Who will become the SEC’s next great freshman running back?
Several coaches hope to be able to answer that question with their signees this year.
Over the last several years, the conference has seen some wide-eyed, uber-talented running backs make instant splashes. Over the last 10 years, six true freshmen running backs have rushed for 1,000 yards:
- Darren McFadden, Arkansas 1,113 yards (2005)
- Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, 1,197 yards (2010)
- Michael Dyer, Auburn 1,093 yards (2010)
- Todd Gurley, Georgia, 1,385 yards (2012)
- TJ Yeldon, Alabama, 1,108 yards (2012)
- Alex Collins, Arkansas, 1,026 yards (2013)
The most recent back to eclipse the mark was Arkansas freshman Alex Collins, who hit the mark with virtually no passing game helping offset the running game. Collins had a fantastic year in 2013, rushing for 1,026 yards. TJ Yeldon and Todd Gurley were the two to beat the mark in 2012.
So, which freshmen will rush for 1,000 yards in 2014? Lucky for you, we’ve narrowed down five frontrunners who were all top 10 high school running backs:
Nick Chubb, Georgia
Why he will: Chubb is the most like Todd Gurley and is physically ready for the SEC punishment. Despite being a monster, Chubb has excellent vision and speed to be a big-time player immediately.
Why he won’t: Georgia’s backfield is crowded, and assuming Keith Marshall is healthy, the bulk of the carries will go to Gurley and Marshall. Sony Michel could also show up ready to contribute immediately.
Leonard Fournette, LSU
Why he will: Dubbed the next Adrian Peterson, Leonard Fournette is the total package and may be the most talented player in the country, regardless of age. At 6-1, 226 pounds, if you could build the prototypical back, Fournette’s it. The Tigers’ offensive line is a veteran group, and he could become the top back immediately in an offense that’s conducive for many carries.
Why he won’t: Seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard have both proven they are capable of being the featured back, and there may not be enough carries for Fournette to even get to 1,000 yards.
Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
Why he will: Hurd could be a perfect fit for Tennessee’s offense and could become the featured back over returner Marlin Lane. Butch Jones’ goal is to put playmakers in space, and Hurd could be a key catalyst for an improved offense. Knowing Rajion Neal rushed for 1,124 yards, Jones’ offense will run the football. Hurd could be the recipient of the most carries.
Why he won’t: Despite the running game being a base for the offense, the passing game has to improve. But the biggest liability to Hurd not getting 1,000 yards may be the offensive line. The Vols replace all five starters, and inexperience will headline the group.
Sony Michel, Georgia
Why he will: Moonlighting as a rapper, Michel has enormous expectations at Georgia. He’s the lightning to Nick Chubb’s thunder, and he’s comparable to Keith Marshall. Should Marshall not recover fully, UGA is looking complement its backfield with another blazer like Michel.
Why he won’t: Fellow freshman Nick Chubb could be the freshman who receives the most carries, and Gurley and Marshall already have enormous expectations. Michel could be the odd man out of the three-headed backfield.
Roc Thomas, Auburn
Why he will: Thomas could be the most talented running back immediately setting foot on campus. Now, he’ll have to earn the playing time in a deep backfield, but Thomas is the total package for what Gus Malzahn’s offense desires. We know Auburn’s running game is going to ooze production, and Thomas could be the one who emerges.
Why he won’t: Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are the thunder and lightning combo the offense could feature. Prior to Peyton Barber’s injury, he was making some serious noise this spring, and he should be healthy for the start of 2014. In other words, Thomas may not receive enough carries to reach 1,000 yards. Three different Auburn running backs – not including Nick Marshall – rushed for 600 or more yards last season.
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