Creating the perfect SEC running back for 2020
The SEC has produced a number of great running backs in recent years — guys like Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Derrius Guice, Damien Harris, Benny Snell Jr. and many others. In the 2020 NFL Draft, LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the last pick of Round 1 and Georgia’s D’Andre Swift went in Round 2.
Who are the next great SEC running backs? Well, there’s no shortage to choose from heading into the 2020 season.
Across the conference, there are running backs who possess elite skills, so we took 5 of those skills to create our perfect SEC back for 2020. Here are the players we chose for each attribute:
Athleticism: Najee Harris, Alabama
There’s a chance the Alabama star could have been a 1st- or 2nd-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft had he declared early, but he decided to return to Alabama for his senior year. That gives the Crimson Tide one of the most complete, athletic running backs in the nation.
Harris has said he’d cut back on his trademark hurdling, but based on his 2019 film, he’s still using it in certain situations. Just look at these 3 plays from last year:
Najee Harris: Most forced missed tackles among returning SEC RBs😤pic.twitter.com/t3cY0LtDt0
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 28, 2020
Najee Harris cleared for takeoff ✈️ pic.twitter.com/kF2nNg6FtA
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 1, 2020
Najee Harris leaps over for the Touchdown pic.twitter.com/QViaFhqJ2U
— Alabama DieHards (@AlabamaDieHards) November 30, 2019
Yeah, we could watch those plays all day. But he’s not just a jumper. He showed in those plays that he can also make the right cuts, throw would-be tacklers off him with ease and turn on bursts of speed when needed.
Look for Harris to continue making jaw-dropping plays and doing what it takes to find the end zone as the 2020 season gets underway.
Strength: Larry Rountree III, Mizzou
If you think you’re going to bring down Larry Rountree III with an arm tackle or by trying to go for his legs, you’re probably mistaken. The Mizzou back had a bit of a down year in 2019 but still finished with 829 yards and 9 touchdowns.
He usually has to break at least 1 tackle attempt on a number of his touchdowns. We’ll start with the balance, power and vision he showed in this game against Ole Miss, making a cut, bursting through the hole and then running through a tackle attempt:
Larry Rountree is gone pic.twitter.com/0qaXLXJoGy
— Represent Mizzou (@RepresentMizzou) October 13, 2019
He is also great at finishing runs strong at the goal line. Against West Virginia, he got his shoulder pads low and ran over a Mountaineer defender to get into the end zone:
Larry Rountree is back with a vengeance
Mizzou up 17-0 pic.twitter.com/ujD16N8RJE
— Represent Mizzou (@RepresentMizzou) September 7, 2019
New coach Eliah Drinkwitz is a big fan of Rountree, saying he can get you an extra yard or 2 on every run with his toughness:
— Mizzou Football (@MizzouFootball) June 19, 2020
If the Tigers are going to improve from last year’s 6-6 finish under Barry Odom, Drinkwitz will need Rountree to be a big part of the offense. As a senior, Rountree seems ready for a leadership role for the Tigers.
Speed: Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
Hill’s 40-yard dash has been timed in the 4.4-second range, per DraftScout.com, and it’s easy to see his speed on display when he gets the ball. Look at this play from last year against Kansas State. The defender has what should be an easy angle on Hill, but it still takes him 20 yards to catch up:
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) September 8, 2018
He also has the speed to get to the edge and the leg strength to keep moving fast as he turns upfield:
Kylin Hill long jumped into the end zone for a touchdown. 🤯pic.twitter.com/yGSQ0uEJ2n
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) September 21, 2019
Speed is also valuable in short bursts, and Hill has plenty of that. Look how quickly he gets up to full speed and hits the hole here:
Kylin Hill with the TOUCHDOWN for Mississippi State 🔥 pic.twitter.com/axFoPtqmqA
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) August 31, 2019
It’ll be interesting to see how he fits in a pass-heavy Mike Leach offense. Look for more receptions out of the backfield in 2020, for one thing. But, no matter how he gets the ball, Hill will put his speed on display early and often.
Versatility: Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss
Need someone to line up in the slot and catch passes? Ealy can do that. He had 20 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown as a freshman in 2019, even in Ole Miss’s run-heavy offense.
Need someone to make some big plays as a runner? Well, Ealy averaged 6.9 yards per carry last year on 104 carries, going for 722 yards and 6 touchdowns, including these 2 gems:
Jerrion Ealy: 78-yard TD run
Snoop Conner: 84-yard TD run
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 6, 2019
Jerrion Ealy was one of my favorite 2019 prospects. There's something special about athletes that are elite on the track as well as in field events. Plus he's a great baseball player.
3 sport HS athlete
23'01" Long Jumppic.twitter.com/72e6BlYm6h
— Brian Spilbeler (@CoachSpil) October 20, 2019
Need someone to go back and return a kickoff? Ealy returned 13 of them in 2019, going for 317 yards and this electrifying touchdown:
JERRION. EALY. COULD. GO. ALL. THE. WAY. pic.twitter.com/wHURhk18bt
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 14, 2019
Oh, and he also plays baseball for the Rebels. Yeah, he’s an easy pick for versatility.
Big-play ability: Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas
Not a lot of good things have happened for Arkansas over the past 2 years, but good things seem to happen when the Razorbacks give the ball to Rakeem Boyd.
In 2019, Boyd had a breakout season, running for 1,133 yards and 8 touchdowns — no easy task for a team that finished 2-10. Even though the Hogs were crushed by Western Kentucky last year, Boyd had a huge day. He started with a 76-yard burst:
Rakeem Boyd with the 76 yard touchdown! https://t.co/GrQ336l36X
— that SEC podcast (@thatSECpodcast) November 9, 2019
Then, he followed it up with an 86-yard run later in the game:
What's sweeter than a 76-yard home run? How 'bout an 86-yard burner … @boyd_rakeem up to 7 carries for 177 yds & 2 TDs vs. WKy, bringing him within 3 rushing yards of 1,000 on the season … he's up to 149 carries for 997 yards (6.7 ypc) & 8 TDs so far in 2019 … pic.twitter.com/Adq2BBGQBt
— Kevin McPherson (@ARHoopScoop) November 9, 2019
He absolutely terrorized Kentucky teams, in general. Here’s a 74-yard house call against the Wildcats:
Rakeem. Boyd. Is. GONE.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 12, 2019
Boyd’s 6.2 yards-per-carry average from last season is 2nd among returning SEC running backs, behind only Ealy (6.9 yards per carry). And, to make that number even more impressive, Boyd had 80 more carries than Ealy.
As the Hogs try to rebuild under new coach Sam Pittman and new OC Kendal Briles, they’d be wise to continue riding Boyd and his big-play ability.