Playing in the SEC, Florida’s defense knows there are multiple given challenges heading into every season. One is that the Gators, without fail, will be facing fast, talented, elite and potentially elite running backs.
In the last two years under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the UF defensive front has done an overall solid job containing opposing running backs and rushing attacks, giving up an average of only 132.6 yards a game.
The challenge in 2020 will be coping with a bevy of potentially elite backs — talented runners (and, in some cases, receivers) who are still emerging and are not quite at the point where they’ll be popping up on preseason All-American and Heisman Trophy lists. Sort of in the same category that LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire was in heading into last season.
Here’s a look at the top 10 running backs on UF’s 2020 schedule:
- Zamir White, Georgia — With D’Andre Swift leaving early for the NFL, the ball is now in the hands of redshirt sophomore Zamir White — and the former five-star recruit and No. 1 running back prospect in the nation appears ready to run with it. White has fully recovered from ACL surgery late in his senior year of high school and seems primed to become UGA’s next in a long line of elite running backs. His ceiling is ridiculous.
- Larry Rountree, Missouri — Despite playing behind a shaky offensive line, Rountree rushed for 829 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior last season. After rushing for 1,216 yards in 2018, Rountree was expected to gain elite status in 2019. It didn’t happen. But maybe it will in 2020.
- Asim Rose, Kentucky –– On a team that had no passing game and a wide receiver playing quarterback, Rose still managed to rush for 826 yards and six touchdowns last season. He’s quick, explosive — and should benefit from the return of a passing game in 2020.
- Jerrion Early, Ole Miss — He was a five-star prospect coming out of high school and has already started living up to his reputation, rushing for 722 yards and six touchdowns last season, while averaging almost seven yards (6.9) a carry. He appears on schedule to have a breakout season under new offensive-minded head coach Lane Kiffin.
- John Emery Jr., LSU — Will this guy breakout in 2020 like Edwards-Helaire did last season for the Tigers? The potential is there, for sure. Emery was a five-star recruit coming out of high school in 2019 and the highest-rated running back signed by LSU since Leonard Fournette in 2014. Even though his carries were limited as a true freshman last season, he managed to flash his immense potential, rushing for 196 yards and four touchdowns. The battle for the starting role between Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price, Edwards-Helaire’s backup last season, should be epic.
- Eric Gray, Tennessee — He may have been the hottest running back in the SEC at the end of last season, rushing for a combined 366 yards and four touchdowns in the Vols’ final two games (Vanderbilt and Indiana). The breakout he started having as a true freshman should continue into 2020. He clearly has elite potential.
- Ty Chandler, Tennessee — Heading into last season, many were speculating that Chandler would be UT’s next elite running back. Then Gray came along and the perception changed a little bit. Chandler, however, flashed big-time talent last season, rushing for 655 yards and three touchdowns. He and Gray should give Vols a dynamic one-two punch in the running game in 2020.
- Kavosiey Smoke, Kentucky — Yes, this speedy, elusive back has the ability to smoke opposing defenses, something he showed at times last season. Despite UK having almost zero passing game, Smoke rushed for 616 yards and six touchdowns, while averaging 6.1 yards a carry.
- Tyrion Davis-Price, LSU — As a true freshman, he played in 14 games behind Edwards-Helaire last season and gave glimpses of his significant upside, rushing for six touchdowns and 290 yards. A big, physical downhill runner, Davis-Price and Emery could combine to match Edwards-Helaire’s production from last season.
- Jashaun Corbin, FSU — This transfer from Texas A&M has a chance to step in as the starter for the Seminoles. He hasn’t played a whole lot at this level, but he was good enough to win the starting role at A&M last season. Unfortunately for him, and the Aggies, Corbin injured his hamstring in the second game and missed the rest of the season. He’s already received a waiver from the NCAA, making him eligible this season for the Seminoles.