Ranking the SEC running backs after Week 1
Other than Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, the SEC’s biggest stars entering this season are running backs.
Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry even got considerable preseason mentions as Heisman Trophy contenders.
In an effort to track the SEC’s best running backs, we’ll release a running top 10 each Monday. The criteria will involve a mix of talent, past performance, production and outlook.
There will be some deserving snubs each week, or at least omitted players for which one can build a credible argument. We’ll address a few of those here.
In spite of Texas A&M’s stubborn insistence on running the ball, Tra Carson (96 yards on 3.3 ypc) did not make our top 10. Neither did Ole Miss starter Jaylen Walton (3 carries, 2 TDs). Perhaps Shon Carson (75 yards on 4 carries) will inherit more touches in South Carolina’s backfield and make a push for the top 10.
After Week 1, though, here are the SEC’s 10 best running backs:
10. Russell Hansbrough, Missouri: One of five SEC returnees who rushed for 1,000 yards last year, Hansbrough figured to be an even bigger focal point of the Tigers’ offense in 2015. He carried twice for 23 yards Saturday before a sprained ankle sidelined him for good. Hansbrough may be on his way off this list, as the team listed him as “questionable” for Saturday’s game at Arkansas State.
9. Keith Marshall, Georgia: Chubb and the rest of the Bulldogs have been regaling us with tales of a lighter, rejuvenated Marshall. But most everyone took a stance of “I’ll believe it when I see it.” That moment arrived Saturday, as Marshall averaged 7.3 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns against Louisiana-Monroe.
8. Kenyan Drake, Alabama: 12 touches, 125 total yards and one touchdown. Not a bad re-emergence after a gruesome injury. Said an exasperated coach Nick Saban during Monday’s press conference: “I’ve been trying to convince you all that the guy is fine. Now you know it. So how do you feel about it? … Do you believe me now?”
7. Peyton Barber, Auburn: Bet you didn’t expect this name to emerge as Auburn’s top back. Durability concerns for Roc Thomas resurfaced in the opener as he missed the entire second half due to injury, as did Jovon Robinson. But Barber was steady, gaining 115 yards on 24 carries. Expect Barber to continue to compile yards until others prove healthy and capable enough to displace him.
6. Boom Williams, Kentucky: Perhaps underutilized last season, Williams ran 75 yards for a score on the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage Saturday. The rest of his day wasn’t bad either, as he managed nine more carries for 60 more yards. He caught 17 passes as a freshman in 2014. UK stuck with the Air Raid offense through a coordinator change, so expect the team to utilize him as a receiver out of the backfield as well.
5. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee: We’re still giving the larger Hurd the nod ahead of his teammate Alvin Kamara, thinking he’ll get more touches and production during SEC play. But it’s possible that both players could crack the top 5 by year’s end, especially if the Vols approach Saturday’s 399 yards rushing on a regular basis. With more help around him, Hurd seems like a good bet to point toward a 1,000-yard season.
4. Alex Collins, Arkansas: As the unrivaled No. 1 running back, Collins rushed 12 times for 127 yards and one touchdown against UTEP. Considering true freshman Rawleigh Williams carried 16 times for just 45 yards, Collins’ performance stood out. It’s imperative that Arkansas gets more out of Collins post-September. But he easily could challenge for the conference rushing lead if the team relies on him more heavily during SEC play.
3. Leonard Fournette, LSU: We dinged Fournette a little here due to the missed opportunity against McNeese State. Mother Nature almost certainly crippled Fournette’s Heisman chances by limiting LSU’s season to 11 games. It will be very difficult for Fournette to catch Chubb and Henry for the rushing lead as well, if all three stay healthy. On talent alone, though, he’s still a top three back in the SEC. We can’t move him down too far for something that was out of his control.
2. Derrick Henry, Alabama: The SEC’s offensive player of the week ran for touchdowns of 37, 56 and 2 yards against a ranked Wisconsin team. The Badgers’ best tackler, potential All-American safety Michael Caputo, left on the third play with a head injury. The Tide’s offensive line looked impressive, though, wedging giant openings for Henry in the middle of the defense. If that continues, the 242-pound “El Tractorcito” is in store for a special season.
1. Nick Chubb, Georgia: Chubb played long enough to record his ninth consecutive 100-yard game against Louisiana-Monroe. Apparently ULM had the gall to suggest the Warhawks could slow down Chubb. “… when it was time to play, we’re going to realize those guys thought they were going to stop our running game, which (is) our bread and butter,” Chubb told DawgNation.com. “That was kind of disrespectful to us, so we came out here and showed them we can run the ball against them.”