How many SEC RBs will run for 1,000 yards in 2018? And who will they be?
For a running back to get a scholarship offer to an SEC school, the coach likely sees potential for a 1,000-yard rusher. Potential, however, doesn’t always equal production.
Last season, nine SEC running backs rushed for 1,000 yards or more. While the majority are off to the NFL, three are looking to do it again this year and there are plenty of other backs to keep an eye on in 2018.
Who has the best chance of reaching 1,000 yards? Let’s take a look.
Rushing for 1,000 yards is nothing new to a pair of SEC running backs. In fact, they’ve already done it twice.
Even in a notoriously crowded backfield, Alabama’s Damien Harris has twice managed to rush for 1,000 yards. In 2016, Harris carried 146 times for 1,037 yards. Last season, Harris’ carries dropped to 135, but he still managed to rush for 1,000 yards.
Harris had the benefit of playing in extra postseason games the past two years, but he’s able to hit 1,000 yards despite averaging fewer than 10 carries per game. When he does get the ball, he makes those carries count, topping 7 yards per carry. With former 5-star running back Najee Harris also in the backfield, the number of carries for Damien Harris might not go up much in 2018.
Harris’ fellow potential three-peat back is Kentucky’s Benny Snell Jr.
In 2016, Snell gained 1,091 yards even while splitting carries with Stanley “Boom” Williams, who rushed for 1,170 yards. Last season, Snell proved he can produce as the bell cow back, carrying 20 times per game for approximately 102.5 yards. Snell’s durability and consistency resulted in a second 1,000-yard season (1,333 yards) for the sophomore.
Perhaps one of the quietest 1,000-yard rushing seasons in SEC history belongs to Aeris Williams of Mississippi State. Williams didn’t exactly generate a lot of headlines out of Starkville, but on 236 carries he rushed 1,107 yards in Dan Mullen’s final season coaching the Bulldogs.
Mullen has left and Joe Moorhead is the head coach now. Conventional wisdom suggests Moorhead will make sure his 1,000-yard rusher gets plenty of touches this fall, but many at MSU are expecting to see talented sophomore Kylin Hill get more touches as well.
Don’t forget about Missouri running back Damarea Crockett. As a freshman, Crockett rushed for 1,062 yards in 2016. Injuries shortened his season to just seven games last year, but Crockett is back and ready to anchor MU’s ground game.
More carries, more yards?
One prominent back who expect to see his workload increase this season is Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, who primarily watched Nick Chubb and Sony Michel carry the Dawgs to the national championship game.
Swift averaged only 5.4 carries per game last season, but on those touches, he was averaging 7.63 yards per carry. Behind Swift in carries was Elijah Holyfield, who averaged 5.86 yards per carry on his 3.85 touches per game.
Last season, Georgia averaged 44.67 rushes per game. More than half of those carries, roughly 26 per game, went to Chubb and Michel. There are a potentially lot of carries for Swift, Holyfield and others. The Bulldogs had two 1,000-yard rushers last season and SEC fans shouldn’t be shocked if they do it again in 2018.
Another veteran running back in line for more carries is Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams. As a sophomore, Williams split carries with senior RB Keith Ford. The final tally was 173 carries for Williams, 139 for Ford. On those 173 carries, Williams logged 798 yards. With Ford out of the picture, an increase in carries could put Williams over the 1,000-yard mark.
Going streaking on The Plains
Gus Malzahn joined the Auburn coaching staff in 2009 as offensive coordinator. In each of the nine seasons since Malzahn’s hiring, AU has produced a 1,000-yard rusher.
The past two Tigers to accomplish the feat, Kerryon Johnson (2017) and Kamryn Pettway (2016), won’t be back for 2018. Kam Martin, entering his junior season, could be the next Tiger to continue the streak. He carried the ball 74 times for 453 yards last season, an impressive 6.12 yards per carry, but an average workload of only 5.29 carries per game.
Mullen’s offense is best known for running quarterbacks, but Florida’s 2018 roster features a pair of potential 1,000-yard rushers at running back.
In 2016, Jordan Scarlett emerged as Florida’s most complete running back. By rushing for 889 yards on 179 carries, he helped turn a running back by committee rotation into a one-two punch. Scarlett was suspended last season because of credit card fraud.
Scarlett has been reinstated for 2018. A year ago, he looked to be on the verge of a 1,000-yard season. How he fits in Mullen’s scheme remains to be seen.
Another UF running back to watch is Malik Davis. As a freshman, Davis was in the middle of a 5-game streak of rushing for at least 90 yards before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first half against Georgia.
Florida has not revealed the exact diagnosis of Davis’ injury and it’s unknown when he’ll be back to 100 percent healthy. Whether he can hit the 1,000-yard mark might depend on how many games he gets to play.