This week CatsIllustrated.com started a series previewing the top individual performers that Kentucky will face during the 2017 season.
Here we move on to the running backs.
While we ranked every expected starting quarterback the Cats will face, running backs are a little different because some opponents have two backs who might be better than any back on another opponent's roster.
So here's a list of the five best running backs Kentucky will face.
5. John Kelly, Tennessee. It seems like we've been hearing about Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd forever, but this year it's Kelly's turn to step up. He actually had more rushing yards than any other Tennessee back last year (630 on 98 carries). Kelly didn't play in UT's opener last year and he logged only three carries through the first five weeks. He didn't come on strong until the Vols were well into conference play but had 89 yards at A&M, 94 at South Carolina, 94 against Kentucky and 101 against Missouri. He had a lot to do with Tennessee's improved ground game later in the year. Kelly is more of a straight-line runner who won't be as quick or elusive side to side as some others, but he runs very hard and breaks arm tackles by sheer force of will and by not messing around.
4. Jordan Scarlett, Florida. It's not like Scarlett put up monster numbers last year, but he took two times as many carries as any other Florida running back, averaged 5 yards a carry and finished with 889 yards and six scores. Scarlett didn't pad his numbers against bad teams. He started slow during the first half of the season but rushed for 100 yards three times in the middle of the year. His best totals were against South Carolina (134 yards), LSU (108), Missouri (101) and Iowa (94), and he went for a big average in those games. If the Gators offensive line can be more consistent Scarlett could see his numbers go up quite a bit. His production should be more predictable week to week this year. He runs with very short, quick steps and though he can run between the tackles he gets to the sideline quickly. He has more burst than most of the other backs UK will face this year. Scarlett shows good vision and patience at the line of scrimmage.
3. Damarea Crockett, Missouri. As is the case with Nick Chubb (read on), Crockett's numbers would be even better if he didn't split so many carries with someone else (Ish Witter). But in spite of Witter getting 162 carries last year (most on Mizzou's team), Crockett finished with 1,062 yards and 10 scores, averaging 6.94 yards per carry. Crockett is a good fit in Missouri's offense. He runs low and he's got a strong 225-pound build. He has the speed to get to the second level and when he lowers his shoulders he can drive ahead for yards after contact. Kentucky kept him bottled up last year (55 yards on 13 carries), which was his lowest total of the second half of the season.
2. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt. Finally, Webb is starting to get some of the respect he's probably deserved for much longer. He's the fourth-leading returning rusher in the SEC (250 carries, 1,283 yards, 13 TD). Vanderbilt's passing game improved last year but the Commodores want to play a ball control, physical brand of football and they're going to lean very heavily on Webb. He finished last year especially strong, rushing for 100 yards in each of his last three games, against Ole Miss, Tennessee and NC State, with six scores in those games. On 18 carries he had 100 yards against Kentucky last year. Webb will be one of the better pass-catching backs UK will face this year (21 receptions in 2016).
1. Nick Chubb, Georgia. This really isn't all that difficult. Chubb is a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and even though Sony Michel will take a good number of his carries he's still likely to put up big numbers. But stats aren't our interest here. He's the best back UK will face. The 5-foot-10, 228-pound back can pick up open-space yards in a hurry and get to the edge but he'll also break plenty of tackles. Keeping him in check will be a massive chore. Kentucky did a good job of keeping him in check last year (21 carries, 85 yards, no touchdowns). He started last season strong and finished strong but wasn't all that effective in the big middle portion of UGA's schedule.