5 incoming freshmen who could reach 1,000 yards rushing
It hasn’t happened in the SEC in two years. Back in 2016, three true freshman recruits rushed for 1,000 yards: Kentucky’s Benny Snell, Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams and Missouri’s Damarea Crockett.
While three is a bit unusual, the SEC had first-year 1,000-yard rushers in 2012 (Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon), 2013 (Arkansas’ Alex Collins), and 2014 (LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb).
Which brings us to the early signees of 2019. Given the 2-year drought, odds are pretty good that there’s a 1,000-yard season in 2019 coming for one or two of those backs. Here are five signed running backs capable of cracking the elite group.
Trey Sanders, Alabama
He already said he’s going to win the Heisman, right? Granted, the odds are pretty good that Sanders has to pay his dues and sit the bench in 2019. But the Tide will lose Damien Harris and possibly Joshua Jacobs, and they spread carries around so well that Sanders has a shot. Let’s say Sanders gets perhaps eight carries a game. If he can rush for 7 yards a carry, which isn’t a particularly unusual pace for an Alabama back, and the Tide again play in fifteen games, that adds up to 840 rushing yards for the season. It wouldn’t take much more to reach 1,000.
John Emery, Jr., LSU
LSU is losing 2018 leading rusher Nick Brossette, a senior, which leaves Emery a decent shot at seeing the field along with returning junior Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Given the LSU rushing focus, second-team backs in the past few years have piled up big seasons in the shadow of more prominent backs. Darrel Williams rushed for 820 yards and 9 scores behind Derrius Guice in 2017, and Guice exploded for 1,387 yards while ostensibly backing up Leonard Fournette before Fournette’s injuries. Historically, being the preseason No. 2 back for LSU tends to pay off.
Eric Gray, Tennessee
Tennessee hasn’t gotten untracked in the ground game in either of the past two seasons. The Vols haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Jalen Hurd, and it’s a badly kept secret that the inability to establish the run was a big part of what doomed Butch Jones to the scrap heap, and the Vols to a couple of arduous seasons. Ty Chandler is the favorite to start next season in Knoxville, but while Chandler has flashed a big-play burst, his consistency has been suspect. Gray isn’t a 25 carries a game back, but he could easily emerge as UT’s top rushing threat in 2019.
Nay’Quan Wright, Florida
As Dan Mullen continues to recast the Gators into his image, somebody has to step up as the face of Florida’s running game. Depending on Feleipe Franks to lead the team seems to be an iffy proposition, and while Florida has athletes galore, nobody averaged more than 11 carries per game for UF. There is plenty of competition ahead of Wright, but his game-breaking speed could stand out, even in Gainesville.
D.J. Williams, Auburn
Williams was an Appalachian State commit a week ago, but a late run from programs like Auburn and Georgia saw his stock inflate steadily. And hey, ending up at Auburn certainly didn’t hurt his chances. The Gus Bus could stand a new set of tires in 2019.
Auburn returns most of its top rushers, but also watched promising freshman Asa Martin decide to transfer to Miami because he didn’t get much of a shot in 2018. The guess is that Williams will get a shot, and given the way Auburn can power over weaker teams, he could be halfway to a thousand yards before October.