Before the 2016 football season began, many thought the SEC was going to be all about it’s star running backs. LSU’s Leonard Fournette was expected to be the Heisman front-runner. Georgia’s Nick Chubb had healed up and was prepared to carry the Bulldogs. Jalen Hurd had star potential written all over him in Tennessee. Fast forward to 2017, and none of those names really headlined, at least not in the way we expected.
Fournette didn’t really live up to expectations, Chubb struggled while sharing carries with Michel, and Hurd completely disappeared from college football. As one ESPN writer posted this week, “something else happened: A lot of names that weren’t nationally known turned in impressive seasons running the football, and many of them are back for 2017.”
According to ESPN’s Kahn Jr., 2017 will be the real year of the running back in the SEC.
This fall, the running backs with the top five rushing totals in the conference in 2016 all return and eight of the top 10 are back. And several of these young backs are just getting started.
The top 5 returning rushers, in order of rushing yards last season, are as follows:
Derrius Guice, LSU – 1,387 yards
Rawleigh Williams III, Arkansas – 1,360 yards
Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt – 1,283 yards
Kamryn Pettway, Auburn – 1,224 yards
Nick Chubb, Georgia – 1,130 yards
Can you guess who was 6th in rushing yards returning? That’s right, Benny Snell, Jr!
Snell rushed for 1,091 yards and tied for 2nd in touchdowns among SEC running backs (13). With Boom and Jojo moving on from UK, it opens up a lot more carries for Benny to showcase his talents. Don’t be surprised if Snell passes the 1,300 yard mark next season. Based off of his freshman performance, of which he didn’t take a snap until week 3, it’s safe to assume he would’ve had almost 1,300 yards in 2016. That’s only with 186 carries last year, which you can expect to go up a lot in the Fall.
Had Boom decided to return to UK, Williams would’ve been 5th in yards returning, just ahead of Georgia’s Nick Chubb.
The stats don’t lie. On paper, 2017 looks like it could be a huge year for running backs in the SEC. Fortunately for Kentucky, we have one of the SEC’s best in the back field. It’ll be football time in the bluegrass before we know it.