Although Alabama’s rushing attack did not lead the SEC statistically in 2015, the Crimson Tide and Derrick Henry still sit atop our conference running back rankings at season’s end.
Here is a recap of how we rank the SEC’s backfields in 2015, from top to bottom:
1. Alabama: When the Heisman Trophy winner is in your backfield, you’ll probably lock down the top spot in the position rankings. Henry’s historic season -- he set a new SEC record for rushing yards with 2,219 in 15 games -- gives Alabama the edge over LSU as the SEC’s top backfield. Plus the Crimson Tide also had role players like Kenyan Drake, Damien Harris and Michael Nysewander play important roles in their push toward a third national title in five seasons.
2. LSU: Les Miles’ Tigers boasted the SEC’s top rushing offense (256.8 yards per game, seventh in the FBS) and featured one of the sport’s most explosive backs in national rushing-yards-per-game leader Leonard Fournette (162.8 ypg). The super sophomore was the first player in LSU history to lead the nation in rushing yards per game, and he got strong support from backfield mates Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams and John David Moore.
3. Arkansas: Although new offensive coordinator Dan Enos implemented a scheme that relied more heavily on the pass than Arkansas had in years past, the Razorbacks were still effective moving the ball on the ground. Junior Alex Collins lost running mate Jonathan Williams to a preseason injury but handled an increased workload admirably. Collins rushed for 1,577 yards and scored 20 touchdowns before jumping to the NFL at season’s end.
4. Tennessee: The backfield duo of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara largely lived up to the preseason hype, helping Tennessee rank 20th nationally and second in the SEC in rushing offense (223.7 ypg). Hurd led the way by rushing for 1,288 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Kamara contributed in a variety of ways, rushing for 698 yards, catching 34 passes for 291 yards and occasionally returning punts. Both players finished the season with more than 1,000 all-purpose yards, and quarterback Josh Dobbs made a big impact on the ground as well.
5. Georgia: Losing Heisman Trophy contender Nick Chubb to a season-ending injury in the Oct. 10 loss at Tennessee was a devastating blow to Georgia’s offense. The sophomore had rushed for 745 yards in the first five games of the season and gave the Bulldogs a consistent source of production when the offense frequently bogged down otherwise. However, Sony Michel did an outstanding job taking over for his superstar teammate. Michel rushed for 1,161 yards, finished third on the team with 270 receiving yards and scored a team-high 11 touchdowns.
6. Auburn: Gus Malzahn’s rushing attack was not as dangerous as it had been in recent seasons under dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall, but the Tigers still had their moments. They got 1,017 yards and 13 touchdowns from Peyton Barber and another 639 yards from junior college transfer Jovon Robinson. Plus underclassmen Roc Thomas and Kerryon Johnson provided sparks at times.
7. Kentucky: The Wildcats’ passing game might have been inconsistent, but they were typically effective on the ground. Leading rusher Stanley “Boom” Williams (855 yards) averaged 7.1 yards per carry and Jojo Kemp (555 yards) nearly averaged 6 yards per attempt. Mikel Horton complemented those two shiftier backs, adding a between-the-tackles element to a rushing attack that averaged 162.7 ypg.
8. Texas A&M: What the Aggies lacked in depth, Tra Carson made up for in productivity. He was the only Texas A&M running back to surpass 200 rushing yards in 2015, and yet A&M still had a solid season on the ground because of Carson’s presence in the lineup. He rushed 242 times for 1,165 yards and seven scores, helping the Aggies average 169.1 ypg on the ground.
9. Florida: Kelvin Taylor finally delivered the breakout season Gators fans had been expecting, rushing for 1,035 yards and 13 touchdowns as Florida claimed the SEC East title. Taylor got support from freshmen Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite and quarterback Treon Harris, but Florida’s hit-or-miss passing attack allowed defenses to focus on the run and the Gators ranked 112th nationally in rushing offense (126.9 ypg).
10. Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze made it a priority to run the ball more effectively in 2015, and the Rebels were largely effective in that endeavor. All three of their top running backs -- Jaylen Walton, Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins -- averaged more than 5 yards per carry. Quarterback Chad Kelly was a useful runner himself, totaling 500 yards on the ground and running for a team-high 10 touchdowns.
11. Vanderbilt: Derek Mason’s defense took an enormous step forward in his second season, but the offense remained a mess. However, the Commodores always knew they could rely on Ralph Webb even when the passing attack was shaky. Webb largely flew under the radar as a member of a 4-8 team, but he earned all of his 1,152 rushing yards.
12. South Carolina: When he was healthy, senior Brandon Wilds was an effective runner, posting 567 rushing yards in nine games. He and quarterback Lorenzo Nunez were the Gamecocks’ most dangerous runners, but both players dealt with injury issues and the ground attack frequently struggled. David Williams and Shon Carson both did OK with smaller workloads.
13. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were unable to find a consistent complement to quarterback Dak Prescott’s running ability like they had in 2014 with Josh Robinson. Their most productive back was Brandon Holloway (413 rushing yards, no touchdowns), while Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams each totaled more than 200 yards. Holloway was also useful as a receiver, ranking third on the team with 33 receptions for another 396 yards.
14. Missouri: There is no gentle way to put it: Missouri’s offense was terrible in 2015. The Tigers would have been much better off had senior Russell Hansbrough been healthy all season, but he was injured in the opener and never looked like the 1,000-yard rusher of 2014. He finished the season with 436 rushing yards despite missing only one full game, while Ish Witter led the team with 518 yards. Mizzou averaged just 114.6 ypg on the ground, which ranked last in the SEC and 119th in the FBS.