SEC’s 10 best running backs ahead of spring practice

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Spring position rankings:

The SEC may look much different at the quarterback position, but the running back position returns so much talent, experience and players you know all about. Great running backs have been the offensive backbone of the SEC’s dominant BCS era, and that will continue on into the future.

With Jeremy Hill and Tre Mason gone to the NFL, let’s take a look at the SEC’s top returners ahead of spring practice. This list also does not include Georgia running back Keith Marshall, who is returning from a season-ending knee injury and hopes to be ready for the start of the season. When healthy, he’s a top five SEC back.

MORE: SEC Pre-Spring Power Rankings

10. Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn (SR)
9. Terrance Magee, LSU (SR)
8. Jerron Seymour, Vanderbilt (JR)

Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns, and he’ll try and replace Tre Mason’s every-down production in 2014. He has a position to win this spring…Terrance Magee seemingly came out of nowhere. Neither Alfred Blue nor Kenny Hilliard got many touches because Magee took them all. He rushed for 626 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. He’ll play a bigger role in 2014…Jerron Seymour is one of the best players you’ve never heard of. He’s not a home run hitter, but he’s a between the tackles plugger who creates production. He recorded 164 carries for 716 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013.

7. Derrick Henry, Alabama (SO)
6. Kenyan Drake, Alabama (JR)
5. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas (JR)

Derrick Henry deserves to be on this list, but where? Henry didn’t have the numbers or the touches of any of the other players, but the Sugar Bowl should be all the proof anyone needed. He’s going to be a star. He finished with 382 yards rushing and three touchdowns…All the talk is about TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry, but Kenyan Drake was the Tide’s offensive spark plug in 2013. Drake rushed for 694 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 7.5 yards per carry…Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins formed a nice duo, and Williams still rushed for 900 yards and four touchdowns sharing carries with a 1,000-yard rusher and defenses knowing exactly what’s coming every single play.

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4. Alex Collins, Arkansas (SO)
3. TJ Yeldon, Alabama (JR)
2. Mike Davis, South Carolina (JR)

Alex Collins exploded onto the scene last season, and he was one of two offensive threats for the Hogs. Collins rushed for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. His running style will remind you of Trent Richardson, and he’s ultra-talented…TJ Yeldon could be the country’s top running back, but he has to stop fumbling. Yeldon has rushed for 2,343 yards and 26 touchdowns in two full seasons, and he’ll be a big-time Heisman contender in a stacked backfield for the Tide. How will Alabama keep all those backs hungry and satisfied?…Mike Davis is a star for the Gamecocks, and he rushed for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns last season in his first year as a full-time starter. He’s physical; he’s tough, and he’s not afraid to hit you in the mouth. Davis received over 200 carries this past season, and he’ll be the backbone of the Carolina offense in 2014.

1. Todd Gurley, Georgia (JR)

Todd Gurley will be on every Heisman list, and he’ll be on every SEC’s top player list. He’s a boss, who if healthy, will be a first-round pick. Gurley has rushed for 2,374 yards and 27 touchdowns in two full seasons, and he missed about four total games in 2013 due to an ankle injury. He’s the definition of a bully running back who runs through tackles with his physical style.

Photo Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

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COMMENTS

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  • Jon, using your own stat sheet, only two running backs had a better yards per carry average than Marcus Murphy/Missouri. Wasn’t that Drake/Alabama and Hill/ LSU. These three backs were within a few hundreths of a yard from one another. Add the eye test high ie. his breakaway touchdown against Georgia. Let’s see what teams had the best running game in the league last year? You can get everybody on the list Jon but can you really pick 10 backs ahead of Murphy?

    • I can actually pick 11 over Murphy to include Corey Grant at Auburn. Murphy is a burner, and really none of the top 10 backs were burners. Grant is one; Murphy is another. But no doubt Marcus will have to step into a much bigger role in 2014 helping replace Josey.

      • Well you got a fun list of backs there anyway. And if you don’t consider speed? (being a burner?) then it would affect your list. How do you think quickness and changing direction figure in? Let’s compare this list to actual yards per carry at the end of the year? At that point the proof will only be a debate about who had the best offensive line in front of them, or perhaps what coaches had the best blocking and play-calling schemes. Laughing, I guess when you get past actual yards per carry it’s hard to have much other hard evidence, so that’s why I think Murphy will shine again.

  • I would have Keith Marshall in the top 10 somewhere….

  • Thing about Marcus Murphy is it’s not clear he will even be the feature back on the team. He will split carries with Hansbrough, and even Steward will get increased carries to mix it up. Mizzou will again use RB by committee which almost automatically eliminates them from any “top 10″ list of RB’s. I think the production from the RB position as a whole will be impressive, just not relying heavily on one back like most of the others on the list. I even think one of Ish Witter or Travon Walters will see the field and get some carries.

    • Hansborough is right there with Murphy. They should share the playbook. Murphy is just a little more unpredictable than Hans. Hansborough has his own edge as well. Glad to hear you suggest that Steward should get in the game as well. He has one issue he needs to solidify. The film of Witter and Walters looks good, we will just have to see if they red shirt or not. If college football didn’t have 100 athletes on the roster I might be able to see why a top ten list had to exclude teams that let more than one back carry the ball. No, I think the best back gets the most yards per carry, and maybe only division games should be counted as comparisons, giving each back the same opposing defenses. Thanks for adding your ideas about Missouri’s backs.

  • I think 6-10 is a toss up, really. Sorry, but Henry needs more touches before I’m ready to put him in the top 10. He had a great game against Oklahoma, yes, but any back can have one great game. If he comes out the first game running the same way, I’ll be more convinced, but until then, there’s nothing to show he’s anything more than a one hit wonder.

    • Pretty much any game he had meaningful playing time in, he made a difference. In every game he took 5 snaps or more in (which, admittedly, is only four of them) he averaged at least 10 yards per carry

  • Pretty ridiculous to have 3 Alabama running backs in front of any Auburn back. I am pretty damn sure that Auburn will be running for a whole lot more yardage than Alabama will.

    • Not disagreeing with you about rushing for more yardage part. This is a ranking based merely on the returning players. This isn’t a projection for 2014. Nick Marshall will also take 1,000 (or more) of those yards, too.

    • Pretty ridiculous to think that any Auburn running back would be ahead of Alabama’s 3rd string. Auburn had Tre Mason, and that was all for the RB position. Nick Marshall may rack up yards for the qb spot, but that’s all. Put any 3 of those Alabama running backs in Auburns 70% run system, and they go for more yards than any of the weaker Auburn backs.

      • both AL and AU had good o-lines, and blocking backs. What team in the SEC had backs that could overcome it’s lack of top o-linemen? It would be entertaining is a football journalist put together a lengthy video. One of the things that makes highlight film of backs great are those scenes where you know a back should get tackled but he gets extra yards anyway…because of speed, quickness, mass, strength, determination. Yard’s after contact would be one helping stats here but not nearly the whole story since it’s even better when a back avoids contact for more yards after the blocking is spent. Such a film doesn’t have to be saved for the Heisman voters. We the readers and watchers can easily look at enough advertisements to make such a fair-minded piece of journalism pay.

    • Really! You got a lot of replacing to do first.

    • That’s not ridiculous at all. What IS ridiculous is you saying that Auburn will definitely be rushing for more than Alabama considering that 1800 yards of Auburn’s rushing offense and 23 of their rushing TDs are gone to the NFL with Tre Mason. Auburn’s next leading rusher is Nick Marshall, who is not a running back and thus doesn’t warrant a “10 best running backs” list nod.

      Hell, after Mason, Auburn’s second string running back only had 1/3 of Mason’s yards, and a whopping SIX touchdowns.

  • Todd Gurley #1 Go Dawgs, but Keith Marshall has to be in top 10!

  • Instead of worrying about where some opinion places your teams RB’s, worry about the things that will really be up for question this year. Gurley is a great back but he has had injury problems regularly. The Razorback kid was slowed by injury some. Yeldon and Drake couldn’t maintain possession of the ball at the most important time of the games and both were slowed at times with injuries. All these great Heisman hopes are stupid. Nobody can predict how much a back can take before injury gets him. All you can honestly do is wish the luck, good health and maybe a jar of Elmer’s glue. All these stats and last yr YPC junk is hot air. Might I suggest walking out on the front porch, hiking your leg and strain a little instead of spewing it all over so everyone can smell where your coming from. Makes waiting for the season to start easier.

  • As you said Gurley’s health will be his only question. The signing of Michel and Chubb should provide some breathers. I have “heard” Marshall may RS this year to fully rehab the ACL knee. With JJ Green moving to CB to shore up secondary depth the RB position is still pretty deep.

  • Kelvin Taylor isn’t top 10? Yet Alabama has THREE running backs on the list? This is a joke, someone doesn’t watch SEC football.

    • Drake and Yeldon are both proven veterans, and Henry, though largely unproven, has both the stats and the physique to warrant the nod over Taylor.
      Taylor: 5’10” 215 lbs, 111 carries, 508 yards (avg 4.6 ypc), 4 TDs(long 33)
      Henry: 6’3″ 240 lbs, 36 carries, 382 yards (avg 10.6 ypc), 3 TDs (long 80)

      In what universe (other than a blindly homeristic one) is a 5’10” RB with 4.6 yards per carry better than a hulking 6’3″ monster with 10+ yards per carry?

  • Kelvin Taylor deserves an honorable mention. And as for Alabama….Derrick Henry is a freak of nature.

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