Alabama star Najee Harris was drafted in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft and is now a Pittsburgh Steeler. Elsewhere around the league, Mizzou’s Larry Rountree III, Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill and others have now moved on to the pro ranks.

However, the SEC is still loaded at the running back position for the 2021 season. In fact, the conference is perhaps more stacked in the backfield than it has been in a few years.

Ranking the top handful of backs is hard, as all of them could end the season as the SEC’s top rusher. But it’s prediction season, so rankings must be done!

Here’s how I’d rank the SEC’s top-10 running backs entering the 2021 season:

10. Tyler Badie, Mizzou

You didn’t think I was going to put together a list without any Mizzou players on it, did you? Badie struggled to find his place in Eli Drinkwitz’s offense in 2020, accounting for only 242 rushing yards on only 48 attempts. He did manage to find the end zone 4 times, though. And he contributed 28 catches for 333 yards and 2 scores as a receiver.

The problem? Larry Rountree III had an incredible season. He basically was the team’s entire offense inside the 10-yard line. Rountree accounted for 14 touchdowns last year and got 209 total carries. He was the workhorse.

Now, that responsibility falls to Badie. He hasn’t had more than 108 carries in a season, but when he gets the call out of the backfield, he usually makes the most of it. He looked great on this 46-yard TD run against Arkansas in December:

He won’t be the only running back Drinkwitz uses this fall, but he should be the featured guy. He could have a huge year.

9. Dameon Pierce, Florida

The Gators had a true running-back-by-committee situation in 2020, with Pierce, Malik Davis, QB Emory Jones, WR Kadarius Toney and Nay’Quan Wright all getting at least 19 carries. Everyone on that list except for Toney had at least 30 carries.

Pierce still managed to stand out above the rest. He had 106 carries for 503 yards and 4 touchdowns — all team-highs. Even with Clemson 5-star transfer Demarkcus Bowman joining the group this fall, Pierce has earned the right to be RB1. Bowman will get plenty of work, no doubt, but I’d give Pierce the majority of the carries in the early part of the season.

He’s a powerful runner, as evidenced by this strong 1-yard run against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl:

He also has enough speed to succeed in the SEC. Look at him weave his way through the Kentucky defense here:

With Emory Jones at QB this fall, the running game should be a major focus. Pierce should have plenty of running lanes as teams sell out to stop Jones from beating them with his legs.

8. James Cook, Georgia

Cook will share the Georgia running load with Zamir White (more on him in a minute), but he’d be the unquestioned RB1 on many teams around the country. When he hits the second level of the defense, he’s nearly impossible to bring down.

These highlights show how quickly he bursts into open space, both as a runner and a receiver:

Cook is a talented receiver out of the backfield, so Georgia’s offense can add some interesting wrinkles that way. He has great hands and great speed. And, even though he’s not the most powerful guy, he still has plenty of strength.

We’ll see how much he gets the ball this fall, but every time he gets a touch, he’s a threat to take it to the end zone.

7. Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss

Ealy suffered a shoulder injury during the Egg Bowl last year, but he should be 100% for the Rebels’ Week 1 showdown against Louisville. That’s good news for the Rebels, because Ealy is one of the most versatile players in the SEC.

He’s a threat on kickoff returns, as LSU found out the hard way:

He’s also a threat on the ground and as a receiver. In 2020, he recorded 745 yards and 9 touchdowns as a runner and 155 yards and a score as a receiver.

On this TD run against Florida, he showed strength, elusiveness and leg drive while refusing to go down:

With no Elijah Moore at receiver this fall, look for Ealy to be even more active as a receiver in Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby’s offense.

6. Brian Robinson Jr., Alabama

Robinson didn’t get a ton of work last year, but he was behind Najee Harris, so that makes sense. He has been at Alabama for 4 years now and has been a reliable backup the whole time. In 2021, it’s finally his time to shine.

In 2020, he had 483 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. Expect both numbers to increase.

He’ll also benefit from running behind Evan Neal and the rest of the Crimson Tide’s star-studded offensive line. But don’t get it wrong. Those horses up front open plenty of holes, but Robinson is more than capable of making the most of each run.

Look at the strength he showed against Arkansas last year. Here’s his second TD against the Hogs:

And here’s his third:

Having a powerful guy to hand the ball to in the red zone is a must these days. Robinson could be poised to become a star this year.

5. Zamir White, Georgia

James Cook is the more versatile Georgia running back, but White is the workhorse. He is the powerful back who can do the heavy lifting between the tackles.

He had 779 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in 2020. Simply by virtue of having more games this fall, White should hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark.

This highlight reel shows just how devastating White’s jump-cuts can be. He has great balance, strong vision and the strength to plow through anyone who stands in his path:

With JT Daniels returning at quarterback, defenses won’t be able to load the box against the Georgia offense. That could lead to a huge year for White, Cook and the running game.

4. Kevin Harris, South Carolina

Harris led the SEC in yards per game last year, running for 113.8 yards per contest. That narrowly edged Najee Harris of Alabama. Kevin Harris had 1,138 yards and 15 rushing TDs in 2020, which both finished second to Najee (who played 3 more games).

He was the master of the big play. He had this 45-yard run against LSU:

And this 44-yard score against Ole Miss:

I really want to rank Harris higher, but I worry about South Carolina losing OC Mike Bobo to Auburn. I also worry about the South Carolina defense this fall. If the Gamecocks are trailing in the second half, Harris won’t get much work.

However, you can be sure that when Harris does get a touch, he’s going to make the most of it.

3. Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M

Spiller will be running behind an offensive line with 4 new starters, but he still has star OL Kenyon Green clearing the way for him. That’s a solid start. Plus, I trust the way Jimbo Fisher has recruited. There should be plenty of talented linemen waiting to fill in this fall.

In 2020, Spiller ran for 1,036 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also had 20 catches for 193 yards out of the backfield.

You can see how versatile of a runner Spiller is in this highlight reel:

He’s strong, sees holes before they develop and has enough speed to get through to the second level. He’ll split some carries with Ainias Smith and Devon Achane this season, but Spiller should be the lead back for the Aggies. Look for him to post another 1,000-yard season.

2. Chris Rodriguez Jr., Kentucky

When you think of the star Kentucky running back, you think of 1 word — power. Rodriguez made a habit out of plowing through SEC defenders in 2020.

But there’s also a second word that should come to mind — efficient. Rodriguez led all SEC runners with at least 50 carries at 6.6 yards per carry. It’s easy to see why he gets so many yards when you see how hard he runs:

Of course, the offensive line deserves a ton of credit here, too. That’s because Kentucky’s backup, AJ Rose, was second in yards per carry (minimum 50 carries) with 6.3 yards per touch.

Rose is off to the NFL, though, so Rodriguez should get even more carries this fall. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares under new offensive coordinator Liam Coen.

1. Tank Bigsby, Auburn

Last year, Auburn OC Mike Bobo was at South Carolina, where he coached Kevin Harris. Harris, as mentioned, led the SEC in rushing yards per game.

I expect Bobo to continue the trend of utilizing his workhorse running back early and often this season. That means only good things for Tank Bigsby, who is entering his sophomore season.

Last year, Bigsby ran 138 times for 834 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also had 11 catches for 84 yards. To only hand the star freshman the ball 138 times was malpractice by Gus Malzahn.

Now, though, Auburn enters a new era with Bobo as its offensive coordinator and Bryan Harsin as its head coach. That should mean good things for Bigsby and returning QB Bo Nix. If Bobo’s offense can be more consistent than Malzahn’s, Nix should finally take a step forward as a quarterback, and that will open up more running room for Bigsby.

When Bigsby has room to run, he certainly lives up to his nickname of “Tank”:

Don’t be surprised if Bigsby has a huge year and leads the SEC in rushing yards and touchdowns this fall.