A few of the top players from the 2012 class already are in the NFL, recovering from the grind of their rookie seasons. Still others are just graduating, preparing for post-college careers.

Almost four years to the day after members of the 2012 class signed with their respective teams, we take a look at how the top running backs panned out.


Tandems at Georgia and Alabama generated enough hype to overshadow every other SEC running back in this class, at least in the first few years.

When Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined to rush for more than 2,000 yards as true freshmen in 2012, the entire country thought it was up against one of the best two-pronged backfields in history. But it turned out to be the duo’s best season together, as injuries (and a four-game NCAA suspension for Gurley) limited their playing time the rest of their careers.

Still, Gurley became a first-round NFL pick and was the most exciting player on the field for most of his college career.

T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, like Gurley and Marshall, gave Alabama one top 10 running back and one top 10 all-purpose back from the 2012 class. Yeldon was three-and-out, nearly cranking through a trio of 1,000-yard seasons before becoming a second-round pick.

Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams, Missouri’s Russell Hansbrough and South Carolina’s Mike Davis all produced at least one 1,000-yard season in what turned out to be a deep class of SEC running backs.

Others: APB Trey Williams, Texas A&M; APB Jaylen Walton, Ole Miss; FB Quayvon Hicks, Georgia; APB Brian Kimbrow, Vanderbilt; APB Davante Bourque, Tennessee; RB I’Tavius Mathers, Ole Miss; RB Morgan Steward, Missouri; RB Kenno Loyal, Ole Miss; RB Kendric Salley, South Carolina, RB Quenshaun Watson, Tennessee; RB Alden Hill, Tennessee.


Considering his outstanding freshman season (850 total yards of offense, 9 TDs) and his placement as the No. 2 back in the entire 2012 class — well ahead of Todd Gurley — it’s tempting to name Georgia running back Keith Marshall here.

Certainly the Raleigh, N.C., native disappointed. He never again carried more than 68 times in a season in Athens.

But our money goes to Texas running back Johnathan Gray, who ranked ahead of players like Jameis Winston, Dante Fowler and Landon Collins as the composite No. 6 player in that 2012 class.

Gray did not have a spectacular flameout. He played all four seasons, rushing 149, 159, 147 and 123 times. He managed 2,607 rushing yards and 17 rushing TDs during his career, which included a torn Achilles and a turf toe injury.

For a five-star athlete, the guy just never did anything spectacular. At Texas, that’s about as vanilla as it gets. Especially in an offense without a notable quarterback and starving for playmakers. Many times Gray was the No. 1 or No. 2 option on the entire unit, yet he never reached 800 rushing yards in a single season with the Longhorns.


Colorado’s Christian Powell can make an argument, becoming an important starting tailback after getting recruited as a fullback.

But Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon is the clear winner in this category. Ranked 51st out of 169 running backs in the 2012 class, the back hailed from Strong, Ark. — population 535.

A three-sport high school star, he did get recruited by Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss despite just a three-star recruiting ranking. All three of those schools still wish he had become an SEC running back.

He still seemed like a pretty unlikely candidate to do anything special. But Dixon made the most of his time in Conference USA. He accounted for 87 career offensive touchdowns, vying with Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds through this bowl season for the all-time NCAA record (Reynolds eventually finished with 88).

Dixon also rushed for 4,483 yards and reached 969 receiving yards, one of the most productive college football players of the entire 2012 recruiting class.


2012 No. 1: Johnathan Gray, Texas
New No. 1: Todd Gurley, Georgia

Gurley averaged 6.4 yards per carry during his career, including enough electrifying runs to become the first back selected in the first round of the NFL draft in three years despite a torn ACL.

Gray was as average as they come as a four-year power conference starter.

2012 No. 2: Keith Marshall, Georgia
New No. 2: Duke Johnson, Miami

After injuries supplanted the hype, Marshall became best known for “made of glass jokes before putting together decent numbers as a spot player in 2015. He’ll now try to make an NFL roster.

Despite a nasty ankle injury of his own, the 5-foot-9 Johnson was one of the best multi-purpose running backs of the last half-decade. His best season came in 2014, when he rushed for 1,652 yards and also caught 38 passes. He caught 61 passes as an NFL rookie for the Cleveland Browns.

2012 No. 3: Trey Williams, Texas A&M
New No. 3: Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech

Williams never reached double-digit carries for the Aggies before a surprise early exit following the 2014 season. A good kickoff returner, he did average 6.6 yards per carry in College Station as a change-of-pace back.

Dixon was consistently great for the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech and should get drafted in a few months.

2012 No. 4: Duke Johnson, Miami
New No. 4: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

Yeldon occasionally struggled with ball security, but reached double-digit touchdowns every year and rushed for more than 1,100 yards per season.

2012 No. 5: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
New No. 5: Jonathan Williams, Arkansas

Williams’ broken foot prevented us from seeing the best backfield in Fayetteville since the Darren McFadden/Felix Jones/Peyton Hillis days. But he’s gotten some good reviews at the Senior Bowl this week.

2012 No. 6: Rushel Shell, Pitt
New No. 6: Byron Marshall, Oregon

A West Virginia transfer, Shell’s career otherwise mirrored Gray from a statistical standpoint, as he rushed for 641, 788 and 708 yards.

Marshall put together a 1,000-yard season as a rusher and a 1,000-yard season as a receiver as his role in the Oregon offense evolved. He could have finished even higher on this list but suffered a season-ending injury in mid-September.

2012 No. 7: Mario Pender, Florida State
New No. 7: Mike Davis, South Carolina

Pender, a non-factor for the Seminoles, suffered a collapsed lung in practice last fall.

After a disappointing last year with the Gamecocks in which the previous 1,000-yard rusher was overweight and sluggish, Davis played in six games as a rookie for the San Francisco 49ers.

2012 No. 8: Mike Davis, South Carolina
New No. 8: Russell Hansbrough, Missouri

Injuries are a common theme here as Hansbrough, a 1,000-yard back in 2014, suffered a severe ankle sprain early in the season and didn’t look right most of the year.

2012 No. 9: Alex Ross, Oklahoma
New No. 9: Jaylen Walton, Ole Miss

Ross never reached 800 career yards for the Sooners, surpassed by running backs that proved to have better talent.

At 5-foot-8 and 172 pounds, Walton was too diminutive to become a between-the-tackles regular in the SEC. Still, he was one of the most consistent change-of-pace backs in the conference, making an impact as a receiver and kickoff returner.

2012 No. 10: Todd Gurley, Georgia
New No. 10: Kenyan Drake, Alabama

It’s hard to understand now how nine other running backs rated ahead of Gurley in the 2012 class, as he easily was one of the 10 best players in the entire country in hindsight.

Much like Walton, Drake proved useful as a multi-tool athlete, making an impact as a receiver and returner. His gruesome leg injury in 2014 kept his career production from reaching even higher, though he was a nice supplemental player for the Tide offense.