While quarterback might not be an overall position of strength throughout the Southeastern Conference, it’s a different story at running back where the league has several of the best players in the country. With spring practice completed nearly everywhere in the SEC, here is a look at the running back position at all 14 schools:
Alabama: After two years as T.J. Yeldon’s sidekick, it’s Derrick Henry’s turn to be the #1 tailback. He has 1,372 yards (990 last year) and 14 touchdowns (11 last year) to show for his apprenticeship. He looks and runs like a clone of Eric Dickerson. Henry will share time with Kenyan Drake, injured last year and limited to only 112 yards but with 875 and 13 TDs in his first two years. With Bo Scarbrough injured in the spring game and likely to miss the entire 2015 season, incoming freshmen DeSherrius Flowers and Damien Harris will be part of the rotation.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks have the best 1-2 punch in the SEC and maybe the best in the nation in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, who both topped 1,000 yards last year. Williams, a senior, comes into the 2015 season with 2,321 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career, while Collins, a sophomore, has 2,126 and 16 touchdowns. They are perfect complements in an offense that runs 60% of the time. Kody Walker is a superb 250-pound blocker who has 7 career touchdowns in two years of goal line duty. Redshirt freshman Juan Day will be get some carries this year and incoming freshman Rawleigh Williams III is expected to redshirt. Auburn: Cameron Artis-Payne, who did a dandy job of replacing Tre Mason, is gone, leaving Auburn with a lot of talent but not a lot of experience. Roc Thomas, who gained 214 yards and 2 touchdowns last year as a freshman and Peyton Barber (54 yards as a freshman) are the two most experienced candidates. Juco transfer Jovon Robinson ran for 3,198 yards and 43 touchdowns in two years looked like the best of the bunch in the spring. He’s 230 pounds with breakaway speed and should tear it up in Gus Malzahn’s offense.
Florida: Kelvin Taylor has 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns in two years of part-time duty. He’ll enter the fall as the #1 running back. He hits the hole hard and runs well after contact but isn’t going to dazzle anyone with his speed. Adam Lane is a fireplug (5-7, 222) who had a great bowl game but hasn’t shown a lot of consistency. Then there are the two freshmen – Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkite – who both have better speed that either Taylor or Lane. What all this tells us is it’s liable to be running back by committee until one of the four takes command of the number one job in the fall.
Georgia: If not for Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, people would probably be anointing Nick Chubb as the best running back in the country for 2015. All he did was gain 1,547 yards and score 14 touchdowns as a true freshman last year and that was with only eight starts. He’ll be backed up by explosive Sony Michel, who gained 410 yards and scored 5 touchdowns as Chubb’s caddy last year and if Keith Marshall is finally healthy (1,029 yards and 9 touchdowns in 3 years of battling injuries) then Georgia will match its best three runners with the best three anywhere in the country. Fullback Quayon Hicks is a 257-pound load who makes the most of his carries in goal line and short yardage situations. With Georgia’s uncertainty at quarterback this year, figure it’s going to be a 60-40 or 65-35 run/pass split, so all three tailbacks and Hicks will get plenty of carries.
Kentucky: Three of Kentucky’s four leading runners return from last year so there is confidence the ground game will be improved. Stanley “Boom” Williams (486 yards, 5 TDs), JoJo Kemp (323 yards, 4 TDs) and Mikel Horton (306 yards, 2 TDs) all had their moments last year. Williams has the most speed while Kemp is the most versatile. There were games when he seemed impossible to stop when he ran wildcat. Horton is 234 pounds and strong between the tackles. Incoming freshman Sihiem King is a scatback who should be able to help in the passing game. The Wildcats want a 50-50 run/pass ratio from a shotgun spread formation with multiple personnel packages so the carries will probably be split up among Williams, Kemp and Horton once again. LSU: At some point you expect Leonard Fournette to win a Heisman Trophy. He gained 1,034 yards and scored 10 touchdowns as a true freshman last year in LSU’s running back by committee approach and while he will get more carries this year, Darrel Williams (302 yards, 3 TDs as a freshman in 2014) is going to get his share of carries and incoming freshman David Ducre is so talented they’re going to make him a fullback who does more than just block. Incoming freshman Nick Brossette might be too good to redshirt. Sooner or later, however, Les Miles is going to give the ball to Fournette and let him take the team on his back. When he gets those 230 pounds going at full speed he bears a strong resemblance to that Herschel guy who played at Georgia 30-something years ago.
Mississippi State: Josh Robinson and his 1,203 yards went early to the NFL but Dan Mullen isn’t sweating because (a) his quarterbacks can all run the ball and (b) he really loves last year’s backup running backs Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert. Holloway (294 yards, 1 TD last year) is a 160-pound speed back who gives people fits when State goes outside with the option while Shumpert (274 yards, 2 TDs last year) is a 218-pound load who is as comfortable running between the tackles or turning the corner. Mullen loves his three incoming freshmen, especially Nick Gibson, who ran for 3,492 yards and scored 42 touchdowns his junior and senior seasons in Alabama prep football. Gibson had committable offers from Alabama, Arkansas and Florida State but he picked Mississippi State instead. Redshirt freshman Dontavian Lee makes this a very crowded backfield that is the deepest in the SEC.
Missouri: Russell Hansbrough gave the Tigers 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns last year while splitting time with Marcus Murphy. Murphy is gone but there isn’t much in the way of talent or experience backing up Hansbrough this year, so help will probably have to come from Chase Abbington, who signed with Mizzou in 2013 but had to go the juco route, and true freshman Natreace Strong. Abbington ran for 842 yards and Hutchinson Community College as a freshman in 2013 but took a redshirt to preserve three years of eligibility at Mizzou. He’s a 220-pound back who’s comfortable inside or outside. Strong picked Mizzou over Ohio State, Michigan State and FSU.
Ole Miss: The hope is that Jordan Wilkins (419 yards, 8.1 per carry, 1 TD in 2015) is ready to be the every down running back. Jaylen Walton (1,227 yards, 12 TDs in his career) has great speed and he can catch the ball (51-585, 5 TDS in his career), but he’s more of a situational and third down guy. Backups Eugene Brazley (128 yards as a redshirt freshman) and incoming freshman Eric Swinney are both speed guys and not the types you want running between the tackles. There is a reason why Hugh Freeze is figuring out ways to inject a running quarterback into the offense and it has everything to do with the need for an every down tailback.
South Carolina: Mike Davis took his 2,440 career yards and 22 touchdowns to the NFL, but Steve Spurrier likes the 1-2 punch he has returning in Brandon Wilds (570 yards, 4 TDs last year; 1,277 yards, 10 TDs career) and third year sophomore David Williams (256 yards, 2 TDs in 2014). The 225-pound Wilds is extremely efficient in short yardage situations and running between the tackles, while Williams (220 pounds) has that extra gear once he gets into the secondary. There is also versatile Shon Carson, who handles the kick returns but averaged 7.8 yards on limited carries last year. Spurrier likes incoming freshman A.J. Turner, who turned down Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin to sign with the Gamecocks. Turner has go the distance speed and should prove to be a very good receiver out of the backfield. The South Carolina running game will also benefit from wide receiver Pharoh Cooper (200 yards last year), who carries on jet sweeps and is extremely difficult to stop in the wildcat. Tennessee: Butch Jones thinks he has thunder and lightning in sophomore Jalen Hurd (899 yards, 5 TDs as a true freshman) and juco transfer Alvin Kamara (1,211 yards, 18 TDs at Hutchinson Community College last year). The 230-pound Hurd is the hammer between the tackles while Kamara is the breakaway back. Beyond those two, there is talent but a lot of inexperience. Of the two freshman signees, John Kelly seems most prepared to step in and play a backup role immediately.
Texas A&M: The Aggies have three senior running backs who are all good runners, but none of the three has ever established himself as an every down SEC back. The best of the three is Tra Carson (581 yards, 5 TDs last year; 910 yards, 12 TDs career) while Trey Williams (560 yards last year, 7 TDs, 6.9 per carry; 1,343 yards, 18 TDs career) has the most speed. Brandon Williams (379 yards, 3 TDs last year; 648 yards, 4 TDs career) is the third of this running back by committee. Kevin Sumlin has two highly regarded incoming freshmen in Jay Bradford and Kendall Bussey but neither one has the kind of size you need to be an every down back in the SEC.
Vanderbilt: There is zero in the way of experienced depth behind starter Ralph Webb (907 yards, 4 TDs as a redshirt freshman last year) and Dallas Rivers (218 yards, 2 TDs as a true freshman). Of the two incoming freshmen there is a concern that Dare Odeyingbo (6-1, 240) may outgrow running back and Josh Crawford lacks the kind of speed to get to the second level.
Rating the running back position in the SEC:
5. Mississippi State
9. Texas A&M
10. Ole Miss
12. South Carolina
Rating the top five running backs in the SEC:1. Nick Chubb, Georgia 2. Leonard Fournette, LSU 3. Derrick Henry, Alabama 4. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas 5. Alex Collins, Arkansas
That is what you call the time between January 1 and spring football and the time after spring football until football starts again in August. For some reason, most college sports arrests occur during that time.
In the last 21 days, two Florida football players have made headlines for reasons other than football. Chris Thompson had a complaint filed against him woman on April 1 although the complaint was subsequently dropped on April 15. Back on Saturday, J.C. Jackson was arrested and charged with three counts of robbery with a weapon. He’s out on $150,000 bail. The charges against Thompson and Jackson equaled the entire number of charges against football players in all of 2014. Since August 3, 2010, arrestnation.com documents 20 arrests or charges against football players. If you add in the other sports, since January there have been five Florida athletes arrested: baseball players A.J. Puk and Kirby Snead, women’s basketball player Antoinette Bannister and Thompson and Jackson. Since August 3, 2010, there have been 32 Florida athletes arrested or charged, tying UF with Georgia for the top position in the Southeastern Conference.
Football arrests/charges in the SEC since 2010:
1. (Tie) Georgia 22 (Latest in 2014)
1. (Tie) Texas A&M, 22 (Latest March 10)
3. Missouri, 21 (Latest in 2014)
4. Florida 20 (Latest last Saturday)
5. (Tie) Tennessee, 19 (Lastest March 25)
5. (Tie) Ole Miss (Latest January 22)
7. Kentucky, 18 (Latest in 2014)
8. Alabama, 17 (Latest March 31)
9. Arkansas, 14 (Latest February 22)
10. Auburn, 12 (Latest in 2014)
11. (Tie) LSU 10, (Latest in 2014)
11. (Tie) Mississippi State, 10 (Latest March 13)
13. South Carolina, 9 (Latest in 2014)
14. Vanderbilt, 3 (Latest in 2014)
Total arrests/charges all sports SEC since 2010:
1. (Tie) Florida 32: baseball 3; women’s basketball 2; men’s basketball 3; football 20; women’s swimming 2; men’s track and field 2
2. (Tie) Georgia 32: baseball 4; men’s basketball 3; men’s cross country 1; football 22; golf 1; women’s soccer 1
3. Missouri 30: athletic department 1; baseball 1; men’s basketball 6; football 21; volleyball 1
4. Ole Miss 25: men’s basketball 6; football 19
5. Texas A&M 23: women’s basketball 1; football 22
6. (Tie) Arkansas 21: baseball 4; women’s basketball 1; football 14; women’s track and field 2
6. (Tie) Kentucky 21: men’s basketball 3; football 18
8. Tennessee 20: men’s basketball 1; football 19
9. Alabama 19: men’s basketball 1; football 17; men’s track and field 1
10. Auburn 15: men’s basketball 2; football 12, lacrosse 1
11. LSU 13: baseball 3; football 10
12. Mississippi State 12: men’s basketball 2; football 10
13. South Carolina 11: baseball 2; football 9
14. Vanderbilt 3: football 3
Other Division I programs in the state of Florida:
Do you think Kelvin Taylor will hold onto the #1 tailback job or will he be surpassed by Adam Lane or one of the freshmen?
Driving home today I caught the last half of one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs, “Homeward Bound” and when I couldn’t get that song out of my head, I had to play the entire album. I’ve been listening to that album since next door neighbor John Henegan loaned me his copy back in the fall of 1966 during my family’s three-year exile to Mississippi. One of my favorite cuts on the album never got a second of airplay on the radio, but I’ve always loved “A Poem on the Underground Wall” for some reason. The whole album is worth sharing.