The SEC’s top returners: Running Back


In the coming series, SDS will take a look at the SEC’s most productive returners over the next few weeks broken down by position. Next up are the running backs.

All positions:

The SEC returns four 1,000-yard rushers and a bevy of other backs who could top the 1,000-yard mark exiting 2013. Sophomores Todd Gurley, TJ Yeldon and Jeremy Hill headline the group, although Hill’s future is in limbo due to his bar fight arrest. Returning is power, speed, elusiveness and complete total packages, portrayed so eloquently by Gurley, Yeldon and Hill.

This is not a ranking, and it’s based on rushing yardage:

1. Todd Gurley, Georgia
2012 stats: 222 carries for 1,385 yards and 17 TDs

2. TJ Yeldon, Alabama
2012 stats: 175 carries for 1,108 yards and 12 TDs

3. LaDarius Perkins, Miss State
2012 stats: 205 carries for 1,024 yards and 8 TDs

4. Tre Mason, Auburn
2012 stats: 171 carries for 1,002 yards and 8 TDs

5. Jeff Scott, Ole Miss
2012 stats: 197 carries for 850 yards and 6 TDs

6. Ben Malena, Texas A&M
2012 stats: 138 carries for 808 yards and 8 TDs

7. Keith Marshall, Georgia
2012 stats: 117 carries for 759 yards and 8 TDs

8. Jeremy Hill, LSU
2012 stats: 142 carries for 755 yards and 12 TDs

9. Rajion Neal, Tennessee
2012 stats: 156 carries for 708 yards and 5 TDs

Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams could jump into the 1,000-yard discussion by season’s end. He has a veteran offensive line and a coach with a pro-style, power running game mindset to set the table for him.

Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne will be a nice changeup from the speedy Tre Mason. CAP will remind you of a cross between Ben Tate and Michael Dyer, and he’ll spell Mason with tough in-between-the-tackles running.

Future Florida tailback Matt Jones is primed for a big year. Will Muschamp thinks Jones is on the cusp of something great, and that’s good enough for me. Jones should get to 1,000 yards in 2013.

Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George headline Kentucky’s returners, and with such a stacked backfield and little depth at receiver, offensive coordinator Neal Brown will have to lean more on the running game in his first year. Sanders and George should both have great seasons.

Depending on what happens with Jeremy Hill, LSU has two other proven entities in Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue. Backup Terrance Magee now steps into the fold and becomes the No. 3 back, which means LSU is still good enough to win a championship even without Hill.

If you want a great comeback story, Missouri’s Henry Josey could provide one. Josey missed the 2012 season due to a nasty knee injury, and he returns to make an average offense more potent and versatile.

Don’t expect a drop off with a Lattimore-less South Carolina team. Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis have plenty of talent and upside to carry Steve Spurrier’s offense. Davis and Wilds could be one of the stronger tandems in the SEC.

Tennessee has an up-and-comer in freshman Alden Hill. Hill blew up this spring, and with Marlin Lane’s status still in limbo, Hill will compete for the starting job with Neal this fall.

Ben Malena has already been mentioned at Texas A&M, but three other backs could all carry the ground game. Transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson and returner Trey Williams all could garner more playing time than the veteran Malena. Kevin Sumlin has options, and that’s a great thing to have.

With Zac Stacy gone at Vanderbilt, returners Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow are now in the spotlight. Stacy has been the backbone to an improving program. Tate and Kimbrow have big shoes to fill.

Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports



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  • Marshall stands out to me averaging 6.5 yards per carry. I see Bobo finding some creative ways to get him the ball in space.

  • During the Saban-era, Alabama has been known for their duo of RB’s (Coffee/Ingram/Upchurch, Ingram/Richardson, Richardson/Lacy, Lacy/Yeldon). As much as Bama runs the ball, it’s crucial for them to have a reliable substitute at the position. I understand the hype and anticipation for freshman Derrick Henry, but I think we might be overlooking Jalston Fowler. Fowler’s 2012 campaign ended early due to injury, but not before averaging 7.7 yds/carry. The 6’1″ bruiser from Vigor High School is a guy that no one wants to have to tackle in the 4th quarter. He provides another dimension at the RB position, and adds to the physical nature of the Crimson Tide offense. He also served as the up-back early last season. I expect Jalston to make serious contributions to the offense in 2013.

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