This season, the SEC is fortunate enough to have two super freshmen running backs who are absolutely having monster impacts on the way their teams have performed through nine weeks. Todd Gurley and TJ Yeldon are instant-impact freshmen who will be vital to their respective teams and will likely meet head to head in the SEC Championship, assuming each team wins out.
In a long line of running backs to come through the SEC, Gurley and Yeldon certainly look to fit into the mold of former SEC greats.
Todd Gurley, Georgia
Todd Gurley, the 6-1, 220-pound freshman from Tarboro, North Carolina, came to Georgia knowing he would likely play second fiddle to Isaiah Crowell and fellow freshman blue chip prospect Keith Marshall. Crowell got the boot, and it thrust Gurley into the spotlight to at least get some playing time with Marshall. But it was Gurley, not Marshall, which emerged in fall camp, drawing comparisons to Trent Richardson from fellow defensive players.
Gurley has tallied 120 carries for 740 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is just behind LaDarius Perkins for the most yards by a running back this season. Gurley has also excelled on special teams, and he housed a 100-yard kickoff return in his very first game against Buffalo. He’s second in all-purpose running in the SEC behind Perkins and also has tallied eight receptions for 57 yards. Gurley is racking up an impressive 6.2 yards per carry along the way.
Gurley can be compared to Trent Richardson, as evidence by his explosive and powerful yards after contact every carry. He’s an 18-year-old young man built like a linebacker who happens to play running back, with good vision at the second level and top-end speed any would envy.
Last week against Florida with a quarterback who was struggling mightily and against a top five defense in the country, Gurley carried 27 times for 118 yards and one touchdown. He was the one player the offense could lean on throughout the course of the game, and his physical style – yards after contact – showed up big against the Gators.
Georgia has had a history of signing five-star players who get to campus only to underwhelm throughout their career. Assuming Gurley keeps his nose clean – and by all indications he will – he will be one player Georgia signed who has exceeded every expectation in his first year and has a chance to have a monster career.
TJ Yeldon, Alabama
TJ Yeldon was the pied piper of the Alabama recruiting class in 2012. Yeldon originally committed to Auburn but flipped his commitment and ultimately signed with the Tide on National Signing Day. He’s very comparable in size to Gurley at 6-2, 216 pounds from Daphne, Alabama. Yeldon was regarded by a few recruiting agencies as the top running back in the country, and he has certainly lived up to the billing.
Yeldon’s coming out party was against Michigan in the Tide’s opening game, and the entire country got to see what he can bring to the table. He carried 11 times for a team-high 111 yards and one touchdown. Through eight games, Yeldon has 93 carries for a team-high 649 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging a gaudy 7.0 yards per carry.
Yeldon is shifty in the open field but also displays power in his nearly 220-pound body. He has emerged as Alabama’s biggest playmaker in the backfield, and he’s a slick #2 option behind starter Eddie Lacy. Like Gurley, Yeldon is a weapon receiving the football, as he’s caught seven passes for 94 yards.
The Tide have opened up the running game more since the bye week in early October, and Yeldon has been getting more and more carries. He’ll be vital to the Tide’s success down the road as they march on towards an SEC Championship and national championship.
No doubt Yeldon is the next great Alabama running back, falling right in line with the recent history of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
Gurley and Yeldon can arguably both be considered the total package at running back. Gurley has gotten the bulk of the carries and is more of a featured back right now, not because he’s better but because Georgia must have Gurley be that guy. Yeldon has 27 less carries than Gurley because he splits time with Lacy in the backfield.
Maybe it’s the 27 more carries that Gurley has, or the fact he has proven to play special teams and have a huge impact in that aspect of the game, too, but I would go with Gurley from what I’ve seen through nine weeks. However, both are can’t-miss prospects who are big-time instant impact players in this league. You don’t see many running backs enter college SEC ready, but both guys are SEC ready and are doing work. We just might see a Heisman battle between these two in future years, too!
We may just see these two on the same field in five weeks for the SEC Championship game. Wouldn’t that be fun?
Which freshman running back would you take?
Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-US PRESSWIRE