5. Larry Rountree III – Missouri Tigers
Larry Rountree III is not the first star SEC running back to come out of Millbrook High School (NC), but he might end up being the best. After a solid freshman campaign where he rushed for 703 yards and six touchdowns, Roundtree proved he was an every-down back during his sophomore season. He finished the 2018 season with 1,216 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
Larry runs with a low center of gravity and has the strength to carry the load. He possesses excellent feet and the vision and explosion to exploit the cutback. He is a powerful runner with a strong downhill style to keep feet running through contact with the explosiveness and speed to make plays in space consistently.
Defenses will be keying on the Tigers running game more next season but do not be surprised if he surpasses the 1500 yard mark.
4. Scottie Phillips – Ole Miss Rebels
After rushing for 928 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior in 2018, running back Scottie Phillips should be one of the top backs in the SEC as a senior. Phillips was averaging 103 rushing yards per game through the first nine games of the season. However, after an ankle injury, he only had five yards on seven carries over the final three games of the season.
Scottie is a strong, sturdy, well-built runner with a lower center of gravity. He displays excellent vision, both in-line to find the cutback and outside to bounce the stretch play. Scottie also shows good patience in letting his blocks set up and finding the opening daylight.
3. Najee Harris – University of Alabama
In 2018, Najee finished second on the team in rushing with 783 yards. That was 143 yards more than his teammate and first-round draft pick Josh Jacobs on three fewer carries. Despite sharing the backfield with a first-round and third-round draft pick, Harris would lead the team in yards-per-carry by a full yard. Here is the scariest part, from a pure talent perspective, Najee is the most talented running back that Coach Saban has had while at Alabama.
Najee has a rare combination of size and explosiveness at the running back position with exceptional body control. He is a nightmare to try to wrap up one-on-one with the suddenness of his stop-start ability. Najee can freeze defenders with his ability to change speeds and direction when in space. Perhaps most impressive is how quickly he can reach top-speed once he gets a second level seam.
Harris is not just special, he is a generational talent. That doesn’t guarantee him greatness or that he will reach his full potential. However, if he stays healthy and hungry, he will be a nightmare and Saban could have one of the top QB-RB combinations in NCAA history.
2. Ke’Shawn Vaughn – Vanderbilt University
Ke’Shawn Vaughn burst onto the scene last season winning the SEC Newcomer of the Year after rushing for 1,244 yards and leading the SEC in yards-per-carry (7.9). He also topped all SEC running backs ten rushes of 40 or more yards and six rushes of 60 or more yards. Ke’Shawn ended his season on a high note by rushing for 243 yards, and two touchdowns on just 13 carries against Baylor in the Texas Bowl.
Ke’Shawn possesses great vision and shows the patience to set up his blockers and has enough wiggle allowing him to make defenders miss in space. He is a Tough runner with elite balance who can break the first tackle and fight for extra yards. Vaughn’s 5.29 yards after contact led the SEC by 1.2 yards with Elijah Holyfield coming in second at 4.09 yards.
The one unknown about this season for Vaughn is how the offense will flow under new offensive coordinator Gerry Gdowski who served as quarterbacks coach. It is unlikely there will be much change, but it is something to keep an eye on.
1. D’Andre Swift – University of Georgia
D’Andre Swift was destined to be a star at UGA but few thought he would have an impact as a true freshman. The Bulldogs already had what would become the most productive running back duo in NCAA history with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Swift was used primarily as a change-of-pace and pass-catching back and finished as the team’s third-leading rusher and fourth-leading receiver.
Last season, Swift would take on a larger role splitting time with Elijah Holifield. Despite being banged up earlier in the season, he rushed for 1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns and grabbing 32 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns.
With teammate and fellow 1,000-yard rusher Elijah Holifield departing to the NFL and UGA being cautious with Zamir White, Swift should be in line for more carries this season.
Swift possesses elite vision and patience and has sudden stop-start and jump-cut ability to make defenders miss in the hole. Despite his elusiveness, he is a tough runner who does not shy away from contact. He is a human highlight film because of how light he is on his feet and his elusive change-of-direction ability. He also shows the edge quickness needed to bounce outside and threaten the perimeter.
Don’t be surprised if Swift ends up with an invitation to New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.