A new trend we'll see in the SEC in 2022? Dominant Power 5 running back transfers
If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
The lifespan for running backs is short. The window to succeed is small. Under the NCAA’s previous transfer rules, most undergraduate players had to sit a year before becoming eligible. For running backs, that meant sitting a year of their athletic prime. And also, running backs aren’t like quarterbacks. Multiple guys at the position can play, which was perhaps why the urge to transfer might not have been as high as it was for quarterbacks.
But now, things are different. Running backs (and any other position) can transfer once as undergraduates and play immediately. That rule, which went into effect this past offseason, is already making a major impact on the sport. We saw undergraduates like Kenneth Walker, Wan’Dale Robinson and Jameson Williams become stars as undergraduates. Under the old rules, without a waiver, they would’ve had to sit a year.
So yes, it makes sense that we’re about to see a whole lot more running back transfers. Specific to the SEC, we’re about to see a whole lot more make an immediate impact out of the backfield.
Historically speaking, that’s pretty rare.
During the Playoff era, here’s the list of running backs who finished in the top 10 in the SEC in rushing after transferring from a Power 5 school:
- Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Illinois to Vanderbilt
- Tra Carson, Oregon to Texas A&M
But again, it makes sense. Vaughn and Carson had to sit a year as undergraduate transfers before breaking out at their respective SEC schools. And with the graduate transfers, think about this. Under the old transfer rules, what type of situation would warrant them getting playing time at an SEC school but not declaring for the NFL Draft? That’s awfully specific.
No longer will that be the case. We’re already seeing that play out. There are legitimate Power 5 running back transfers who could very well end up as top-10 rushers in the league.
These are the 4 candidates who could become part of that new trend in 2022:
Ole school — Stanford
New school — Mizzou
You had me at “Mizzou running back.”
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We know that Eli Drinkwitz feeds backs of all shapes and sizes. Tyler Badie and Larry Rountree both finished No. 2 in the league in rushing attempts (Alabama’s lead back was No. 1 having played several more games). Should we expect Peat to be the third Tiger in as many years? Maybe, maybe not.
Elijah Young was expected to take on a bigger workload until Badie became a star in 2021, so he figures to eat into that workload. At Stanford, Peat wasn’t exactly a workhorse back, though he did have a career-high 15 carries in that stunning overtime win against Oregon. He did finish as the team’s leading rusher, and he also added value as a return specialist.
Peat came back to his hometown in hopes of becoming the next prolific back in Drinkwitz’s offense. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if that played out.
Old school — Penn State
New school — LSU
Cain was a massive get for Penn State out of high school. At one point, he and Trey Sanders shared a backfield at IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) as the top 2 running back recruits in the country. But injuries and poor offensive line play didn’t exactly clear the path for Cain to become a star.
Back in his home state of Louisiana, Cain will get an opportunity to do that. He’ll likely enter a committee with John Emery, who was ruled eligible after his weird COVID-related academic issue last year. I’d expect Brian Kelly to have much better ground game production than we saw for too much of last year in Baton Rouge. Scheme and offensive line play will benefit Cain. It’ll also help that LSU has an incredibly deep receivers room that should prevent Cain from seeing as many loaded fronts as he saw in that offense at Penn State.
Even if Cain isn’t some 200-carry guy and he does his best work in the red zone, think of how valuable it would’ve been for LSU to have a guy like this last year:
Noah Cain: MY starting running back 🤩😈 pic.twitter.com/ueIyLKLoIN
— Onward State (@OnwardState) October 13, 2019
I bought all the Cain stock when he was coming out of high school. I’m holding onto my shares with him at LSU.
Old school — Georgia Tech
New school — Alabama
Speaking of the aforementioned Sanders, he’s Alabama’s leading returning rusher with Brian Robinson off to the NFL. Given how much Sanders dealt with injuries in his first 3 seasons at Alabama, it made perfect sense for Nick Saban to land Gibbs from Georgia Tech. The Georgia native was a major addition after spending 2 years in Geoff Collins’ program.
Gibbs has the makings of a potential 250-touch guy. Sound ambitious? Well, he played on a bad Georgia Tech team that was trailing a lot, and he still had 179 scrimmage touches (and 23 kickoff returns) as a sophomore. By the way, 36 of those were in the passing game. Among FBS running backs, he had PFF’s highest receiving grade. You can bet Bill O’Brien is salivating at the thought of turning Gibbs into a 3-down back.
That’s not a slight to Sanders — or Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams, both of whom are coming off knee injuries. But it’s rare that we don’t see a workhorse back emerge in Tuscaloosa. And when that wasn’t the case, Alabama had a 3-headed rushing attack with guys like Najee Harris, Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris. It’s highly unlikely there’s that much depth in the Tide backfield.
Old school — TCU
New school — Ole Miss
You’re going to see Evans all over preseason awards lists and watch lists. Well, at least you should. He was on his way to an all-conference season at TCU until a toe injury sidelined him for the latter half of 2021. When he was healthy, Evans was everything you’d hope a feature back would be.
According to PFF, Evans:
- A) Averaged 4.8 yards after contact per carry
- B) Registered 29 explosive runs of 10 yards or more
- C) Broke 40 tackles on 146 carries
- D) Averaged 1.81 yards per route run
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
Ole Miss just lost its entire 3-headed rushing attack of Snoop Conner (NFL Draft), Jerrion Ealy (NFL Draft) and Henry Parrish (transferred to Miami). On top of that, prolific rushing quarterback Matt Corral is off to the NFL Draft. In other words, Evans walked into a situation with seemingly no ceiling to his workload.
It wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about all the twists and turns of Evans’ wild recruitment, which once included a signed National Letter of Intent to play at Georgia. Evans eventually found his way back to the SEC.
Don’t be surprised when he finds himself among the conference’s rushing leaders by season’s end.