Georgia lost the best running back tandem in program history.
Yet due to the depth the Bulldogs have been able to acquire, it doesn’t appear they are in for a drop off in production in the backfield. Georgia has established itself as Running Back University over the years as many great running backs have come through the program.
In terms of statistics, no Georgia duo has put up what Nick Chubb (4,769 rushing yards) and Sony Michel (3,613) did over a four-year span. Chubb and Michel rank second and third, respectively, in all-time yards in program history. The only one who ranks better is Herschel Walker, who rolled up 5,259 yards in only three seasons.
But as it is with any rushing attack, it starts with the offensive line up front. The Bulldogs should be more than fine in that department. And from there, a trio of backs figure to step up and compete for carries during the spring.
They left: Chubb, Michel, Christian Payne
They return: D’Andre Swift (Soph.), Brian Herrien (Jr.), Elijah Holyfield (Jr)
Enrolled early: Zamir White
On the way: James Cook
What to watch: Swift appears to be slotted for lead back duties. At the same time, the Bulldogs aren’t in a position where they need him to carry the ball 25-to-30 times per game. Most great college teams are getting away from the bell cow model anyway. With Chubb and Michel on hand a season ago, Georgia didn’t load either with carries in a single outing. Chubb (14.9) and Michel (11.1) averaged fewer than 15 carries per game in 2017.
Therefore, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Swift to log an average between 14 and 16 carries, with the backs behind him sharing the rest. Herrien and Holyfield are experienced options who have logged minutes on the playing field over the past two seasons.
Herrien is a versatile back who can line up as a receiver and run between the tackles. Holyfield has great burst and excellent vision as a power back. With another offseason to improve, both backs figure to be factors in Georgia’s 2018 rushing attack.
But Georgia is adding two highly-touted freshmen to the mix. Five-star Zamir White, the No. 1 running back recruit in the recruiting class of 2018, enrolled early but won’t work team drills with his teammates in the spring. White is recovering from a torn ACL suffered during the North Carolina state high school playoffs. White is hoping to recover before preseason practice begins in August. White rushed for over 7,000 yards during his high school career but won’t be needed to rush his recovery based on the depth at the position. If not for the injury, White would likely, at minimum, push for No. 2 running back duties during the spring.
High four-star recruit James Cook, who will arrive in the summer, was considered an all-purpose back by the recruiting websites. Cook offers excellent speed as both a rushing and receiving weapon. Running backs coach Dell McGee said he is hoping Cook adds some weight once he arrives to Georgia so that he can withstand the rigors of the SEC.
“With time and in the weight program, James will develop physically,” McGee said. “There's no doubt in my mind that he will be able to do everything as well.”
At fullback, Georgia lost Payne and will open that position up to a competition. Turner Fortin, Nick Moore and Frank Sinkwich IV are all potential options the Bulldogs could consider. Holyfield is also someone to watch here. During the SEC Championship, with Payne sidelined due to a head injury, Holyfield filled the fullback role on offense.
Outlook: Georgia finished ninth in the nation in rushing at 258.4 yards per game, which also ranked first in the SEC. While the Bulldogs will certainly miss Chubb and Michel, they shouldn’t miss a beat when it comes to running the rock in 2018.