

The leading candidate is Rod McDowell, who acted as the No. 2 running back in 2012. During his junior season, McDowell carried the ball 83 times for 450 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, while scoring five touchdowns. At 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, he’s got a similar build to Ellington and could step in and pick up right where the former Tigers’ running back left off.

Behind him is junior D.J. Howard, who chipped in 35 carries for 138 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but has had issues staying healthy during his Clemson career, including last season when he missed two games due to injury. Zac Brooks made a splash last season as a true freshman, appearing in eight games and gaining 124 yards on 26 carries and could make a push to move up the depth chart this spring.

But no matter who head coach Dabo Swinney decides on, there will be incredible uncertainty in the running game as none of the candidates have proven they can carry a workload like Ellington did. Last season, Ellington carried the ball 212 times, which accounted for 36 percent of the team’s rushing attempts and 43 percent of the team’s rushing yards. That’s significant production to try and replace.

Whoever finally gets the bulk of the work out of the backfield next fall will play a pivotal role in Clemson’s run for an ACC title. The Tigers have to have a strong running game in order to maintain offensive balance and keep too much of the offensive load from landing on Boyd’s shoulders.

Can any of the running backs in 2013 come close to matching what Ellington did for this offense? Clemson’s season may depend on it.

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