Does Auburn, Tennessee or Ole Miss Need 4-Star RB Eric Swinney the Most?

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystMay 7, 2014


Running back Eric Swinney is quickly approaching a commitment, with an announcement looming on May 16. According to Fox Sports reporter Chad Simmons, his decision has come down to three teams:

The trio of SEC squads are finalists in a recruitment that features more than 20 programs. The 4-star prospect previously considered offers from Florida State, Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Miami, Ohio State and Oregon.

Swinney, a 5'10", 188-pound standout at Sandy Creek High School (Tyrone, Georgia), is rated No. 12 nationally among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings. He's listed at No. 98 overall in the 2015 class.

Swinney shoulders the load for Sandy Creek's offensive attack and took 288 handoffs during the past two seasons. He averaged nearly nine yards per carry as a sophomore and junior combined, rushing for 2,499 yards and 43 touchdowns.

His receiving skills also shined in 2013, when Swinney caught 11 passes for 325 yards and four touchdowns. He's a dual-threat athlete out of the backfield who displays potential to contribute early in college.

Now that he's reportedly focused on a trio of programs, it's an appropriate time to examine the opportunities each team presents. 

Tennessee, Auburn and Ole Miss are each in uniquely different situations at running back. So which squad has the most dire need for an impact player at the position?

Here's a look at each option.



Former Sandy Creek star Rajion Neal led the Volunteers in rushing last season as a senior. He should have plenty of inside information to share about Tennessee with the young man who currently carries the ball at his alma mater.

Marlin Lane, a rising senior, received the second-most handoffs in Knoxville last season. He rushed for 534 yards and four touchdowns in 2013 but won't be on the roster when Swinney would be set to arrive on campus.

True freshman Jalen Hurd enrolled early and figures to see plenty of action during his first collegiate campaign. He missed nearly all of his senior high school season with an injury but rushed for more than 3,300 yards and 43 scores as a junior.

If Hurd emerges as a formidable force this fall, there's reason to believe he'd be in line to serve as the team's workhorse back through at least 2016.

Still, there's always room for a change-of-pace counterpart, and Swinney would fit the bill. Tennessee is set to lose Neal, along with veteran reserves Deanthonie Summerhill and Devrin Young, from the depth chart after this season, so there's an immediate need for running back reinforcements.

Help is on the way this summer when 4-star signee Derrell Scott enrolls. Tennessee picked up a pledge from 3-star 2015 North Carolina running back Rocky Reid in April.

High expectations are in place for true freshman Jalen Hurd.
High expectations are in place for true freshman Jalen Hurd.Credit: 247Sports


Ole Miss

The Rebels landed 3-star Texas running back Rawleigh Williams III last month but remain on the hunt for more backfield talent. Ole Miss didn't feature a 1,00-yard back in 2013, but five players gained at least 300 yards on the ground.

Junior I'Tavius Mathers was the team's leading rusher last season and aims to build on a spring game performance that featured a 96-yard touchdown run. He's joined in the backfield by Jaylen Walton, who started seven games as a sophomore last season.

Redshirt freshman Jordan Wilkins is bigger than both of his more experienced teammates and gives Ole Miss a young player with power-back potential. He scored a touchdown in the spring game and figures to fill a significant role this fall.

The Rebels welcome top-ranked 2014 junior college running back Akeem Judd to campus this year. Ole Miss also signed in-state recruit D.K. Buford in February, adding a player with multidimensional skills that compare to Swinney.

Junior I'Tavius Mathers displays big-play abilities.
Junior I'Tavius Mathers displays big-play abilities.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press



2013 Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason will be playing on Sundays this fall, but there's still plenty of playmakers at the running back position in Gus Malzahn's attack. The Tigers produced more than 4,500 yards on the ground last season, resulting in an SEC title and BCS National Championship Game appearance.

Seniors Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne are each coming off 600-yard, six-touchdown efforts. However, neither player factors into the equation when examining the team's need for Swinney.

Redshirt freshman Peyton Barber could see immediate reps but wasn't able to make inroads during spring game action. He suffered an injury on his first carry, though it's not considered a serious setback.

There's certainly a chance Barber will be passed on the depth chart by incoming freshman Roc Thomas. The 5-star signee has the physical makeup of a college-ready running back and rushed for 2,200 yards last fall.

Auburn's 2015 class already includes Tallahassee product D'Anfernee McGriff, a 4-star recruit who committed in April. Auburn loses two talented backs after this season but should be just fine given its collection of young standouts.

5-star 2014 signee Roc Thomas arrives on campus this summer.
5-star 2014 signee Roc Thomas arrives on campus this summer.Credit: 247Sports


The Verdict

None of Swinney's finalists face dire straits at running back, but given the presence of new All-American talents Hurd and Thomas, it appears Tennessee and Auburn are in excellent shape when it comes to youth at the position.

Both teams lose key contributors from the rotation after this season, while Ole Miss could retain its entire stable of impact running backs if no one enters the NFL draft early. Still, the Rebels don't quite have the level of talent waiting in the wings that Tennessee and Auburn possess.

Swinney would have to bide his time at any of his top three options, but his best shot at an expanded role in 2016 seems to be in Oxford. He would have a true opportunity to emerge as a feature back before his third season on campus at Ole Miss—that path would be more convoluted at Tennessee and Auburn.

Ole Miss may need him most, but the decision ultimately comes down to where Swinney feels most comfortable. Whichever team adds him to the 2015 class will pick up a versatile playmaker capable of doing damage against SEC opponents for years to come.


Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.


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