UT's top tailbacks

Comparing players at any position is a risky proposition. That's especially true at the tailback position because so many variables routinely come into play. For instance: How good was his offensive line?

How productive was he against quality opponents?

How much help did he get from his team's passing game?

How dependable was he on fourth-and-one?

How fumble-prone was he?

How much of a threat was he as a receiver out of the backfield?

I've tried to consider these factors in ranking Tennessee's best tailbacks of the 1964-2004 time frame. That's why you may find some of my picks surprising. What follows are picks 6-10:

10. JOHNNIE JONES: After two quiet seasons, the pride of Munford exploded with 1,116 rushing yards as a junior and 1,290 as a senior in 1984. Jones ran with excellent body lean, good vision and tremendous heart. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry as a junior, 5.6 as a senior, and consistently got yards after the first hit.

9. CURT WATSON: Watson was neither nifty nor shifty, but tackling him was like stopping a barrel rolling downhill. He lacked breakaway speed – the longest run of his career was 49 yards – but Watson was good for three, four, five yards just about every time he got the ball. Third and one? Automatic. Fourth and inches? Forget about it. Remarkably consistent, he ran for 807 yards as a sophomore, 791 as a junior and 766 as a senior. His 2,364 yards ranks seventh on UT's career list.

8. TRAVIS STEPHENS: Proving that "Good things come to those who wait," Stephens waited four years until Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry departed, then made his mark. After rushing for just 872 yards prior to 2001, he set school records for attempts (291) and net yards (1,464) as a senior. At 5-8 and 180 pounds, he was considered too small to be durable, yet he tied the school record with 41 rushes against Arkansas in '01.

7. JAY GRAHAM: An imposing blend of size, speed and power, Graham had no moves but didn't seem to need any. He was amazingly productive as a junior, rushing 272 times for 1,438 yards and 12 touchdowns. Because of his raw speed, he was a home run threat on every carry. He broke a 79-yard run against Alabama as a senior and a 75-yarder vs. the Tide as a junior. His 2,609 career yards rank sixth on UT's career rushing list.

6. REGGIE COBB: This native Knoxvillian appeared destined to rewrite UT's record book after rushing for 1,197 yards and a school-record 17 touchdowns in 1987. An injury limited him to 547 yards in '88, however, and he was dismissed from the team in '89. At the time of his dismissal he had 616 yards and a 6.8 yards-per-carry average. He ranks eighth on UT's all-time list with 2,360 career yards.

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