November 26, 2014

Stars In The Making: Ranking The 2013 SEC Running Backs

This is the second in a series of posts evaluating the SEC offensive skill positions.  In part 1, we took a look at the SEC’s best quarterbacks.

This string of seven straight BCS national championships by the SEC has confirmed the blueprint for winning big in college football:  Play hard-nosed defense, and couple that with the ability to run the football.

The SEC is overflowing with young running backs in 2013 — all showing the flair for the dynamic, game-changing play.  It should be a fun year to watch this young bunch.  All of our top eight are freshmen and sophomores.

Oh, and by the way, none of these guys led the league in rushing last year.  Johnny Football went for 1,409 rushing yards.  ;)

1.  T.J. Yeldon, Sophomore, Alabama (1,108 yards, 12 TDs in 2012) — The super freshman split time with Eddie Lacy (1,322 yards) last year, becoming the only SEC tandem to surpass 1,000+ yards each.  This year, it’s Yeldon’s turn to be the ringleader.  Yeldon runs with such strength and burst — the first guy never seems to bring him down.  If he stays healthy, we think he could approach the Bama single-season record (Mark Ingram 1,658 in 2009).  Elite.

2.  Todd Gurley, Sophomore, Georgia (1,385 yards, 17 TDs in 2012) — Going into last season, we thought Keith Marshall was going to be the bell cow of this tag team duo, but Gurley would not be denied.  Showing a good feel for running between the tackles, Gurley made the Bulldogs play-action game the best in college football.  All five of his offensive lineman return for 2013.  Uh oh.

3.  Derrick Henry, Freshman, Alabama (HS career 12,124 yards, 153 TDs) — Henry is the next great thing to arrive on the college football scene.  He already possesses an NFL-ready body (6-3, 240) and holds the national high school rushing record from his days at Yulee, Fla. HS.  Henry is a slasher in the mold of St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson.  He has tremendous athleticism and lateral quickness.  He’s coming off a broken bone in his leg from spring practice, but is set to be ready by August.  The rich get richer.

4.  Mike Davis, Sophomore, South Carolina (275 yards, 2 TDs in 2012) — Davis spent last year backing up Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles.  With both of them departed to the NFL, Davis will get the lion’s share of the carries this season.  Davis hits the hole quick and is a ‘one cut and go’-type runner.  He added 10 pounds during the offseason (5-9, 215) and is destined to breakout in 2013.

5.  Alex Collins, Freshman, Arkansas (HS career 4,186 yards, 42 TDs in 2 years at Plantation, Fla. HS) — Collins is the perfect back for a Bret Bielema offense.  He has tremendous vision, speed and acceleration.  Great jump-cut.  What you notice when you watch him on film is his great balance.  He reminds us of a young Marshawn Lynch in his running style.  Will split carries with Jonathan Williams in 2013.  Incredible upside.

6.  Kelvin Taylor, Freshman, Florida (HS career 12,109 yards, 192 TDs) — Son of former Florida Gator and Jacksonville Jaguars star Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor looks to make a name for himself in the SEC.  Much like his father, Taylor is not a burner, but a great between the tackles runner with a good burst.  He is likely to split carries with Matt Jones to start, but look for Taylor to emerge as one of the next great SEC backs.

The video below shows some of the highlights from last season when Kelvin Taylor (#21) and Derrick Henry (#2) squared off in high school.  Wow…

7.  Brandon Williams, Sophomore, Texas A&M (redshirt in 2012) — With defenses likely to gang up on Johnny Manziel this year, Brandon Williams could be in for a big season.  The transfer from Oklahoma sat out a season ago, but looks like he will emerge as the number one back, teaming with senior Ben Malena.  Williams has good size and speed — a homerun threat every time he touches the ball.  Dangerous in Sumlin’s wide-open offense.

8.  Keith Marshall, Sophomore, Georgia (759 yards, 8 TDs in 2012) – Marshall had a very good freshman season that was overshadowed by Gurley, who set the SEC frosh rushing record.  Marshall, who had three 100-yard games last season, hits the hole quick, and has breakaway speed.  Second only to Bama’s duo, the Gurley-Marshall tandem should prove deadly again for opponents in 2013.

9.  LaDarius Perkins, Senior, Mississippi State (1,016 yards, 8 TDs in 2012) — Perkins emerged last season as a reliable, go-to back for the Bulldogs.  He has good vision and with the entire MSU offensive line returning, Perkins might produce similar results in 2013.  Steady.

10.  Jeff Scott, Senior, Mississippi (846 yards, 6 TDs in 2012) — Scott went over 1,000 total yards a year ago and proved to be a dangerous weapon for first year Rebel coach Hugh Freeze.  Scott is elusive in space and a great receiver (23 receiptions in 2012).  If second year quarterback Bo Wallace makes incremental improvement, Scott might see a jump in his numbers as well.

11.  Jonathan Williams, Sophomore, Arkansas (231 rushing yards, 208 receiving yards, 2 TDs) — Williams flashed tremendous potential last year and was one of the few bright spots in a four-win season.  He has great quickness and speed, and showed good hands catching the ball out of the backfield.  While his ceiling doesn’t appear to be as high as Collins, Williams should prove to be a quality back for a coach that wants to run the football…a lot.

12.  Tre Mason, Junior, Auburn (1,002 yards, 8 TDs in 2012) — The Tigers quarterback triumvirate of Frazier-Wallace-Moseley couldn’t throw it at all last year, so Tre Mason got as many carries as he could stand.  While topping 1,000 yards rushing in any SEC season is a tremendous accomplishment, we are guessing Mason has a hard time topping those numbers again.

13.  Jeremy Hill, Sophomore, LSU (755 yards, 12 TDs in 2012) — We would normally have Hill much higher on this list, but he went and got himself arrested in the spring.  Hill, already on probation for a 2011 arrest, was charged with battery after a fight outside a Baton Rouge bar (Jordan Jefferson would be proud, wouldn’t he?).  Hill has all the tools, but will he see the field in 2013?

Honorable Mention: Ben Malena, Texas A&M;  Marlon Lane, Tennessee;  Matt Jones, Florida;  Alfred Blue, LSU;  Altee Tenpenny, Alabama;  Rajion Neal, Tennessee;  Raymond Sanders, Kentucky;  I’Tavius Mathers, Mississippi;  Marcus Murphy, Missouri;  Brandon Wilds, South Carolina.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the SEC’s best wide receivers.