Ranking Top 5 SEC RBs Pre-2014 Spring Practice

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterFebruary 25, 2014

Ranking Top 5 SEC RBs Pre-2014 Spring Practice

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    Georgia RB Todd Gurley
    Georgia RB Todd GurleyMelina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

    Whether it's in a pro-style offense or out of the spread, the SEC is still a run-first, power conference that boasts elite running backs who are critical pieces of the puzzle for their respective teams.

    The 2014 season will be no different, despite the fact that several stars—including LSU's Jeremy Hill, Auburn's Tre Mason and Missouri's Henry Josey—have moved on to greener pastures in the NFL.

    Georgia's Todd Gurley, South Carolina's Mike Davis and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon all placed in the top five in rushing yards per game in 2013 and will be back for more this year.

    Who are the top five SEC running backs heading into spring based on previous success and 2014 potential? Our picks are in this slideshow.


    * Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All college statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com. 

5. Alabama RB Derrick Henry

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    Alabama RB Derrick Henry
    Alabama RB Derrick HenryPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Is Alabama running back Derrick Henry the most accomplished running back on this list? Of course not. In fact, if we're basing this on returning production, Arkansas' Jonathan Williams, Vanderbilt's Jerron Seymour, Florida's Kelvin Taylor and Henry's own teammate Kenyan Drake would be just a few of several SEC running backs placed above Henry.

    But Henry's lack of production his freshman season was simply due to a lack of opportunity, and not talent.

    The world got a glimpse of what Henry was capable of in Alabama's 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, when he busted loose for 100 yards and one touchdown on eight carries. The 6'3", 238-pound monster from Yulee, Fla., has the body size to be a bruiser between the tackles and game-breaking speed in space.

    He'll push incumbent starter T.J. Yeldon for playing time this spring. If Yeldon doesn't fix his fumbling problem, Henry could be the feature running back in Tuscaloosa by the time toe meets leather in the Georgia Dome versus West Virginia on Aug. 30.

4. Arkansas RB Alex Collins

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    Arkansas RB Alex Collins
    Arkansas RB Alex CollinsRogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Alex Collins burst on the scene last season as a true freshman, rushing for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns for an Arkansas team that had virtually no threat of a passing attack and another running back in Jonathan Williams who rushed for 900 yards of his own.

    Not a bad debut to say the least.

    The 5'11", 206-pound native of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., put his team on his back as a freshman. While he couldn't lead it to many wins—only three, in fact—he proved that he is capable of being a workhorse in the physical SEC, rushing for 5.24 yards per carry within conference play.

    Collins is already a star, and the only thing that's standing in his way from becoming a superstar is the lack of talent surrounding him on offense. 

3. Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon

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    Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon
    Alabama RB T.J. YeldonKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Statistically, there's no denying just how good Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon is.

    The rising junior for the Crimson Tide broke the 1,000-yard mark in each of his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa, scoring 26 rushing touchdowns in the process. The 6'2", 218-pounder is patient, elusive in space and not only has the size to take the punishment, but also has the skills to avoid hard hits in tight spaces between the tackles.

    But his job is in jeopardy after Derrick Henry's big performance against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Why? Because Yeldon has fumbling issues. He led the Crimson Tide last season with five fumbles, losing four, according to Alabama's statistics

    His inability to hold on to the ball and Henry's emergence has put pressure on the Daphne, Ala., native heading into his junior season. If he can hold on to the football, he could go down as one of Alabama's all-time best running backs.

2. South Carolina RB Mike Davis

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    South Carolina RB Mike Davis
    South Carolina RB Mike DavisStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Replacing Marcus Lattimore? Yeah, that wasn't an issue for South Carolina rising junior running back Mike Davis.

    All he did in his first season as the No. 1 running back was rush for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns, helping post the third straight 11-win season for the Gamecocks. At 5'9", he isn't the tallest running back in the world. But the 215-pounder packs a mean punch and gets on linebackers in a hurry, often when they're not expecting it.

    He was one of only five running backs in the SEC in 2013 to top the 200-carry mark, proving to head coach Steve Spurrier that he's not only explosive, but reliable.

    That will be beneficial in 2013, because new quarterback Dylan Thompson will likely bring with him a more traditional offense that is predicated on establishing the run and then taking the top off of a defense with play-action. 

    Of the three skill positions needed in that equation—running back, quarterback and wide receiver—Davis is the most known commodity. Expect big things from the Lithonia, Ga., native in 2014, including a possible trip to New York City in December as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

1. Georgia RB Todd Gurley

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    When it comes to SEC running backs, there's nobody better than Georgia's Todd Gurley.

    The rising junior from Tarboro, N.C., has rushed for 2,374 yards and 27 touchdowns in his first two seasons between the hedges, which included an injury-riddled 2013 campaign in which the 6'1", 232-pounder struggled with a nagging ankle injury suffered against LSU in September.

    But when healthy, Gurley is a boss. 

    His size suggests that he's a bruiser, but he's light on his feet, and, as a former hurdler for Team USA in the 2011 World Youth Championships, he has speed to burn when he gets out in open space. He's the focal point of a Georgia offense that has finished in the top five in the SEC in yards per play in each of his first two seasons, including an SEC-best 7.09 yards per play in 2012.

    Georgia has to run to be successful, and it's Gurley's job to do that. 

    Now that he's healthy and has a new quarterback who will rely on him even more in 2014, the best is yet to come.


    * Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All college statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.