Ranking the Top 10 SEC running backs entering the 2016 season
While quarterback appears to be somewhat lean this year in the SEC, that’s not the case in the backfield.
RELATED: Ranking Top 10 SEC QBs in 2016
Even with Derrick Henry — the league’s new single-season leader in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns — now in the NFL, there is a laundry list of legitimately lethal ball carriers ready to move the sticks.
Spoiler alert: LSU’s Leonard Fournette is the premier running back not only in the conference but also the country. His once-in-a-decade combination of Herculean power, gazelle-like speed and 360-degree vision is a joy to watch in Baton Rouge. It wouldn’t be a big upset if Henry’s records only lasted one measly year.
Beyond Fournette, there are several tailbacks who will battle for All-SEC recognition come season’s end. Additionally, a handful of backups are good enough to start at just about any other program in the nation.
Here are our Top 10 runners in the SEC for 2016. The best conference in America is poised to run the ball quite well.
10. Bo Scarbrough/Damien Harris, Alabama: For the first time during the Nick Saban regime in Tuscaloosa, he doesn’t have an experienced running back ready to move into a primary role. Henry and Kenyan Drake, last year’s No. 2, have both moved on to Sunday football. The cupboard is far from empty, though. Scarbrough was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. Harris was, too. At least one of them is a likely star by season’s end.
9. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee: One of the more effective change-of-pace options in the land a year ago, Kamara averaged 6.5 yards per carry and also caught 34 passes out of the backfield. We know the Volunteers have struggled to make big plays in the passing game with Joshua Dobbs pulling the trigger, so expect a heavy dose of the ground game once again in Knoxville. There are more than enough carries to go around for Kamara to have an even bigger 2016.
8. Sony Michel, Georgia: Similar to Kamara, Michel is probably at his best in a complementary role behind a first- and second-down battering ram. While he is a fine runner, his skills as a pass catcher make him ideally suited for third-down duties. If freshman Jacob Eason ends up being the starter under center right out of high school, checking the ball down to Michel can be a confidence booster. Michel can be the lead back in a pinch, too.
7. Derrius Guice, LSU: Even if he was only credited with 51 rushing attempts in 12 games, nobody in the SEC averaged more than Guice’s 8.6 yards per carry. As great as Fournette is, and he’s otherworldly great, the Tigers were equally impressive running the ball with Guice taking handoffs from Brandon Harris. Guice’s effectiveness is a win-win for coach Les Miles, who can keep Fournette fresh for the stretch drive and not lose much production.
6. Jovon Robinson, Auburn: Because the Tigers are yet to name a starting quarterback, coach Gus Malzahn was asked about the competition there repeatedly at SEC Media Days a few weeks back. But Malzahn reiterated time and again that his offense needs to get back to running the football more often, more effectively and with more pace. That starts with Robinson, whose 5.5 yards per carry last year was much better than the departed Peyton Barber’s 4.3.
5. Stanley “Boom” Williams, Kentucky: If there’s a such thing as quietly averaging 7.1 yards per carry as a starting tailback in the SEC, then that’s what Williams did in 2015. Injuries limited him to 10 contests, which chipped away at what could have really been a monster season, so he had to settle for 855 yards on just 12.1 attempts per game. In addition to better health, Williams needs Drew Barker to upgrade UK’s passing attack to help open more running lanes.
4. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: Needless to say, Webb doesn’t have as much help around him as some of the others on this list. As bad as the Commodores were through the air this past season, his 1,152-yard performance was nothing short of miraculous. He actually did his best work in hostile environments, registering 669 yards in six road games. Should Webb put up similar stats in 2016, he’ll be Vandy’s all-time leading rusher in just three years.
3. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee Raw power between the tackles, Hurd keeps the Volunteers ahead of the chains with the way he punishes defenders at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. His yards-per-carry numbers are remarkably similar when you take a closer look at his splits. Home vs. road, wins vs. losses, ranked vs. unranked — if only Dobbs could be so consistent in the passing game. If there is a Heisman Trophy candidate in Knoxville, it’s Hurd, not Dobbs.
2. Nick Chubb, Georgia: Had Chubb not torn up his knee at Tennessee this past October, he might have broken Herschel Walker’s single-season rushing record, too. In five-plus games, he had already rushed for 747 yards and 7 TDs while averaging a ridiculous 8.1 yards per attempt. Whether he makes it all the way back from injury could be the key to the campaign between the hedges. He simply has an extra gear on the ground that Michel doesn’t offer.
1. Leonard Fournette, LSU: Again, the top face on this totem pole was no mystery. Despite all the accolades thrown Henry’s way in 2015, and rightfully so, Fournette actually averaged more yards per game (162.8) than the former Crimson Tide star (147.9) and did so getting 1.3 fewer rushes each Saturday. The Bayou Bengals will be comfortably in the Top 10 once the polls are released, with Fournette carrying the offense on his back yet again.
MISSING THE CUT
Keith Ford, Texas A&M: A former five-star recruit who transferred from Oklahoma, Ford is in line to take over for the departed Tra Carson.
Brandon Holloway, Mississippi State: With Dak Prescott no longer in Starkville, Holloway’s number will probably be called much more often this season.
Mark Thompson, Florida: Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett have more SEC experience, but Thompson, a JUCO transfer, might possess the most upside of the three.
Devwah Whaley, Arkansas: With Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams now former Razorbacks, Whaley has a chance to establish himself as the head Hog right out of high school.