Top players by position: Five of state’s top running backs may be headed to SEC

(Daniel Varnado/Special to AJC)

It has been four years since Georgia produced a five-star running back, Cedartown’s Nick Chubb, but at least five in the class of 2018 are likely to follow Chubb into the SEC next fall.

Ola’s Chris Rodriguez this week committed to Kentucky. Taylor County’s Lyn-J Dixon is pledged to Tennessee. Rome’s Jalynn Sykes and Bainbridge’s Dameon Pierce are leaning strongly toward SEC schools. Another is Buford’s Anthony Grant, a Tennessee commit and two-way starter who will appear in a different top-10 category next week as GHSF Daily continues its position-by-position look at the state’s best players.

Their status as a recruit is a factor, but the choices are made largely on their production as high school players.

*D.J. Atkins, Callaway (5-9, 160): The leading returning rusher in the state, Atkins put up 2,041 yards on 281 carries last season for 13-1 Callaway. Atkins has several mid-major Division I offers.

*Zion Custis, Lovejoy (5-8, 180): Custis rushed for 1,487 yards and 12 touchdowns on 187 carries last season on Lovejoy’s 7-5 team. He ran for 1,093 yards as a sophomore.

*Lyn-J Dixon, Taylor County (5-10, 175): Dixon, a top-300 national recruit who is committed to Tennessee, rushed for 1,908 yards last season and made first-team all-state in the Class A public division. He scored 41 touchdowns – 35 rushing, three receiving and three returning kicks.

*Tae Hammond, Pepperell (5-10, 195): Hammond rushed for 1,362 yards and 26 touchdowns while playing both sides of the ball for 10-2 Pepperell. He had 53 tackles, nine for losses, as a linebacker. He has an offer from Jacksonville State.

*Dameon Pierce, Bainbridge (5-11, 205): Pierce, formerly committed to Alabama, is the top-rated RB recruit in Georgia. He rushed for 1,686 yards with 20 touchdowns last season, and his 4,656 career rushing yards are the most among active Georgia players. If he matches his 2,000-yard output as a sophomore, he’ll finish in the top 10 in the state all-time. Auburn and Florida are his reported leaders.

*Chris Rodriguez, Ola (5-11, 200): Rodriguez – who committed to Kentucky on Monday – rushed for 1,660 yards and 26 touchdowns on 264 carries last season for 6-5 Ola, which made the playoffs for the first time. Rodriguez had 11 receptions for 278 yards. He has more than 3,000 yards rushing the past two seasons.

*Jalynn Sykes, Rome (5-10, 185): Sykes rushed for 1,092 yards in just 110 carries last season, which was cut short in the first round of Rome’s Class AAAAA championship run. Tennessee and Ole Miss are among the better bets to land him. Sykes and Jamious Griffin (1,443 yards rushing last season) are likely the best RB tandem in the state.

*Taurean Taylor, Tucker (5-8, 175): Taylor rushed for 1,321 yards and had another 223 receiving yards with 18 touchdowns last season, when he was the Region 4-AAAAAA offensive player of the year for state runner-up Tucker. He also ran back three kicks for touchdowns. He’s committed to Kent State.

*Tijai Whatley, Darlington (6-0, 185): Whatley has rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons. He ran for 1,213 and 14 touchdowns on 191 carries in 2016, when Darlington finished 8-4. He also had 18 catches for 346 yards and another six touchdowns. Whatley is committed to Georgia Tech.

*Colby Wood, Jefferson (5-10, 180): Wood has rushed for 4,247 yards and scored 65 touchdowns in his career. He ran for 1,642 yards last season, albeit short of his 2,119 yards with 32 touchdowns as a sophomore. Wood is a two-way starter with 70 tackles and eight interceptions in his career. Wood has offers from Mercer and Navy.

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