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2017 SEC Unit Rankings: Running Backs

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The main event.

NCAA Football: Georgia vs Florida
He’s good, y’all
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Now, we get to the superstars of the conference. The SEC is such a loaded conference when it comes to running backs that the conference’s 23rd ranked runner can declare early for the draft and get selected in the 3rd round (Hi, Alvin Kamara!) That’s some serious depth.

1. Georgia

The Dawgs have two running backs on the preseason All-SEC team: Nick Chubb (1st team) and Sony Michel (3rd team). Just an embarrassment of riches for one team.

2. Auburn

Kamryn Pettway led the SEC in rushing yards per game, and he returns alongside Kerryon Johnson, who was just shy of the top ten. Not quite Georgia’s tandem, but still pretty ridiculous depth.

3. LSU

Derrius Guice is the best running back in the conference. He averaged a ridiculous 7.58 yards per carry and scored 15 TD. There’s a bit of a question of who helps shoulder the load, but Guice is a legit Heisman contender.

4. Alabama

Bo Scarbrough didn’t quite get the carries to rank amongst the elite last year, and his 6.5 yards per carry ranks behind Damien Harris’ 7.1. There will be a war for playing time between two potential elite backs.

5. Texas A&M

Trayveon Williams’ excellent freshman season along with Oklahoma transfer Keith Ford helped A&M, yes A&M, rank third in the SEC in team yards per carry. I’m not emotionally prepared to deal with the Aggies as a running team.

6. Missouri

Damarea Crockett barely topped the charts as the most productive freshman SEC running back. He overtook the competent Ish Witter, giving Mizzou a pretty good one-two punch which still ranks well behind the elite units in the SEC.

7. Vanderbilt

Ralph Webb cracked the All-SEC teams last season and while he’ll have a good shot at repeating the trick due to the fact Vandy will almost certainly feed him a ton of carries. There’s not a whole lot of depth here, but Webb could play for anyone in the nation. It also feels good to put Vanderbilt in the top half of the conference in these unit rankings for once.

8. Kentucky

Boom Williams is off to the pros, but Benjamin Snell topped 1000 yards last season on 5.87 yards per carry. Kentucky managed the position well and had the replacement guy ready to take over the position.

9. Arkansas

The sudden retirement of Rawleigh Williams III due to neck injuries dealt a huge blow to the Hogs. Devwah Whaley was expecting to take a bigger share of the load, but now he’ll be forced to be a feature back. It’s not a disaster, but it’s enough to fall from the ranks of the elite units.

10. Tennessee

Kamara’s early departure and Jalen Hurd’s transfer hurt the Vols deeply, but John Kelly did lead the team in yards per carry. There’s still something to build on, but not much.

11. Mississippi St.

The Bulldog rushing game’s entire job is to give Nick Fitzgerald the occasional rest. No one in the backfield really scares you, but the team did rank 4th in the SEC in rushing average thanks to its quarterback.

12. South Carolina

Rico Dowdle had his moments, but the Gamecocks ranked at the bottom of the SEC in yards per carry (in a photo finish with the Gators). He should improve with a better passing game to give him cover.

13. Florida

Jordan Scarlett is the feature back, but he fell short of 1000 yards last season despite 179 carries. The Gators’ haven’t had an elite running game in a long while, and averaged under 4 yards per carry as a team last season.

14. Ole Miss

The SEC is a conference full of rushing attacks full of returning studs… and Ole Miss. Eugene Brazley is the only guy on the team to rush for over 100 yards in a season, and he had just 261. They lag behind the rest of the conference to an almost shocking degree.

Billy

We talk a lot about the returning quarterbacks in the conference, and with good reason, but they also have some solid help — seven different running backs are returning off 1,000-yard seasons last year.

1. Georgia

Yeah, nobody can quite beat having both Chubb and Michel back. A couple other teams have great groups, but nobody that can match a twosome like Georgia's.

2. LSU

And by that same token, nobody quite has a top-end starter quite like Derrius Guice. And while the rest of this group doesn't feature any standouts, it does feature a big, burly senior and a third-year sophomore. And I think there's value in having grown-ass men at running back.

3. Alabama

I went back and forth on maybe bumping these guys up, especially when you consider they added the top recruit here in Najee Harris. Bama can literally just roll out five-star after five-star until they wear you down.

4. Auburn

HOT TAKE: Kam Pettway is fine, but he's not the gamebreaker the other top backs in the league are. Sure, if you let him wear you down on 25 carries, it'll hurt. But he's not going to just blow by you the way the other top guys in the SEC can. He is more a function of how Auburn runs their offense, then the other way around. Kerryon Johnson is a solid backup, but again, not a gamebreaker.

5. Vanderbilt

Whaaaaaa? Yeah, Ralph Webb is a damn miracle worker considering what he has around him.

6. Kentucky

Watch Benny Snell take advantage of a lot of Boom Williams' lost carries to put together a very nice year.

7. Missouri

They were so bad last year nobody noticed that the offense may have found some playmakers.

8. Texas A&M

Solid, if unspectacular runners. Although the Aggies may need to lean on them a bit given the QB situation.

9. Florida

Jordan Scarlett headlines a veteran group that should progress with the rest of this supporting cast.

10. Arkansas

Losing Rawleigh Williams really hurt. Devwah Whaley just hasn't shown he can produce on a regular basis. This is a unit that should benefit from a veteran O-line and a good passing game, but it's hard to see a dominating running game here.

11. Tennessee

The Vols lost a lot in the offseason, but they've recruited well enough that somebody should emerge. John Kelly seems like the most likely choice.

12. South Carolina

The passing game may be coming together here, it'd be nice if they could find a back they can count on.

13. Mississippi St.

Nick Fitzgerald carried their running game last year, but he's not a running back. They'd be wise to find him some help in the option game.

14. Ole Miss

The Rebels haven't had a consistent running game in years. New OC Phil Longo wants to have more of a balanced approach compared to what we've been used to seeing here, but I don't know that there's the talent on hand to make that work regularly.

Paul

From Herschel to Bo to Fournette, the SEC is a conference built on stout RB play. Virtually every school in the conference, sans maybe Vandy and Kentucky have legendary RB figures. Like, college football wide legends, not just SEC legends. South Carolina has Lattimore; the Aggies have John David Crow; Tennessee has Johnny Majors. It's a point of pride for the conference.

1. Alabama

A pox upon your house! The pick du jour for ATVS staff is Georgia, and Michel and Chubb might be the best 1-2 punch in college football. But Alabama has a fearsome foursome of players that will bludgeon SEC d's into submission in 2017. Scarborough gets the headlines because he's a freak of nature, but Damien Harris was more productive oh and Josh Jacobs is not your average No. 3 back. And frankly, none of those are as gifted as true freshman Najee Harris. Najee has Fournette like upside if the staff can get him to dial in and focus after moving across the country.

2. Georgia

Their depth beyond the top 2, who have both battled injury issues, isn't outstanding. Brian Herrien is pretty standard SEC fare, and while Elijah Holyfield has some scoot, he only managed 4.8 ypc last year while picking up just 6 carries. This is a strong group at the top that thins out after you get past the two clydesdales.

3. Auburn

Pettway is maybe the most fun guy in the conference to watch due to his rugged, downhill style and Kerryon Johnson is a more than capable back-up. This is like Georgia lite.

4. LSU

Everybody loves Guice, who is a legitimate All-American and Heisman candidate. He's got special skills and can make defenders look foolish in a number of ways. After Guice, you are looking at a solid, though not spectacular bunch. Darrell Williams carries have dropped each year, though coaches seem bullish on the work he's put in in the offseason. Brossette is a guy I'm expecting to come into his own in 2017. He was a heralded recruit in his own right and has a versatile skillset that Matt Canada should be able to exploit.

TIER 2

5. Missouri

There's a grouping here of 3-4 schools with one young stud and a bunch of hodge podge supporters. I like Damarea Crockett, most. He averaged nearly 7 YPC and scored double-digit TDs. He's a bigger back with nifty feet that doesn't go down easy. He'll be a household name by season's end.

6. Texas A&M

Trayveon Williams does more with less, averaging 6.7 YPC. Keith Ford is a solid back-up and Kendall Bussey should be emerging multi-purpose threat for Sumlin.

7. Kentucky

Boom Williams was an under appreciated stud because he played for Kentucky, but Freshman Benjamin Snell Jr. brings his own set of skills to the table. Can he improve without being a change of pace to a back as good as Williams?

8. Vanderbilt

Ralph Webb's high rushing total is almost purely a proponent of leading the SEC in carries last season. He's fine enough, and gets some extra credit for working with a poor supporting cast.

TIER 3

9. Arkansas

It's Devwah Whaley's show with Rawleigh Williams unexpectedly having to retire due to injury. Arkansas' porous OL really hampered their ability to run the football effectively in 2017. Some improvement there could see Whaley skyrocket up the list. Can they find a suitable backup?

10. Tennessee

I like John Kelly enough, but this unit took a huge blow losing both Kamara and Hurts. Keep one and you are looking at a top 5 group. Losing both puts them near the bottom.

11. Florida

Florida's backs are remarkably ho-hum and I'm not entirely sure what happened to McElwain's offensive expertise. Scarlett is fine. Perine is whatever. What's happened to offense in Gainesville?

12. South Carolina

I guess by process of elimination they are next. I might actually like Rico Dowdle more than Jordan Scarlett, but hard to get too excited here.

13. Mississippi St.

Fitzgerald carries the burden on the ground for this team, which says everything you need to know about their RB corpse (pun intended).

14. Ole Miss

I don't know how two Mississippi schools can't find a RB,but here we are. Chad Kelly was Ole Miss' 2nd leading rusher last year and he only played in 9 games. Their top producer is gone as well. Not a lot to find hope in here. But hey, at least their head coach is an offensive geni...shit.

Crissy

1. Georgia

Most teams look to develop that star running back to really help the ground game. The Bulldogs get two of those this season. Name a better duo than Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. In terms of SEC running backs — you can't.

2. LSU

Derrius Guice will be one of the best at his position in the conference this season. He's a once-in-a-blue-moon type of athlete. I wouldn't be surprised if he ran off with the Heisman Trophy, either. The other players at the position for the Tigers don't even begin to touch his level, but they're a solid bunch.

3. Auburn

There's a lot of depth here. While they're not Georgia, they do have a standout guy in Kam Pettway. Kerryon Johnson will be there to provide a reliable backup.

4. Alabama

Look at the Crimson Tide, not at the top of nearly everyone's list for once. As always, they have recruited well at the position.

Bo Scarbrough will be a star this year.

5. Kentucky. Boom Williams will be the star player of this unit by a long shot. (EDIT: That slipped past editorial somehow) Freshman Benjamin Snell Jr. brings a lot to the table here, and could develop into something great.

6. Vanderbilt

Not at the bottom — quite close to the top, actually. Vandy does rank pretty well in this category. Ralph Webb just keeps getting better, and will help carry the offense in 2017.

7. Missouri

Damarea Crockett is going to be absolutely huge. His supporting cast is middle-of-the-pack. Hence, why they fall right in the center of this list.

8. Texas A&M

The Aggies have a decent, but unimpressive unit. Trayveon Williams has the ability to do something big this year, though.

9. Florida

The Gator offense as a whole has really fallen short lately, and the running backs aren't too much of an exception. Jordan Scarlett will lead this group.

10. Tennessee

Not a bad unit in the least last season, but they lose a lot of guys who made them just that this year. We'll see how the Vols pick up the pieces.

11. South Carolina

There''s nothing about this Gamecocks group that jumps out at you. The passing game will be much better than the run game this go around.

12. Arkansas

They've got just about every other aspect of the offense set for this year. They lost a lot of good guys from last year as well.

13. Mississippi St.

When your quarterback carries your run game, you know something has to have gone terribly, terribly wrong somewhere down the line.

14. Ole Miss

You probably can't remember a time when Ole Miss actually had some kind of run game. Chad Kelly was the team's second leading rusher last season. He's gone now - and didn't even play running back.

Poseur

Paul’s not kidding about the tiers. The top four teams formed a pod, with none of them receiving a vote outside of 1-4. Same for the teams grouped 5-8. However, I would add a fourth tier for Ole Miss, which got voted into the cellar unanimously.

The big issue for us here is how do you rate depth versus starting talent. Most of the carries are going to go to the top two backs, so while I liked depth, it wasn’t that big of a deal for me. I cared more about who the bell cow was. Paul, by contrast, looked more at the full depth chart. Both of these views are valid, but that’s how we got variation within the pods.

1. Georgia
2. LSU
3. Alabama
4. Auburn
5. Missouri
6. Kentucky
7. Vanderbilt
8. Texas A&M
9. Arkansas
10. Tennessee
11. Florida
12. South Carolina
13. Mississippi St.
14. Ole Miss