Ranking the SEC’s 10 best RBs ahead of spring practice

The SEC is known for its downhill, power running game, and we certainly have some of the best young backs in the country returning for just their sophomore seasons, headlined by the foursome of TJ Yeldon, Keith Marshall, Todd Gurley and Jeremy Hill. I didn’t forget about Rajion Neal, Marlin Lane, Henry Josey or Raymond Sanders on the ranking. Lane, Neal and Sanders have a shot to prove their value for new coaches in new schemes this spring, and we don’t even know if Henry Josey will be healthy enough to compete after his vicious knee injury suffered two years ago.

Previous position rankings:

Here’s how the SEC running backs stack up entering spring:

10. Jeff Scott, Ole Miss
9. Kenny Hilliard, LSU
8. Ben Malena, Texas A&M

Jeff Scott enters his fourth and final season in Oxford having racked up 1,804 yards and 16 total touchdowns. Scott is perfect for Hugh Freeze’s edge-attacking spread offense, but Scott’s 5-7, 175-pound frame can get nicked up from time to time. But if you neglect to lay a hand on Scott, he can house it in no time with speed to burn…Kenny Hilliard didn’t have the ‘12 season he expected. After all, he was on a stacked house of a roster five-deep with impact running backs. Hilliard was LSU’s second leading rusher last season with just 464 yards and six touchdowns, but he’s totaled 800 yards and 14 touchdowns in just two seasons with minimal carries. Do you think LSU has a luxury at running back?…Ben Malena might not look like it, but he packs a punch his 5-8, 195-pound frame. Do you remember the shot he delivered on Florida safety Josh Evans? Malena nearly topped the 1,000-yard mark in ‘12 with 808 yards while sharing carries with the quarterback and two other running backs. Malena has registered 1,067 yards in his career, but it’s his show now.

7. Alfred Blue, LSU
6. Tre Mason, Auburn
5. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State

Alfred Blue managed to beat out Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard and Jeremy Hill to start 2012, and he registered two 100-yard games before hurting his knee. Blue’s body type, frame and running style will remind you of TJ Yeldon. Blue enters his fourth season for LSU having totaled just 910 yards and 10 touchdowns. Let’s get Blue healthy and then let him prove his value…Tre Mason was Auburn’s only bright spot in 2012, topping 1,000-yards on the season. He may not seem like an every-down back because of his size, but he packs a play-maker in his 5-10, 198-pound frame. And he is tougher than the eye test, too. Mason has 1,163 career yards and nine touchdowns in two seasons… LaDarius Perkins is the forgotten soul of the SEC veterans, and he leads the conference with the most career rushing yards with 2,012 yards and 20 touchdowns. The truth is MSU went away from Perkins late in the year, and we all know the result. Dan Mullen needs to game plan around Perkins in 2013, and I have a feeling he’ll do just that. MSU was undefeated when Perkins ran it 20-plus times in ’12.

4. Keith Marshall, Georgia
3. Jeremy Hill, LSU
2. TJ Yeldon, Alabama

In no way is this an insult, but Keith Marshall reminds me of the perfect ACC back. Put Marshall on a team like Clemson eating up ACC defenses, and he’s a freshman All-American. But he had to share carries with arguably the best running back in the league in 2013, who just happened to enter in the same recruiting class. Marshall has one of the highest ceilings for any back in the country, and he rushed for 759 yards and eight touchdowns. He’ll miss part of the spring due to a hamstring injury…The biggest emerging running back during the season aside from TJ Yeldon was LSU’s Jeremy Hill. What took Les Miles so long to get him on the field? In his last seven games, Hill registered four 100-yard games. He finished his rookie season with 755 yards and 12 touchdowns to lead a cast of five running backs…TJ Yeldon is the next great back at Alabama, and a future first-round pick in the draft. Yeldon burst onto the scene against Michigan, rushing for 111 yards, and he made the college football world take note of his arrival. Yeldon became just as important as Eddie Lacy in the running game around game six after the bye week, when Bama got back to smash mouth football. Yeldon rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns behind arguably the top offensive line in the country, and he could prove to be the best back in 2013.

1. Todd Gurley, Georgia

Todd Gurley is a freak of nature. Entering Georgia with less hype than Keith Marshall, Gurley’s playing time increased after he was dubbed the next Trent Richardson in fall camp. And he housed a 100-yard kickoff return in his very first game, flashing his speed, burst and vision. Richt then witnessed what he had in Gurley, and settled him into the starting role. Gurley carried 222 times for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns behind a rebuilding offensive line. Even as an 18-year-old freshman, Gurley was SEC-ready to take the punishment and pounding in a man’s league. Gurley’s emergence made Aaron Murray better, and it made Georgia’s offense one of the most explosive in the country.

Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports