After getting things started on Monday with the quarterbacks, we continue our SEC preseason position rankings on Tuesday by examining one of the conference’s most potent positions: running back.
1. Georgia: Is there any real debate here? Nick Chubb ranks among the nation’s best tailbacks, and he has plenty of talent supporting him in the Bulldogs’ backfield. Sony Michel was actually rated higher than Chubb when they signed with Georgia last year, and Keith Marshall is a former five-star recruit himself. Georgia is legitimately five players deep at tailback, which places the Bulldogs among the deepest, most potent backfields in the country.
2. Alabama: Even a concerning amount of backfield attrition can’t knock Alabama too far down this list. The Crimson Tide still has Derrick Henry to carry the ground game, and that’s a positive place to start. Alabama also has the explosive Kenyan Drake back from season-ending leg and ankle injuries, plus one of the nation’s most highly recruited freshman tailbacks in Damien Harris. Add in Bo Scarbrough’s return after a four-game suspension to start the season and the Tide’s backfield should be in great shape.
3. LSU: The Tigers not only have a budding superstar in Leonard Fournette, but they also have solid depth behind him with Darrel Williams and talented freshmen Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette. Fournette will likely become the centerpiece of LSU’s improving offense this fall, even if the Tigers spread it out more than in their highly conservative scheme of 2014.
4. Tennessee: The talent is in place for Tennessee’s backfield to make an enormous leap this fall. Jalen Hurd is coming off a stellar freshman campaign, and now he has coveted junior college signee Alvin Kamara alongside him. Let’s get one thing straight, though. The Volunteers’ running game was among the worst in the SEC last season because their offensive line was a liability. If that group performs well, Hurd, Kamara and quarterback Josh Dobbs will run wild.
5. Auburn: Perhaps Auburn will throw the ball more often with Jeremy Johnson under center, but the Tigers still have options in the backfield. Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber reportedly lead the competition through the first two weeks of camp, and it’s clear Auburn’s coaches are trying to motivate Jovon Robinson, the No. 1 prospect on ESPN’s JC 50, to step up his performance as the season approaches.
6. Missouri: The Tigers’ struggling offense found a spark from their running game during last season’s six-game winning streak that produced a second straight SEC East title. One key piece from that attack, Marcus Murphy, is gone, but Russell Hansbrough remains along with Ish Witter. Hansbrough must perform more consistently in SEC games, though, after averaging just 65.9 ypg against conference opponents in 2014 – an average inflated by a 199-yard game against a terrible Texas A&M run defense.
7. Arkansas: The Razorbacks ranked higher on this list before leading rusher Jonathan Williams suffered a season-ending foot injury during Saturday’s scrimmage. Williams and Alex Collins formed one of the conference’s most lethal duos, but now the responsibility falls on Collins (1,100 yards, 12 TDs last year) to carry the Arkansas ground game. There isn’t much proven depth behind him in junior Kody Walker and freshman Rawleigh Williams III.
8. Mississippi State: Josh Robinson was responsible for about a quarter of the Bulldogs’ offensive production in 2014, but now he’s in the NFL. Can Ashton Shumpert or redshirt freshmen Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee collectively replace Robinson’s yards? Although nobody has much experience, State has handled similar backfield transitions effectively throughout Dan Mullen’s tenure.
9. South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ running game was mediocre last season, and that was with Mike Davis in the backfield. South Carolina has OK options in place now with Brandon Wilds, David Williams and freshmen Mon Denson and A.J. Turner, but nobody in this group has proven himself as anything more than a decent college player. Somebody, likely Wilds or Williams, needs to emerge.
10. Florida: Matt Jones jumped to the NFL and bowl MVP Adam Lane is transferring, which leaves former five-star recruit Kelvin Taylor as the only veteran choice to carry the running game in Year 1 under Jim McElwain. Behind Taylor are freshmen Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite who will almost certainly contribute, although the Gators need Taylor to deliver for the running game to thrive.
11. Texas A&M: Only Vanderbilt ran fewer times than A&M (421 attempts) among SEC teams last season. Truthfully, it’s not what the Aggies do – although they are working to add a physical running element to their pass-happy offense. Tra Carson and James White can supply the power to make the plan work.
12. Kentucky: Versatile sophomore Stanley "Boom" Williams led the Wildcats with 486 rushing yards last season, and he figures to be the Wildcats’ No. 1 option again. However, bruising Mikel Horton and shifty Jojo Kemp – the hero of the Wildcats’ upset win against South Carolina last season – will surely figure into new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson’s plans, as well.
13. Ole Miss: The Rebels desperately want to run more effectively this fall after averaging an underwhelming 4.2 ypc last fall. But where will the production come from? Jaylen Walton is a shifty runner, but at 5-foot-8 and 172 pounds, he’s not exactly an every-down back. If a power back emerges to complement Walton – maybe Jordan Wilkins or Akeem Judd? – perhaps the Rebel running game will improve.
14. Vanderbilt: The good news is that Ralph Webb proved himself with 907 rushing yards as a freshman in 2014. But the Commodores lack depth and firepower behind Webb, with Dallas Rivers set to play both fullback and tailback and receivers C.J. Duncan and Darrius Sims possibly contributing in hybrid roles.