For the next few weeks leading to the start of the College Football season (here’s hoping!), I will be previewing different teams, players, and more from the SEC. Next up is a ranking of the top running backs in the conference. Stars like D’Andre Swift and Clyde Edwards-Helarie have departed to the NFL, but the SEC is still full of uber-talented backs.
1. Najee Harris, Senior, Alabama
Harris was a relatively easy choice for the top spot here. He was the No. 1 running back in his class out of high school and has easily lived up to that billing after compiling almost 3,000 yards from scrimmage and 30 total touchdowns in his career. His best season came last year after running for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns. What’s really scary is that he is finally rounding out his game. In his first two seasons, Harris only had 52 total receiving yards and 10 receptions. As a junior, Harris caught 27 passes for 304 yards and seven touchdowns.
The majority of Alabama’s dominant offensive line returns this fall and three of those players having a great chance at being picked early in the NFL Draft. With Harris getting a larger workload after the departures of Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs III, I expect the senior to near 2,000 yards from scrimmage behind the best o-line in the SEC.
SEC countdown take 2: SEC football returns in 42 days!
Najee Harris went complete beast mode on this reception last season against South Carolina.
Harris was asked on Friday if he’s given any thought about opting-opt this season: “No. Not once.” pic.twitter.com/Jw8tSRC8rf
— that SEC podcast (@thatSECpodcast) August 15, 2020
2. Kylin Hill, Senior, Mississippi State
It’s been a rather eventful offseason for Hill after he threatened to boycott playing if the state of Mississippi didn’t change its state flag. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Hill will be on the field running all over opposing defenses once again in 2020. He is the leading returning rusher in the SEC after he was second in the conference last season with 1,350 yards, trailing only Lynn Bowden Jr. He would have taken the top spot on this list if it wasn’t for new head coach Mike Leach’s new high-powered passing attack coming to Starkville. However, I would still expect another great season for Hill in 2020.
Most forced missed tackles on the ground among returning SEC RBs 1. Kylin Hill, Mississippi St – 61
— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 13, 2020
3. Rakeem Boyd, Senior, Arkansas
Yes, this is the most respect you will see Arkansas football receive in any preseason ranking. The Razorbacks are a combined 4-20 over the last two seasons, but that didn’t stop Boyd from being a great runner. He averaged over six yards per carry in both seasons and is one of four players returning in 2020 who ran for over 1,000 yards in 2019 (1,133 yards). So while we all expect another bad year for Arkansas, everyone should recognize the Boyd isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
4. AJ Rose/Kavosiey Smoke/Christopher Rodriguez, Kentucky
At this point, it would be foolish for anyone not to recognize just how good UK’s offensive line truly is. “The Big Blue Wall” is without a doubt one of the best in the nation. If anyone doesn’t believe that, then they are choosing to ignore the fact that four different Wildcats ran for at least 500 yards in 2019. Sure, Bowden Jr. is gone, but that’s a lot of production left for these three backs to make up for. Personally, I think Smoke has a chance to be the top back in 2020 with his awesome speed, but Rose is easily the most dependable, and Rodriguez may have the highest ceiling. This is one of the best stables of backs in the conference.
Smoked…by Kavosiey Smoke ?
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 31, 2019
5. Jerrion Ealy, Sophomore, Ole Miss
Ealy impressed greatly as a true freshman who ran for 722 yards and six touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry. The Rebels have eight total starters returning on offense so I expect an even better season from the sophomore who was ranked as the ninth-best back in his recruiting class. Couple that in with the fact the new coach Lane Kiffin loves to run the ball and you have a player who could be sitting on a breakout season.
6. Isaiah Spiller, Sophomore, Texas A&M
Like with Ealy, Spiller was a highly ranked back in his class and impressed greatly as a freshman. He fell just a little short of 1,000 yards, and at 6’1 220 pounds this powerful back has a nose for the endzone (10 touchdowns). Most of the offense is back for third-year head coach Jimbo Fisher which means that it’s a very easy bet Spiller will have at least a very similar sophomore season. There is a great opportunity for a breakout season here for this budding star.
13 carries. 153 yards. 2 touchdowns. Helluva game for true freshman Isaiah Spiller! pic.twitter.com/4bLc6lwh4g
— that SEC podcast (@thatSECpodcast) November 2, 2019
7. Zamir White/James Cook, Georgia
This admittedly is a bit low to see any Georgia running back considering how many great ones the program has seen recently. However, the Bulldogs lost four starters on the offensive line from last season. That normally spells bad news for any team’s rushing attack, but this is still Georgia we are talking about here. White was the top-ranked running back in his class, and James Cook is an experienced and talented upper-classman. These backs still make up one of the best stables in the SEC even if it may not be a huge year statistically for them.
8. Larry Rountree III, Senior, Missouri
Rountree is the “Perry Ellis” of SEC football. It truly seems like he has been in the conference for an eternity. Now almost 3,000 yards from scrimmage and 30 TD’s later, Rountree is prepping for his final swan song in Columbia. I wish I could rank him higher on this list, but the offense only has three other starters returning and it’s the first season under new coach Eli Drinkwitz. Rountree will be remembered at Missouri much fonder than this ranking shows.
Most important traits for RB are vision, feet, & burst and @MizzouFootball RB Larry Rountree III ranks among best in ‘21 draft in all three areas. His numbers took a dip last year due to 3-man rotation but Rountree ran for 1,216 yards as soph in the SEC.?#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE pic.twitter.com/bluSgQ8fPN
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) July 13, 2020
9. John Emery, Sophomore, LSU
Similar to everything that has to do with LSU football in 2020, this is a bit of a guess. With the exception of a few players, almost everyone left for the NFL in the spring. Emery was the third-ranked running back in his recruiting class for a reason, though. He really does have that level of talent. I’m not certain what his numbers will look like this season, but expecting him to replicate what Edwards-Helaire did is unfair. Nevertheless, expect a solid season from Emery.
10. Eric Gray/Ty Chandler, Tennessee
Things are looking bright in Knoxville with both of these highly-touted backs returning. They were both ranked in the top 10 at their position in their respective recruiting classes and both averaged right at five yards a carry last season. The offensive line is incredibly experienced with nine different players having started at least two games. Expect another good season from both players in 2020.
11. Lorenzo Lingard, Sophomore, Florida
Gone is last season’s leading rusher in Lamical Perine. With Kyle Trask expecting to take another leap forward under center, the passing attack will be the major focus on offense for the Gators. This leaves Lingard to take over duties on the ground. He was ranked as one of the best recruits in his class, but he didn’t get to see the field all that much playing for Miami in 2019. After his transfer to Florida, it’s unclear just how productive he will be, but the talent is definitely here.
— Hudl (@Hudl) December 11, 2017
12. Shaun Shivers/DJ Williams/Tank Bigsby, Auburn
Much like with the Gators, the Tigers lost their leading rusher from last season so they need someone to step up this fall. This will be done by committee as Shivers and Williams both return after combining for almost 700 yards last season. Bigsby is a very promising true freshman who may see his workload increase as the season goes on. It just doesn’t feel like the running game will be as important to Auburn’s success as Bo Nix’s continued development will be.
13. Zaquandre White/Marshawn Lloyd, South Carolina
In case you are sensing a theme here, the Gamecocks have to replace their leading rushers from 2019 with a few backs who don’t have a ton of experience right now. White is a JUCO transfer who initially went to Florida State and Lloyd is a highly-touted true freshman. A dominant season from either of these players seems like another year away from happening.
14. Jamauri Wakefield, Senior, Vanderbilt
Gone is star Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Wakefield is the favorite to replace the now Tampa Bay Buccaneer after he missed all of 2019 due to injury. Vandy’s offense across the board is lacking talent and depth at the moment so this ranking is more of an indictment of the Commodores than of Wakefield.