Four Downs: Breaking down the best running backs the Kentucky Wildcats will face in 2016

In this edition of AllWildcats' "Four Downs," we take a closer look at four of the best running backs that Kentucky will face on the 2016 schedule, including one former Bluegrass State prep star who will be playing against the Big Blue.

1. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

One of the big reasons my many analysts believe the Volunteers could make a run at the SEC championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff this season is they feature the league's top backfield with Joshua Dobbs at quarterback and Hurd at tailback. An imposing physical specimen, Hurd measures at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds with the speed of a much smaller back. Simply put, he is a load, and opposing defensive backs do not like to see him coming around the corner with a full head of steam. As a sophomore, Hurd rushed for 1,288 yards (4.6 ypc) and 12 touchdowns. He also had 22 receptions for 190 yards and two more scores. Kentucky fans may recall him hurting the Cats with that aspect of his game last season, scoring on a 37-yard pass from Dobbs in UT's 52-21 win at Commonwealth Stadium.

2. Nick Chubb, Georgia

We come to expect a Georgia Bulldog to be on this list year in and year out. Chubb appeared ready to challenge guys like Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette for the Heisman Trophy in 2015, but a season-ending knee injury in Week 5 against Tennessee derailed his promising sophomore season. Although he played less than five full games, the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Chubb still had 747 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. He averaged an eye-popping 8.1 yards per carry. One can make a strong case that he deserves to be No. 1 on this list, but with lingering questions about how his knee will respond, we'll put him at No. 2 entering the season. The good news for UGA is that Chubb appears to have bounced back strong from his surgery and was a full-go on the first day of practice for the Bulldogs. He and Sony Michel (1,161 yards in 2015) will form arguably the most dangerous backfield tandem in the country. As a freshman in 2014, Chubb had 170 yards on only 13 carries against Kentucky. 

3. Mark Thompson, Florida

If you don't know who Thompson is yet, it shouldn't take long to find out. The Gators signed the nation's top-ranked junior college back out of Dodge City Community College in Kansas, and he's a sight to behold. The 6-foot-2, 242-pound bruiser (whose juco highlights are displayed above) may remind some fans of Alabama's Henry or former Auburn standout Brandon Jacobs, who later starred with the New York Giants. Last season at Dodge City, he rushed for 1,298 yards and 18 touchdowns. Defenses facing Florida will have to prepare for a much more physical running game. The Cats held the Gators to a modest 120 yards on 37 carries (3.2 ypc) a year ago in Florida's 14-9 victory at Commonwealth Stadium. It should be a much tougher challenge this season at The Swamp with Thompson on the other side of the line.

4. Damien Harris, Alabama

The former Berea (Ky.) Madison Southern standout broke fans' hearts across the Bluegrass State when he chose the Crimson Tide over the Cats. Next season, he'll have a chance to pour salt in the still-healing wound when UK travels to Tuscaloosa to face the defending national champions on Oct. 1. The 5-foot-11, 214-pound Harris played sparingly as a freshman, but with good reason. He was working behind a Heisman winner in Henry and another NFL draft pick in Kenyan Drake on the Alabama depth chart. He managed only 178 yards on 46 carries (3.4 ypc) in mop-up duty, but expect those numbers to grow this season behind a typically powerful Tide O-Line.


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