Projecting the 2015 SEC rushing leaders
Who says football is a passing game these days? The SEC is stocked with quality running backs, many with the potential to play on Sundays in the future. The conference is led by a slew of young, up-and-coming talent along with a nice compliment of seasoned vets.
We take a look at 10 running backs and attempt to forecast the 2015 SEC rushing leaders:
1. Nick Chubb, Georgia
Nick Chubb led the Bulldogs in rushing last year with 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. And that was while splitting time in the backfield with top-10 draft pick Todd Gurley. Chubb will still defer some carries with a loaded Georgia backfield that includes Keith Marshall, Sony Michel, Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman, but is clearly the featured back.
With one of the best offensive lines in the SEC and not having to compete with Gurley, Chubb could push 2,000 yards this season. A lofty goal, indeed. But if Chubb can reach 300 carries, given his 7.1 yards per carry last year, he could reach the goal. We’ll play it conservative. Chubb wins the SEC rushing title, but somewhere in the neighborhood 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Bovada Prediction: 1,300 yards*
2. Leonard Fournette, LSU
Nick Chubb might be the incumbent rushing leader, but no one enters the season with a bigger spotlight on them than Leonard Fournette. The sophomore started slow last year, needing to face a New Mexico State defense in Week 5 to rush for his first-career 100-yard game (122 yards, 2 TDs). From there, Fournette flourished, finishing the year with 1,034 yards, an LSU freshman record.
Fournette possesses both speed and size with a 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame. If he can boost his 5.5 yards per carry to around 7.0, as the full-time starter, Fournette will reach the 1,500 yard mark and push Chubb for tops in the SEC.
Bovada Prediction: 1,200 yards
3. Derrick Henry, Alabama
Don’t forget about Derrick Henry. When the smoke clears on the 2015 season, the junior could be standing atop the SEC rushing leaderboard. Henry finished 10 yards shy of 1,000 in 2014 and proved bullish down by the goal line punching in 11 scores.
With only two games started in his career, expect Henry to rack up around 1,400 yards as the full-time starter behind one of the conference’s better offensive lines.
Bovado Prediction: 1,300 yards
4. Alex Collins, Arkansas
Alex Collins inherited the starting tailback role this summer after Arkansas lost Jonathan Williams and his 1,190 yards to a season-ending injury. Luckily for the Razorbacks, Collins grounded out 1,100 yards of his own last year.
With the run game all to himself and potentially the best offensive line in the SEC opening holes for him, Collins could surprise everyone and end up atop this list at season’s end. More likely, the junior winds up in the neighborhood of 1,400 yards.
5. Russell Hansbrough, Missouri
Russell Hansbrough is one of four returning running backs to crest 1,000 yards last season, gathering 1,084 on the ground. The senior returns behind a seasoned offensive line led by Evan Boehm. This year, Hansbrough will combine his 6.0 yards per carry average from his sophomore year with his 200 attempts as a junior to put together a 1,200-yard senior campaign.
6. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
Tennessee should have a dynamic one-two punch led by the bruising 6-foot-4, 240-pound Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Hurd rushed for 899 yards as a freshman in 2014 and reported to camp this summer having packed on substantial weight. With a year under his belt and an experienced offensive line returning four players, Hurd should be able to post 1,150 yards on the ground.
7. Roc Thomas, Auburn
Roc Thomas appears to be the most-consistent back for the Tigers during fall camp. The sophomore rushed for 214 yards last year while learning under the tutelage of SEC-leader Cameron Artis-Payne. Auburn will see its string of SEC leading rushers end at two-straight years, but expect the former Gatorade Alabama Player of the Year to put up 1,000 yards.
8. Brandon Wilds, South Carolina
Not quite on the same level as Auburn, but South Carolina has carved its own niche in the SEC running back fraternity the last few years with Marcus Lattimore and Mike Davis. Brandon Wilds sat behind both of them, even filling in admirably as a freshman after Lattimore’s horrific injury in 2012. Wilds finally gets his chance as a senior, although he’ll have to share carries with David Williams. Still, at around 6.0 yards per carry, and roughly 150 carries, look for Wilds to push between 900 and 1,000 yards.
9. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt
There’s reason for hope in Vanderbilt with the emergence of Ralph Webb last season. Webb shattered just about every freshman rushing record on the Commodores’ books, rushing for 912 yards on 212 attempts (both records). The Vanderbilt offensive line should rank among the conference’s, let’s politely say, least productive units. That said, Webb should be able to improve upon his 4.3 yards per carry as a sophomore and push another 900 to 1,000 yards.
10. Kelvin Taylor, Florida
Kelvin Taylor certainly has the rushing lineage in his blood. The son of former NFL great Fred Taylor, Kelvin finished runner-up on the Gators last season in rushing with 565 yards. Taylor will be the featured back this season and will be asked to shoulder the Gators’ suddenly-thin running game with the late-summer transfer of RB Adam Lane Jr.
Taylor is probably too low on this list, but a shaky Florida offensive line could hamper him a bit as a sophomore. If he can improve from 4.9 yards per carry to around 5.5, to go along with what should be roughly 150 carries, Taylor should be able to pick up around 950 yards. That’s worst-case scenario (aside from injury). Taylor could be a wild card to post big numbers.
*Bovada predictions available only for Chubb, Fournette and Henry.