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Ranking the SEC Running Back Tandems for 2016

Nick Chubb

Nick Chubb

Having two running backs is almost essential for every college football team. While some teams have workhorse options that can handle 275 or 300 carries, most programs want to have at least two (and sometimes three) running backs to split up the workload. The thought process is pretty simple: Take the workload off one player and spread it around to keep everyone fresh. This concept seems to gain more steam each year, as a running game is no longer about just one go-to back. Instead, most teams need at least two solid ball-carriers to lead the way on the ground. 

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The SEC has its share of talented running backs returning in 2016. Which teams have the best tandems (No. 1 and No. 2 backs) returning in the fall? Here are Athlon's rankings of the best running back tandems in the SEC for 2016:

Ranking the SEC RB Tandems for 2016

14. South Carolina – David Williams and A.J. Turner

Finding playmakers is one of the top priorities for new coach Will Muschamp. Last year’s leading rusher Brandon Wilds (567 yards) departs, leaving David Williams (299 yards) and A.J. Turner as the team’s top backs. Williams – a four-star recruit out of high school – has the talent to push for a breakout campaign in 2016. 

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13. Mississippi State – Brandon Holloway and Aeris Williams

With quarterback Dak Prescott off to the NFL, Mississippi State could lean more on its ground game until a new signal-caller emerges. The Bulldogs have talent here, but is there a go-to back? Brandon Holloway was the team’s top performer at running back last fall, recording 413 yards on 92 attempts. Holloway weighs in at only 165 pounds, so expect to see plenty from Aeris Williams (206 yards in 2015) and Ashton Shumpert (228 yards).

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12. Missouri – Alex Ross and Nate Strong

There’s potential for this tandem to climb in the rankings this fall. With Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon entrenched as Oklahoma’s top backs, Ross transferred to Missouri as a graduate student with one year of eligibility remaining. In three years with the Sooners, Ross rushed for 786 yards (6.4 ypc) and five scores. He also made a huge impact on special teams, averaging 25.7 yards on 53 returns and recording two scores. This will be his first opportunity to be a full-time feature back, but the 6-foot-1 senior is certainly up to the task. Strong did not qualify at Missouri in 2014 and attended Hinds Community College in Mississippi last fall. However, Strong ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2015 signing class and was regarded as one of the top junior college running backs. He could be an impact recruit for coach Barry Odom. 

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11. Ole Miss – Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins

Last year’s leading rusher Jaylen Walton expired his eligibility, leaving Judd, Wilkins and redshirt freshman Eric Swinney to contend for the No. 1 role in the Ole Miss backfield. The Rebels had the SEC’s top passing attack last season, so an elite ground game isn’t necessary for coach Hugh Freeze’s offense to fire on all cylinders once again. Judd is the top statistical performer at running back (421 yards), but he shares the top spot with Wilkins on the preseason depth chart. Wilkins rushed for 379 yards and four touchdowns in 2015.

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10. Florida – Jordan Scarlett and Mark Thompson

In SEC-only matchups last fall, Florida ranked 13th in the league in rushing (112.3 ypg) and averaged only 3.2 yards per carry. Some of the blame falls on the offensive line, but the Gators need more production and big plays from their running backs in 2016. Kelvin Taylor departed for the NFL after recording 1,035 yards in 2015, leaving Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite as the team’s top returning options. Scarlett – the No. 118 recruit in the 2015 signing class – is the frontrunner for the No. 1 role. However, he’s far from secure as the team’s top back, as Cronkrite was receiving more carries at the end of 2015, and junior college recruit Mark Thompson also joins the mix. 

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9. Texas A&M – Keith Ford and James White

There’s a lot of potential surrounding Texas A&M’s backfield for new play-caller Noel Mazzone. Keith Ford started his career at Oklahoma and rushed for 526 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons. The former five-star prospect brings big-play ability to the Aggie backfield and could push for All-SEC honors in his first opportunity for snaps in College Station. At 220 pounds, White can add some power to the ground game and move the pile in short-yardage situations. True freshman Trayveon Williams is another name to remember.

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8. Arkansas – Kody Walker and Rawleigh Williams

Even though Arkansas will miss Alex Collins, the Razorbacks are still in good shape at running back. Coach Bret Bielema has a track record for finding standouts at running back, and there are three intriguing candidates vying for snaps. Kody Walker is the veteran of this group and enters his sixth season on campus with 644 yards and 13 scores. He will get the first shot at replacing Collins, but Williams – expected to return to full strength from a neck injury – will make a strong push for the starting job. Williams rushed for 254 yards in seven appearances last year. True freshman Devwah Whaley represents the future answer for Bielema but is also expected to see his share of attempts this fall. 

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7. Vanderbilt – Ralph Webb and Josh Crawford

Ralph Webb recorded the second-most rushing yards (1,152) in a single season in school history last year and is poised to push that total even higher in 2016. The junior has emerged as one of the SEC’s top backs over the last two seasons. Coordinator Andy Ludwig is searching for more balance in 2016, but the offense can lean on Webb until quarterback Kyle Shurmur is ready to shoulder more of the workload. Josh Crawford (54 yards) is penciled in as the backup, with Dallas Rivers and Khari Blasingame also receiving carries.

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6. Auburn – Jovon Robinson and Kerryon Johnson

Auburn’s depth at running back took a hit with Peyton Barber’s early departure to the NFL, along with the decision of Roc Thomas to transfer to Jacksonville State. However, the Tigers aren’t hurting for talent and still have one of the SEC’s top running back tandems. Robinson was regarded as the top junior college recruit in the 2015 signing class and rushed for 639 yards in his first season with the Tigers. However, Robinson came on strong at the end of 2015, recording 126 yards against Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl and 159 against Texas A&M on Nov. 7. Johnson rushed for 208 yards and three scores as a true freshman last fall. He’s poised for a bigger role in 2016.

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5. Kentucky – Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops made one of the SEC’s top assistant hires by bringing in Eddie Gran from Cincinnati as the program’s new play-caller. Gran’s top task is to upgrade the passing game and develop quarterback Drew Barker. But until the passing game clicks, Gran should build the offense around Kentucky’s deep backfield. Williams is one of the nation’s top-big play threats, averaging 6.9 yards per rush through two seasons. Kemp has accumulated 1,360 rushing yards over the last three years. 

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4. Alabama – Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris

Scarbrough and Harris have combined for only 64 career attempts entering 2016, but there’s a lot of promise surrounding this duo. Both players ranked as five-star prospects and should keep Alabama’s ground attack performing at a high level. Scarbrough has a similar build (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) to Derrick Henry, while Harris earned MVP honors for Alabama’s spring game after a 114-yard performance.

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3. Tennessee – Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara

The Volunteers rank third on this list, but that’s largely a statement on the strength of the SEC’s stable of running backs. Jalen Hurd has been the go-to back for coach Butch Jones since he stepped on campus in 2014. After recording 899 yards and five scores as a freshman, Hurd pushed that total even higher in 2015. The Tennessee native ranked fourth in the SEC by recording 1,288 yards and also added 12 scores on 277 attempts. Kamara – a former Alabama recruit and a playmaker at Hutchinson Community College in 2014 – made an impact as the team’s No. 2 option in his first year in Knoxville, rushing for 698 yards and seven touchdowns.  

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2. LSU – Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice

Leonard Fournette smashed the LSU record book in his first full season as the starter and emerged as the nation’s best running back. In 12 games last year, Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 scores (both single-season LSU records) and led the nation by averaging 162.8 yards per game. Additionally, Fournette eclipsed 100 rushing yards in 10 out of LSU’s 12 games and recorded four performances of 200 yards or more. While Fournette is poised to challenge for the Heisman Trophy once again and is an easy pick for first-team All-America honors, backup Derrius Guice is due for more work in 2016. Guice flashed promise in limited action last year, rushing for 436 yards and three scores on just 51 attempts. 

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1. Georgia – Nick Chubb and Sony Michel

Injuries have cast a shadow over this tandem for the start of the 2016 season. However, if both players are healthy, Georgia’s backfield duo of Chubb and Michel will rank among the nation’s best. Prior to a season-ending knee injury last fall, Chubb rushed for 747 yards and seven scores. Michel ensured there was no drop off in production for the ground attack with Chubb sidelined, as he finished the year with 1,161 yards and eight scores. Michel also closed 2015 on a high note, recording at least 132 rushing yards in three out of Georgia’s final five games. 

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