Who were the SEC’s top running backs this season?

SEC’s top players of 2014

10. Mike Davis, South Carolina — Sorry, Leonard Fournette, Matt Jones, Jalen Hurd and Ralph Webb. There’s just no room for you on this list. Maybe next year. Davis is ninth in the SEC in rushing (927 yards) and accounted for 10 total touchdowns. But here’s the kicker — Davis finished second in the conference among running backs in receptions (30) and receiving yards (349). Davis played as well as any back in the conference during a three-game stretch in the middle of the season. But it was a disappointing year for the junior in terms of production as his numbers dipped off a fantastic sophomore performance.

9. Russell Hansbrough, Missouri — Hansbrough doesn’t have as much wiggle as teammate Marcus Murphy or as much power as the backs in front of him on this list. But he’s quicker and stronger than you’d guess, the perfect tweener back for Mizzou’s offense. At just 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, he shouldered a heavier load than the Tigers anticipated prior to August, and still played his best football the second half of November. He contributed more than 200 touches and 1,000 yards of total offense on a sometimes-struggling unit.

8. Derrick Henry, Alabama — Surprised to see Henry this high on the list? Don’t be. The Crimson Tide offensive line always is good, and this year was no exception, but it was hardly the road-grading unit that made every Alabama back into an instant Heisman Trophy contender in recent years. Still, Henry managed a better yards per carry than Cameron Artis-Payne, more rushing yards than Fournette on fewer carries and finished seventh in the SEC in rushing touchdowns with 10. He punctuated the season with 141 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Missouri in the SEC championship.

7. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama — Much like Davis, Yeldon hardly managed the season most predicted for him. He rushed for 100 yards just four times in 14 games, mostly against teams with lackluster run defenses. His propensity to fumble — and in big spots — continued. He rarely dominated a game and saw his production slip rather drastically from last season. But he’s still one of the most polished all-around backs in the SEC. Yeldon makes for a great safety valve in the passing game and accounted for more than 1,100 yards of total offense and 11 touchdowns.

6. Todd Gurley, Georgia — I struggled with where to slot Gurley. Spectacular enough to be in the Heisman conversation through five games, Gurley incurred a four-game NCAA suspension for signing autographs for pay. He returned for another strong performance against Auburn, then tore his ACL and missed the final two games of the season. He finished short of 1,000 rushing yards yet again and his season totals declined once again. But he averaged an eye-popping 7.4 yards per carry when he did play. He scored a touchdown once every 13.6 carries. And he ran for more than 130 yards against all five power-conference teams he faced. It’s a shame college football fans didn’t get to see more.

5. Alex Collins, Arkansas — Much like last season, Collins began the year like a bull in a China cabinet, rushing for 621 yards on 7.2 yards per carry. Then he topped 80 yards just twice the rest of the season, averaging just 4.0 yards per carry in his final seven games. Collins was a non-factor as a receiver. But operating behind the behemoth Razorbacks line, he did finish fifth in the conference in rushing and tied for second in rushing touchdowns with 12 (behind Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott).

4. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas — The more powerful of the SEC’s most productive duo and an excellent fit for Bret Bielema’s offense, Williams leveraged his 6-foot, 225-pound frame to the fourth-highest rushing total in the SEC. Williams narrowly edged Collins by getting one more carry on the season and averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He added 13 total touchdowns and also was more of a factor in the passing game with 11 receptions and two of his scores.

3. Nick Chubb, Georgia — The only reason Chubb isn’t No. 1 is that he was little more than a bit player through the first five games of the season. (That and the fact that even freshman Sony Michel resembled an All-SEC back operating behind the under-appreciated Bulldogs offensive line.) Still, his own freshman season was remarkable and quite similar to Gurley’s in 2012. Starting with the 34-0 win at Missouri, Georgia’s first game without Gurley, Chubb produced 174, 210, 215, 170, 192, 113 and 132 yards of total offense. He accounted for 14 total touchdowns. If he stays healthy and isn’t poached too often by Keith Marshall and Michel next season, Chubb will be a Doak Walker Award candidate and could even become a Heisman finalist.

2. Josh Robinson, Mississippi State — The bowling ball of a runner didn’t get enough credit for the Bulldogs’ rise to No. 1, and then when he started to get recognized, his production nose-dived the final three games of the season. For that, he’s not getting due justice in most postseason rankings. Yes, playing alongside perhaps the best rushing threat in the conference in Prescott helped, as did a physical offensive line led by All-SEC G Ben Beckwith. Still, Robinson produced 1,498 total yards of offense and 6.4 yards per carry. He was one of the SEC’s most productive runners and one of the team’s biggest threats as a pass-catcher. His 197 rushing yards at LSU on Sept. 20 embedded this team in the national consciousness. Would Mississippi State have won 10 games in this year’s SEC West without him?

1. Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn — The senior benefitted from playing in a Gus Malzahn offense, playing behind C Reese Dismukes and playing with QB Nick Marshall. Now that we’ve got that covered, we can move on: the dude produced 1,611 yards of total offense. That’s nearly as much as Henry and Fournette combined. Other than Chubb post-Gurley suspension, Artis-Payne was the most consistent running back in the SEC. He carried the ball a whopping 277 times, and including his receptions, easily will top 300 touches in Auburn’s bowl game. The Tigers should continue to churn out strong running backs, and Artis-Payne had to endure constant comparisons to Tre Mason, whom he backed up in 2013. The production of the SEC’s running backs didn’t match up to the talent this year. But Artis-Payne, the SEC’s lone Doak Walker Award semifinalist, had a better season than any other back in the conference.