It is never too early to look forward to the next college football season. This series is going to look at the top returning SEC players at each position group ahead of the 2018 campaign.
Running back is always a position where the teams of the SEC excel. There is just so much talent in the local area – let along those star runners brought in from out of state – that the teams in the league can’t help but see success at the position. Again, there are a lot of star names headed for the NFL (Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, etc), but the next crop is equally as exciting and those players are ready to dominate.
Here are the best returning tailbacks in the SEC for the 2018 season:
Benny Snell – Kentucky
It is doubtful that anyone outside of the SEC could tell you that the league’s leading regular season rusher in 2017 played for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Snell is a two time 1,000 yard rusher and there is no reason to think that the Kentucky star won’t make it three seasons in a row hitting that mark in 2018. Last fall Snell rushed for 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns at 5.1 yards per carry. With many of the established backs having bolted for the NFL, Snell will be one of the most exciting playmakers in the entire league this coming fall.
The one issue Snell could have is overuse. Kentucky has no other options worthy of note at the position and there is always the worry that a workhorse back like Snell could wear down during his final college season.
Damien Harris – Alabama
Many thought that Damien Harris would be headed to the NFL after helping Alabama clinch the 2018 National Championship. Instead, the exciting back decided to return for his senior season, automatically upgrading the Crimson Tide’s loaded stable of running backs.
Harris split time in 2017 – primarily with the now departed Bo Scarbrough – but he still found time to post a 1,000-yard season. The back ran for exactly 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns at an impressive 7.4 yards per carry. Harris will have to split time again this fall, with Najee Harris expected to take much of the work Scarbrough vacated. Even so, the older Harris should still have a big season.
Trayveon Williams – Texas A&M
Williams was a victim of the shockingly bad offensive line play that Texas A&M suffered on a weekly basis in 2017. Even with a line opening no holes in front of him, Williams was able to rush for 798 yards and eight touchdowns at a clip of 4.6 yards per carry. Looking back to 2016, Williams was able to rush for 1,057 yards at 6.8 yards per carry, proving that if he doesn’t have to do all the work on his own he is an explosive and dangerous runner.
The big issue last season was the amount of runs for no gain or just a couple of yards that hampered Williams and the Aggies rushing attack. With a better year of blocking ahead, Williams should get back over the 1,000-yard mark in 2018.
Jordan Scarlett – Florida
Scarlett is the great unknown on this list, but signs point toward his viability to be one of the best backs in the entire SEC.
As a sophomore in 2016 he exploded onto the scene by rushing for 889 yards and six touchdowns at a rate of 5.0 yards per carry. His junior season was expected to be one where he eclipsed 1,000 yards, but his entire year was wiped out when he was mired in the credit card scandal that cost nine Gators their season. Scarlett has been allowed to rejoin the team for 2018 and he is a talented player who will now be playing with a chip on his shoulder because of what happened in 2017.
That is a combination that should excite Florida fans as they will now get to see the best of Scarlett leading a talented Gator’s rushing attack.
Aeris Williams – Mississippi State
Williams quietly put together a big season in 2017 as part of a Mississippi State team that didn’t live up to the preseason hype.
With QB Nick Fitzgerald struggling to replicate his form from 2016, more pressure was placed on the shoulders of Williams and the Bulldogs lead back delivered. He rushed for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns at 4.7 yards per carry, providing a backbone that the team could rely on when nothing else was working. The Bulldogs return their entire offensive backfield – in a sport when continuity is key – and the combination of Williams, Fitzgerald and sophomore RB Kylin Hill is going to be an issue for the rest of the SEC to deal with this fall.
If Williams can add more touchdowns to his game then he has a shot at being regarded as the best back in the league by the end of the season.
Other notable running backs: De’Andre Swift – Georgia, Najee Harris – Alabama, Larry Rountree III – Missouri, Kam Martin – Auburn, T.J. Hammonds – Arkansas, Ty Chandler – Tennessee, Khari Blasingame - Vanderbilt.