The SEC's best short-yardage backs in 2015
It’s third-and-2. The clock is ticking down, the score is tied, and your team needs to pick up the first down. Who do you turn to?
Short-yardage backs come in all shapes and sizes. They’re big, bruising forces that can knock a lineman back in the hole. They’re nimble, quick slashes who can find the tiniest seam and break through to move the chains.
With that in mind, we look at the backs that will be the best in the SEC at picking up those crucial yards this fall.
Derrick Henry, Alabama — Last year, Henry was firmly behind T.J. Yeldon when it came time for Alabama to attack short-yardage situations. But as the Crimson Tide once again pass the torch to another standout running back, Henry will get plenty of opportunities in close this season. He was effective in limited opportunities last year, averaging 3.7 yards per carry in the red zone and and picked up an average of 11.3 yards on his fourth-down carries. Even if you remove a 23-yard run from the equation, he still averaged 5.5 yards per carry on fourth down. A hulking 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Henry fits the mold for a short-yardage back, but he has the speed to skirt to the outside and break a long one too.
Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Arkansas — Both members of this duo can pick up the tough yards when need be. Williams is the more efficient of the two down in the red zone; on 47 carries inside the 20-yard line last year, he averaged 4.45 yards per carry — the highest average of anyone in the SEC with 20 or more carries from 20 yards and in. He also scored 11 times from within the red zone, tied for the highest total in the conference, and picked up 13 first downs. Collins didn’t get nearly as many opportunities, but when the Razorbacks gave him the ball on third-and-short he shined, averaging 8.9 yards per carry on eight attempts.
Nick Chubb, Georgia — We’re willing to overlook Chubb’s goal-line fumble against Georgia Tech due to his effectiveness otherwise in short-yardage situations. Chubb carried the ball seven times on fourth down as a freshman, converting six into first downs. On third-and-short, Chubb picked up a whopping 5.8 yards per carry, the third-highest average of anyone in the SEC with 10 or more attempts (and the highest of any returning player). With power, speed and deceptiveness, Chubb has all the ingredients to be a devastating runner in close.
Russell Hansbrough, Missouri — Hansbrough is proof that short-yardage backs can come in smaller packages. At 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, he doesn’t necessarily fit the ideal of the guy you turn to when you need tough yards, but he’s as effective as anyone in the SEC at it. Last season, he ranked just behind Chubb on third-and-short average (5.5 yards per carry) while picking up first downs on 19 of his 26 attempts, and he also converted six of seven fourth-down attempts at an average of 4.4 yards per carry. Hansbrough is going to carry Missouri’s offense this fall, meaning he’ll get even more opportunities to slash his way to first downs and scores when the going gets tough.
Darrel Williams, LSU — Williams sat fourth on LSU’s depth chart last year behind Leonard Fournette and two seniors, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard. While Fournette is a battering ram in any situation, Williams showed his potential as a short-yardage beast as well, an area where he’ll surely get more opportunities this year. He averaged 5.4 yards on eight third-and-short carries, converting seven of them, and scored two of his three touchdowns in the red zone. Williams will be a valuable weapon for LSU, thanks in part to his ability to line up as either a fullback of tailback when the Tigers need to pick up tough yards.