Predicting who will rush for 1,000 yards in 2019
Eight SEC players topped 1,000 yards rushing in 2018.
That’s fairly typical of late. Over the past decade, the league has averaged 7.6 1,000-yard rushers per season. The total has fluctuated from a low of 4 in 2011 to a high of 11 in 2016. Quarterbacks have contributed, too. Cam Newton (2010) and Johnny Manziel (2012) won rushing titles, and Nick Fitzgerald just missed in 2016.
How many 1,000-yard rushers will the league produce in 2019? That obviously remains to be seen. Three of the 8 from last year are back and several others likely will join them.
From the top …
D’Andre Swift, Georgia
He’s the most versatile back in the SEC. He battled some nagging injuries early last year but also ripped off 3 consecutive PRs against Florida, Kentucky and Auburn en route to his first 1,000-yard season. Georgia’s backfield is talented and deep, so Swift isn’t going to get 250 carries. But anything close to 200 will push him over the 1,000-yard barrier.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt
Vaughn was actually the SEC’s most explosive runner in 2018. He wasn’t a secret to SEC defensive coordinators, but he wasn’t a household name, either. He is now. As Vandy revamps its offense and breaks in a new QB, stopping Vaughn will be Priority 1 and 2. Even with the added attention, he should clear 1,000, but it’ll be impressive if he approaches last year’s total of 1,244 yards.
Larry Rountree, Missouri
Rountree ran for 1,216 yards last season, but his style is more between the tackles than Vaughn or Swift. His 5.4 yards per carry ranked just 17th in the SEC. That’s not an indictment. Just acknowledgment that he will need 200+ carries again to reach 1,000 yards for the second consecutive year. Fortunately, he’s built for the workload.
Scottie Phillips, Ole Miss
Phillips was a revelation in 2018, surprisingly the high-powered Rebels’ most consistently effective offensive player. He finished with 928 yards, but that was the product of opportunity, not ability. He only had 153 carries. Only 4 backs who had more carries averaged more yards per touch than Phillips (6.07). Ole Miss’ offense also is undergoing a transformation — new QB, OC, WRs, etc., — one that is certain to feature Phillips even more in 2019.
Lamical Perine, Florida
It’s not unusual for a running back who is part of a rotation to take a huge statistical leap as the featured back. The talent was there. The playing time was not. There’s only one ball, as they say, and this year, Perine figures to touch it more. He has separated from Florida’s talented backfield and should become the clear RB1 who gets 200 carries. He averaged 6.16 yards per carry last season. Increase the workload, and he’s a good bet to become Florida’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Kelvin Taylor (1,035 hard-fought yards in 2015).
Najee Harris, Alabama
See above. Few programs rotate outstanding RBs as regularly as Alabama. The Tide reloaded at RB, but 2019, finally, will belong to Harris. If Alabama returns to the Playoff, it shouldn’t surprise anybody if Harris doubles his 2018 rushing total (783 yards). Remember, he only averaged 8 carries per game last year. That workload should at least double in 2019.
JaTarvious Whitlow, Auburn
Did you hear? Auburn’s 9-year streak of producing a 1,000-yard rusher ended last year. No worries. Count on Whitlow to start a new streak in 2019. Last year, Auburn never figured out its offensive identity. Gus Malzahn had a potential first-round QB in Jarrett Stidham, but the two were never an ideal fit. That impacted the run game, too. Those issues won’t repeat in 2019. Stidham is gone, and Malzahn is back to calling plays. Auburn will produce a 1,000-yard rusher. As long as Whitlow stays healthy, he’ll be the guy.
Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
It’s a long, punishing road to 1,000 yards when you get there 4 yards at a time. Some of have done it. More often than not, it’s guys who can pick up yards in bunches. Kill is one of those guys. He averaged 6.27 yards per carry last season while playing a complementary role to Nick Fitzgerald. He’ll need to be better than he was in the Outback Bowl, but he’ll be the leading man in 2019.
John Emery, LSU
Nick Brossette, as a first-time starter, sneaked across the 1,000-yard mark to extend the Tigers’ streak to 6 consecutive years.
In 2014, then-freshman Leonard Fournette barely eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. Fournette arrived with some of the greatest recruiting credentials ever. It’s unfair to expect Emery to be that good, but he will get an opportunity to win the job. And whoever wins the job will have an honest shot to get to 1,000 yards.
The SEC hasn’t had a freshman top 1,000 yards since 2016, when 3 did it.