For the next few weeks leading to the start of the College Football season, I will be previewing different teams, players, and more from the SEC. This week I rank the top running back UNITS in the conference. This isn’t a ranking of the best individual running backs. Instead, this ranking is judging each team by their overall depth and talent at the position.
With the departure of Bo Scarbrough to the NFL, senior Damien Harris is now the leader for the Crimson Tide ground attack – which is great news for Alabama.
Scarbrough was indeed talented, but both Damien Harris and Najee Harris are better overall running backs. The fact that they will see considerably more carries this season is simply addition by subtraction for Alabama.
Last season Damien Harris notched over 1,000 yards rushing while also becoming the all-time leader at the school in yards per carry. That kind of career speaks for itself. I’m expecting a huge year from the Berea, KY product which could even include a Heisman candidacy.
However, don’t be surprised if Najee Harris steals the spotlight some this season. Like Damien, Najee was also the No. 1 running back in his class and for good reason. Also, who could forget the way he played in the National Championship game as a true freshman against the vaunted Georgia Bulldog defense?? As always, Nick Saban has an abundant of riches in the backfield.
Damien Harris the next Barry Sanders ? pic.twitter.com/wQwrXnECN8
— college football and nfl (@HoodieJ2) April 13, 2018
Personally, I think it’s completely unfair how Georgia loses both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and they will still manage to roll out D’Andre Swift this season.
Even with both Chubb and Michel running for over 1,200 rushing yards last year, Swift still managed to run for over 600 yards while averaging 7.6 yards per carry as a freshman in the SEC.
I expect Swift and Damien Harris to be two of the best running backs in the conference this year. In fact, I think it’s completely within reason to expect that Swift may get close to tripling his rushing total from last season. He honestly has that much talent.
D’Andre Swift has ALL the tools? pic.twitter.com/6Djh9HhSS0
— College Town™ (@CollegeT0wn) June 5, 2018
Behind Swift is an absolute stacked stable of backs. They also return Elijah Holyfield and welcome in freshmen Zamir White and James Cook. All three of these players were ranked in the top 10 in their classes at their position, and White was ranked as the No. 1 running back in this year’s class.
This kind of depth is truly special. It’s the deepest in the SEC, and if Swift had more experience and production to judge from then Georgia would be my No. 1 running back unit.
I know this ranking may upset Kentucky fans who were expecting UK to be either No. 1 or 2 on this list as Benny Snell has the best stats out of any running back in the conference returning from last season.
But just by looking at the depth and overall talent that both Georgia and Alabama have at the position, it’s obvious they have better units than the Wildcats do. It is just that simple.
However, Mark Stoops may just have the best starting running back not only in the SEC but in the entire country. Snell is on track to break a truckload of UK records this season and even some conference ones as well.
Simply put, Snell is the best running back in the history of the school and he should be selected in the first couple of rounds of the next NFL draft.
Benny Snell 71 yards to the house. Yowza. pic.twitter.com/QtBYn341ZE
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 8, 2017
Behind Snell is senior Sihiem King who I believe is underrated. He is extremely elusive and might even be faster than Snell. While other parts of his game need to improve, King is the definition of a dependable backup to an absolute workhorse.
After King, Kentucky’s depth at the position is pretty much a question mark which is why, despite having Snell, the Wildcats are below Georgia and Alabama.
This may be a surprising ranking to many considering just how disappointing the Gators were last season. However, expect Florida to be a team that will really surprise fans this season.
One area that will be a major strength for the Gators will be their ground game. It starts and ends with junior Jordan Scarlett. Scarlett has a bit of a troubled past as he was suspended last season, but as a freshman he managed to run for almost 1,000 yards while averaging five yards per carry.
Jordan Scarlett with the 33 yard touchdown run. pic.twitter.com/FwY4Eocj6g
— Mark Wheeler (@InsideTheGators) October 15, 2016
Add Scarlett back into the equation along with Lamical Perine and Malik Davis who each ran for over 500 yards last season and you have one of the most experienced tailback units in the conference.
Just in case injuries become an issue for this unit this season, the Gators also signed Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement in this year’s recruiting class. Both were considered among the top 20 running backs coming out of high school.
Florida finished 76th in rushing offense in all of college football last season. With the return of Scarlett and the addition of Mullen’s new offense expect that number to drastically improve in 2018.
5. Mississippi State
Question: After Benny Snell, who is the second leading rusher in the SEC returning from last season? Well in case you didn’t know, let me introduce you to Mississippi State’s Aeris Williams.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 22, 2017
Williams carried the ball 236 times last season for 1,107 yards. Even with quarterback Nick Fitzgerald getting the ball a ton on the ground, it’s crazy that Williams was depended upon that much.
Former head coach Dan Mullen knew exactly what kind of talent he had with Williams, however. Good things just happen when he has the ball. Expect an even bigger season in his senior year at Starkville.
Backing him up is Kylin Hill who notched five yards a carry last season as a highly touted freshman. Because Fitzgerald is coming off a gruesome injury, I expect that new Head Coach Joe Moorhead will run the ball primarily with Williams and Hill early in the season which means better numbers for both.