Georgia running backs-Zamir White
Zamir White made the decision to bypass the NFL draft and return to Georgia for a fourth season (Tony Walsh/UGAAA).

Despite ESPN ranking, Georgia still in great position at running back

According to ESPN, there are eight programs that are better at producing running back talent than the Georgia football program.

The network explained their rankings, which had Alabama, Wisconsin, LSU, Miami, Oklahoma, Auburn, Texas and Ohio State all above Georgia dating back to the start of the BCS era in 1998.

“It’s a combination of college success, draft stock and NFL success,” ESPN’s David Hale wrote. “Our formula awards points for All-conference and All-America selections, rewarding the best college performers. It awards points on a sliding scale based on where a player is drafted, rewarding impressive NFL evaluations.”

The reason Georgia doesn’t rank as high as some of those other schools is largely attributed to the fact Georgia’s last All-American running back was Knoshown Moreno back in 2008.

Georgia might not produce an All-American running back in this season, but that shouldn’t be seen as an indictment of the running back room. Perhaps the biggest reason Georgia won’t have a running back that ascends to All-American status is that it has an abundance of talented running backs.

Zamir White returns as the leading rusher, after finishing with 779 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He was recently voted Preseason Second Team All-SEC at last month’s SEC media days. The senior continued to improve over the course of 2020, topping 100-yards against Kentucky, Florida and Missouri.

There’s also senior running back James Cook, the best pass catcher of the bunch. Cook doesn’t figure to see the same between-the-tackles carries that his other running backs do but he figures to play a large and creative role in Georgia’s roster. He led Georgia running backs in yards per carry last season with 6.73.

Related: Usage of James Cook should be telling about direction of Georgia offense

Georgia also has two younger options who expect to see the field this season. Junior Kenny McIntosh, who will also play a part in returning kicks, shined in final stages of the Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati. On the final drive of the game, McIntosh hauled in three passes for 25 yards to help set-up Jack Podlesny’s game-winning field goal. He finished the game with 10 touches for 60 total yards.

Related: Branson Robinson commits to Georgia

Not that McGee needed it but he also got some pretty good recruiting ammunition over the weekend when former Georgia running back Nick Chubb signed a new deal with the Cleveland Browns. The three-year, $36 million deal makes Chubb the sixth-highest paid running back in the NFL.

For Chubb to get that kind of money after the knee injury he suffered in 2015 against Tennessee is an incredible achievement for the former Bulldog.

Having an elite running back or duo doesn’t help your team as much as it used to. Georgia isn’t going to be able to ride White, Cook, McIntosh and Milton to a College Football Playoff appearance like it did with Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift in 2017. Thanks to Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence, the sport of college football has changed drastically over the past three seasons.

That’s a big reason why much of the discussion around the Georgia offense this season hinges on the leap quarterback JT Daniels is expected to make, rather than what Georgia’s stable of running backs might be able to do.

But the last three national champions all saw big seasons from Travis Etienne, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Harris. Those three running backs all also went in the first round of the NFL draft. There is some correlation there.