One season after running backs were the top two players in the SEC, it should come as no surprise that the position looks to be on track for another big year in the nation’s best conference.
Four of the SEC’s nine 1,000-yard rushers last season are returning in 2016, and there’s bound to be a surprise player or two to add their name to that list this fall.
So who will be the next guy to draw comparisons to former SEC great such as Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Alabama’s Derrick Henry or Auburn’s Tre Mason? Let’s take a look at who we think will rack up more than 1,000 yards in 2016.
Nick Chubb, Georgia
Obviously, Chubb, who is recovering from a knee injury that ended his season last year, must return to action at full strength, or close to it, to hit this mark. There’s been some scuttlebutt about when Chubb is likely to return, but as of now, no one knows for sure.
If he’s back to being the player we’ve seen throughout his career, there’s no reason to think he won’t get to 1,000 yards, even if he does miss a few games at the start of the season. Chubb, who totaled 747 yards in six games last season, averaged 124.5 yards per game in 2015.
Leonard Fournette, LSU
If there’s any gimme to be had on this list, it’s Fournette. He’s an early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards last season and averaged 162.8 yards per game.
With LSU’s continued struggles at quarterback, there’s no reason to think Fournette won’t get ample opportunities each week to rack up plenty of yards, and if you’re Tigers coach Les Miles, why would you put the ball in anyone else’s hands?
Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
Another shoe-in to eclipse 1,000 yards this season is Hurd. The junior rushed for 1,288 yards last season, and there’s no reason to think Hurd can’t rack up at least that many yards this fall.
Tennessee has a ton of talent returning on the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Joshua Dobbs. That alone should be a good sign that teams won’t be able to stack the box to slow down Hurd’s rushing attack. Throw in the fact that Dobbs can keep opposing front sevens on their heels with his ability to tote the rock, and it’s easy to see why Hurd is destined for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Jovon Robinson, Auburn
One player who did not rush for 1,000 yards last season that should reach the milestone in 2016 is Robinson. The senior had just 639 yards on the ground in 2015, but the Auburn offense should revolve around Robinson much more this fall.
Peyton Barber left early for the NFL, and it was recently announced that Roc Thomas was leaving the Tigers’ football program. That leaves Robinson as the go-to guy for Gus Malzahn’s run-based spread in 2016, so he should get plenty of opportunities to show he’s capable.
Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
There’s not much history in Scarbrough’s past on which to base this prediction other than the jersey he’ll be wearing every Saturday this fall. There are a ton of expectations for the 6-foot-2, 230-pound back who rushed for 104 yards last season. However, Scarbrough did average 5.8 yards per carry in 2015.
With Alabama’s question marks at quarterback, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin should rely on Scarbrough early and often while the Crimson Tide gets things figured out under center.
Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt’s offense hasn’t provided much during the last couple of seasons, but Webb has been a bright spot. The junior is another SEC player going for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Webb rushed for 1,152 yards last season and has totaled more than 2,000 rushing yards during his career with the Commodores. With plenty of question marks still surrounding Vanderbilt’s offense, Webb should get a big workload and rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2016.
Stanley “Boom” Williams, Kentucky
If 2015 was any indication, Williams is a prime candidate to reach the century mark on the ground this season. The 5-foot-9, 198-pound junior showed a ton of promise last season, as he racked up 855 yards in 10 games.
Williams, who suffered a couple injuries last season and did not participate in contact drills this spring, missed two games in 2015, so if he can put together a full season of good health, he should have the opportunity to amass enough yards to get him near the top of the SEC’s rushers.