SDS will be looking at superlatives for many different positions as we head into season. Next up are the running backs.
Let’s judge the running backs:
Complete Package: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (JR)
Marcus Lattimore returns once again in the SEC for another year of gracing us with his punishing running game. By all indications, Lattimore is 100 percent healthy and ready to go in 2012. Lattimore is the complete back in the SEC. He’s proven that his freshman year, and he proved it last year before his injury. He returns with 2,016 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns in just one and a half seasons. Steve Spurrier has been criticized for letting Lattimore tote the rock too much, but he chews up yards in a hurry. I think Lattimore is the complete back in the SEC right now because he can hurt teams running or receiving.
Highest Ceiling: Knile Davis, Arkansas (JR)
While Lattimore may be the complete back, and I only say that because he’s had more opportunity to impress, Knile Davis has the most upside – obviously upside this year and NFL upside. Davis has only really played one full season, with limited touches his freshman year and limited touches the first half of 2010. While Lattimore has been used as a workhorse in college, Davis is fresher in the NFL scouts’ eyes. Look for him to be a high draft pick after this season, assuming he stays healthy. Davis has much to prove this season.
Biggest Homerun Threat: Onterio McCalebb, Auburn (SR)
Onterio McCalebb is the fastest player in the SEC, and he’s a homerun threat every time he touches the ball. He really showed that in 2010 playing Cam Newton, averaging 8.5 yards per carry. Last year McCalebb shared the load with Mike Dyer, but he’ll be the main runner this season. He can turn the corner in a hurry, but let’s keep an eye on this burner carrying the full load for the Tigers.
Most Powerful: Kenny Hilliard, LSU (SO)
We’ve seen just enough of Kenny Hilliard to make us want more. The guy is a beast and a big load to tackle at 245 pounds running between the tackles. He burst onto the scene when Spencer Ware was suspended last year, and he earned more playing time as the season progressed. He totaled 62 carries for 336 yards and eight touchdowns (tied for team lead). Hilliard has lost some of his baby fat from last year and looks to evolve into a better overall back in 2012.
Best Backup: Michael Ford, LSU (JR)
We’ve talked about Kenny Hilliard, and now we’ll talk about Michael Ford. Neither is the starter in this crowded LSU backfield. That task belongs to Spencer Ware. But Ford outrushed Ware on 50 less carries. Ford totaled 127 carries for 756 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 6.0 yards per pop. He would start at several other schools in the SEC, and he would be a top three back in the SEC East. Ford is the speed guy for LSU, and he can turn the corner in a hurry. No doubt Michael Ford is the best backup running back in the SEC.
Most to Prove: Eddie Lacy, Alabama (JR)
Playing in the shadow of Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram can’t be an easy thing to do. Lacy has taken a back seat to both in the last few years, and it’s his turn. He looks to be Alabama’s next great running back in a long line of studs. Lacy is a physical runner, but he can make defenders miss in the open field. Lacy ran for 674 yards on only 95 carries in 2011. He totals 1,080 yards in his career, and look for him to equal his career mark in his first year of starting.
Most Irreplaceable: Christine Michael, Texas A&M (SR)
With a veteran offensive line returning in College Station, Michael should have a fantastic senior season. He leads all SEC returners with 2,374 career-rushing yards with 22 touchdowns. Behind Michael is a bunch of unproven talent. But heading into year one in the SEC with a freshman quarterback, TAMU will have to have Michael and lean on his experience and toughness to get through the gauntlet. Michael would be the toughest running back to replace this season.
Most Underrated: Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt (SR)
The most underrated SEC running back is easily Zac Stacy. The guy gets no love for his abilities or the numbers he put up last year. Stacy is quietly the SEC’s fourth leading returning rusher in 2012, with 2,002 career yards and 20 touchdowns. He has produced ever since he set foot on campus in Nashville. But Stacy plays with a chip on his shoulder knowing he has to earn all the respect he gets. Can you imagine if he got to run behind the hawses at LSU or Alabama? Would be a whole new ball game.
Best All-Purpose: Dennis Johnson, Arkansas (SR)
Mr. Do-it-all for the Razorbacks returns for his senior season. Johnson will be the backup running back (1,279 career yards), while returning both punts and kick offs for the Hogs. He is Arkansas’ all-time leading kick returner with 2,475 return yards, and he has taken three of them back to house. Johnson is key to Arkansas’ overall game plan, whether it’s on special teams or on offense.