The SEC is filled with high-ceilinged running backs who are expected to return to the field in the upcoming season. Some of the biggest names among these include Chris Rodriguez (Kentucky), Tank Bigsby (Auburn), and Jabari Small (Tennessee).
In addition to the returns, there are also a handful of out-of-conference transfers to watch, such as Ole Miss running back Zach Evans, who transferred from TCU in January. Alabama also picked up a versatile fullback in Jahmyr Gibbs who transferred from Georgia Tech in December of last year.
Here’s a look at 10 conference runners who could have the biggest season and how they rank:
10. John Emery Jr. (LSU)
LSU and new head coach Brian Kelly are looking to get the Tigers back to the top of the SEC West. If the Tigers want to be a top team in the SEC, they need to have production in the backfield. John Emory Jr. did not play in 2021 after being deemed academically ineligible before the start of the season. However, Emory Jr. is one of the most versatile and athletic guards in the SEC. During the 2020 season, Emory Jr. finished with 378 rushing yards on 75 carries with three rushing touchdowns.
LSU has some competition at running back, as Emory Jr. will be joined by four-star rookie Corey Kiner and trade running back from Penn State to Noah Cain. Emory Jr. has elite strength and athleticism that will allow this LSU offense to thrive against defenses. He has the ability to compete at the next level, but with Emory Jr. not playing in the 2021 season, it will be interesting to see how he develops throughout 2022.
9. Kenny Mcintosh (Georgia)
The Georgia Bulldogs are known for recruiting elite running backs and sending them to the next level. Kenny Mcintosh was a four-star freshman out of high school and could play a huge role in determining the Bulldogs’ success in 2022. Mcintosh finished last season with 330 rushing yards on 58 carries with three rushing touchdowns.
However, Georgia isn’t afraid of depth at running back. Joining Mcintosh in the backfield is Kendall Milton and Dajun Edwards who will also be looking to make an impact. Mcintosh is a strong and quick defender who has excellent vision and is difficult to attack. There’s no doubt that Mcintosh will be a running back to watch in 2022.
8.Dominique Johnson (Arkansas)
Head coach Sam Pittman completely transformed the Razorbacks. Arkansas finished with a 9-4 record last season and capped the season with a win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl. For years, the Razorbacks have relied heavily on racing. Johnson will be joined by running back Raheim Sanders, but Johnson will more than likely be the Hogs’ starter this season. Johnson has rushed for 575 yards on 97 carries and seven touchdowns for the Razorbacks in 2021.
The Arkansas Razorbacks are a team to watch in the 2022 season. In addition to talented running backs, the Hogs will also have KJ Jefferson under center this season. If Arkansas wants to compete with the best teams in the SEC, they will need the production of their running backs. Johnson has the size and athletic ability to lead the Hogs through SEC West. Pittman has an explosive duo in Johnson and Sanders that could lead the Razorbacks to another successful season.
7. Marks of Jo’quavious (Mississippi State)
MSU isn’t going to run the ball much, but when the running offense is needed, they’ll rely on Jo’quavious Marks. Marks has the speed and athletic ability to operate under any offensive system, but his catching abilities make Marks a perfect candidate for the Air Raid. He is a versatile and explosive fullback who has exceptional ability as a receiver out of the backfield. During the 2021 season, Marks recorded 416 rushing yards, 502 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns.
Mississippi State has arguably the toughest schedule in the nation in 2022. Look for Marks to have a successful season, but he won’t carry the ball as much as other running backs in the SEC. Mike Leach and the Air Raid are a perfect fit for Marks and his ability, and he will be looking to continue his success in the 2022 season.
6. Zach Evans (Ole Miss)
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Ole Miss’s offense lost key pieces in 2022, including running back Jerrion Ealy and quarterback Matt Corral. Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin, hit the transfer portal to find two exceptional replacements for Ealy and Corral in Zach Evans and Jaxson Dart. Evans is a quick and flashy running back who will add to Ole Miss’ already explosive offense. In 2021 at TCU, Evans recorded 648 rushing yards on 92 carries and five rushing touchdowns.
Ole Miss had its first 10-win regular season in program history last season. Kiffin and the Rebels will look to carry that success into 2022 but will need guys like Evans and Dart to step up and produce on offense. Evans is a spunky, tough, athletic running back looking to prove he can compete with the best of the best in the SEC.
5. Jahmyr Gibbs (Alabama)
Nick Saban and Crimson Tide are not lacking in depth. The Tide always recruits exceptional talent, and Jahmyr Gibbs is a prime example. Gibbs transferred from Georgia Tech in December. He brings great versatility to an already stacked Alabama offense, which also includes standout quarterback Bryce Young. At Georgia Tech in 2021, Gibbs recorded 746 rushing yards on 143 carries and four rushing touchdowns as well as 773 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns.
Saban is perhaps the most elite scout in college football and recruiting players like Gibbs continues to add depth to Crimson Tide’s already stacked roster. With Young under center and Gibbs in the backfield, this Alabama offense looks very impressive and scary for any defense in the country. Gibbs and the Tide will be looking to roll in 2022.
4. Devon Achane (Texas A&M)
The Texas A&M Aggies arguably lost one of the best running backs in college football to Isisah Spiller last year, but the Aggies have one of the best replacements you could ask for in Devon Achane. According to 24/7 Sports, Achane’s seven yards per carry was the best of any high-volume SEC running back. Achane recorded 910 rushing yards on 130 carries and nine rushing touchdowns.
The Aggies, led by head coach Jimbo Fisher, hold the premier recruiting class in 2022. To compete in SEC West, the Aggies will need to put that talent to good use. Giving Achane as many touches as possible is one of the keys to success for Texas A&M this coming season. Even though Achane looks a bit undersized, he is still very explosive and his athletic abilities are off the charts. Achane could very well be one of the best running backs in the SEC this season.
3. Bigsby Reservoir (Auburn)
A few months ago, it seemed likely that Tank Bigsby would no longer wear the Auburn Tigers uniform. However, Bigsby is back on the plains for this upcoming season and is looking to help an Auburn team that has many questions surrounding them in 2022. The Tigers have arguably one of the best running back tandems in the league. SEC with Bigsby and Jaquez Hunter. Bigsby finished the 2021 season with 1,099 rushing yards on 223 carries and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Bigsby’s first name is a great way to describe his game on the grill. Bigsby is a tank on the football field. He plays with a lot of energy and is one of the most explosive players in the SEC. Auburn needs Bigsby to play at his best because when he’s attacking for the Tigers, it’s hard to stop him.
2. Jabari Little (Tennessee)
Jabari Small has the potential to not only be one of the best running backs in the SEC, but he could very well be one of the best running backs in the nation. Small finished the 2021 season leading the Volunteers in yards, rushes and touchdowns. Last season, Small racked up 792 yards on 140 carries and nine rushing touchdowns.
Small is going to play a big role in helping this Tennessee team produce this season. The Volunteers return a valuable part of their offense, and Small seems to be getting better and better every day. Small has great vision and explosiveness that will help this Tennessee offense compete with the SEC’s brutal schedule.
1. Chris Rodriguez (Kentucky)
The Kentucky Wildcats are arguably the best running back in the nation this season in Chris Rodriguez. Rodriguez was one of the SEC’s few 1,000-yard backs in the 2021 season. To accompany Rodriguez, the Wildcats are also returning quarterback Will Levis and much of their impressive offensive line. Rodriguez recorded 10 rushing touchdowns last season to go with 1,379 rushing yards, which ranked him 12th nationally.
Kentucky is a dangerous team this year with the return of Rodriguez and Levis. The Wildcats could cause problems in the SEC East this season. If Rodriguez remains healthy, expect him to have another 1,000 yard season and continue to be one of the best running backs in the country.