Sorry D’Andre Swift, Kentucky’s Benny Snell says he’s the SEC’s best back

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Kentucky's Benny Snell (26) is the leading returning rusher in the SEC -- and the best back in the league, in his opinion.

ATLANTA — Kentucky’s Benny Snell has all the attributes needed to be a great back in the SEC. Not the least of those is confidence.

Just ask him.

“I am the best running back in the SEC,” Snell said at SEC Football Media Days on Monday.

So there you have it.

There’s actually a good bit of merit in Snell’s statement. He IS the leading returning rusher in the league, and not by a little bit. The 5-foot-11, 223-pound junior from Westerville, Ohio, rushed for 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns a year ago and has totaled 2,424 yards and 32 scores in his two seasons in Lexington. Only Mississippi State junior Aeris Williams comes close to that level of production (1,107 yards last year, 2,033 in his career).

But the names that generally get thrown around most as “best backs in the SEC” are associated with the league’s biggest winners. The two most prominently listed heading into the fall of 2018 are Georgia’s D’Andre Swift and Alabama’s Damien Harris.

Unlike Snell, those backs both benefited from and were limited by sharing the load at their position. Swift had only 618 yards while playing third fiddle to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. But he averaged 7.6 yards a carry while doing so. The same for Harris, who averaged 7.4 yards a carry as Bo Scarborough’s understudy. Each player will be moving into a primary role this season.

To that end, Snell acknowledged that winning games is the key to getting noticed. But he doesn’t believe he suffers any lack of respect due to the lack of acclaim for his program. Good players, he said, get recognized wherever they are in the SEC, and he believes he has proven himself to the league.

“I feel if you’re a good player, you’re forever a good player,” Snell said. “Your value is the same wherever you are. From my freshman year to now, I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been. My time is now.”

Georgia certainly knows all about Snell. While the Bulldogs prevailed fairly easily 42-13 in Athens last year, Snell was giving them fits early on. His third-quarter TD brought the Wildcats to within 21-13 shortly after halftime. He finished with 94 yards rushing on 22 carries.

Snell has built quite a following for himself in Bluegrass territory. Increasingly, T-shirts and signs pop up wherever he goes. “Snell Yeah!” they read. In fact, Snell now has the expression tattooed across his mid-section.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Snell said. “It’s got a snail on there with some wheels on it with smoke coming out the back, so it’s a fast snail. I really like it.”

But Snell said the phrase means more to him than cool art.

“I got the tattoo because it’s what I stand on,” he said. “I stand on wanting to be the best running back in the nation. I stand on wanting to be the CEO of a company. Whatever I put my mind to, I’m going to do it. And that’s what Snell Yeah is.”

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