Top 10 SEC RBs for the 2020 season
The SEC was led by a quarterback, not a running back, when it came to rushing yards in 2019. Kentucky WR-turned-QB Lynn Bowden Jr. had a season that won’t soon be forgotten in Lexington, putting up an incredible 1,468 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground after taking over for the injured Terry Wilson.
However, that doesn’t mean the league was lacking elite running backs. Clyde Edwards-Helaire led the conference with 16 rushing touchdowns and had a second-best 1,414 rushing yards. That, plus his talent as a pass catcher, made him the only running back taken in Round 1 of the 2020 NFL Draft.
D’Andre Swift, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Lamical Perine and others will also be playing on Sundays this fall. But there are still plenty of guys worth watching this fall.
So, let’s take a look at the top 10 running backs in the SEC as we inch closer to Week 1 of the 2020 season.
Honorable mentions: Tank Bigsby, Auburn; Kavosiey Smoke, Kentucky; Ty Chandler, Tennessee; James Cook, Georgia; Brian Robinson, Alabama
10. Chris Curry, LSU
The best compliment you can give to a running back is that he runs hard, and Curry fits that bill to a T. Curry only ran for 189 yards last season and didn’t score a touchdown, but he had some big-time runs down the stretch for the Tigers.
In fact, 90 of his yards (nearly half) came in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Oklahoma. Check out the first part of this video to see the fits he gave the Sooners’ defense:
Chris Curry showed down the stretch he can be a reliable (#SEC) RB…
— Josh Lemoine (@LSUTruth) February 12, 2020
With Edwards-Helaire now with the Kansas City Chiefs, Curry and John Emery will get more work this fall. I like Curry to get a bulk of the carries and make a name for himself in Baton Rouge.
9. Asim Rose, Kentucky
I have Smoke as an honorable mention because I think Rose is going to do more in this year’s Kentucky offense. Yes, Bowden drew a lot of attention in the Kentucky running game last season (and for good reason), but Rose showed some explosiveness when he got his touches:
With QB Terry Wilson back after suffering a season-ending injury last year, Rose should get some more traditional looks in the Kentucky offense. Defenses will have to respect the Kentucky passing attack more this fall, and that should open up more running room for Rose.
8. Eric Gray, Tennessee
My SDS colleague, Mike Bratton, is really high on Gray this year. Who am I to argue with him? I like Ty Chandler a lot, too, but Gray has the chance to be special.
Don’t believe Bratton? How about former Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who also thinks Gray is in line for a breakout 2020 campaign:
Gray finished his freshman season in 2019 with 539 yards and 4 touchdowns. But when you look at how he performed in his last 2 games (366 total yards and 4 scores against Vanderbilt and Indiana), it’s easy to see why big things are expected out of Gray in 2020.
Here’s one of his touchdown runs in the Gator Bowl:
He’ll split carries with Chandler, but if he gets off to a hot start, Gray could get a lot of work this fall.
7. Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M
Texas A&M has seen a lot of attrition in the backfield this offseason, so if Spiller stays healthy, he’s in line for a ton of carries. That’s good news for the explosive sophomore, who ran for 946 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019.
Spiller has great balance and can break away from defenders in the open field — skills he put on display against UTSA:
— Tim England (@tengland_150) July 17, 2020
If the Aggies are going to compete for an SEC West title in 2020, Spiller will need to be an even bigger part of the offense. We’ll see if he’s up for the challenge.
6. Zamir White, Georgia
White was the top running back in the 2018 class, but he missed his true freshman season at Georgia with a torn ACL. He appeared in 13 games as a redshirt freshman last season, but didn’t have a huge impact, rushing for 408 yards and 3 touchdowns.
He has immense potential, which is why he’s this high on the list, but this is the year he’s going to need to deliver on some of that promise.
If he can stay healthy, he can be one of the best running backs in the SEC. With D’Andre Swift off to the NFL, there should be more work for White and Cook, too.
5. Larry Rountree III, Mizzou
Rountree had a bit of a down year in 2019, but so did the entire Mizzou offense. Now, things will be different under new head coach/offensive play-caller Eli Drinkwitz, and that should be a good thing for Rountree.
The senior running back has all the skills you want to see in the backfield. He has vision, side-to-side shiftiness, balance, power and speed, all of which are on display in this play against Ole Miss:
Larry Rountree is gone pic.twitter.com/0qaXLXJoGy
— Represent Mizzou (@RepresentMizzou) October 13, 2019
He finished the season on a positive note with a strong showing against Arkansas:
— Andrew Kauffman (@AndrewABC17) November 29, 2019
Now, as a senior leader, he’ll look to end his college career on a high note. I’d be surprised if he didn’t look more like he did in 2018, when he ran for 1,216 yards and 11 touchdowns.
4. Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss
Ealy only scratched the surface of his immense potential last season as a true freshman, rushing for 722 yards and 6 touchdowns on 104 carries (good for 6.9 yards per carry). He also had 20 catches for 172 yards and a score.
Ole Miss really needs to utilize Ealy’s pass-catching abilities more, but that will require run-first QB John Rhys Plumlee to take a step forward as a passer this year. Or, conversely, it will require Matt Corral to get more snaps at quarterback.
Either way, good things happen when Ealy has the ball in his hands:
Lane Kiffins running backs in the last six seasons averaged 1,370.5 yards and 17.3 touchdowns.
— Joe Broback (@joebroback) July 28, 2020
First-year Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin will surely recognize that and find creative ways to let Ealy do what he does best.
3. Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas
Not enough is made about the job Boyd did last year for an Arkansas team that went 2-10 and finished 0-8 in the SEC for the second year in a row. Even with the turmoil at quarterback that allowed teams to sell out to stop Boyd and the running game, Boyd ran for 1,133 yards and 8 touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
He was also useful in the passing game, making 19 catches for 160 yards. He doesn’t just feast on weaker foes, either. Against Kentucky’s stout defense last year, he ran for 134 yards and 2 scores:
— Nikki Chavanelle (@NikkiChavanelle) October 13, 2019
He also had 114 yards and a touchdown against Mississippi State. With Feleipe Franks stepping in to stabilize the quarterback position this fall, defenses are going to have to respect the Hogs’ passing game more. That could (and should) lead to a career year for Boyd in the backfield.
2. Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
Hill had a huge 2019 season, running for 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, heading into 2020, he will be working in a completely different system under new coach Mike Leach.
Hill has the skills as a receiver to make his new role work after catching 18 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown last year, but running backs are always tough to project in Leach’s Air Raid offenses.
Still, there’s no denying his talent and athleticism, as evidenced by this incredible leaping touchdown against Kentucky:
The good news? Hill is all-in on the new-look Mississippi State offense. He said he’s a perfect fit:
I’m perfect for this offense man I love it
— Kylin Hill (@H_Kylin) August 6, 2020
That should have us all excited to see how he fares this fall.
1. Najee Harris, Alabama
Harris was an absolute force in 2019, combining for 20 touchdowns (13 rushing and 7 receiving). He had a total of 1,528 yards from scrimmage, with 1,224 coming as a rusher and 304 as a receiver.
This play against South Carolina last year gives you the full picture of what Harris brings to the Alabama offense — speed, hurdling, strength and receiving ability:
Stiff arm. Hurdle. Touchdown.
Najee Harris with the 42 yard catch and run on 4th down. pic.twitter.com/ff5xSGDYHw
— benjamin (@BenGleason23) September 14, 2019
With Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III off to the NFL as first-round draft picks, the Alabama offense will need Harris to be even better this fall. Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, he seems more than capable. If he continues to show he can both run and catch the ball out of the backfield at an elite level, he could be another Alabama first-round pick in 2021.