The Tennessee Volunteers’ running back position experienced some twists and turns last year.
Entering the 2016 season, the Volunteers were loaded at running back. Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara seemed like one of the best running duos in the country. But now, after Hurd transferred to Baylor and Kamara is now with the New Orleans Saints, Tennessee’s running back position is a bit of a question mark.
While there is a mist of mystery surrounding the position, the one thing that is for certain is that it’s junior John Kelly’s full-time job now.
After Hurd left the program midway through last season, Kelly took over as the No. 2 back. He and Kamara would go on to form one of the best tandems in the SEC last year. Kelly would go on to run for 630 yards and five touchdowns on 98 carries—that led Tennessee in rushing yards by a running back last year.
While Kelly’s workload will more then likely see an increase in 2017, don’t be surprised if incoming freshman Ty Chandler becomes the star of the ground game toward the end of the season.
The Nashville product stands at 5-foot-10, 187 lbs. and produced 7,068 yards and 107 touchdowns in high school. The abilities he possesses should earn him some playing time immediately and his talents are on par to Kamara’s. Chandler can hit an open hole quickly and can be a real threat in the passing game.
While Chandler could easily blossom into the Volunteers’ best back in 2017, he could also turn into the best freshman back in the SEC as well.
A lot of analysts believe Alabama’s Najee Harris will be one of the best freshman running backs in the country this upcoming season. However, Harris has to compete with the likes of Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs for playing time. Those are three backs who ran for a combined 2,416 yards and 17 touchdowns.
For Chandler to see the field all he has to do is beat out sophomore back Carlin Fils-aime. Last year, Fils-aime only tallied 14 carries for 58 yards.
Although Chandler seems to have the easier road for the title of potential best freshman back in the SEC, he will have competition.
Obviously his main competitor will be Harris. However, incoming Mississippi State back Kylin Hill could also contend for the title as well. Like Chandler, Hill could easily emerge as the Bulldogs No. 2 back as the season progresses.
While most believe Chandler will be Tennessee’s No. 2 back this season, you can’t totally write off Fils-aime. Due to him being a year older than Chandler, plus actually seeing collegiate carries, it would be safe to assume Fils-aime is the next logical guy behind Kelly. However, he only checks in at 5-foot-11, 175 lbs. Chandler is a little bit bigger right now and should be around 200 lbs. when the Volunteers open the season.
Fils-aime may open the season as the backup, but Chandler should at least take over that position later on in the year.
While Chandler will have an uphill battle to become the SEC’s best freshman SEC, he will benefit from being under head coach Butch Jones. The Tennessee head coach loves to utilize a two-back system. Jones has had at least two backs top 500 yards rushing three out of his four seasons in Knoxville.
Kelly will obviously be Tennessee’s go-to guy to open the season. There is no denying that. However, with all things considered, Chandler should make some noise in his first year in the Orange and White.