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Who will be the SEC’s next great freshman running back?

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Freshmen are supposed to be seen and not heard – or at least that’s how upperclassmen hope 18 year-olds enter college: quiet, humble and ready to work.

We’ve seen true freshmen running backs enter the SEC ready to play from day one. And in the last 10 years, the SEC has seen six true freshmen eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.

  • Justin Vincent, LSU, 1,001 yards (2003)
  • Darren McFadden, Arkansas 1,113 yards (2005)
  • Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, 1,197 yards (2010)
  • Michael Dyer, Auburn 1,093 yards (2010)
  • Todd Gurley, Georgia, 1,385 yards (2012)
  • TJ Yeldon, Alabama, 1,108 yards (2012)

Todd Gurley and TJ Yeldon seemed to take things to a whole new level in 2012. Gurley became the Bulldogs’ workhorse, carrying 222 times for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns, while Yeldon became Eddie Lacy’s primary backup and notched 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. Which running back would you rather build your team around for three years? It’s certainly debatable.

Here are three freshmen who may have the best chance to hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2013:

Alex Collins, Arkansas

Why he will: Bret Bielema is known for his pro-style, power offense. Alex Collins looks to be the perfect fit for this offense. In six of Bielema’s seven years at Wisconsin he had a 1,000-yard back. He even had two 1,000-yard rushers in 2010, and he has more talent with Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins to make that happen in 2013. Collins has athleticism and moves players only dream about. He looks like a cross between Trent Richardson and Todd Gurley, and he’s ready to make a splash in the SEC West.

Why he won’t: Will Arkansas be able to offset the running game with a passing game? That’s what everyone wants to know. Plus, the primary ball carrier entering 2013 will be Jonathan Williams. Collins will share carries with Williams, and it is a valid question whether or not he’ll get enough touches to even make 1,000 yards realistic. Time will only tell, but the Hogs’ offense must be balanced in order for Collins to hit the mark.

Derrick Henry, Alabama

Why he will: Like TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry was an early enrollee. And while many make the argument that Henry is just too big to play the position at 6-3, 240 pounds, he has all the athleticism, nastiness and desire to be a great running back. Henry owns the national high school rushing record with 12,124 yards after putting up a disgusting 4,261 yards as a senior. Henry is He-Man incarnate. Henry could have a Yeldon-type of freshman year, while sharing carries with his predecessor.

Why he won’t: Henry overpowered high school kids, but it’s a whole new ball game in the SEC. Several speculate that Henry won’t even play running back for the Tide and will be moved to H-back, tight end or even linebacker after his freshman year. Bama backup running backs max out at around 800 yards as freshmen; Yeldon was the anomaly.

Kelvin Taylor, Florida

Why he will: Will Muschamp is going to run the football. And only Matt Jones, assuming Kelvin Taylor passes Mack Brown, stands in the way of the starting gig. Taylor is just too good and too fluid to keep on the sidelines. Taylor may not have the top end speed other backs have, but he has a greater knowledge and understanding of the position and what the offense is trying to accomplish. And his 12,019 yards and 192 touchdowns in high school prove he knows what to do once he gets the ball in his hands.

Why he won’t: Matt Jones is the clear-cut starter entering the season, and he’ll get the bulk of the carries. Muschamp leaned on his one horse last year in Gillislee, who nabbed the SEC’s most carries with 244, and that’s what he’ll do with Jones while Taylor progresses throughout the season. Jeff Driskel will also take some carries away from Taylor in Brent Pease’s option package. Florida’s lack of a passing game will keep eight or nine players in the box throughout the season, making it hard for any Florida back to get to 1,000 yards.

Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports





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Comments 6

  1. UF’s passing game will be much, much better this year. Driskel has some WR’s that will get the job done. It looks like Debose has finally gotten his act together and he is almost unstoppable when running the 9 route. Look for Debose to run many of the Percy Harvin type plays, as well. Having Joker Phillips will make a huge difference, as well. Once teams realize that they will have to keep their safeties back, to help with the pass, Jones and Taylor are going to light it up. I predict that Jones will gain 1,500 yards and Taylor will break the 1K yard mark. Don’t forget about Adam Lane. He is going to be really good.

  2. I just don’t see Florida having the deep-threat players on the outside this year. Driskel may improve but I don’t see him putting up huge numbers. Kelvin Taylor could very well be the best of the freshman RB’s mainly because he is a physical compact runner that is going to be taking carries in a “run-first” offense. However, the Gators will have to improve in the passing department in order to open up the rushing attack.

  3. The Gators can’t field enough OL for a Spring game and someone thinks they are going to have two 1,000yd rushers? Moving Purifoy to Offense part time is smart but Driskel is the weak link for the Offense. The passing game has no where to go but up. Floridas D will keep them in ball games and if Driskel doesn’t make mistakes with the football they could win 10 games.

  4. Derrick Henry broke his leg this Spring. Be interesting to see how he comes back. Bama has a TON of good RB’s (Kamara) on campus. I don’t think he gets the touches to get to 1K yards.

  5. Derrick Henry should be able to start competing again during Summer workouts, according to statements made by Nick Saban. Obviously, many feel that Henry will find the SEC physicality and speed as an obstacle, but he seemed to perform well during the Spring. Strength & Condition coach Scott Cochran was impressed with Henry’s offseason workouts, and if he truly is the real deal, he’ll be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Combine that with the luxury of splitting time with TJ Yeldon and Jalston Fowler, he won’t have to worry about the pressure early in his career. I don’t think that he will reach 1,000 yards, but I expect him to be a major contributor to the Alabama running game. It’s hard to be doubtful of a 6’3″ 240lb runner who also holds the All-time high school rushing record.

  6. It’ll be interesting to see how all of the RB’s fare at Alabama in the coming years. With so much talent at the position, some capable guys will probably be left out. But as long as they’re in Tuscaloosa, the competition in practice will be high, and ultimately allow the best of the RB’s to see the field. My guess is that we’ll see a trio of Yeldon, Fowler, and Henry this season, but if they are unable to perform, there is plenty of young talent to rely on.