Tennessee football: Athlon ranks Vols 2017 RB tandem No. 12 in SEC

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 05: Alvin Kamara /

Tennessee football enters 2017 with a much different running back situation from 2016. Athlon gave the Volunteers the No. 12 best tandem in the SEC.

Must Read: 4 reasons Tennessee football could be better in 2017

Heading into the 2016 season, Tennessee football was supposed to have the most elite backfield in the country. On top of a dual-threat senior quarterback in Joshua Dobbs, they had two five-stars at running back in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.

And they were the perfect complement for each other.

Hurd was supposed to be the workhorse power back who gets the tough yards, while Kamara was the big play and speedy all-purpose back.

Well, Kamara got hurt at one point, and Hurd left the team midseason.

Now, the Vols enter 2017 with much less hype at the position. Athlon did a ranking of potential running back tandems in the SEC and put Tennessee football at No. 12, only ahead of the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Ole Miss Rebels.

The two backs they used were John Kelly, who is going to be the returning starter, and Ty Chandler, who is a true freshman.

Here’s what they said about the group.

"Look for Kelly to push for 1,000 yards in 2017 as Tennessee’s No. 1 back. Sophomore Carlin Fils-aime has the inside track on the backup role after recording 14 carries last year, but true freshman Ty Chandler will be tough to keep on the bench."

Like many positions in Knoxville, this unit mostly has a low-ranking because of the lack of evidence for how good it can be.

Chandler was a four-star recruit on Rivals. And Kelly has shown flashes of greatness.

Neither has been the feature back for a full season in college football yet, though.

Of course, there’s still Carlin Fils-Aime, who could actually be the No. 2 back ahead of Chandler. And there’s also the major question of who the quarterback is going to be.

One thing working in their favor, though, is that the offensive line returns four of five starters. That should be very helpful for whomever carries the load.

Next: Projecting the 2017 Tennessee football 2-deep depth chart

Add in a more physical-oriented offensive coordinator in Larry Scott, and the backs could potentially thrive. But they first have to prove it.