The status of the 2020 college football season remains unknown despite fall practice being scheduled to begin in three weeks.
As of this moment, Tennessee is still set to open year three of the Jeremy Pruitt era against Charlotte on Sept. 5 in Knoxville. That could change if the SEC follows the Big Ten’s lead and shifts to a conference-only schedule.
However, for the time being, Rocky Top Insider is still pressing forward under the assumption that there will be a 2020 season. Leading up to the beginning of fall practice, we are sorting through the best players at each position Tennessee is currently scheduled to face this season.
Check out our first piece in the series as we looked at the top 10 quarterbacks the Vols will take on in the 2020 season.
Next up, we take a look at the 10 best running backs the Vols will go up against.
No. 1 — Najee Harris, Alabama (Oct. 24)
Arguably the best running back in the country, Harris is back for his final season of college football in Tuscaloosa. Harris is coming off of a junior year where he rushed for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns on 209 carries. He averaged 5.86 yards per attempt, while adding 27 catches for 304 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns.
Harris’ 13 rushing touchdowns in 13 games tied for second in the conference, while he ranked third in carries (209), fourth in rushing yards (1,224) and sixth in yards per game (94.15). He was tied for ninth in receiving touchdowns (7), which led all SEC tailbacks in that statistical category.
The talented back is only 1,214 yards behind Derrick Henry as Alabama’s all-time leading rusher with 2,377 yards for his career. Running behind what many consider the best offensive line in the SEC, there’s a strong possibility Harris takes over King Henry’s crown.
No. 2 — Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas (Oct. 31)
Boyd is without a doubt the best football player on Arkansas’ roster and the most underrated running back in the conference. Only two players in program history — Felix Jones and Matt Jones — have a higher yards per carry career average than Boyd. Boyd is one of the most explosive players to ever suit up for the Razorbacks.
In 12 games last season, Boyd ran for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per attempt. He finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ second-highest graded running back in the country.
No. 3 — Zamir White, Georgia (Nov. 14)
White is the name out of this year’s bunch where past production doesn’t reflect his ranking. White doesn’t have the production to his name because he was sitting behind D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield, and Brian Herrien the last two years. Now, White has the keys to the castle.
White is a different back than Swift. He’s more of a downhill bruiser, where Swift was a make-you-miss type of player. White rushed for 408 yards and three touchdowns on 78 attempts last season. He ended the season on a high note with 18 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown in a win against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl.
He’ll have to split carries with James Cook, yet another top running back prospect for the Bulldogs, but a big year is coming for White in Athens.
No. 4 — Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma (Sept. 12)
Tennessee may not end up playing Oklahoma in Week Two, but if UT does, Brooks will be one of the names at the top of Pruitt’s scouting report.
Brooks is the third-leading returning rusher in the Big 12 from a season ago. He rushed for 1,011 yards and six touchdowns on 155 carries in 13 games last year, starting the final 10 games. He was a second-team All-Big 12 selection by both the league’s coaches and media as he ranked ninth in the FBS with his 6.5 yards-per-carry average and notched four 100-yard rushing performances. Brooks averaged 77.8 yards per game.
No. 5 — Larry Rountree III, Missouri (Oct. 3)
Like Boyd, Rountree is yet another underrated running back the Vols will face this season because of the team he plays for. Rountree didn’t have as strong of a 2019 season as Mizzou fans had hoped, but part of that was due to serious struggles up front along the offensive line for the Tigers. Still, Rountree ranks sixth all-time on the school’s rushing list, having rushed for 2,748 yards in his career.
Rountree saw his rushing yards dip from 1,216 yards in 13 games his sophomore year to 829 yards in 12 games last season. His yards per carry went down almost a full yard, dropping from 5.40 to 4.46. Still, Rountree is a future NFL back and someone Pruitt will have circled when it comes time to host Missouri.
No. 6 — AJ Rose, Kentucky (Nov. 7)
Kentucky’s entire rushing attack as a whole deserves to be in this spot. In fact, the Kentucky rushing attack will be the toughest challenge for Tennessee’s rush defense this season. The four-headed monster of Terry Wilson, Rose, Kavosiey Smoke, and Christopher Rodriguez Jr. are all back behind one of the best offensive lines in the SEC.
The Wildcats finished fourth nationally in rushing yards per game (278.8) last season, finishing behind only service academies Navy, Air Force, and Army, who all run the triple option. Part of the inflation in the rushing numbers was because wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. had to play wildcat quarterback following multiple injuries in the quarterback room, but Rose, Smoke, and Rodriguez Jr. all rushed for at least 500 yards on the season. In 2018, Wilson rushed for 547 yards and four touchdowns at quarterback.
But this is a list of the top running backs Tennessee will face this season, and Rose is the head of the Kentucky running back room. Rose’s physicality led to a breakout 2019 season, rushing for 826 yards and six touchdowns on 149 carries. He averaged 5.54 yards per carry.
No. 7 — Dameon Pierce, Florida (Sept. 26)
Florida will have to replace Lamical Perine’s production from a year ago — 132 carries for 676 yards and six touchdowns, as well as 40 catches for 262 yards and five touchdowns — with a group that really only includes one player who saw major snaps behind him last season.
Miami transfer Lorenzo Lingard, Malik Davis, and Iverson Clement will all get an opportunity, but Pierce will get the first crack at replacing Perine. Pierce is a hard runner between the tackles, but he can also break the long one, which he has done in his first two years on campus. Pierce has rushed for 729 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons while missing a little time last season with a concussion. Last year, Pierce ran for 305 yards and four touchdowns on 54 carries.
No. 8 — Marshawn Lloyd, South Carolina (Oct. 10)
The South Carolina freshman is the youngest of the talented backs Tennessee will face this season. Carolina has struggled to run the football for the majority of the Will Muschamp era, however. The Gamecocks haven’t had a difference-maker at running back since Mike Davis, who gained 1,183 yards in 2013 and 982 yards in 2014.
Despite losing its three top rushers from a season ago, South Carolina may have solved its issue when it signed MarShawn Lloyd this past recruiting cycle. He may only be a freshman, but he’s already drawing comparisons to Marcus Lattimore. Lloyd figures to be a workhorse for the Gamecocks over at least the next three seasons.
No. 9 — Brian Robinson, Alabama (Oct. 24)
Robinson is the No. 2 running back on Alabama’s depth chart, though he would be starting at most schools around the country. The senior may end up splitting carries with redshirt freshman Trey Sanders, the No. 1 running back in the class of 2019 who missed last season due to a foot injury that he suffered during preseason camp.
Robinson is as trustworthy as they get, however, and that’s why he locked down the No. 2 running back spot last year for the Crimson Tide. He rushed for 441 yards and five touchdowns on 96 attempts while catching 11 passes for 124 yards. Robinson was used in short-yardage situations early on in the 2019 season. He also lined up at fullback at times and was often the lead blocker on kickoff returns. Robinson is simply a good football player.
No. 10 — Troy’s dynamic duo (Nov. 21)
Troy’s running back duo of senior B.J. Smith and junior DK Billingsley will be one of the better running back duos in the Group of Five. Billingsley was the team’s leading rusher last season, rushing for 901 yards and 10 touchdowns on 155 attempts. This year, he’ll split carries with Smith, a 2018 First Team All-Sun Belt selection.
Smith was selected as the 2019 Sun Belt Preseason Conference Player of the Year, but he was injured in the second game of the year and took a medical redshirt. The year prior, Smith rushed for 1,186 rushing yards – the fourth-most in a season in school history. He added 13 rushing touchdowns as he averaged 91.23 yards per game.