The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

The year of the running back

Aug 25, 2014
Tony Barnhart | SEC Network

I've been covering the SEC a long time and I can't remember a year where the quarterback position was deeper than it was in 2013. Just think about the quarterbacks who are not back this season:

**-- Georgia's Aaron Murray, the SEC's all-time passer.

**-- Alabama's AJ McCarron, who left with two national championship rings and a 34-2 record as a starter.

**--Connor Shaw, South Carolina. One of the best gamers I've seen play in this league. He left with a career record of 27-5, the best in South Carolina history.

**--Zach Mettenberger, LSU. OC Cam Cameron turned this guy into a big-armed pro.

**--And of course, who can forget Texas A&M's Johnny (Football) Manziel? He was fun to watch.

Of the SEC's top eight passers from a season ago only one, Bo Wallace of Ole Miss, returns this season.

What does this mean? Does it mean that offensive productivity will be down this season? Nope. It means that 2014 will be the year of the running back.

With less than a week to go before the start of the season, here are my Top 10 SEC running backs for 2014. The position is so deep that it was difficult to just pick 10. Feel free to disagree and make your own additions and subtractions. But everybody on this list deserves to be there.

1-Todd Gurley, Georgia: Gurley is the best back in college football when he's healthy and he's in shape. As the season begins Gurley is both. Despite nagging injuries last season he came up only 11 yards short of 1,000 yards rushing. And here's the key stat: Because of injuries he had only four games with 20 or more touches. Still he had over 1,400 yards of total offense.

2 (tie)-Mike Davis, South Carolina: Davis is a beast. He rushed for 1,183 yards last season and averaged 5.8 yards per carry as a sophomore. The last time I talked to coach Steve Spurrier he made it pretty clear that if Davis has a big year he is going to turn pro. South Carolina is very deep at the position with Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson, and redshirt freshman David Williams. Still, Davis will have a monster year if he stays healthy.

2 (tie)-T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: I really like this kid. He was the first Alabama freshman to ever rush for 1,000 yards (with 1,108) in 2012. Last season he rushed for 1,235 while averaging 6.0 yards on 207 carries. He needs to cut down on the fumbles after dropping the ball five times last season. But, barring injury, the only thing that is going to hold Yeldon back is that there are a lot of other talented running backs at Alabama such as......

4-Derrick Henry, Alabama: We finally saw a flash of what Henry could become in the Sugar Bowl when he rushed for 100 yards on just eight carries against Oklahoma. He is an incredible physical specimen at 6-3, 241 pounds and has very good speed. Henry is, after all, the leading rusher in the history of high school football. He is going to have a breakout year which will set the stage for even bigger things in 2015.

5-Leonard Fournette, LSU: I have always said that when it comes to great SEC running backs there is Herschel (Walker) and Bo (Jackson) and then everybody else.But based on everything I've read and heard and seen on tape, this kid is special. He has size (6-1, 224). He has speed. He averaged almost 9.6 yards per carry as a senior at St. Augustine High in New Orleans. He has to compete with two pretty good backs-Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard--for carries.

6-Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn: I don't know why this kid doesn't get more love. Tre Mason got hot last year and so he got an incredible 317 carries from the running back position. But every time Artis-Payne touched the ball (91 times) he did something with it, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. The position is very, very deep at Auburn with Corey Grant, redshirt freshman Peyton Barber, and the state's Mr. Football in Roc Thomas.

7-Kelvin Taylor, Florida: The freshman was probably the only bright spot on a disastrous offense last season for the Gators. He got 105 of his 111 carries in Florida's final seven games, rushing for 457 yards of his 508 yards. There are other good running backs in the program in Matt Jones and Mack Brown, but I think Taylor is going to thrive in the new offensive system installed by Kurt Roper.

8-Jonathan Williams, Arkansas: Everybody loves Alex Collins because he was the star in the Hogs' 2013 recruiting class and he rushed for over 1,000 yards as a freshman. I just think Williams is better. Last season he ran for 900 yards on 150 carries (6.0 avg.). Collins needed 40 more carries to gain just 126 yards more yards. I really like the third Arkansas running back, Korliss Marshall, because he has a little giddy-up in his step.

-Corey Grant, Auburn: In Gus Malzahn's first tour at Auburn he would scare defenses to death by using Onterio McCalebb on the "speed rush." McCalebb was so fast he could get to the edge before the defense could react. Grant can do the same thing only he's heavier and stronger than McCalebb. Grant has a unique role in Malzahn's offense, which is why he averaged 9.8 yards every time he touched the ball last season. He'll make a lot of big plays this season.

10-Alex Collins, Arkansas: Collins proved he was very talented by rushing for over 1,000 yards as a freshman. But he also drew a one-week suspension from coach Bret Bielema for undisclosed reasons back in February. There were also rumblings that the Ft. Lauderdale native wasn't completely happy with his role on the football team. Those rumors were later shot down. I still have Mr. Collins in my Top 10 but he's going to have to prove to me that he's the best back in Fayetteville, Ark.

Honorable mention: Tra Carson, Texas A&M; Jalen Hurd (freshman), Tennessee: Terrence Magee, LSU; Russell Hansbrough, Missouri; Josh Robinson, Miss. State; Keith Marshall, Georgia; I'Tavius Mathers, Ole Miss.