The SEC is the top of the food chain in college football and I wouldn’t be surprised to see other stars sprout up around the conference. Just because Alabama lose Derrick Henry and Arkansas lost Alex Collins doesn’t mean each school doesn’t have a five star running back just waiting to take their place and make a name for themself. We see it every year at Alabama. What happened when Trent Richardson went to the NFL in 2012? Eddie Lacy became the man until he got drafted then it was T.J. Yeldon. When Yeldon got drafted by Jacksonville Derrick Henry took over. Nick Saban knows how to recruit running backs and this year will be no different and I expect very little drop off.
Now that Derrick Henry is headed to the NFL Alabama will look to sophomores Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris to pick up where the Heisman winner left off. Scarbrough is built like Henry at 6’2, 230 pounds. He didn’t see a lot of carries last year as he was stuck behind the Heisman winner and Kenyan Drake. Harris showed out at the Alabama Spring Game with 114 yards on 20 carries. No matter how you look at it the Crimson Tide will be just fine at running back in 2016 with those two guys running behind future NFL players on the offensive line.
The SEC has several marquee running backs coming back in addition to the two young studs in Tuscaloosa. How about LSU’s Leonard Fournette averaging 6.5 yards a carry in 2015? He was well on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy until he ran into the monster Alabama defensive line last November. Fournette looked like the next coming of Bo Jackson when he torched Auburn early in the season for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns. In the Texas Bowl the Tiger’s running back scorched the Texas Tech defense for 212 yards and 5 touchdowns to close out their season. Last year he ran for 1953 yards in only twelve games. Fournette would’ve easily had 2,100 yards had LSU not had to cancel their opener against McNeese State due to storms.
This year LSU opens with Wisconsin at the Lambeau Field College Classic. If Fournette takes off for 200 yards on the Badgers in prime time he will be the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. I’m not saying we should hand him the award now because he has to stay healthy and will still have to play some tough SEC defenses on some road trips to Auburn and Florida. But Fornette showed last year he was legit and if he continues to play like he did in 2015 he will likely be a top ten draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
If one back can step up and overtake Fournette as the best in the SEC it’s Georgia’s Nick Chubb. Chubb ran for 120 yards in each game before injuring his knee on the first play from scrimmage against Tennessee in October. Alabama shut Fournette down in 2015 allowing him only 31 yards on 19 carries. Chubb rushed for 146 on 20 carries, averaging over 7 yards a carry on the stingy Crimson Tide defense. Had he remained healthy Chubb could’ve been a finalist for the Heisman. If he can return to form and stay injury free the Bulldog back could be a contender for the award this season and set himself up to be a first round draft pick as well.
But when you look at the Georgia running game you have to pay attention to Sony Michel. When Chubb went down against the Vols Michel came in and gashed Tennessee’s defense for 145 yards on 22 carries. He rushed for 1,161 yards in only eight games as the starter in Athens averaging over five yards a carry. If Chubb isn’t 100% or gets injured again Georgia will be in good shape at the running back position.
Another running back who came on late in 2015 is Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd. Hurd had a lot of buzz behind him coming out of high school before he signed with the Vols. He’s drawn comparisons to Eddie George but didn’t quite live up to the hype as a freshman after getting injured late in the season. In 2015 he started showing signs of being an NFL-caliber back with a strong showing against Alabama and finishing out the year rushing for at least 120 yards on three teams that were thought to have very good defenses, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Northwestern. Hurd will share carries with Alvin Kamara this year so he may not get 2,000 yards like Fornette or Chubb. But you can’t leave out the talented junior running back in Knoxville this year when talking about elite backs in the SEC.
One running back flying under the radar in the SEC is Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb. Webb showed flashes last season against Florida and Tennessee and has the potential to be a star in the conference. The Commodore back quietly rushed for 1,152 yards behind a terrible offensive line and a freshman quarterback. Teams knew Webb was going to get the ball and stacked the box only to still have him go off for 100 yards each week. If sophomore Kyle Shurmer can get anything in the passing game going he could keep defenses honest and set the table for Webb to have a monster year in 2016.
There are other running backs that could have a breakout year. Boom Williams at Kentucky seems poised to have a monster year in Lexington. Jovon Robinson at Auburn will have a chance to shine now that Peyton Barber chose to go to the NFL. There is so much talent in the SEC and each year we see so many guys go to the NFL from the conference.