SEC running backs who could put up 500 receiving yards in 2017
As running backs become more involved in the passing game at the NFL level, the opposite has been true in the SEC.
From 2007 to 2011, there were four seasons in which a back put up at least 500 receiving yards. Since 2012, though, no one has eclipsed that mark, and no one has reached even the 400-yard plateau the past two seasons.
The last 500-yard receiving season by a back came from Georgia’s Orson Charles in 2011, when he recorded 45 catches for 574 yards and five touchdowns while playing as both a tight end and a fullback.
The best receiving season by an SEC back since 2007 came from Ole Miss’s Dexter McCluster in 2008, when he had 44 catches for 625 yards and a score. He followed that up with a 44/520/3 receiving line in 2009. Arkansas’s Peyton Hillis had 49 catches for 537 yards and five touchdowns in 2007.
With so many talented running backs returning to SEC squads this fall, the 500-yard receiving mark could be in play.
As some players continue to evolve their games and teams work to make their offenses more multi-faceted, here’s a look at three runners who could also put up good numbers in the passing game:
Derrius Guice, LSU
As the top rusher in the SEC in 2016, Guice will face defenses that are selling out to stop the LSU running game.
Though he’ll still be tough to contain on the ground, the Tigers would be wise to get him involved in other ways, too.
With QB Danny Etling back for a second season, the LSU passing game must improve under first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada. To his credit, Canada seems to be working on Guice’s pass-catching skills this offseason:
Derrius Guice going through a pass catching drill.
— Joshua Thornton (@JoshuaThornton_) March 14, 2017
Guice, who caught nine passes for 106 yards and a touchdown in 2016, will need to be more involved through the air in 2017 if the Tigers are going to challenge for the SEC West title.
Sony Michel, Georgia
Nick Chubb will lead the team in rushing yards as long as he stays healthy, but Michel is one of the best second-string running backs in the conference.
Though he dealt with an arm injury at the start of last season, he put up 270 receiving yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore in 2015.
With the Georgia passing game looking to evolve in sophomore QB Jacob Eason’s second full season at the helm, getting Michel involved will be important.
Chubb will catch his fair share of passes, too, but Michel’s role as a third-down check-down option will be valuable if the Bulldogs are going to take the next step as an offense.
John Kelly, Tennessee
The Tennessee backfield was a mess in 2016, thanks in large part to Jalen Hurd’s midseason decision to leave the team.
Hurd finished with more carries than Kelly last year (122 to 98) but his 451 yards were significantly less than Kelly’s 630, and Kelly also held a 5-3 touchdown edge.
Then there was Alvin Kamara, who led all SEC running backs with 392 receiving yards and scored a combined 13 touchdowns. Kamara has moved on to the NFL, picked in the third round by the Saints.
So this season, Kelly will try to be a one-stop shop for the Volunteers, who need him to emerge as an every-down back capable of doing anything asked of him. With a new quarterback (likely Quinten Dormady) replacing Joshua Dobbs, Kelly’s versatility is going to be crucial for the Tennessee offense.
Kelly did have six catches for 51 yards in his limited action last season, but as a junior this fall, he’ll need to make progress in that area of his game.
If he can become a reliable receiving target for the Vols’ young quarterback, he could match Kamara’s 2016 receiving totals and then some.