This is the second in a series of posts evaluating the SEC offensive skill positions.
In part 1 of this series, we took a look at the SEC’s best quarterbacks. But in the SEC, if you can’t run the ball, you can’t win big.
Last season we eventually punted and called the race for top running back between Trent Richardson, Marcus Lattimore and Knile Davis a dead heat. Lattimore and Davis both suffered season ending injuries, and are looking to bounce back in 2012.
Here’s the RBN take on how the SEC’s running back corps stack up.
1. Knile Davis, Junior, Arkansas (1,322 RuYds, 13 TDs in 2010) — By all accounts, Davis’ recovery from a broken ankle suffered in August last year has gone well. His pre-spring 40-yard dash time (4.33), and bench press (415) tell us he is ready despite the fact that he was withheld from contact in spring practice. With a more experienced offensive line in front of him, we think Knile can return to his 2010 levels in 2012.
2. Marcus Lattimore, Junior, South Carolina (818 RuYds, 10 TDs in 2011) — Like Davis, Lattimore took it easy this spring as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered in the seventh game last season. Few players are more important to their team than the punishing runner who has over 2,000 yards rushing and 27 TDs in his first two seasons. Best in the SEC between the tackles.
3. Michael Ford, Junior, LSU (756 RuYds, 7 TDs in 2011) — Call us a bit unconventional picking Ford here considering he’s not even listed as the starter down in Baton Rouge. Toiling in a time-share with Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue, Ford excelled down the stretch and his yards per carry (6.0) were third highest in the SEC (minimum of 100 carries). Elusive runner who deserves more touches.
4. T.J. Yeldon, Freshman, Alabama — The first newcomer to make the list, Yeldon excited the Tide faithful with a stellar spring game performance (179 total yards). Yeldon has that rare power and speed combination, and catches the ball well out of the backfield. Like Ford, Yeldon is not technically the starter…yet. Remember the name — a future star.
5. Zac Stacy, Senior, Vanderbilt (1,193 RuYds, 14 TDs in 2011) — Anybody that can run for nearly 1,200 yards for the Commodores should make the top 5. Stacy has proven over the years to have great vision, and is surprisingly tough between the tackles. With Stacy and fellow senior Jordan Rodgers making plays, it should be another fun year for Coach James Franklin and Vandy.
6. Spencer Ware, Junior, LSU (707 RuYds, 8 TDs in 2011) — Ware was the workhorse for the Tigers in the early going last year, rushing 20+ times in five of the first seven games. But after being suspended for the Auburn game for violating the team’s drug policy, Ware didn’t look right the rest of the way. Will split carries this year with Ford and Alfred Blue, but is still one of the best in the league.
7. Keith Marshall, Freshman, Georgia — The second true freshman to make this list, Marshall comes in with as much hype as Isaiah Crowell did last year for the Bulldogs, considered by Scout.com to be the #1 ranked running back in his class. And with Crowell recently dismissed from the team for weapons charges (oh, brother), Marshall looks to be the de facto starter from game 1. Elite speed and a ‘one cut and go’ approach has Bulldog fans salivating at the possibilities.
8. Dennis Johnson, Senior, Arkansas (925 TotYds, 5 TDs in 2011) — With Knile Davis on the shelf last year, Johnson emerged as the bell cow and averaged 6.3 yards per carry for the Hogs. Tremendous change of direction runner, Johnson has the breakaway speed when he gets in space. Catches the ball well out of the backfield (24 reecptions in 2011).
9. Christine Michael, Senior, Texas A&M (899 RuYds, 8 TDs in 2011) — Michael was on his way to a 1,000-yard season last year before suffering an ACL tear in game 9 vs. Oklahoma. By all reports, Michael’s recovery is ahead of schedule and going well. When healthy, he can be one of the best in the country. With former mate Cyrus Gray graduated to the Kansas City Chiefs, Michael is now the man in College Station.
10. Eddie Lacy, Junior, Alabama (674 RuYds, 7 TDs in 2011) — Lacy is listed as a starter for the Crimson Tide, but a turf toe injury kept him out of the spring game. Lacy fought through foot injuries last season, but still managed to average 7.1 yard per carry. A tough runner between the tackles, Lacy will split carries with Yeldon and Dee Hart in 2012.
Honorable Mention: Ontario McCalebb (Auburn), Dee Hart (Alabama), Jeff Scott (Ole Miss), Alfred Blue (LSU), Ben Malena (Texas A&M).
Next time, we’ll take a look at the SEC’s best wide receivers.