Spring ball is well over. Summer is approaching, and that means summer workouts across the SEC will commence, then fall camp, and then SEC football again. A major storyline in the SEC is the lack of experienced players at the quarterback position. However, all is not lost. The SEC is filled with talented running backs who will be looked at by multiple teams to step up and help carry their respective offense. Because there is somewhat of a lapse in overall talent at QB in the SEC, the running back position will be important as ever in arguably the best football conference of the 21st century. In this article, I have listed who I believe are the top five most talented backs in the SEC.
1. Nick Chubb, Georgia
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Gosh, this was a hard one. The race to be #1 on this list was extremely close especially between Chubb and the #2 back on my list. However, I truly think Nick Chubb deserves to be ranked at the top. Chubb burst onto the college football landscape last season in his true freshman year. His big moment came on October 11th against Missouri. It was the first week of starting running back and Heisman candidate Todd Gurley's suspension for the whole autograph ordeal. Many Bulldog fans and pundits across the country were worried about Georgia's fate, but Nick Chubb was ready to answer the bell. The Cedartown, GA, native rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown in his first ever start against the stingy defense of SEC East Champion Missouri. He finished with 1,547 yards and 14 scores on the year, including 266 yards and two touchdowns in the Belk Bowl against Louisville, who had one of the top defenses in America last year. He averaged an amazing 7.1 yards per carry as well.
Chubb is powerful. I mean really powerful. He is a bruising back that breaks a lot of tackles. He is also elusive and has very underrated speed as a high school track champion. He is the total package as a running back. He is an absolute freak of nature. I never thought I'd see a day at UGA with a guy just as good or better than Todd Gurley in the backfield. Nick Chubb is that guy.
2. Leonard Fournette, LSU
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Leonard Fournette came out as the #1 overall recruit in the nation in the class of 2014, and he was a huge in-state get for Les Miles and LSU. He did not disappoint in his first year in Baton Rouge. He had a few transition games, but then he hit the ground running. Fournette rushed for over a thousand yards and had ten touchdowns last season, including amassing almost 300 yards in his last two games. His rushing total could have been higher had he not had to share the backfield load with Terrance Magee and Kenny Hilliard. He also functioned as the Tiger's main kick returner and gained another 625 yards on special teams. He had a great year, but more than that, potential was seen.
Fournette is an animal. He was compared to Adrian Peterson coming out of high school. He is very strong and is extremely fast, agile, and elusive. His speed was shown off in his 100-yard kick return touchdown against Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl. He could definitely win a Heisman during his time at LSU, especially if the quarterback play continues to disappoint. Look for Leonard Fournette to put up big numbers in 2015 as Les Miles loves to run the football combined with the LSU quarterback situation with Jennings and Harris not being ideal.
3. Derrick Henry, Alabama
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Ever since I saw his highlight tapes during his senior year of high school, I knew Derrick Henry of Yulee, FL, was going to be one of the next great backs in the SEC. Henry is massive. His 6-3, 242-pound frame is extremely difficult to bring down. He has bruising power combined with very good speed. Henry had a solid freshman season and showed flashes of brilliance in 2013. Last year, Henry proved that he was one of the top backs in the conference. Despite having less carries than former Tide running back T.J. Yeldon, he finished with nearly 1,000 yards rushing and eleven touchdowns to lead Alabama on the ground.
Henry is just another great one in the recent Tide tradition of producing talented backs such as Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, and of course Yeldon. His dream since childhood was to play for Alabama, and he should certainly be utilized to the upmost in 2015 especially because of a lack of an experienced playmaker at the quarterback position. Amari Cooper is gone, so look for Henry to be even more of a star and focal point on offense. He's got the tools to do just that.
4. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
Arkansas certainly had a bounce-back season in 2014 after an extremely woeful previous couple of years. After a strong regular season and a blowout win over old rival Texas in their bowl game, the Hogs are looking to challenge for the SEC West in 2015. This will be Bret Bielema's third year at Arkansas and I, for one, think he has done an outstanding job and is shaping the Hogs into a true contender. The Razorbacks are known for being a tough, physical team with a strong running game. That is the focal point of Arkansas. While the Razorbacks have several talented backs (notably Alex Collins), the best of the bunch is Jonathan Williams. Williams rushed for 1,190 yards and twelve touchdowns in 2014 even while sharing the touches almost evenly with fellow back Alex Collins.
Williams has a low center of gravity and is a powerful back. He is shifty and has decent speed. Look for William's rushing numbers to be just as good if not better in Arkansas' rush-heavy offense in 2015, and for the Hogs to challenge to get to Atlanta.
5. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
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Tennessee has experienced their fair share of coaching changes and hard times in the last several years. However, they look like they are well out of those times. Butch Jones is a heck of a coach, and his philosophy of building UT back up "brick by brick" has worked to perfection. The Vols' recruiting is absolutely outstanding, and it's one of the many reasons I have Tennessee winning the SEC East in 2015 as of right now.
Tennessee had a decent season last year and finally reached the postseason for the first time since 2010. One reason the Vols had more success last year than in previous years was the emergence of a talented true-freshman running back named Jalen Hurd. The 6-3, 230-pounder from Hendersonville, TN, ran for 899 yards and five touchdowns in 2014, including a 122-yard rushing performance in UT's 45-28 victory over Iowa in the Gator Bowl. He will be looked to again to tote the rock proficiently next year for his Vols, who should have one of the most talented offenses in the SEC with Josh Dobbs at QB, newcomer Alvin Kamara, and a slew of talented wide receivers.