When thinking about all the dominant players the SEC has produced, it is often hard to choose one player or position that stands out the most. But, the five players on this list are impossible to forget for many college football fans.
#1 Emmitt Smith (Florida)
Easily a Top 5 running back of all time and some would argue the best, Emmitt Smith was unstoppable at every level of his career. He held tons of state records at the high school level in Florida. Then he went on to own the record books at the University of Florida.
But he really made his name as an elite dual-threat running back for the Dallas Cowboys. Smith had a lengthy career that wound up with him setting a new all-time mark in total rushing yards at 18,355. A record that stands to this day. He was also a three-time Super Bowl winner with the Cowboys. Simply put, Emmitt Smith is a legend.
#2 Herschel Walker (Georgia)
Probably the most gifted athlete to ever touch a football field, Walker destroyed the record books at Georgia finishing his career with an astounding 5259 rushing yards. His success in college was never really matched in the NFL. Many believe his USFL detour is what contributed to his regression. But he wasn’t a slouch in the NFL.
With Dallas, he led the league in All Purpose yards twice, in 1987 and 1990. He is 11th all-time in all-purpose yards. Many people might forget but he was a kick and punt returner as well as a running back. His ability to thrive in multiple spots allowed him to have a lengthy NFL career.
#3 Bo Jackson (Auburn)
He stands right there with Walker as an athlete of mythic proportions. He was a blend of superhuman strength, blazing speed, and raw talent that the world had never seen before. He supposedly ran a 4.13 40-yard dash, which is far and away the all-time record. One must assume that his time would be a little bit slower if recorded on modern laser time. But even so, it would likely be a sub 4.2 time which is still easily the record.
He is the only athlete to be selected to both a Pro Bowl and an All-Star game. The Heisman winning running back from Auburn was remarkably a better baseball player than football. Had he not derailed his career with a hip injury he would have surely rewritten the record books for both sports.
#4 Jamal Lewis (Tennessee)
One of the few members of the NFL’s exclusive 2000-yard club, Jamal Lewis was a monster. He was a big bruising back who would run through tackles like a knife through butter. He was a part of some deadly running back duos at Tennessee during their heyday as an SEC powerhouse in the 1990’s. He was a member of the 1998 National Championship team and won a super bowl with the Ravens in 2000.
He became a member of the 2000-yard club in 2003 with the Ravens. He finished that season with 2066 rushing yards, which is good for third most after Adrian Peterson passed him. Coincidently, it was Peterson that also supplanted his single-game rushing record of 295 yards when he set the new mark at 296.
#5 Steve Van Buren (LSU)
Some of you youngsters might not know the name but he was as dominant a running back the NFL has ever had. He led the league in rushing yards, attempts, and touchdowns for 3 consecutive years in 1947-1949. Back then the league only played 12 game seasons, so his overall stats aren’t as high as some of today’s players. But Van Buren was the first back to go over the 10-touchdown threshold in a season, as well as the first back to have multiple 1000-yard seasons.
When he retired in 1951 he was the NFL record holder in rushing yards, attempts, and touchdowns. At LSU, he led the conference in scoring his senior season with 16 touchdowns. His running style earned him several nicknames throughout his career, the coolest one, of course, is “Supersonic Steve”.
Honorable Mention – Beattie Feathers (Tennessee)
Most fans of today’s NFL won’t recognize the name, but I had to add him to the list. He owns the all-time mark for per carry average in a season with 8.44. He’s tied with only Michael Vick on that list. He accomplished the feat in his rookie season way back in 1934 when he was playing for the undefeated Chicago Bears.
He finished the season with 1004 yards on 119 carries becoming the first back to eclipse 1000 yards in a season. His career would have been spectacular, but it was derailed by a career-long injury he suffered near the end of his rookie season. He will always be one of those great “what ifs”.
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