Butch Jones adamantly stated his case. In what has been deemed “The Year of the Running Back,” Tennessee’s coach doesn’t want his tailback overlooked.
“I’m going to continually talk about it,” Jones said. “I think Jalen Hurd is one of the best backs in the country. I don’t think he’s getting the recognition that he deserves.”
Statistically, it’s tough to back Jones’ claim. However, statistics don’t quite tell the entire story. Here are three reasons that Jones is right and three reasons why Jones is simply promoting his own player.
Why Jones is right:
- Hurd isn’t running behind a stellar offensive line. Hurd isn’t running behind the offensive line that Tennessee’s coaches envisioned for him. Throughout the season, Tennessee has lost several offensive linemen to injuries. At least four starters have been knocked out of action at various points.
- Hurd is splitting time with Alvin Kamara. Hurd doesn’t get the explosive types of plays Kamara gets. Hurd’s role is to run between the tackles. When it comes to sweeps to the outside, the coaches call on Kamara. Those plays generally have the potential for big gains.
- Hurd is a complete back. Hurd is considered an excellent blocker on passing plays and has proved to be a dependable receiver with nine receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown, even though he splits passing plays with Kamara. Additionally, Hurd’s physical presence opens things up for quarterback Joshua Dobbs in the zone-read option.
Why Jones is wrong:
- Hurd trails five other SEC tailbacks in total yards. Among tailbacks in the SEC, Hurd ranks sixth with 664 total yards. By comparison, LSU’s Leonard Fournette has a whopping 1,352 rushing yards. UGA tailback Nick Chubb still leads Hurd. Chubb ran for 747 yards before being knocked out of the Tennessee game on the first play with a season-ending knee injury. Chubb played just five complete games. Hurd has now played seven and has fewer yards.
- Hurd’s average doesn’t hold up. Among tailbacks with at least 80 carries, Hurd ranks in the bottom half of the SEC with 4.6 yards per rush. He is 11th best among SEC tailbacks with over 80 carries.
- Hurd just doesn’t pass the eye test. When compared to those that are considered elite tailbacks, Hurd just doesn’t look the same. Sure, Fournette is a once-in-a-generation type of tailback, but if it were comparable, Hurd would be mentioned as a Heisman candidate. He’s not.
In another season and with an improved offensive line, Hurd could be considered one of the top tailbacks in the SEC. As of now, he doesn’t have the opportunity to prove himself. Because of average blocking, he has to fight for whatever yardage he can. Fournette, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and many others have better running lanes to navigate. Credit Jones for standing up for his guy. Credit Hurd for taking the punishment.
If the Vols end up as championship contenders next season, Hurd will be a big part of it. However, it’s hard to place him with the best in the country – or even the SEC.