Identifying the SEC's best RB tandems
All SEC teams would love to have two – and sometimes three – running backs carry their running games.
It would be ideal to have at least one workhorse who could handle nearly 300 carries, but that’s not always the ideal scenario for the ballcarrier or his team. Some SEC squads’ are so loaded in the backfield, they have two players who can potentially give them 1,000 yards on the ground apiece.
The one SEC team — and FBS team for the matter — to have two running backs rush for at least 1,000 yards last season is Arkansas, with Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins both eclipsing that milestone. The Razorbacks did claim our No. 1 spot for running back duos. But Williams suffered a foot injury during Saturday’s scrimmage that will cost him all of the 2015 regular season.
However, Arkansas’ dynamic ground game isn’t the only one capable of producing outstanding rushers. Georgia, Alabama and some other SEC rivals are not far behind with their potentially productive — and prolific — pairs.
Ponder this for a second. The SEC has so many talented running backs that Missouri’s Russell Hansbrough and Arkansas’ Collins, 1,000-yard backs in 2014, were not able to crack this list. Both players have a good chance to finish among the nation’s leading rushers.
Which SEC teams have the best No. 1 and No. 2 running backs? Here are the top 5 in the conference, with an emphasis on talent, what they have done at this point in their careers and projections for 2015.
1. NICK CHUBB & SONY MICHEL, GEORGIA
Talk about having an abundance of riches last season. The Bulldogs began 2014 with Todd Gurley as their starter before losing him to a suspension, then a torn ACL in Georgia’s win over Auburn. All Chubb did in Gurley’s place was emerge as one of the SEC’s top running backs in the second half, averaging 165.4 rushing yards per game over Georgia’s final eight matchups. And he ran for at least 100 yards in each of those eight games, finishing second in the SEC in rushing behind Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne. As if that weren’t enough, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has another potential workhorse at his disposal — Sony Michel – a five-star recruit in 2014 – who returns as the Bulldogs’ No. 2 back after averaging 6.4 yards per carry last year.
2. DERRICK HENRY & KENYAN DRAKE, ALABAMA
Despite sharing carries with T.J. Yeldon last season, Henry ran for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Drake might have easily had similar numbers if it weren’t for his nasty ankle injury. Alabama has had two running backs gain at least 600 yards in ever season since 2008. That streak should continue this year even is Drake can’t recover fully from his ankle injury because a runner such as freshman and five-star prospect Damien Harris could seamlessly fill in. The Crimson Tide’s lack of an experienced quarterback could also force offensive coordinator to emphasize his running, which should mean bigger numbers for Bama’s backs in 2015.
3. LEONARD FOURNETTE & DARREL WILLIAMS, LSU
It took Fournette about a half-season to emerge as the premier running back in a three-pronged Tigers backfield. But once the freshman settled down and stopped trying to ram his way through every linebacker, he looked much like the player that rated as the No. 1 recruit of the 2014 class. Fournette ran for 289 yards and three touchdowns in the final two games of the season, including a bowl loss to Notre Dame in which he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score. He’s the biggest threat to Georgia’s Nick Chubb as the SEC’s best running back. Williams will have to hold off Derrius Guice, a true freshman generating some buzz for his work ethic in Baton Rouge. But he was talented enough to vulture 70 offensive touches last season as the team’s fourth running back, and could be one of the most underrated backups in the SEC.
4. ROC THOMAS & PEYTON BARBER, AUBURN
With Jovon Robinson — the national junior-college player of the year in 2013 — still hoping to push them for snaps, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber currently are slated as the featured players in the Auburn running game. Robinson was still a recruiting coup by Gus Malzahn, whose spread rushing attack has produced the SEC’s leading rusher the last two years (Tre Mason followed by Artis-Payne.) Meanwhile, Thomas – a former five-star signee – rushed for 214 yards and two TDs on 43 carries last season, and should build on those numbers behind Auburn’s standout offensive line. It will be interesting to see if any of the Tigers’ promising backs gets at least 200 carries this season.
5. JALEN HURD & ALVIN KAMARA, TENNESSEE
Yes, the output of the Vols’ rushing game depends heavily on how effective QB Joshua Dobbs in his first full season as a starter. At the very least he has someone he can turn to in Hurd, who led Tennessee with 899 rushing yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman in 2014, and he will get more help from ex-Alabama back Alvin Kamara, one of the country’s top junior college backs last season. Despite missing most of the spring with injuries, Hurd, who is expected to be completely healthy by the Vols’ season opener, is coming off a campaign that included four 100-yard games – one in a bowl win over Iowa and three against SEC foes. He also added 35 catches for 221 yards and two TDs in 2014. Going into this season, even though the Vols’ offensive line is rebuilding and Kamara was Tennessee’s only healthy scholarship back for much of the spring, new OC Mike DeBord might be able to find ways to get his twosome at least 800 yards apiece, depending upon how well Dobbs masters the offense.