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Akeem Judd may be Ole Miss' primary running back in 2016

Eric Swinney's highlight-filled spring has some projecting him as the top back, but Judd proved down the stretch of last season that he's a physical runner capable of carrying the load.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This spring, the Eric Swinney hype has been in full bloom. Fans are excited about his potential after he entered school as a highly-rated recruit only to lose his freshman season to injury before it even began. It makes sense; Swinney is a punishing runner who produced multiple highlight runs in the small snippets that leaked out of an otherwise closed practice season.

But Akeem Judd has already shown that he can contribute in a big way in the SEC. Judd lost his own first season to a turf toe injury that forced a redshirt. Last season as a redshirt junior, he rushed for just 421 yards and three touchdowns. That's nothing to write home about. He wasn't the primary ballcarrier for much of the season and is entering his senior season now. His potential long-term contributions to the program are obviously dwarfed by those of Swinney, but Judd is ready to produce right now.

But I thought you said he was unspectacular last season.

Well, he sort of was... at least for the first half of the year. In the seven games before Laremy Tunsil returned to the lineup, Judd had just 30 carries for 162 yards. If we exclude UT-Martin, Fresno State, and New Mexico State, Judd had three carries for four yards... in four games. He didn't record a carry against Alabama or Florida and had one for no gain against Memphis and two for 4 yards against Vanderbilt. Yes, through that Memphis game, it looked like Judd was never really going to amount to anything. After all, he wasn't even getting touches.

But then Texas A&M happened. Judd carried the ball 12 times for 68 yards, good for 5.6 yards per carry. He was regularly getting good yardage and doing it between the tackles. While Tunsil's return obviously made this more possible, Judd was also running hard and, perhaps more than anything else, was patient as he waited for the holes to open. He has a good stutter step that allows plays to develop before him.

In the six games with Tunsil in the lineup, Judd would go on to run for 259 yards on 47 carries. And all six of those games were against Power 5 opponents. This wasn't a result of any one huge breakout game. In fact, the second-most yardage Judd gained was just 61 against LSU. His yards per carry over the span of those six games were 5.51, making him a reliable back who could get more than just tough yards.

This is about more than sheer production.

It's easy to look at Judd's final statline, even knowing about the distribution of his success, and see him as a backup runner, and that point is somewhat valid. However, Jaylen Walton, last year's starter, averaged 4.75 yards over the final six games to Judd's 5.5. Walton was a major contributor during his time at Ole Miss, but towards the end of his senior year, Judd was simply more successful. Perhaps that was a result of Judd earning just slightly more than half the carries Walton did in that time. Still, it was encouraging to see Judd enter the spring with such strong momentum.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't expect major deviation from the by-committee setup we've seen from Hugh Freeze and company so far. If they end up with an elite runner, they'll probably lean more on him than the others. As it stands, they have some good pieces in Judd, Jordan Wilkins (who I also like a good bit), and Swinney and will mix their usages to give them good chances to succeed.