Editor’s note: We are counting down the top five 2017 SEC recruits at each position. Previous installments: Quarterbacks.
In this installment, we are looking at one of the conference’s signature position groups: running backs.
Only three running backs have won the Heisman Trophy since 2000. Two of those players were from the SEC in Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015). The next great SEC running back could be in this class.
While this list already boasts several top players, there is significant upside remaining. Three of the top six running backs remain uncommitted, with each considering multiple SEC schools.
*Note: All rankings are from the 247 Composite rankings.
Najee Harris, Alabama
Overall ranking: 1
National RB ranking: 1
The skinny: If you don’t know the name Najee Harris, learn it now. The California recruit is ranked the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2017, and for good reason. As a junior, Harris rushed for 2,744 yards and 39 touchdowns for Antioch High School.
Harris is just the second running back to be ranked No. 1 overall since 2008 and fifth overall since the inception of the 247 Composite rankings. Fans are seeing how one of those players, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, has revitalized a program. Harris has that kind of ability.
Depth chart: Harris is committed to the University of Alabama, which means competition at the running back position will be tight — assuming he signs with the Tide. Touted RB Bo Scarbrough will take over this season, which should give Harris a buffer year. But come 2018, it will be difficult to keep this man off the field.
Brian Robinson, Alabama
Overall ranking: 169
National RB ranking: 12
The skinny: Yes, Alabama has the top two committed 2017 running backs in the SEC. 4-star RB Brian Robinson won’t have to go very far to get to school. He goes to Hillcrest in Tuscaloosa, Ala., just seven miles away from Bryant-Denny Stadium.
While he may get more attention for being a hometown kid, Robinson can play. Even through his commitment, Auburn and Georgia are chasing Robinson. But as Robinson told SEC Country, playing for Alabama has been a lifelong dream.
Depth chart: While going to Alabama might be a dream come true for the hometown kid, getting on the field will be a battle. The aforementioned Scarbrough and Harris will eat up carries the next five seasons. Damien Harris, another former 5-star signee, could be a true junior when Robinson arrives on campus. One would imagine that Bama will add another talented back or two in the 2018 class. But Robinson could find a niche in the rotation.
Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
Overall ranking: 180
National RB ranking: 15
The skinny: By landing a commitment from elite RB Kylin Hill last month, Mississippi State pulled its highest-rated player in its 2017 class. An in-state product, Hill rushed for 1,750 yards and 18 touchdowns on 8.7 yards per carry last season for Columbus (Miss.) High School. He is regarded as a powerful runner, which should serve him well in Dan Mullen’s system.
Depth chart: Mississippi State has a fairly open power offense, but the Bulldogs struggled to pound the ball last season. QB Dak Prescott was the leading rusher with 588 yards, as the leading running back posted only 413.
Come 2017, expected starter Brandon Holloway will have graduated and the position will be open. If he can continue to improve his strength, Hill is the kind of prospect who could potentially play right away in Starkville, Miss.
Travis Etienne, Texas A&M
Overall ranking: 323
National RB ranking: 23
The skinny: There are impressive rushing seasons, and then there is what Travis Etienne did during his junior season at Jennings (La.). The LSWA Class 3A Offensive MVP rushed for 2,938 yards and 50 touchdowns against a schedule that included nine playoff teams.
Since his monster season, Etienne’s profile has exploded. The 2017 recruit now fields offers from Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee, among many others.
Depth chart: Texas A&M has struggled to establish the run under Kevin Sumlin, but transfer Keith Ford is expected to take over the next two years. That could be a perfect situation for Etienne to come in and learn.
Additionally, the Aggies added heralded running back Trayveon Williams in the class of 2016, who should factor in immediately to the running game. Kwame Etwi and Kendall Bussey have even excited some folks in College Station — two players with lots of eligibility remaining. However, Etienne is talented enough to get on the field quickly.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU
Overall ranking: 393
National RB ranking: 27
The skinny: LSU coach Les Miles puts a premium on keeping in-state players at home, and the Tigers got a good one from Baton Rouge (La.) Catholic RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Listed at 5-foot-7 and 196 pounds, Edwards-Helaire is a stocky but quick running back. For a player of his size, he does an outstanding job breaking through tackles and avoiding defenders. Miles will do an excellent job utilizing his versatile skill set.
Depth chart: LSU obviously has Heisman-caliber RB Leonard Fournette on the roster right now, but he likely will leave after next season. But after Fournette, Edwards-Helaire’s former high school teammate Derrius Guice will take over.
However, Edwards-Helaire is a dynamic piece of whom Miles can find different ways to use, including in split-back and receiving sets.