Ranking SEC running backs after Week 12
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 12.
10. Damien Harris, Alabama: Harris has been steadily slipping in these rankings, but really through no fault of his own. The sophomore’s standing in the top 10 has been a matter of usage. Alabama has run the ball by committee, and he didn’t get all that many carries in the No. 1 Crimson Tide’s 31-3 win against FCS Chattanooga. That’s because Alabama didn’t do too much offensively in the game, running just 58 plays on only 26 minutes of possession. But Harris still rushed for a cool 7 yards a pop on his 13 carries, even finding the end zone for the first time since Sept. 17 against Ole Miss. He should receive an uptick in workload and production as the Crimson Tide makes its national title push, especially if Bo Scarbrough remains sidelined with a knee sprain.
This week: 13 carries, 91 yards, 1 touchdown
Season: 115 carries, 850 yards, 2 touchdowns; 10 receptions, 83 yards, 1 touchdown
9. Jordan Scarlett, Florida: Frequent readers of these weekly rankings know that the few times I’ve placed Scarlett in the top 10, I lobbied Florida to give up its committee approach and make him the feature back. He proved me right in the No. 23 Gators’ thrilling 16-10 win at No. 16 LSU, becoming the first running back this season to surpass 100 yards against the Tigers’ stout defense, even with a banged-up offensive line. The sophomore played one of the biggest roles in Florida’s SEC East-clinching victory, practically willing the team on its go-ahead drive. Right after LSU kicked a field goal to tie the game at 10 early in the fourth quarter, Scarlett turned out some of the toughest running I’ve seen all year to help the Gators kick a field goal of their own. He ran eight times for 39 yards and broke about a dozen tackles on a methodical drive that chewed up nearly eight minutes. Full disclosure: Scarlett barely beat out Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb for this spot based on the competition each player faced last week. Yes, Webb had a sexier stat line, but shredding Ole Miss on the ground is not a noteworthy feat in 2016.
This week: 22 carries, 108 yards
Season: 140 carries, 725 yards, 6 touchdowns; 4 receptions, 23 yards
8. Leonard Fournette, LSU: Fournette wasn’t even supposed to play in this game, but he emerged from the tunnel in full uniform after wearing sweats during warmups. It quickly became clear why he was originally declared out Saturday — he rushed for a modest 3.3 yards per carry while lacking his usual burst and agility. Fournette didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter of LSU’s loss to Florida, and he was spotted without his helmet on the sideline. Tigers interim coach Ed Orgeron told reporters after the game that his star running back “wasn’t full speed.” That has been the case for the junior all season in what will likely end up being the disappointing final chapter of his college career. Though I still believe Fournette is the best running back in the country, he was rarely healthy enough to show it this year. Durability, however, is a key factor in what it takes to be a dominant running back.
This week: 12 carries, 40 yards
Season: 129 carries, 843 yards, 8 touchdowns; 15 receptions, 146 yards
7. Nick Chubb, Georgia: It took two and a half months, but Chubb finally looked like he did in his Week 1 shredding of North Carolina. The junior topped 100 rushing yards for the second time in as many weeks and outran the secondary on a 49-yard touchdown catch-and-run in Georgia’s 35-21 win against Louisiana-Lafayette. Don’t let the stereotype of a Sun Belt opponent fool you — the Ragin’ Cajuns entered the game with the nation’s 20th-best rushing defense, allowing only 118.3 yards per game. With a favorable matchup against Georgia Tech to close out the regular season, the seemingly healthy Chubb is in line for a nice finish to a relatively underwhelming year.
This week: 16 carries, 108 yards, 1 touchdown; 1 reception, 49 yards, 1 touchdown
Season: 185 carries, 900 yards, 6 touchdowns; 5 receptions, 86 yards, 1 touchdown
6. Stanley “Boom” Williams, Kentucky: The speedy Williams gave way to true freshman Benny Snell in Kentucky’s 49-13 win against FCS Austin Peay, which isn’t necessarily surprising given the way the Wildcats’ coaches have managed their stable of running backs. The junior even received one fewer carry than senior Jojo Kemp, who has been buried on the depth chart all season. Williams’ consistency has been something I’ve admired this year, and he still turned out 6.7 yards a carry and a touchdown even with such a small workload. Despite a quiet week on the ground, Williams has the third-most rushing yards in the SEC and is a huge piece of Kentucky’s first team to qualify for a bowl since 2010.
This week: 7 carries, 47 yards, 1 touchdown
Season: 146 carries, 1,072 yards, 6 touchdowns; 7 receptions, 48 yards, 1 touchdown
5. Damarea Crockett, Missouri: Crockett’s late-season surge got even more impressive last weekend when he rushed for 225 yards in Missouri’s 63-37 loss at No. 19 Tennessee. The eye-popping performance came against a depleted Volunteers defense, but he was far more efficient on seven fewer carries than junior Ish Witter. It was a historic outing for Crockett, who broke the program single-season freshman rushing record Brad Smith set back in 2002. The true freshman began the season behind Witter on the depth chart but has surprisingly become fourth in the SEC in rushing yards despite his youth. Over the past six games, Crockett has rushed 113 times for 817 yards and seven touchdowns, spurring his steady climb in the top 10.
This week: 24 carries, 225 yards, 1 touchdown
Season: 153 carries, 1,062 yards, 10 touchdowns; 5 receptions, 14 yards
4. Kamryn Pettway, Auburn: The No. 15 Tigers didn’t needed Pettway in their 55-0 demolition of FCS Alabama A&M. Freshman Kam Martin posted 176 rushing yards in his stead, while Kerryon Johnson added another 108 yards on the ground. Had Pettway been healthy enough to go against the Bulldogs, he probably wouldn’t have played more than a half. Still, who knows what kind of numbers the sophomore would have put up. Two straight weeks of inaction have caused him to lose his status as the SEC’s leader in rushing yards, though his 138.3 yards per game still leads the league by a sizeable margin. Assuming he can play, we’ll see just how good Pettway is when Auburn faces Alabama on Saturday.
This week: Did not play (injury)
Season: 173 carries, 1,106 yards, 7 touchdowns; 2 receptions, 14 yards
3. Derrius Guice, LSU: For all the good Guice has done in place of Leonard Fournette this season, he made two key gaffes that loomed large over LSU’s stunning loss to Florida. First, the sophomore fumbled inside the Gators’ 10-yard line with the Tigers ahead 7-3 in a game they were dominating at that point. He had a chance to atone for that momentum-shifting mistake on the final play of the game when LSU faced fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. But Guice went the wrong way on the Tigers’ patented toss-power play and was ultimately held out of the end zone. The sophomore was still fairly productive against the nation’s No. 12 rushing defense entering last week and even reeled in a 29-yard pass, but Florida limited his explosiveness for the most part. What really hurts Guice in these rankings, though, are those two costly blunders.
This week: 19 carries, 83 yards, 1 touchdown; 1 reception, 29 yards
Season: 120 carries, 964 yards, 10 touchdowns; 6 receptions, 95 yards
2. Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky: Predicting which of Snell or Stanley “Boom” Williams will be Kentucky’s feature back each week is a hopeless endeavor. So is trying to contain Snell for 60 minutes, as he displayed in the Wildcats’ win against FCS Austin Peay that earned the team its first trip to a bowl under coach Mark Stoops. Snell broke the school’s single-season rushing record for a freshman, just three weeks after he set the program freshman rushing touchdown record. He’s the first Kentucky freshman running back to eclipse 1,000 yards and leads SEC running backs with 12 touchdowns, even after receiving no carries in the first two games of the season. The 220-pound bruiser stiff-armed his way to a 30-yard touchdown against Austin Peay, but perhaps even more impressive was the surprising speed he showed while going untouched on a 48-yard score. It’s still impossible to tell whether Snell or Williams will have the bigger game on a week-to-week basis, but there’s no doubt the Wildcats are set at running back for the next few seasons.
This week: 14 carries, 152 yards, 2 touchdowns
Season: 168 carries, 1,006 yards, 12 touchdowns
1. Rawleigh Williams III, Arkansas: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone pull off so masterful a Jekyll and Hyde act as Williams has in SEC play. Here are the sophomore’s rushing totals over the last six games, all against conference foes: 46 yards, 180, 22, 149, 49, 205. That kind of inconsistency is remarkable in that it’s simply difficult to do. What’s actually impressive is Williams’ 12.8 yards per carry and four first-half touchdowns against a decent Mississippi State rushing defense. He kicked off the Razorbacks’ 58-42 shootout win against the Bulldogs with scoring scampers of 72 and 42 yards before adding a 33-yard touchdown before halftime. Those runs showed big-play potential not typically expected from a 223-pound back like Williams, who has reclaimed his place as the SEC’s leader in rushing yards. All of those factors, along with ho-hum outings from the other top contenders, contribute to him being No. 1 this week. But if his SEC rushing trend continues, he’ll probably put up 50 yards against Missouri in next week’s regular-season finale. Call me optimistic, but something about the Tigers’ 118th-ranked rushing defense makes me think that won’t be the case.
This week: 16 carries, 205 yards, 4 touchdowns
Season: 208 carries, 1,209 yards, 11 touchdowns; 13 receptions, 175 yards, 1 touchdown