Ranking SEC running backs after Week 1
In order to measure the SEC’s best running backs in 2016, SDS updates a fresh top 10 each Monday. The criteria involves a mix of talent, recent past performance, 2016 production and outlook.
Here’s how the top 10 looks after Week 1 (Ole Miss had not yet played when these rankings were compiled).
10. Brandon Holloway, Mississippi State: This top 10 was more difficult to put together than I expected. Why? Well, not many SEC running backs had a great week, at least not in terms of stat lines that jumped off the page. Holloway certainly didn’t have the sexiest box score, but he gets by on name recognition and the fact that he scored a rushing touchdown while also being a threat in the passing game. The senior finished the day as the Bulldogs’ leading receiver, which probably isn’t what Mississippi State wants to see with the likes of Fred Ross around, but it’s encouraging for Holloway’s stock. The Bulldogs lost to South Alabama 21-20 despite Holloway’s all-around day, and he’ll likely need to do more with Mr. Everything, Dak Prescott, gone from campus.
This week: 11 carries, 48 yards, 1 touchdown; 5 receptions, 40 yards
9. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: Webb nearly eclipsed 100 yards as Vanderbilt allowed South Carolina to snag a 13-10 comeback victory. It wasn’t a bad start for the junior, who is looking to follow up on his 1,152-yard sophomore campaign. But if the Commodores continue their woeful passing display (8-for-23, 73 yards), Webb may need to contribute more on a weekly basis if Vanderbilt hopes to improve on its 4-8 record from last season.
This week: 20 carries, 97 yards; 3 receptions, 28 yards
8. Kerryon Johnson, Auburn: With running back Jovon Robinson’s dismissal in early August, the Tigers needed someone to step into his role. Johnson seemed more than capable of filling his shoes when thrust into the starting spot in Week 1 despite Auburn’s narrow 19-13 loss to No. 2 Clemson. His 9-yard scoring run out of the Wildcat formation with a little more than 3 minutes to play brought Auburn within 6 points of the defending national runner-up, and he finished the night with a cool 4.1 yards per carry. The sophomore was the only Auburn running back to record a carry, so it seems like coach Gus Malzahn will rely on Johnson on the ground for now.
This week: 23 carries, 94 yards, 1 touchdown; 1 reception, -3 yards
7. Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M: Keith Ford was the only Aggies running back who scored in the team’s 31-24 overtime win against No. 16 UCLA, but Williams had the more efficient day toting the rock. The freshman averaged 6.3 yards per carry to Ford’s 4.6 and even caught a pass out of the backfield, though he and Ford split the carries nearly evenly. The highlight of Williams’ debut was a 42-yard run in the second quarter during which he showed incredible lateral quickness by juking three defenders. Ford figures to see plenty of touches as a transfer from Oklahoma, but Williams’ explosiveness is surely a welcome addition to Texas A&M’s spread attack.
This week: 15 carries, 94 yards; 1 reception, 5 yards
6. Rawleigh Williams III, Arkansas: Alex Collins left a huge hole in Arkansas’ offense when he chose to forgo his senior season for the NFL Draft, but it’s a void Williams seems prepared to fill. He was workmanlike in his performance, averaging exactly 4 yards per carry as the Razorbacks edged Louisiana Tech, 21-20. Coach Bret Bielema gave Williams the majority of the carries over senior team captain Kody Walker, who suffered a broken right foot during spring training. Williams sustained a major neck injury himself against Auburn last season yet made the most of his sophomore debut. He rushed a career-high 24 times, so he may become the next feature back in Arkansas’ run-heavy system.
This week: 24 carries, 96 yards, 1 touchdown; 3 receptions, 15 yards
5. Stanley “Boom” Williams, Kentucky: Another Williams? You betcha. Williams averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 10 games last year, and the junior picked up right where he left off in Kentucky’s 44-35 loss to Southern Miss. He ran at a clip of 7.2 yards a rush, though he received only 13 carries as quarterback Drew Barker threw for 323 yards and 4 TDs. Even though backup Jojo Kemp vultured a touchdown from the diminutive Williams, he seems to be the go-to back in coach Mark Stoops’ offense
This week: 13 carries, 94 yards; 2 receptions, 16 yards
4. Damien Harris, Alabama: Alabama appears to be just fine at running back after Derrick Henry’s departure to the NFL. Sophomores Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough split the first-team carries as the No. 1 Crimson Tide demolished No. 20 USC 52-6, though Harris finished with the far sexier stat line. The shiftier back of the two ripped off a 73-yard run, shaking a safety in the hole to get loose. Even though that long gain bolstered his average of 15.3 yards per carry, Harris still averaged more than 8 yards on his other eight carries. Alabama will likely use a thunder-and-lightning approach with Harris and the bulkier Scarbrough, but the former was consistent enough to earn a top spot in this week’s rankings.
This week: 9 carries, 138 yards
3. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee: Hurd’s biggest contribution to No. 9 Tennessee’s thrilling 20-13 overtime win against Appalachian State was being in the right place at the right time. The junior fell on quarterback Josh Dobbs’ fumble into the end zone in overtime, which ended up being the game-winning score, but he was still methodically effective on the ground. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound bruiser rushed at a rate of 3.9 yards per carry, though his longest rush was only 13 yards. Hurd got 28 carries to backup Alvin Kamara’s six, so he figures to be the workhorse going forward. He’ll need to be if Dobbs continues to struggle throwing the football.
This week: 28 carries, 110 yards, 1 touchdown; 1 reception, 6 yards
2. Leonard Fournette, LSU: That was probably the quietest 100-yard outing of Fournette’s career. A sluggish start (11 carries for 35 yards in the first half) didn’t help appearances, yet Fournette gained just more than 100 yards in the second half despite the No. 5 Tigers’ 16-14 upset at the hands of Wisconsin. But LSU’s offensive line failed to generate consistent push, and Fournette’s ankle injury sustained during fall camp seemed to still be nagging him. With the exception of a few second-level runs, the junior rarely flashed the jaw-dropping moves that made him the overwhelming Heisman favorite for most of last season. He even got tripped up several times, succumbing to tackles he ran through with gusto just a year ago. Fournette certainly wasn’t the problem for LSU on Saturday, but he may need to return to superhuman form if the Tigers can’t figure things out offensively.
This week: 23 carries, 138 yards; 3 receptions, 38 yards
1. Nick Chubb, Georgia: Many people, myself included, doubted that Chubb could return to his sophomore form following a gruesome knee injury he sustained last October. Oh, how wrong we were. Chubb dazzled in his return, scoring the opening and closing touchdowns as the No. 18 Bulldogs rallied to defeat No. 22 North Carolina 33-24 in the Georgia Dome. He ran through three tacklers on his 55-yard scamper to seal the deal and cement himself as the top rushing threat in the SEC after Week 1. Chubb even surpassed the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game rushing record before the third quarter was over. All the attributes that made him a Heisman contender in 2015 are still intact, and Chubb figures to be a favorite for the coveted prize once again, barring injury.
This week: 32 carries, 222 yards, 2 touchdowns