The 2016 season was supposed to be a huge one for SEC running backs.
LSU's Leonard Fournette was expected to dominate once again. Georgia's Nick Chubb was preparing for a triumphant return from a 2015 injury. Jalen Hurd was ready to explode for Tennessee, as his viral video from a treadmill suggested.
None of those things panned out quite as expected. But something else happened: A lot of names that weren't nationally known turned in impressive seasons running the football, and many of them are back for 2017.
Welcome to the real year of the running back in the SEC.
This fall, the running backs with the top five rushing totals in the conference in 2016 all return and eight of the top 10 are back. And several of these young backs are just getting started. Here's a look at the top returnees at the SEC's most stacked position, in order of 2016 rushing total:
Derrius Guice, LSU: Who knew it was going to be Guice, not Fournette, who led the SEC in rushing in 2016? That's what happened as the super sophomore finished with 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns on only 183 carries. You can bet that carry total will rise with Fournette gone. If Guice keeps his 7.58-yards-per-carry average up in his junior season, whew, look out.
Rawleigh Williams III, Arkansas: RW3's emergence wasn't a surprise. With Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams -- the Razorbacks' dynamic duo from 2014 and 2015 -- gone, Rawleigh Williams was ready to take over as the No. 1 back in an offense that emphasizes the traditional running game. The only question was whether he was going to be fully healthy following a neck injury in 2015. After 1,360 rushing yards (third in the league behind Guice and Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald) and 12 touchdowns, it's clear there were no ill effects slowing him down.
Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: Call him Mr. Reliable. No SEC running back has carried the football more in the past three seasons than Webb (739 carries); only Fournette (616) was even in shouting distance. Webb (1,283 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns in 2016) is back for his senior season, and if Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur continues to improve the way he did down the stretch in 2016 and forces defenses to respect the Commodores' passing attack, that could open up more lanes for Webb to improve on his 5.13 yards per rush.
Kamryn Pettway, Auburn: One of the SEC surprises of 2016, Pettway hit the 1,200-yard mark despite not logging a carry in four games. He averaged 138.7 rushing yards per game in SEC competition and finished with 1,224 rushing yards total. That number could rise if he can stay healthy all season.
Nick Chubb, Georgia: He's baaack. His junior season didn't go the way everyone envisioned, but he'll be back in 2017 in an effort to finish out his career on a stronger note. Still, Chubb had 1,130 yards (sixth among SEC running backs in 2016) and eight touchdowns. Not bad at all for a "down" year. If Georgia's offensive line can improve and Chubb's surgically repaired knee can hold up, perhaps he can inch closer to the form he showed as a freshman and sophomore.
Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky: As a freshman, Snell compiled 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns despite sharing a backfield with another 1,000-yard back (Stanley "Boom" Williams, who had 1,170). With Williams entering the draft and Jojo Kemp graduating, there are more carries to go around for Snell, who had 186 last year.
Damarea Crockett, Missouri: He set the Missouri freshman record with 1,062 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and gave the Tigers a real rushing threat, which was something they were missing in 2015. Crockett's 6.94-yards-per-carry average was third among SEC running backs with at least 100 carries (behind only Guice and Alabama's Damien Harris).
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M: Another one of the pleasant surprises in the conference, Williams was expected to have an impact but not necessarily as significant as he did. A true home run threat, Williams' top-end speed helped him average 6.78 yards per carry as he finished with 1,057 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. His 12-carry-per-game average in 2016 was lower than any other running back in the SEC's top 10 last season.
Other returnees to watch:
• Kerryon Johnson, Auburn: More elusive than the bruiser that Pettway is, Johnson rushed for 895 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns last year.
• Jordan Scarlett, Florida: Scarlett led the team in rushing as a sophomore (889 yards, six touchdowns) and should see an increase in carries in 2017.
• Sony Michel, Georgia: Like Chubb, he surprised many by deciding to come back for his senior season and should again help form a productive duo for the Bulldogs.
• Bo Scarbrough, Alabama: Maybe the most physically imposing back on this list, Scarbrough has the potential to be one of the SEC's best -- if he's healthy. He came on strong at the end of last season (at least 90 rushing yards in his final four games) but suffered a broken leg in the national championship game.