It was just two weeks ago that we were discussing the fact that Ole Miss was heading into the 2016 season with the deepest running back corps of the Hugh Freeze era. Juniors Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins figured to operate a timeshare as the featured backs, with impressive redshirt freshman Eric Swinney chipping in as a change of pace.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Judd is the only one left.
Freeze confirmed to ESPN that redshirt freshman Eric Swinney will miss the entire season after suffering a knee injury in the first quarter of Monday night's gut-wrenching loss to Florida State. That's a brutal twist of fate for a talented young runner who missed all of last season with a stress fracture. Having battled his way through rehab, Swinney was the star of spring practice and figured to be one of the breakout offensive players in 2016. His season lasted all of one carry for 6 yards.
(Freeze also confirmed that starting cornerback Ken Webster is done for the season.)
That news comes 18 days after Ole Miss announced that an "administrative error" doomed Wilkins to academic ineligibility for the fall semester (he can technically fix that in time to play a bowl game). The junior, who ran for 428 yards last season and led the team in highlight yards per opportunity, figured to get a ton of carries this season and was the best of the bunch in pass protection.
So what does the Ole Miss depth chart look like at present?
The good news is that Judd is probably the most reliable runner of the three. He edged out Wilkins in the carries department toward the end of last year and figured to resume that advantage in 2016. He looked good on Monday night, averaging a healthy 5.5 yards per run and ripping off a filthy touchdown scamper at the end of the second quarter, though the offense's second-half ineptitude limited him to just eight carries on the night.
The top of the rotation is fine as long as Judd can stay healthy. The concern is what's behind him.
Brazley stepped in as Judd's primary backup on Monday, though he had just two carries for three yards as Freeze inexplicably abandoned the run during FSU’s comeback. A former three-star out of New Orleans, the junior's only real contributions in Oxford have come in garbage time (200 of his 222 yards and all three three of his touchdowns in 2015 came in games against UT-Martin, Fresno State and New Mexico State) and on special teams.
The freshman was probably heading for a redshirt year before the attrition began, but Swinney's injury likely ends any chance of that happening. The four-star was heavily recruited by SEC programs and nearly flipped to Bama late in the 2016 'crootin cycle, so the talent is certainly there. At 5'11, 220-pounds, Pennamon has the size to spell Judd as a between-the-tackles runner, but also proved himself to be a competent receiver while playing in a spread offense in high school. The key will be acclimating him to a college system.
Originally recruited as a 180-pound defensive back, the former three-star moved to the backfield and built himself up a sturdy 227. He has speed to go along with that size, but not much experience: Buford tallied all of seven carries as a freshman, none of which came against Power 5 competition.
Jarrion Street, maybe
Street, a three-star running back prospect coming out of high school, was quickly moved to safety when he showed up on campus this year. It'll be interesting to see if the coaches flip the freshman back to the other side of the ball for depth purposes.