Todd Gurley vs. Sony Michel in Super Bowl LIII will begin a golden era for Georgia's NFL running backs
It’s fitting, really.
When Super Bowl LIII kicks off, one sideline will feature a former Georgia running back who finished his career as one the top rushers in program history before getting drafted in the first round. And on the other sideline, there will be another Georgia running back who finished his career as one of the top rushers in program history before getting drafted in the first round.
Get used to it.
Todd Gurley and Sony Michel are at the forefront of what looks like a new trend in the NFL — Georgia running backs are going to dominate this league for years to come, and perhaps in a way we’ve never seen before.
Why am I so convinced of that? Well, there’s the obvious. Gurley is already on his second contract and looking like a yearly MVP candidate coming off consecutive All-Pro seasons. Despite his odd NFC Championship performance, Gurley is a star. That’s not news.
What’s news is that not only did Michel and Nick Chubb get high draft slots, but both looked like the real deal in their rookie seasons. Both nearly hit the 1,000-yard mark despite the fact that they weren’t starters in the first part of the season. They both look like franchise pieces of offenses that figure to be plenty prolific for the foreseeable future.
The real kicker is that’s only the half of it. I predict that by 2021, we’ll have 6 former Georgia running backs who are NFL starters.
Think about that. That would be nearly 1/5 of the league’s starting backs from one school. In the modern era, not even Alabama pulled off a feat that impressive. It probably looked like that would happen in 2014. Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy were all starters in 2014 — though Richardson was fading fast — while the likes of Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake were the next in waiting.
Georgia, I’d argue, has an even better outlook. Elijah Holyfield entered the NFL Draft early, D’Andre Swift will return as a preseason Heisman Trophy contender and former 5-star recruit Zamir White is set to debut as arguably the most-hyped back of the bunch.
Is it really crazy to think about Holyfield, Swift and White becoming NFL starters? A lot can happen between now and then, but at the very least, the chances are favorable.
D'Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield are big reasons why the Georgia Bulldogs made it back to the SEC Championship Game.
They're just the latest in a long line of star UGA running backs. pic.twitter.com/z6o7eKwRX2
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 1, 2018
Besides having a young, talented offensive line paving the way for them, they’ll also be in good shape to get that opportunity because of what the Gurley-Michel-Chubb combination has already done. All 3 were selected in the first 35 picks, and all look like they were worth the rare early-round selection for a tailback. Teams will want to get their next Gurley, or next Michel or next Chubb. Shoot, Michel was so good that even the Patriots, who hadn’t picked a running back in the first round in 12 years, decided to go after him.
As we know with running backs, it’s part skill, part luck and mostly opportunity. Guys like Swift and Holyfield already showed at the college level they’re more than worthy of an opportunity at the next level. As for White, who’s coming off a pair of torn ACLs, he’ll get every chance to shine as long as he can stay on the field. Former 5-star recruits usually do.
And don’t forget that just in case Swift and White weren’t enough, Georgia has a pair of former 4-star recruits in James Cook (Dalvin Cook’s younger brother) and Kenny McIntosh (No. 10 running back in 2019) who have NFL aspirations of their own.
Who knows? Maybe 6 starting NFL running backs is setting the bar too low for a program with Georgia’s talent.
If Georgia even approaches that feat, it’ll be the ultimate social media brag. More important, it’ll be the ultimate selling point for any blue chip running back recruit.
Maybe it’s nearing capacity. Like, there’s a reason this hasn’t been done in the modern era because running backs of that talent level rarely are on the same roster together. Gurley, Michel and Chubb were the exception. Then again, Georgia had that in 2017 and one could argue that if you include the inactive White with that 2018 group, those are 3 running backs with NFL potential as well.
In the meantime, there’s not any sign of Georgia slowing down. It’s beyond one assistant coach — running backs coach Dell McGee has been in Athens since 2016 — or one head coach. It’s just the Georgia way in the 2010s. The Dawgs appear poised to surpass any “Running Back U” titles claimed in recent memory by the likes of Alabama, LSU or Oklahoma. Even Tim Tebow admitted that:
"Georgia definitely is Running Back U."
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 17, 2018
Time will tell if Georgia can have a 2- or 3-year window with that many starting backs in the NFL. Right now, the window for having at least 3 stud running backs in the NFL is wide open. Chubb, Michel and Gurley are all 24 and under, and it probably won’t be long before Holyfield and Swift getting significant work at the next level.
What seems like a certainty is come Super Bowl Sunday, you’ll see the flashback shots of Gurley and Michel at Georgia together. They’ll sprinkle that in at some point of the game. Most likely when they’re racking up touchdowns.
We’re already used to seeing that.