Some say running back is an undervalued position. The NFL has less seen less first round selections made on the position recently, which led ESPN’s Chris Berman to over exaggerate to new levels when TWO were taken in April.
Quarterback is the primary position and new rules were implemented to protect the passing attack. There are exceptions, but at both the college and professional levels, awards will typically go to a signal caller.
Aside from Alabama’s Mark Ingram, every Heisman winner of the current millennium played quarterback. Still, running back demands a larger share of individual glory than say offensive guard or center.
The SEC saw several breakout freshmen from the position in 2014. Georgia’s Nick Chubb emerged out of the shadows of Todd Gurley, who was projected to be a Heisman hopeful before serving a month long suspension and suffering a season-ending ACL tear in November.
Chubb recorded more than 100 yards in each of the Bulldogs’ final eight games and totaled 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns on 219 attempts in 2014. He ranked second among SEC backs in rushing yards and third in all-purpose yards.
LSU’s Leonard Fournette entered as the consensus top high school prospect. He enjoyed an impressive debut season, averaging a conference-best 137.4 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns (10 rushing, one kick return). The freshman also had 1,034 rushing yards and averaged 79.5 per game.
Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd was the prized signee of the team’s top-5 2014 recruiting class. Hurd finished with 899 yards, becoming the first freshman since Lamarcus Coker in 2006 to lead the Vols in rushing, despite battling multiple injuries and running behind the conference’s worst offensive line.
The three players were all expected to make an impact in their first season, but the freshmen dominance at running back didn’t end there. Five SEC freshmen led their teams in rushing yards.
Stanley “Boom” Williams led Kentucky with 486 yards and five touchdowns on 74 carries. The freshman outgained teammates Braylon Heard (368) and Jojo Kemp (323) by more than 100 yards, despite having just one more rushing attempt than Heard and three than Kemp.
Vanderbilt had the worst offense in the SEC, but had the most underrated running back. Redshirt freshman Ralph Webb set the Vanderbilt freshman rushing record with 907 yards and four touchdowns on 212 carries. He ranked ninth among SEC players in rushing yards and third among freshmen.
2015 will be the year of the sophomore running back in the SEC. The conference is stacked with talent and the second-year players will emerge as even bigger stars this season.
Chubb and Fournette enter as serious preseason Heisman candidates, while Hurd has a strong chance to gain consideration as the season progresses. It’s not to say the quarterback position will lose its luster, as several candidates will likely emerge.
But the SEC’s sophomore running backs will achieve a great deal of star power and should provide some of the conference’s top storylines in 2015.