ASSESSING THE RUNNING BACK POSITION IN THE SEC FOR 2020
FLORIDA: This is a position that could go from pretty good to outstanding if Miami transfer Lorenzo Lingard (a) receives a waiver to play immediately and (b) has recovered all of his speed after a knee injury in 2018. If he’s healthy and able to play, he’s a game-changer. Then there is the saga of the ever-elusive 5-star Zachary Evans (6-0, 200, Houston, TX North Shore), the one-time Georgia commit, who could very well be a Gator if they can ever get him on campus for an official visit. COVID-19 torpedoed his visit in March. It’s not like the running game is devoid of talent without those two although you have to wonder who’s going to be the receiver out of the backfield to pick up the slack from the graduated Lamical Perine, who will play on Sundays. Dameon Pierce (career 729 yards rushing, 6 TDs; 9-50 receiving, 1 TD) could be a workhorse between the tackles. Malik Davis (career 783 rushing yards, 3 TDs; 16-132 receiving) has to show he can (a) stay healthy and (b) regain the form that made him so explosive as a freshman (before he got hurt). It’s probably a make or break year for Iverson Clement and Nay’Quan Wright might find himself spending more time in the slot.
Returning: Dameon Pierce (5-10, 207, JR); Malik Davis (5-11, 195, RJR); Iverson Clement (5-11, 193, RSO); Nay’Quan Wright (5-9, 195, RFR)
Newbies: Lorenzo Lingard (6-0, 200, RSO)
ALABAMA: Alabama is the most stacked team at running back in the country, led by seniors Najee Harris (1,224 rushing yards, 13 TDs; 27-304 receiving, 7 TDs) and Brian Robinson Jr. (441 rushing yards, 5 TDs; 11-124 receiving). Harris and Robinson are one serious 1-2 punch. Redshirt freshman Trey Sanders was the top running back in the country coming out of high school, but he blew out his knee and had to redshirt in 2019. He will see the football if he’s back up to speed. Bama signed a pair of 4-stars in Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams, both ranked among the top 40 high school players in the nation.
Returning: Najee Harris (6-2, 230, SR); Brian Robinson Jr. (6-1, 226, SR); Keilan Robinson (5-9, 190, SO); Trey Sanders (6-0, 214, RFR)
Newbies: Jase McClellan (5-11, 202, FR); Roydell Williams (5-10, 202, FR)
ARKANSAS: There was good news and bad news for new head coach Sam Pittman. The good news was Rakeem Boyd (1,133 rushing yards, 8 TDs; 19-160 receiving) announced he’s returning. The bad news was the only other experienced back, Chase Hayden, transferred out. Making matters worse, T.J. Hammonds (65 rushing yards; 4-10 receiving) is suspended the first four games of 2020.
Returning: Rakeem Boyd (6-0, 213, SR); T.J. Hammonds (5-10, 190, SR)
Newbies: Dominique Johnson (6-1, 230, FR); Dominique Jackson (6-1, 205).
AUBURN: It will be interesting to see how the Auburn offense evolves under new coordinator Chad Morris, who ran wide open passing schemes as the head coach at Arkansas and before that at SMU. Whatever the scheme, Auburn will be running the ball without Bobbie Whitlow, who was dangerous and productive when healthy. When Whitlow got hurt last year, true freshman D.J. Williams (400 rushing yards, 2 TDs; 5-32 receiving) showed a lot of promise. Shaun Shivers (286 rushing yards, 3 TDs) is a make you miss, outside the tackles guy who should prove productive in the passing game. Freshman Tank Bigsby is expected to contribute immediately and perhaps surpass Williams as the starter.
Returning: D.J. Williams (5-10, 216, SO); Shaun Shivers (5-7, 179, JR); Harold Joiner (6-4, 215, SO)
Newbies: Tank Bigsby (6-0, 210, FR)
GEORGIA: Coming out of high school in 2018, Zamir White was the #1 high school running back in the country, but he was injured and took a redshirt. As D’Andre Swift’s caddy last year, White (408 rushing yards, 3 TDs) showed a lot of promise, especially in the Sugar Bowl when he ran for 92 yards against Baylor. The backups are James Cook (188 rushing yards, 2 TDs; 16-132 receiving) and Kenny McIntosh (174 rushing yards, 2 TDs). The job is White’s to lose but he will be pushed hard by incoming freshman Kendall Milton.
Returning: Zamir White (6-0, 215, RSO); James Cook (5-11, 190, JR); Kenny McIntosh (6-1, 210, SO)
Newbies: Kendall Milton (6-2, 215, FR); Daijun Edwards (5-10, 201, FR)
KENTUCKY: The Wildcats have quietly built up a stockpile of running backs that ranks as the second best group in the SEC behind Alabama. Senior AJ Rose (826 rushing yards, 6 TDs; 11-67 receiving) will be the featured back, but it will be a three-headed monster with Kavosiey Smoke (616 rushing yards, 6 TDs) and Chris Rodriguez Jr. (533 rushing yards, 6 TDs) getting their fair share of carries. Kentucky signed three running backs but HBC Mark Stoops likes to redshirt his backs so it’s doubtful any of them play unless there is an injury.
Returning: AJ Rose (6-1, 210, SR); Kavosiey Smoke (5-9, 225, RS); Chris Rodriguez Jr. (5-11, 224, RFR); Travis Tisdale (5-9, 175, RFR)
Newbies: Torrance Davis (6-2, 220, FR); Michael Drennen II (5-11, 196, FR); Jutah McClain (5-10, 180, FR)
LSU: Not only does LSU have to replace Heisman Trophy QB Joe Burrow and offensive guru Joe Brady, but the Tigers lost the most productive back in the nation in Clyde Edwards-Helaire (1,414 rushing yards, 16 TDs; 55-453, 1 TD receiving). Tyrion Davis-Price (295 rushing yards, 6 TDs; 10-74 receiving); John Emery Jr. (188 yards, 4 TDs; 6-60 rushing) and Chris Curry (186 rushing yards) have lots of talent (Emery was the nation’s #2 running back coming out of high school; Price #8; Curry #15) but they better stay healthy since LSU didn’t sign a running back in the 2020 recruiting cycle.
Returning: Tyrion Davis-Price (6-1, 226, SO); John Emery Jr. (6-0, 203, SO); Chris Curry (6-0, 215, RSO)
MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs switch to the Air Raid under Mike Leach, which means they might throw it 60 times a game but they will still run the ball. Kylin Hill (1,350 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns; 18-180, 1 TD receiving) is second only to Alabama’s Najee Harris as the league’s most complete returning back. He elected to come back for his senior year to show the pro scouts what he can do as an every down back. The backups are iffy. Freshman Jo’Quavious Marks will see the field a lot if he can catch the football.
Returning: Kylin Hill (5-11, 215, SR); Lee Witherspoon (5-10, 205, SO); Kareem Walker (6-2, 225, RJR)
Newbies: Jo’Quavious Marks (5-10, 190, FR)
MISSOURI: After seeing what new Mizzou HBC Eli Drinkwitz did with Darrynton Evans last year at Appalachian State (1,484 rushing yards, 18 TDs; 21-198 receiving, 5 TDs), Larry Rountree III (2,748 career rushing yards, 26 TDs; 32-179 receiving) must be licking his chops. Backup Tyler Badie (457 rushing yards, 3 TDs; 32-356 receiving, 5 TDs) is an excellent change of pace back who is terrific out of the backfield in the passing game. Dawson Downing is a serviceable backup (227 rushing yards, 1 TD) who can block.
Returning: Larry Rountree III (5-10, 210, SR); Tyler Badie (5-9, 190, JR); Dawson Downing (6-0, 225, SR); Simi Bakare (5-11, 205, JR)
Newbies: Elijah Young (5-9, 175, FR)
OLE MISS: Not only does new HBC Lane Kiffin inherit one of the nation’s most prolific running QBs in the country in John Rhys-Plumlee, but two sophomores with explosive potential in Jerrion Ealy (722 rushing yards, 6 TDs; 20-172 receiving, 1 TD) and Snoop Conner (512 rushing yards, 5 TDs; 6-60 receiving). Kiffin added an excellent make you miss type in freshman Henry Parrish out of Miami. Ole Miss might run the ball 70% of the time with this group.
Returning: Jerrion Ealy (5-9, 180, SO); Snoop Conner (5-10, 215, SO); Isaiah Woullard (5-9, 200, JR)
Newbies: Henry Parrish (5-10, 190, FR)
SOUTH CAROLINA: Will Muschamp scrapped the old offense and brought in former Colorado State HBC Mike Bobo, for years Mark Richt’s OC at Georgia, to start fresh. You might as well pencil in freshman MarShawn Lloyd as the starter from day one. He was the #5 running back among high school seniors in the nation last year. Muschamp also landed ZaQuandre Wright, the nation’s top juco running back. Kevin Harris (179 rushing yards, 4 TDs) is a tough runner between the tackles who will get carries.
Returning: Deshawn Fenwick (6-1, 230, RSO); Kevin Harris (5-11, 230, SO)
Newbies: MarShawn Lloyd (5-9, 211, FR); Rashad Amos (6-0, 213, FR); ZaQuandre Wright (6-1, 200, JR/Juco)
TENNESSEE: The Vols got a lot of productivity by splitting the carries between Ty Chandler (655 rushing yards, 3 TDs; 13-63 receiving); Eric Gray (539 yards rushing, 4 TDs; 13-115 receiving, 1 TD) and Tim Jordan (428 rushing yards, 1 TD; 6-46 receiving) last year. None of these guys are real breakaway threats but they move the chains and don’t fumble. There is no reason to believe things will be any different this year. Incoming freshmen Tee Hodge and Jabari Small will most likely redshirt.
Returning: Ty Chandler (5-11, 201, SR); Eric Gray (5-10, 195, SO); Tim Jordan (5-11, 203, SR)
Newbies: Tee Hodge (6-0, 216, FR); Jabari Small (5-10, 193, FR)
TEXAS A&M: When Jashaun Corbin (since transferred to FSU) went down in game two with an injury, Jimbo Fisher basically turned the running game over to freshman Isaiah Spiller (946 rushing yards, 10 TDs; 29-203 receiving). Backup duties were handled by Cordarrian Richardson (232 rushing yards, 4 TDs; 1-17 receiving, 1 TD), who came back after missing 2018 with an injury to average 9.28 per carry. Juco transfer Earnest Crownover will probably get some carries.
Returning: Isaiah Spiller (6-1, 220, SO); Cordarrian Richardson (6-0, 240, RJR)
Newbies: Devon Achane (5-9, 170, FR); Deondre Jackson (5-11, 211, FR); Earnest Crownover (6-1, 220, JR/Juco)
VANDERBILT: Situation grim. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is gone and so is the Vandy running game unless Jamauri Wakefield (353 yards in 2018) can bounce back from an injury in game one of last year. The most experience back from last year is Keyon Brooks (252 rushing yards, 1 TD; 16-57 receiving). None of these guys have anything close to the breakaway speed in the running game or the open field ability in the passing game of Vaughn.
Returning: Jamauri Wakefield (6-1, 220, RJR); Keyon Brooks (6-1, 202, SO); Ja’Veon Marlow (5-11, 190, RFR); J.R. Tran-Reno (6-1,200, RFR)
Newbies: Rocko Griffin (5-9, 187, FR)
RATING THE RUNNING BACKS BY POSITION IN THE SEC 1. Alabama
5. Ole Miss
7. Mississippi State
8. Texas A&M
12. South Carolina