How 5-star RB prospects have performed in the SEC over the past decade
For many recruits, regardless of their star rating, it usually takes at least a season of development before they make an impact in the SEC. Running back, however, is one of the positions where fans can expect the stars of National Signing Day suiting up on Saturdays a few months later.
Five-star running backs are hard to come by. In the past decade of recruiting classes (2007-2016), 36 running backs (including athletes who played running back) received a 5-star rating in the 247Sports Composite. Of those 36 recruits, 17 signed with SEC teams (including a pre-expansion Texas A&M) spread out over eight years.
In six of those years, the No. 1-ranked back in the country chose the SEC.
The 2017 recruiting class features four 5-star running backs, including Najee Harris, who has already enrolled at Alabama. Before Harris starts running through the SEC, let’s take a look back at how past 5-star running backs have fared in the conference.
None of the three 5-star running backs signed with the SEC.
Richard Samuel, Georgia: Samuel signed as a running back and started his career at that position, but he was moved to linebacker and later to fullback. He left Georgia with 214 carries for 833 yards and 4 touchdowns.
(Alabama Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, a 4-star prospect in the 2008 class, was ranked No. 26 among running backs, 23 spots below Samuel.)
Bryce Brown, Tennessee: Brown was the No. 1-ranked running back in the class and his recruiting was something of a circus; he did not sign on National Signing Day 2009, but waited until March 16, to go to Tennessee. Brown backed up Montario Hardesty during his freshman season, and carried the ball 101 times for 460 yards and 3 touchdowns.
After coach Lane Kiffin left UT for USC, Brown decided to transfer back to his home state of Kansas and attend Kansas State. At KSU, Brown appeared in only two games, recording three total carries. Despite limited college experience, Brown made it to the NFL as an undrafted free agent, playing from 2012-15.
Trent Richardson, Alabama: As most Alabama ball-carriers in the Nick Saban are used to, the Crimson Tide often feature a stable of running backs. Richardson, the No. 2-ranked running back in the class, shared the backfield with Heisman winner Ingram in 2009 and ’10, logging 257 carries for 1,451 yards and 14 touchdowns.
In 2011, it was the “Human Wrecking Ball’s” turn to lead the way, and he shined as the lead back. Richardson’s 283 carries for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns helped Alabama to a national championship. He finished third in Heisman Trophy voting, behind Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. The Cleveland Browns picked Richardson No. 3 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Christine Michael, Texas A&M: Michael’s first three seasons (2009-11) at Texas A&M were when the Aggies played in the Big 12. In 2012, TAMU made the move to the SEC West and Michael got a taste of SEC defenses. His senior year was actually his least productive, as he carried the ball 88 times for 417 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Michael Dyer, Auburn: Dyer was the No. 1-ranked running back in the class and his career started well at Auburn, as he put together a 1,093-yard freshman season and collected a national championship ring. The following year, he improved upon that total with 1,242 yards on 242 carries. After that, however, his career went south.
Dyer followed Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State, and it was the first of many transfers. He would transfer to Arkansas Baptist before finally finishing his career at Louisville. He never found the same success as he did on the Plains, rushing for a combined 704 yards in his final two seasons with the Cardinals.
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: Steve Spurrier once opined that Lattimore, the No. 2-ranked back in the class, might be the most popular player in Gamecocks history, and one look at highlights of Lattimore with the ball in his hands will tell you why. When healthy, Lattimore was every bit a 5-star running back and more.
His 1,197 rushing yards as a freshman helped get South Carolina to its first SEC Championship Game. Season-ending injuries in back-to-back seasons kept him from cracking the 1,000-yard mark again, but when he was healthy he was truly a special player to watch.
Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Crowell also was the No. 1-ranked running back in the country. His freshman season at Georgia was promising (185 carries, 850 yards, 5 TD), but that’s all we would see out of the blue-chip back in Athens. Prior to the start of the 2012, Crowell was dismissed from Georgia due to multiple off-the-field issues. He finished his college career at Alabama State and is on the Cleveland Browns’ roster.
Keith Marshall, Georgia: Marshall, the No. 2 RB in the class, had an impressive freshman season, recording 117 carries for 759 yards and 8 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he battled injuries throughout the rest of his career and was usually buried on the depth chart as Mark Richt continued to sign talented running backs.
Don’t feel too bad for Georgia that Marshall never cracked the 1,000-yard mark. The Bulldogs signed 4-star Todd Gurley in this same class.
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Yeldon, the No. 5-ranked back in the class, nearly had three 1,000-yard seasons at Alabama, but outside of Tuscaloosa most SEC fans probably better remember the ball-carriers he shared the backfield with at the start (Eddie Lacy) and end (Derrick Henry) of his career.
Yeldon was the starter as a sophomore in 2013, when he received his most carries (207) and rushing yards (1,235) at Alabama. He left after his junior season (2014) and was picked in the second round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Derrick Henry, Alabama: When 247Sports classified Henry as a recruit, the site listed him as an “athlete” instead of running back. He was the No. 1-ranked athlete in the country, No. 12 player overall and no running back appeared ahead of him. While Will Muschamp and other coaches saw the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Henry as a potential defensive end or linebacker, Henry wanted to be a running back.
Letting Henry carry the football worked out well for Saban. The Crimson Tide ditched its usual tandem backfield approach in favor of handing off to Henry 395 times over 15 games as he won the Heisman in 2015. The bruising back, who bulked up to 242 pounds, rushed for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns in Alabama’s national championship season.
Kelvin Taylor, Florida: The son of NFL and Gator great Fred Taylor was considered a big get for Muschamp in the 2013 class. Taylor, the No. 2 back in the class, split time in the backfield with Matt Jones his first two seasons, gaining a combined 1,073 yards on 227 carries.
After Jones departed, Taylor became the Gators’ primary ball-carrier in 2015. He was the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher in more than a decade, logging 259 carries for 1,035 yards as a junior. Taylor skipped his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.
The 2014 running back class will long be remembered as one of the best in college football history, with Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Joe Mixon headlining the signees. Fournette was the No. 1-ranked player overall in the class.
Leonard Fournette, LSU: In 2013, LSU signed 28 recruits for a class ranked No. 6 nationally. Noticeably absent from the class were any running backs. Even a year before he would enroll, LSU was all in on New Orleans’ Fournette.
Fournette rushed for 1,034 yards as a freshman and nearly doubled it as a sophomore (1,953 yards), a season in which he was frequently talked about as a Heisman candidate. Injuries hampered Fournette as a junior this season, but when healthy he made jaw-dropping highlights. His next run will come in the NFL.
Sony Michel, Georgia: Michel, the No. 3 back in the class, is returning for his senior season after a limited junior campaign (64 carries, 410 yards, 5 TD), especially when compared to his sophomore season (219 carries, 1,161 yards, 8 TD). The American Heritage (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) product can expect another season of sharing carries with classmate Nick Chubb.
Roc Thomas, Auburn: After two seasons of 43 carries each, Thomas decided to transfer last summer when it appeared in spring that he would not figure prominently in Auburn’s offense. He sought the opportunity for a bigger workload at Jacksonville State. This season at JSU he ran 86 times for 475 yards. Thomas was the No. 5 RB in this class.
Nick Chubb, Georgia: Before the 2016 season, there was a debate among media members who would make the better NFL back: Chubb or Fournette? Fournette is entering the draft this April, but Chubb’s coming back to try to end his career with his best season yet in Athens.
Chubb, ranked No. 6 among RBs in this class, was most productive as a freshman (219 carries, 1,547 yards, 14 TD), filling in for an injured Gurley. He missed significant time with an injury of his own in 2015, and cracked the 1,000-yard mark again in 2016, but with a lower rushing total (1,130 yards).
Bo Scarbrough, Alabama: Like Henry before him, Scarbrough was tagged as an “athlete” as a recruit. Scarbrough dealt with injuries this season at Alabama, but when he was healthy, he showed the potential to be Alabama’s next great running back, particularly in the postseason against Florida (11 carries, 91 yards, 2 TD) and Washington (19 carries, 180 yards, 2 TD).
If Scarbrough can stay healthy, he’s one of the many 2014 signees to watch in 2017.
Damien Harris, Alabama: Harris, the No. 1 RB in his class, was Alabama’s leading rusher in 2016 with 146 carries for 1,037 yards, an impressive average of 7.1 yards per carry despite only roughly 10 carries per game.
Harris’ production is not quite on the level of his 5-star UA running back predecessors, but he looks to have a promising future in Tuscaloosa.
Miles Sanders, the only 5-star running back in the class signed with Penn State.