Projecting the SEC’s 1,000-yard rushers in 2016

Some are proven beasts. Others are waiting to break out.

Any look at the SEC’s potential 1,000-yard rushers in 2016 must begin with LSU’s Leonard Fournette.

A locomotive at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Fournette is one of the country’s largest stars and a safe bet to break the milestone barring a major injury. Hopes are high in Baton Rouge in large part because of him.

Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd also are familiar with the 1,000-yard barrier. Chubb should have no shortage of motivation to assert himself after missing most of last season with a serious left knee injury. Hurd is the headliner of a dangerous backfield combo that includes Alvin Kamara.

Meanwhile, there’s potential for other SEC running backs to become stars. Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough, Auburn’s Jovon Robinson, Arkansas’ Kody Walker and Kentucky’s Stanley “Boom” Williams should have chances to make the most of their time in a larger spotlight.

The SEC had nine 1,000-yard rushers in 2015. Can it match or exceed that in 2016?

Here’s a look at eight who can run for at least 1,000 yards this season, starting with the players who have the best chance:

Leonard Fournette, LSU: Talk about a no-brainer. Fournette ran for 1,953 yards with 22 touchdowns last season, and with Derrick Henry in the NFL, the Tigers’ star should assume the role as the SEC’s top rusher.

Expect LSU to ride Fournette hard, so his health will be vital to the Tigers’ title chances in a season of big expectations. Fournette eclipsed 100 yards rushing in all but two games last year, against Alabama (31) and Arkansas (91).

He also broke 200 yards in four games, against Syracuse (244), Eastern Michigan (233), Auburn (228) and Texas Tech (212). It’s scary to think what he’ll do to opponents if he improves on last year’s totals. Expect more dominance.

Nick Chubb, Georgia: We were cheated of seeing what a healthy Chubb could have done in 2015. He totaled 745 yards rushing in the Bulldogs’ first five games before his year ended against Tennessee. A 1,000-yard season almost is a given if Chubb can stay on the field. He ran for 1,547 yards in 2014, and at the time of his injury last fall, he averaged 8.1 yards per carry compared to the 7.1-yard average from the year before.

Oct 3, 2015; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb (27) runs the ball past Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Geno Matias-Smith (24) for a touchdown during the third quarter at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia coach Kirby Smart has said Chubb will be limited when the Bulldogs begin full-contact drills at preseason camp, and it’s uncertain if the star running back will be available when Georgia plays North Carolina to open the season on Sept. 3 in Atlanta. Still, Chubb should find his stride in time and produce in a big way.

Jalen Hurd, Tennessee: Part of the reason for the anticipation around the Volunteers is their running game’s potential. Hurd returns after rushing for 1,288 yards last season.

As with Kamara, who ran for 698 yards in 2015, Hurd represents a dynamic threat who should give opponents fits. Although not as explosive as Fournette or Chubb, Hurd is consistent. He had six games with at least 100 yards rushing last year, including a season-high 151 against Missouri. It wouldn’t surprise to see him do more this fall.

Jan 1, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tennessee Volunteers running back Jalen Hurd (1) runs with the ball as Northwestern Wildcats safety Godwin Igwebuike (16) attempted to defend during the second half in the 2016 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Tennessee Volunteers defeated the Northwestern Wildcats 45-6. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: He has been nothing but dependable for the Commodores the past two seasons. Webb ran for 907 yards in 2014, and he followed that with 1,152 last year. He should build on that total, after he closed the 2015 season with three of his four 100-plus-yard rushing outputs in Vanderbilt’s final four games.

Oct 24, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores running back Ralph Webb (7) rushes against Missouri Tigers defensive back Kenya Dennis (7) during the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Expect the Commodores to use him often. He had 277 carries last year, which ranked tied for third in the SEC behind Henry (395) and Fournette (300). (Hurd also had 277.) Webb is a proven talent, and he’ll remain dangerous.

He came within 42 yards of setting Vandy’s single-season rushing record last season. If he does that this season, he’ll also break the school’s career mark of 3,143. Zac Stacy holds both.

Bo Scarbrough, Alabama: With Henry gone, running back has become one of the largest preseason questions involving the Crimson Tide. But Scarbrough has the skill to chase those doubts in short order.

He ran for 104 yards on 18 carries in brief playing time last season, but the former five-star prospect should receive ample chances to prove his ability this fall.

Apr 16, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Cooper Bateman (18) hands the ball off too Alabama Crimson Tide running back Bo Scarbrough (9) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Crimson Tide’s top rusher has broken the 1,000-yard mark in four of the past five seasons, with Henry’s 990-yard output in 2014 as the lone exception (T.J. Yeldon had 979 yards that year).

The years change, but the talent keeps rolling into Tuscaloosa. Scarbrough should become a household name soon.

Jovon Robinson, Auburn: He ended last season on a tear with at least 91 yards rushing in five of the Tigers’ last six games. Robinson broke 100 yards twice in the span, with a season-high 159 against Texas A&M and 126 against Memphis. He ended the year with 639 yards on 117 carries, but expect both those numbers to increase in a major way.

Robinson is a good example of how a player can change his reputation within a program. He had just 20 yards on four carries through the Tigers’ first seven games last year – but he has impressed coaches with his improved work ethic. Auburn will rely on Robinson often this season.

Kody Walker, Arkansas: The Razorbacks have finished sixth or better in total rushing yards in the SEC the past three seasons. Alex Collins is gone after posting 1,577 yards last year. Still, the Arkansas’ rushing train should chug along with Walker as long as he stays healthy.

Sep 12, 2015; Little Rock, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks running back Kody Walker (24) runs the ball against the Toledo Rockets during the second quarter at War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Walker has dealt with injury problems, including a broken hand last year that caused him to miss four games early and limit his rushing total to 394 yards. Then he sustained a broken right foot in spring practice and underwent surgery. But he’s expected to be ready to open the season on Sept. 3 against Louisiana Tech.

Bret Bielema repeated at SEC Media Days that Arkansas wants to be physical, wants to run downhill. Walker will threaten for 1,000 yards rushing if he remains an integral part of the Razorbacks’ offense.

Stanley “Boom” Williams, Kentucky: He led the SEC last season with an average of 7.1 yards per carry among backs with at least 100 attempts. Williams finished with 855 yards rushing, so it’s not a stretch to picture him breaking 1,000.

He began and ended strong last year by posting 242 yards in Kentucky’s first two games and 292 in the Wildcats’ final three. Some have predicted him to be one of the SEC’s most explosive players. With a nickname like “Boom,” his potential for fireworks seems fitting.

Source: Saturday Down South

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