SEC’s most improved for 2013: Which RB will take his game to the next level?

Every single year, players emerge after a mediocre showing and burst on to the scene, and we’re left saying, ‘I should have seen it coming’. So let’s not get left in the dust for this season and get caught with our pants down on what we should have known. Let’s get a head start on the most improved running backs for 2013:

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Most Improved Running Back: Keith Marshall, Georgia

2012 Stats: 117 carries for 759 yards and eight TDs; 11 rec., 92 yards and one TD
2013 Projections: 170 carries for 1,100 yards and 10 TDs

The Story: It was Keith Marshall, not Todd Gurley, who entered UGA expecting to be the star freshman. Marshall committed to Georgia before Gurley did, and Gurley was seen as more of an insurance policy and one who could even transition over to safety if need be.

Then, Isaiah Crowell was dismissed, securing Gurley as a running back and competing against Marshall for carries. The rest was history in 2012, as Gurley became arguably the best running back in the country. Marshall had a good freshman season, rushing for 759 yards and eight touchdowns, but Gurley stole the spotlight.

Why he will improve the most: Marshall reminded me of a great ACC back in 2012. He’s a burner who can explode and exploit the edges and reminds me of an Andre Ellington-type player. He’s the perfect changeup to Gurley’s bully mentality, and I think he’s ready to take the next step with a year’s worth of experience.

To me, Marshall improving is all about more touches. Last season Gurley took the bulk of the carries, with 222, and I think Mark Richt and Mike Bobo would like to balance the rushing numbers slightly. Last year the two combined for 339 carries. So, let’s assume that number increases to 375 carries, because Ken Malcome isn’t in the equation. I like Marshall to get 45 percent of those to around 170 carries and get 1,100 yards, averaging 6.47 yards per carry. Lofty goals? Sure, but Gurley and Marshall should both reach 1,000 yards in 2013. Another Georgia appearance in the SEC Championship game could secure the feat.

The entire offensive line returns, and Aaron Murray should throw the ball around the yard again, making the threat of the running game that much more potent.

Could we see Gurley and Marshall in on the same play? Richt says don’t be surprised. This is the nastiest running back duo in college football.

Others to watch:

Matt Jones, Florida: I love what I saw of Matt Jones last year. He rushed for 275 yards and really came on down the stretch and improved throughout the season. With an improved offensive line and (hopefully) an improved passing game, Jones could become the SEC’s biggest breakout player.

Mike Davis, South Carolina: Several think Carolina’s rushing attack won’t be potent without Lattimore. But they’re 9-1 without him over the last two years. Mike Davis exited spring as the starter and is ready to take his game to the next level. He rushed for 275 yards in 2012.

Jonathan Williams, Arkansas: In limited time, Jonathan Williams showed flashes. He rushed for 231 yards and caught eight passes for 208 yards. Arkansas’ offense will revolve around the running game, and Williams stands to become a breakout player in 2013.

Photo Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports