How many SEC RBs will run for 1,500 yards in 2017? And who will they be?
Last season 10 SEC running backs topped 1,000 yards, but it was the first time one failed to reach 1,500 yards since 2012, when Johnny Manziel put the conference on his back and rushed for a SEC-best 1,410 yards.
It was just a year earlier, in 2015, when Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry ran for 2,219 yards and LSU’s Leonard Fournette amassed 1,953.
So can we expect a return to the ground-and-pound in 2017 that the SEC has long been noted for, and if so who will those running backs be? Since 2007, the largest group of running backs to reach 1,500 yards in the same year was three, and that came in the 2015 season with Henry, Fournette and Arkansas’ Alex Collins (1,577).
Recent 1,500-yard rushers
|2015||3||Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette, Alex Collins|
|2014||2||Cameron Artis-Payne, Nick Chubb|
Next season appears to be another bumper crop in the SEC for running backs. But which, if any, will reach that plateau? Here’s a closer look at which SEC running backs will crack the 1,500-yard barrier.
Derrius Guice, LSU: Guice led the SEC last season in yards (1,387) and average yards per carry (7.58). To reach 1,500 yards he just needs to carry the ball a few more times. That shouldn’t be an issue now that Fournette is no longer in the backfield to share the load. Guice will become the featured back, stepping completely out of the shadows of Fournette — which he already has in the minds of many — to rush for well over 1,500 yards. That’s even if new OC Matt Canada puts the ball in the air with more frequency than previous years.
Rawleigh Williams III, Arkansas: Following in the footsteps of Collins, Williams has increased his totals in each of the first two seasons in the Arkansas backfield. While Collins was the Razorbacks’ featured running back for three seasons, steadily improving each year, Williams is just now coming into his own. He got just 56 totes as a freshman in 2015, rushing for 254 yards, but became the go-to back last season. Williams carried 245 times, second in the SEC only to Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb (250), and rolled up 1,360 yards. Look for Williams to be a beast in the backfield again this season and with continued improvement should plow past the 1,500-yard mark.
Kamryn Pettway, Auburn: The SEC leader in average attempts per game (20.9) and average yards per game (122.4), Pettway rushed for 1,224 yards last season and only played in 10 games. Simple math reveals that if you add, say, three more games to that total you come up with closer to 1,600 yards for the season.
And therein lies the question: Will he get that many carries over that span of games in 2017?
With another standout in the backfield in Kerryon Johnson, Pettway could find himself in the same situation as that of Georgia’s dual threats Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Together the Bulldogs’ tandem combined for nearly 2,000 yards last season with neither coming close to 1,500. (Chubb finished with 1,130 yards on 5.04 yards per carry, the lowest YPC average of the 1,000-yard rushers. That’s notable because in 2014, Chubb averaged 7.06 en route to 1,547 yards.)
Sharing the workload is the only thing that will keep Pettway from reaching it with a healthy 2017 season.