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SEC Unit Ranks: Running Backs

As always, they are good

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Sugar Bowl - Texas v Georgia
Great against everyone but LSU
Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last year, I made the mistake of saying that running back is the easiest position to evaluate. It seemed so obvious: check out the rushing averages, look at who is returning, boom… churn out ratings. That was before I wildly misevaluated several running back groups.

I wish there was some grand lesson to pull, but frankly, I just whiffed on some guys who either turned out to be real good or real bad. So we try again this year, looking at the top returning runners by rushing average.

Returning RB Leaders

Name Team Att Yards Avg. TD All-SEC
Name Team Att Yards Avg. TD All-SEC
Ke'Shawn Vaughn Vanderbilt 157 1244 7.92 12
Najee Harris Alabama 117 783 6.69 4 1st
D'Andre Swift Georgia 163 1049 6.44 10 1st
Kylin Hill Miss St 117 734 6.27 4 3rd
Asim Rose Kentucky 71 442 6.23 5
Lamical Perine Florida 134 826 6.16 7 2nd
Dameon Pierce Florida 69 424 6.14 2
Scottie Phillips Miss 153 928 6.07 12 3rd
Rakeem Boyd Arkansas 123 734 5.97 2 4th
Jashaun Corbin Texas A&M 61 346 5.67 1
Ty Chandler Tennessee 115 630 5.48 4
Larry Rountree III Missouri 225 1216 5.4 11 2nd
Rico Dowdle S Carolina 123 654 5.32 4
Shaun Shivers Auburn 70 371 5.3 3
JaTarvious Whitlow Auburn 150 787 5.25 6 4th
Isaiah Woullard Miss 84 428 5.1 4
Tyler Badie Missouri 89 437 4.91 2
Jamauri Wakefield Vanderbilt 78 353 4.53 2
Clyde Edwards-Helaire LSU 146 658 4.51 7
Kam Martin Auburn 103 458 4.45 1
Chase Hayden Arkansas 57 251 4.4 1

Three of the top five and seven of the top ten by rushing average return. It’s not quite as dramatic for raw yards, as the top two head for the NFL, but three of the top five return and six of the top ten by raw yards.

Your returning leaders, the only two players to top 1000 yards last season and return for 2019 are Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Missouri’s Larry Roundtree. The SEC must be thrilled by those two heading up the marquee.

Last year’s rank in parenthesis. We’ll talk about some of these, I’m sure.

1. Georgia (2). The Dawgs averaged near six yards per carry as a team last year. Yeah, they lose Elijah Holyfield, but De’Andre Swift leads a fully stacked backfield that will run roughshod over the conference again.

2. Alabama (1). There is still simply a silly amount of talent to go around the backfield in Tuscaloosa. OK, they lose one of the Harrises plus Josh Jacobs, but Najee Harris led the team in yards per rush, and they add yet another stud in Trey Sanders to the full stable.

3. Vanderbilt (14). Whoops. In my defense, did any of you see Ke’Shawn Vaughn winning SEC Newcomer of the Year while rushing for 1244 yards on a 7.92 average? Because if you did, you need to be in Vegas. There’s no depth behind him, but Vaughn can make a strong case as the best running back in the SEC.

4. Missouri (4). Mizzou quietly keeps churning out good rushing attacks with a deep rotation of backs. Larry Roundtree III is the headliner, having rushed for 1216 yards, but freshman Tyler Badie was a key contributor set for a bigger role this year with Damarea Crockett off to the NFL.

5. Auburn (6). On the one hand, Auburn doesn’t return anyone too high on our chart of returning rushers. On the other, they return three guys. Don’t be deceived by Auburn’s low overall rushing attack ranking (4.25 average, 11th in the SEC), that was a function of Jarrett Stidham getting 72 official carries for a net of one yard. JaTarvious Winslow and Shaun Shivers were both freshmen with averages over five yards per carry. Kam Martin was the big name, but may have lost his feature back role to Winslow. When you can make a case Kam Martin should be third on the depth chart, you have serious depth.

6. Florida (10). Another team I absolutely whiffed on last season, I said the Gators would need Jordan Scarlett to regain his pre-injury form… and he did. He’s off to the NFL now, but Scarlett’s resurgence allowed for Lamical Perine to finally emerge as a feature back, and he will share carries with Dameon Pierce as a change of pace back. This is yet another deep, talented backfield.

7. Mississippi State (3). State has enjoyed several seasons rubbing elbows with Bama and Georgia at the top of the SEC rushing chart, but a lot of that was thanks to Nick Fitzgerald. Having a QB who can rush for a thousand yards is a nice weapon to have in the bag. The running game will also miss Aeris Williams, but Kylin Hill did emerge as a potent weapon last season. They won’t be top three anymore, but they won’t turn into a pumpkin either.

8. Ole Miss (12). Dare I say they were sneaky good last year? Scottie Phillips fell just shy of a thousand yard season, but he averaged over six yards per carry, so they problem was simply lack of carries. A sprained ankle derailed the final month of his season, but the JUCO transfer should be back at full speed come September.

9. Arkansas (11). The Hogs offense is what it is, but Rakeem Boyd emerged last season as their feature back. There’s good depth behind him in Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden, but it’s a definite step down in quality from Boyd.

10. LSU (7). Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a decent back, which is damning him with faint praise. The bulk of the carries walked out the door with Nick Brossette, but LSU recruited like gangbusters and brought in two of the top ten ranked backs in the country, John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price. Throw in the redshirted Chris Curry, and LSU is going with unproven but highly touted talent. The best news is that they have options and don’t need all the prospects to pan out.

11. Texas A&M (9). I completely whiffed on Trayveon Williams, thinking he was a product of hype from lots of red zone touches but a pedestrian average. Well, he averaged 6.49 yards per carry in 2018, up from 4.61 in 2017. Simply put, he was the A&M offense, going for 1760 yards and topping the century mark in his last five games. In those, he rushed for 200 yards twice and for 198 against LSU. In three of A&M’s losses he rushed for 31, 31, and 26 yards. He was their everything and A&M is going to sorely miss him. Trayveon Williams was awesome. Jashaun Corbin will get the nod, but… you know.

12. Kentucky (5). Speaking of replacing legendary players, the Wildcats have to replace their bell cow, Benny Snell. Snell carried the ball 289 times (Williams was at 271) and was pretty much the posterchild for Kentucky football the last three seasons. Asim Rose showed some promise, averaging 6.23 yards on 71 carries, so maybe they aren’t up a creek. But replacing your identity is hard to do. Never follow the legend.

13. South Carolina (8). In a less loaded league, they would be a nice middle of the pack team. Rico Dowdle leads a decent crop of players. The Gamecocks rotate the ball between about four running backs, looking for the hot hand.

14. Tennessee (13). The one running back unit that legit stinks. The Vols rushed for just 3.7 yards per carry last season. Ty Chandler is a pretty good feature back, but he needs more help out there. He likely won’t get it.