Kentucky football will enter the 2018 season with one of the best running backs in the nation in Benny Snell Jr. Last season. Although, a major gap in the offense was the depth at the position last season. Sihiem King provided good depth in the passing game, but he couldn’t get much going on the ground; AJ Rose got very little playing time and didn’t help his case when he did. Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez will enter as a freshman, completing the running back position on the roster. Here is the breakdown:
Benny Snell Jr.
Benny Snell Jr. is the Wildcats number one option on offense. He is the starting running back, and he might be the best player on the entire team. Last season, Snell out-preformed his incredible freshman season, leading the Southeastern Conference in yards and touchdowns. Snell tore up many opposing defenses, piling on 1,333 yards and finding the end zone 19 times on the 2017 season.
For those keeping scores, that is 242 more yards and six more touchdowns than his phenomenal freshman season. Snell broke multiple school records over the course of the season, which included the following: First back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons, most career rushing touchdowns, first player in school history with at least 176 rushing yards in back-to-back games, first player with at least five 100-yard rushing games in back-to-back seasons and most single-season rushing touchdowns. Returning seven of eight offensive linemen from a season ago, it’s shaping up to be another great year for Snell. Now, Coach Eddie Gran will need to find a sure-fire number two at the running back position.
Sihiem King is at his best when in the screen game, but he needs to find some consistency on the ground. King has received multiple comparisons throughout his time at Kentucky as a Boom Williams-esque running back. Thus far, King has not quite lived up to those expectations… However, King is a much better player in the screen game, and that is where he will ultimately be utilized as a third-down back (in medium-to-long yard situations).
King finished the 2017 season with 364 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. On only 15 catches, King managed to gain 86 yards, which is close to six yards per attempt. King will need to find some consistency to solidify himself as the number two behind Snell, but his experience as a senior with playing time on his resume will certainly help.
AJ Rose showed great potential in last year’s spring game, significantly trucking, arguably, the ‘Cats best defender in Mike Edwards. However, that was just a spring game. Rose got very few snaps during the actual season, and he didn’t do much once he got in the game. Rose only compiled 37 yards on 15 carries a season ago. With all of that said, Rose is a downhill runner that could ultimately get playing time because of that trait. If Rose can become a more patient runner, he can definitely find himself as the number two.
Kavosiey Smoke enters as the least-experienced, young buck of the position. Smoke is unproven, but that doesn’t mean he will not get an opportunity to become that number two behind Snell. At six-foot, 215 pounds, Smoke is a big, downhill running back that fights for every yard he gets. He could be exactly what Coach Eddie Gran is looking for to back up Snell. Smoke was a three-star recruit that committed to Kentucky over Florida, South Carolina, Georgia Tech and others.
Chris Rodriguez comes in as that under-the-radar guy that most people don’t know of. Outside of his offers from Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State, Rodriguez was getting recruited by teams like Troy, Colorado State, and Middle Tennessee State. However, these underdog running backs have clearly been beneficial to Kentucky’s success as of late, but Benny Snell’s don’t grow on trees. With the concern of who will provide valuable time at the position with Snell out, Rodriguez will definitely get a chance to prove himself. A little smaller than Smoke, the freshmen duo will fight for every yard they get.
Surely, no one will argue with my statement that Benny Snell is the Kentucky Wildcats starting running back all season long unless something catastrophic happens. With that being said, the number two guy is still very much in the air. I believe Kavosiey Smoke will become that number two guy Coach Gran has been looking for somewhere along the ride. Sihiem King has the experience, he will more than likely start out the season as the number two guy. However, I believe Smoke will claim that title at some point, but I also believe King will still be used in passing situations like third and medium-to-long range.
With uncertainty at the Quarterback position as of right now, the running backs will more than likely have to get the offense going early in the season and early on in games. Kentucky was 2-4 last season when Benny Snell failed to get over the 100-yard mark, and 5-2 when he managed to get over the century mark. This group will be relied on heavily, and it can’t just be Snell providing valuable playing time.