SDS talent evaluators Jon Cooper and Brad Crawford spent several months breaking down last year’s highlights, incoming talent and projected 2014 impact following spring practice to compile a list of the SEC’s Top 100 players heading into fall. Athletes were selected by position then ranked overall counting down to No. 1.
Stick with SDS throughout summer and get in on the action using the hashtag #SDSTop100 as we unveil a new player daily leading up to opening night on Aug. 28.
50. Cameron Artis-Payne, Sr., RB, Auburn
Is there another offense in college football more impressive than Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up smash? Most point-producing attacks do it through the air, but the Tigers did something even more demeaning to a defense last fall after leading the country in rushing yards at 328.3 per game during their run to a conference title.
The Tigers literally ran over the opposition and Artis-Payne, as a first-year JUCO transfer too talented to sit, was a big reason why prior to November. Should he separate himself in a three-way battle as the featured back, Artis-Payne will be counted on to pick up the slack in the wake of 1,800-yard lightning back Tre Mason’s departure to the NFL. An increased workload — perhaps doubling his total carries from 91 to 180 or so — in Malzahn’s scheme would lead to an all-conference caliber season, but speed options Corey Grant and redshirt freshman Peyton Barber will have their opportunity in the backfield as well.
There’s another instant contributor, five-star standout Roc Thomas, who could put pressure on the senior when he arrives on campus later this summer.
How Artis-Payne handles the competition among teammates should be interesting to watch. He was a relative non-factor over the second half of 2013, rushing for just 100 yards and a touchdown over Auburn’s final seven games as his role diminished during Mason’s run to riches. To avoid a repeat struggle, Artis-Payne will need to have established himself as a consistent go-to rushing threat every week early on.
The talent’s there to start — and stay — Malzahn’s No. 1 option.
2013 statistics: 91 carries, 610 yards, 6 TD
2014 projection: 137 carries, 881 yards, 11 TD
Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports