We continue our preseason look at position groups in the SEC with the bell cow bruisers. The gridiron grinders.
The running backs.
1. LSU: OK, this was easy. LSU has the country's best player in Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Behind him, Derrius Guice, who rushed for 436 yards and three touchdowns last season, could start for a lot of SEC teams, and there is pretty good depth with junior Darrel Williams and sophomore Nick Brossette.
2A. Georgia: It sounds like Nick Chubb is getting very close to getting back to his old self after that devastating knee injury last year. But the former Heisman Trophy contender's backup, Sony Michel, is a mystery after breaking his left arm in early July. The hope is that both will play in the opener, and when both are healthy, they are 1,000-yard rushers. Backup Brendan Douglas has more than 700 career yards, and keep an eye on freshman Elijah Holyfield, who could get meaningful snaps this season.
2B. Tennessee: Jalen Hurd might be the best back in the country no one really talks about. He has 2,187 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons. The shifty Alvin Kamara provides a nice change-of-pace with his speed and athleticism, and hit nearly 700 yards and had seven touchdowns last season. Sophomore John Kelly also showed a lot of breakaway ability this spring.
4. Alabama: There is a lot of hype surrounding Bo Scarbrough, but if he's as good as advertised, the Crimson Tide will be in fine shape. Though, he has just 18 carries, two knee injuries, and a broken ankle in his past. Damien Harris has just 46 career carries, but can't be overlooked, and incoming freshman B.J. Emmons was the No. 1-rated high school running back last year. He will have every chance to contribute this fall.
5. Kentucky: Stanley Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp aren't exactly household names, but they combined for 1,410 yards last season, and Kemp averaged 7.1 yards per carry. Mikel Horton rushed for 318 yards last fall. All three have looked good in camp, and freshman Benny Snell is pushing for the third spot.
6. Florida: Junior college standout Mark Thompson has a slight edge at the No. 1 spot, but sophomores Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett are right on his heels. Thompson, who has drawn physical comparisons to Heisman winner Derrick Henry, had a strong end to the spring. Cronkrite and Scarlett combined for 338 yards on 78 carries last season. Freshman Lamical Perine, the brother of Oklahoma's Samaje Perine, should get carries, too.
7. Arkansas: Though injuries plagued this position in the spring, head coach Bret Bielema feels pretty good about this unit. Thousand-yard backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are gone, but Rawleigh Williams III (254) is completely healthy following a neck injury, and word out of Fayetteville is that he could have a special season. Kody Walker (644 career yards) should get five to 15 carriers per game, and freshman Devwah Whaley has the talent to be a 500-yard back this fall.
8. Vanderbilt: Ralph Webb is the offense. He has 2,059 yards and nine touchdowns in two seasons. However, there isn't much experience behind him. Dallas Rivers is next on the depth chart, along with former linebacker Khari Blasingame. Both have impressed this fall and will spend time at fullback, too. Josh Crawford and Jaire George, the son of NFL great Eddie George, provide needed depth.
9. Auburn: In the spring, we had the Tigers fourth on our list. Since then, top backs Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas have departed, leaving this position very green. Shifty sophomore Kerryon Johnson (208 yards), is presumed to benefit the most from their exits. Fullback/H-back Kamryn Pettway is a load to take down at 240 pounds, and Chandler Cox is a very instinctive fullback. Freshman Malik Miller is a good downhill runner, and classmate Kam Martin has very good speed. Still, Johnson is the only player with any collegiate carries.
10. Texas A&M: Many have their eyes on Oklahoma transfer Keith Ford, but he missed part of spring with an ankle injury and hasn't clinched the starting spot. Junior James White (196 yards) has every-down-back size, but isn't that explosive, and redshirt freshman Kendall Bussey is back from a knee injury. Early enrollee Trayveon Williams showed exciting ability in space this spring. Walk-on Kwame Etwi had a solid spring game. The contenders are pretty even heading into this weekend's scrimmage.
11. Ole Miss: Head coach Hugh Freeze finally has a group of bigger backs to work with, and senior Akeem Judd (421 yards) has what it takes to be a solid lead back. However consistency with him and Jordan Wilkins (379 yards) has been an issue. But the special talent could be in redshirt freshman Eric Swinney, who gives the Rebels size (210 pounds) and speed.
12. Mississippi State: Brandon Holloway, though small, has big-play ability and led the running backs with 413 yards but had zero rushing touchdowns. We just don't know how much upside he has. Aeris Williams' solid spring has carried over to the fall, but he rushed for just 216 yards last season. Ashton Shumpert has yet to put things together in the backfield. Redshirt freshman Nick Gibson might have the most upside, despite his inexperience. Expect a committee approach, again.
13. Missouri: The Tigers are thin and inexperienced here. Junior Ish Witter led the team with 518 rushing yards last season, and he was more physical this spring. The losses of Chase Abbington and Morgan Steward mean junior college transfer Natetreace Strong will have to step up immediately. Oklahoma transfer Alex Ross, who had 786 yards and five touchdowns over two seasons, could make a major impact, too. Ryan Williams and Shaun Conway provide depth, as does freshman Damarea Crockett. Sophomore Trevon Walters was dismissed after he was charged with one count of stealing, a felony, and two counts of fraudulent use of a credit or debit device, both misdemeanors.
14. South Carolina: Without Brandon Wilds, the Gamecocks have a major hole at running back. David Williams, who rushed for 299 yards, left spring as the clear leader, but A.J. Turner, who is a speedier, more elusive back, overtook the No. 1 spot during fall camp. Williams is still fighting for that top spot, but he's had consistency and effort issues. Rod Talley and Darius Paulk have also received first-team reps.