Although SEC offenses have become much more pass-reliant over the last few seasons, an offense with a legitimate rushing threat can really set itself apart.
However, most offenses that have the ability to keep a defense on its heels with a potent rushing attack rely heavily on veteran playmakers to get the job done. Still, some freshman have been able to step into the conference and rush for more than 1,000 yards in their debut season in the SEC.
Look at guys like Georgia’s Nick Chubb and LSU’s Leonard Fournette as examples of guys who took the league by storm just a couple years ago.
Heading into 2016, what SEC freshman have a chance to add their name to that list?
With a veteran group of running backs leading the charge in the conference, it’s going to be tough for any freshman to break through and get enough carries to reach that 1,000-yard plateau.
But everyone knows injuries happen and guys come out of nowhere, so let’s take a look at which freshman have the best shot to rush for 1,000 yards this season.
Elijah Holyfield, Georgia
Going into the fall, it’s hard to see freshman running back Elijah Holyfield getting many carriers with Chubb and Sony Michel ahead of him on the depth chart, but both veterans are coming off of injuries entering the season.
If either or both veterans have difficulty getting back into the fold following those injuries, Holyfield will undoubtedly get some opportunities to show what he can do. However, it’s hard to imagine a situation where the freshman running back will be featured enough to rack up 1,000 yards with two proven guys ahead of him on the depth chart.
Devwah Whaley, Arkansas
No one has to replace as much at running back as Arkansas. The Razorbacks lost Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams to the NFL draft, so there are plenty of carries to be had in Bret Bielema’s run-heavy offense.
Returning running backs Kody Walker and Rawleigh Williams look to pick up the load for the Arkansas offense, but an injury-filled past brings pause to those thinking the veterans can be the type of playmakers the Razorbacks had with Collins and Williams. However, freshman running back Devwah Whaley could be that next star for Arkansas.
The 2016 signee was among the best running back prospects in the country, and if he can make the adjustment to the SEC quickly, he’s got a chance to get many opportunities.
B.J. Emmons, Alabama
With Derrick Henry no longer in the mix, it looks like Bo Scarbrough will be the bell cow for Alabama’s offense this fall. It remains to be seen if Scarbrough can be as effective as Henry and other recent Crimson Tide ball carriers, but he’ll certainly get many opportunities.
However, freshman running back B.J. Emmons could also get into the fold, especially if Scarbrough has some trouble transitioning to being the go-to guy. Emmons certainly looks the part of a dominant SEC running back, and with the continued uncertainty surrounding Alabama’s situation at quarterback, Emmons could find himself getting more carriers than anyone thought.
Eric Swinney, Ole Miss
It would be a shock to everyone, even Hugh Freeze, if Ole Miss had a 1,000-yard rusher in 2016, but that doesn’t mean redshirt freshman running back Eric Swinney isn’t capable of achieving that mark. The Rebels’ pass-prone offense, which is led by the SEC top quarterback in Chad Kelly, should limit opportunities for any Ole Miss running back.
Swinney also has a depth chart in his way to prevent him from putting up a ton of yards this fall, as veterans Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins are back as reliable options for the Rebels. But coaches have raved about Swinney since he stepped on campus, and after sitting out 2015 with an injury, he’ll finally get a chance to show everyone what he’s all about.