Quick trivia question: Four teams in the SEC averaged over five yards a carry, can you name them? Two of them are easy, Georgia and Bama ruined worlds with their powerful run games. And if you gave it some thought, you’d probably come up with the third school, Mississippi St, which relied heavily on its quarterback for those yards.
But the fourth one? Based on the hype, you would probably guess Auburn, but they averaged 4.76 yards per carry, good for sixth in the SEC. This being an LSU site, you’d probably know the Tigers didn’t pull the trick thanks to Guice’s gimpy ankle, though they did nudge ahead of Auburn at 4.79. No, the number four rushing attack based on yards per carry was located in Missouri, even if they finished sixth in total yards because they prefer the passing attack and didn’t rack up huge carry totals.
Running back is perhaps the easiest position to project. Look at who rushes for a lot of yards per carry, vote accordingly. Five of the top eight qualifying backs from last season by yards per carry return, and two of the ones who left went to Georgia. There’s some consistency in the league at the position.
1. Alabama. Jesus, they are loaded. Damien Harris rushed for exactly 1000 yards last season on a 7.41 average, and Najee Harris had a 6.07 average on 61 carries. They, of course, have even more talent on the depth chart. Obscenely stacked at the position.
2. Georgia. They lose Michel and Chubb, but D’Andre Swift is the SEC returning leader in yards per carry, at 7.63 on 81 carries for 618 yards. As a feature back, he has a real shot at the Heisman.
3. Mississippi State. Yes, Nick Fitzgerald is a big part of the rushing attack, but Aeris Williams and Kylin Hill are an impressive one-two punch. Hill averages over five yards per carry and Williams rushed for 1107 yards as a true workhorse back.
4. Missouri. They lose Ish Witter, who averaged 5.58 yards per carry and replace him with Larry Roundtree III who averaged… 5.58 yards per carry. Roundtree also had 126 carries as a freshman, so its not some illusion of rare use. The train should keep a-rollin’.
5. Kentucky. I hesitate to call Barry Snell overrated, but he is a first team All-SEC back based on the fact he carries the ball a ton. His average of 5.09 is good but not superlative, but he carried the ball 262 times and scored 19 touchdowns. Being able to handle that sort of workload is not without merit, but a big part of his value is tied up in carrying the rock a lot. That’s because there is no backup plan.
6. Auburn. Kam Martin had a 6.12 yard average which is terrific, but he also carried the ball only 74 times. There’s a real question whether he can handle a full load, topping 10 carries in SEC play just once and getting only 14 carries total in Auburn’s final three games. He needs to step up.
7. LSU. Nick Brossette had just 19 carries last season. LSU deals with the post-Guice landscape by going back to running back by committee. There’s a lot of talent here, but none of it is established at all.
8. South Carolina. I can’t figure out why the Gamecock running game was so awful last year, averaging under four yards per carry despite having AJ Turner (98-531-5.42) and Ty’Son Williams (95-471-4.96). That’s two backs right at or above five yards per carry, but they were down in the dregs. Too many carries wasted on guys who couldn’t do the job.
9. Texas A&M. Speaking of overrated, Trayveon Williams is 2nd team preseason All-SEC. He ranked 12th among returning qualifying SEC running backs in yards per carry. I know he scored 8 touchdowns, but touchdowns are a fluky individual stat. A&M’s rush offense averaged exactly four yards per carry which… isn’t good.
10. Florida. Their barren cupboard gets a boost with the return of Jordan Scarlett from a missed year due to injury. If he can be the same player he was, then it answers a lot of questions for the Gator offense. If not, this will be a below average rushing attack again.
11. Arkansas. Devwah Whaley is solid. The Hogs ranked about the middle of the conference in every rushing stat. There’s not much upside, but they won’t collapse either.
12. Ole Miss. With the loss of Jordan Wilkins, there just isn’t anyone ready to step into his role and take the bulk of the carries. It could be a long year.
13. Tennessee. The Vols averaged an inexplicable 3.41 yards per carry. That’s beyond awful, and is the worst rushing average in the SEC since 2011. Ty Chandler gives them some hope of a turnaround but they are in a deep, deep hole.
14. Vanderbilt. Ralph Webb kept their heads barely above water, but now an offense that averaged just 3.7 yards per carry needs to replace 192 carries, above that average.
1. Alabama. I say it somewhat in jest but I don’t think I’m that far off. Alabama can win 10 games this year without completing a pass. Damien Harris and Najee Harris are as good of a 1-2 punch as anybody can hope for, and they’re both built for heavy workloads to boot. And Josh Jacobs is a strong third option as well.
2. Georgia. Yeah, they won’t miss a beat in replacing Chubb and Michel. D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield will both produce, and they also loaded up on freshmen too with Zamir White and James Cook.
3. Mississippi St. Aeris Williams and Kylin Hill are more functions of that offense than elite playmakers, but you have to give them their props for proving they can produce.
4. Kentucky. Benny Snell carries the load for this team in a way that no other back is really asked to do.
5. Missouri. Lost a thousand-yard back, but still return 1,100 yards worth of rushing in Larry Roundtree and Damarea Crockett.
6. Florida. This is a sneaky group; Malik Davis flashed some nice potential in small doses, and Jordan Scarlett was a proven 1,000-yard back in 2016 who missed last year on suspension.
7. Auburn. Kam Martin hasn’t been all that impressive, and Auburn could have have used him to do more at times last year and he didn’t exactly come through. But the freshmen class should help out.
8. Texas A&M. Trayveon Williams is a nice spread back. Now we see how he fits into a pro-style offense.
9. LSU. I think this group finishes out okay, but right now, with the production returning I just can’t rank them higher.
10. South Carolina. A.J. Turner, Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams combined for solid production last year. But I’m sure the Gamecocks want one to emerge.
11. Arkansas. Devwah Whaley was really unimpressive last year. But he’s still ahead of the rest of this group.
12. Ole Miss. Nobody of any note that produced.
13. Tennessee. I miss watching John Kelly and I don’t even care about this team.
14. Vanderbilt. Their leading returning back averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Bad.
There was almost no disagreement here. We precisely agreed on the top three and only had Nos. 4 and 5 flipped. We also completely agreed on the bottom four squads, right down to the ranking order. All that was left was the middle tier and only one major disagreement on what to do with Florida, which I think resides on how much you believe Scarlett can come back to his former self. But we can usually find common ground on this… Alabama is f’n awesome and Vanderbilt is terrible.
3. Mississippi State
9. Texas A&M
10. South Carolina
12. Ole Miss