Is Damien Harris the best running back in the SEC?
There’s no doubt that the SEC has some of college football’s best running backs. But, of the guys who are good enough to be considered among them, who is the best?
An argument could be made for several players. It could be Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson or even LSU’s Derrius Guice — even though he hasn’t lived up to the preseason hype so far this season because of injuries.
Alabama’s Damien Harris should find himself being considered along with them, which a lot of people, myself included, would not have thought would be the case coming into this season.
When you look at the Tide’s running back depth on paper, it’s hard for Harris’s name to stand out. With the physically gifted freak (Bo Scarbrough), the high-profile freshman (Najee Harris) and the pass-catching Swiss army knife (Josh Jacobs) included in that group, Harris, despite being the starter for the majority of last season, saw his name get lost among the others.
After all, it was Scarbrough, not Harris, who was included as a preseason second-team All-SEC member.
That hasn’t stopped Harris from taking over as the Crimson Tide’s featured running back, however. Scarbrough has out-carried Harris (65 to 59) this season, but Harris has come close to doubling Scarbrough’s yards per carry (8.48 to 4.52) and rushing touchdowns (7 to 4).
The number of rushing touchdowns might be the most surprising stat for Harris. At 5-11, 221 pounds, he has the size and strength to be an effective goal line back, but he scored only two rushing touchdowns in 2016 as Scarbrough got the bulk of the work inside the 10-yard line.
Another impressive aspect to Harris’ junior season has been his ability to break long runs.
- 34 yards (Florida State)
- 61 yards for a TD (Vanderbilt)
- 25 yards (Vanderbilt)
- 46 yards (Ole Miss)
- 75 yards for a TD (Texas A&M)
- 27 yards (Texas A&M)
A 5-star prospect coming out of Berea, Ky., Harris was the complete package. At the time, he was only 205 pounds, but he ran with power, showed excellent vision and — with a reported 4.4 40-yard dash time — had breakaway speed.
Until recently, he hadn’t gotten much of a chance to show that, however. He was the starter coming into last season but injured an ankle versus Kent State that hampered him for the rest of the season.
Now, there will be people who point to Kerryon Johnson or Nick Chubb as the SEC’s best runner, and while that argument can be made, Harris has proven to do a lot more with a lot less this season.
Here’s the percentage of team carries that each of them is receiving:
- Damien Harris (21 percent)
- Kerryon Johnson (30.3 percent)
- Nick Chubb (31.2 percent)
An extra 10 percent makes a significant difference.
Johnson has benefited from seeing a majority of the carries in recent weeks — 69 over the last three. Yes, the Auburn junior has missed two games, but he has still managed to see 26 more carries than Harris (85 to 59).
Like with Harris, Chubb has been forced to share the workload with running mates Sony Michel and true freshman D’Andre Swift. But as you can see from the statistics above, he, too, has seen a much larger percentage of his team’s carries.
Harris is currently fourth in the SEC in rushing yards among the running backs despite being tied for 14th in carries. That statistical difference alone should put his name at or near the top of any list.
Now that we’re at the halfway point of the regular season, it’s time to stop looking at who made the preseason All-SEC teams and start focusing on who will make the postseason All-SEC teams.
Don’t expect Harris’s name to be left out this time around.