SEC Preseason Position Rankings: Running Backs
We’re going to tell you upfront. This is a trick question.
According to the Southeastern Conference, which goes by yards per game, who led the league in rushing last season?
It wasn’t Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill, as widely believed.
It wasn’t LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who had the most rushing yards by a running back, with 1,414 in 15 games.
It wasn’t Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden, who ended up at quarterback for eight games had the most overall rushing yards (1,468) as Kentucky topped the conference in rushing yards.
It was Ole Miss freshman John Rhys Plumlee. He only played in nine games, but averaged 113.7 rushing yards, to edge Bowden’s 112.9.
He finished eighth in the nation, and set the Ole Miss freshman rushing record with 1,023 yards as well as total touchdowns with 16 (four passing, 12 rushing). During his first career start at Alabama completed 10-of-28 passes for 141 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, plus ran in a score and had 25 carries for 109 yards The Crimson Tide still won 59-31.
(Incidentally, have you seen the Ole Miss schedule? Lane Kiffin’s team is slated to open against Baylor in Houston, and after hosting Southeast Missouri has the murder’s row of Auburn, LSU and Alabama.)
That kind of tells you how running backs are being used in the SEC. The defensive linemen and linebackers are so big and so fast that only a few teams try and play power football. Thus only a handful of running backs topped the 1,000-yard mark in 2019.
Alabama’s Najee Harris was one of them, and will not only be playing behind a stacked offensive line this season, but a loaded backfield. Brian Robinson Jr. is also back along with dynamic Trey Sanders, who missed all of 2019 due to a knee injury. What’s more, Nick Saban added three more top-end running backs in his latest recruiting class.
Hill made a lot of offseason news by declaring he would play if the state flag continued to include the canton of the Confederate battle flag. It was retired on June 30. It’ll be interesting to see how new coach Mike Leach utilizes him, but a stat to remember is Hill has not fumbled since his sophomore year of high school.
The guess here is that Zamir White will be in the initial starter for Georgia, but he’s already endured two ACL injuries. The guy to watch is Kendall Milton.
Players who have to be mentioned are Isaiah Spiller of Texas A&M, Rakeem Boyd of Arkansas, and Dameon Pierce of Florida.
As a true freshman, Spiller tallied 946 rushing yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. He should be pushed by newcomer Devon Achane.
Boyd had 1,133 rushing yards and should be a bigger part of the offense under new head coach Sam Pittman.
Pierce is simply tough to bring down and has a lot of potential.
SEC Preseason Rankings
(Top half only)
2. Mississippi State
4. Texas A&M
This is the seventh and final story in a series previewing SEC position groups for the 2020 season.