The SEC has been home to several of college football’s top running backs in recent years, and 2014 is another loaded group of rushers for the No. 1 conference in the nation.
Georgia’s Todd Gurley projects as Athlon’s No. 1 running back in the SEC for 2014, and the junior could be a Heisman candidate if he can stay healthy after an injury-riddled 2013 campaign.
Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry take two of the top-four spots, with South Carolina’s Mike Davis sandwiched between the Crimson Tide duo at No. 3. The underrated pair of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams round out the top six options in the SEC for 2014.
How were the rankings compiled? Something important to remember: This is not a career ranking heading into the 2014 season. Instead, several factors were considered. How the player projects in 2014, value to the team, overall talent level and production so far in his career. Past performance is critical, but a large portion of the rankings were based on what we think these running backs will do in 2014.
Ranking the SEC's Top 25 Running Backs for 2014
Injuries limited Gurley in 2013, but he still averaged six yards per carry. Gurley has scored 27 rushing touchdowns in two years and is an underrated receiver out of the backfield.
Yeldon has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and averages 6.1 yards per carry in his career. Expect Yeldon to see a similar workload once again in 2014, but Derrick Henry will be a bigger factor in Alabama's backfield.
Davis missed one game due to injury in 2013 but finished with 1,183 yards and 11 scores. Davis started last year with seven 100-yard performances in his first nine games, including 167 yards against UCF.
Expected to be one of the SEC's top breakout players in 2014. At 6-foot-3 and 241 pounds, Henry possesses a unique blend of size and power. Rushed for 100 yards on eight attempts against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Prize recruit of Bret Bielema's first class led the way for the Razorbacks on the ground in 2013. Collins rushed for 1,026 yards and four scores but failed to record a 100-yard effort over the final seven games. Expected to team with Jonathan Williams to form one of the SEC's top duos at running back.
Expected to share carries with sophomore Alex Collins in 2014. Williams rushed for 900 yards and four scores last season, including 104 yards on 15 attempts against Auburn. Sophomore Korliss Marshall is a name to remember this fall, giving Arkansas three solid options at running back.
Played sparingly through first five weeks of last season. Taylor was one of the few bright spots for the Gators, finishing 2013 with 508 yards and four scores. Also averaged 4.6 yards per carry behind a struggling offensive line. Expect Taylor to be more involved (and more productive) in the offense in 2014.
Ranked as the No. 1 player in the 247Sports Composite rankings in the 2014 signing class. With Jeremy Hill leaving, combined with LSU's standout offensive line, Fournette could have a huge season if he manages 175-200 carries. Easily could rank higher on this list by the end of 2014.
Marshall had a promising debut in 2012 by rushing for 759 yards and eight touchdowns. A torn ACL against Tennessee ended his 2013 campaign after only five games. If healthy, Marshall is one of the SEC's top-10 running backs.
Drake is the third Alabama running back to make this list for 2014. He recorded 694 yards and eight scores on just 92 attempts last season. With Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon leading the way, Drake may finish 2014 with under 100 carries. However, the talent is certainly there to be a feature back on any other team in the SEC.
Seymour is one of the SEC's underrated running backs, finishing with 716 yards on 164 attempts in 2013. Despite his 5-foot-7 frame, Seymour was effective around the goal-line with 14 rushing scores. New coach Derek Mason is expected to lean on the rushing attack to help ease the pressure on new quarterback Stephen Rivers. Seymour and backup Brian Kimbrow are up to the task.
Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are essentially co-starters in Auburn's quest to replace Tre Mason. In his first year with the Tigers, Artis-Payne rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. Expect to see Artis-Payne and Grant share the lead role, while Peyton Barber and Roc Thomas are two freshmen to watch in the fall.
Grant is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He averaged 9.8 yards per carry in 2013 and tied for third in the SEC with five runs of at least 30 yards. It's unlikely Grant shoulders 25 carries a week, but his speed and playmaking ability will allow him to share carries with Cameron Artis-Payne, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber in 2014.
Magee or Kenny Hilliard is expected to help spell Fournette in 2014. And of course, it's possible all three backs finish with the same amount of carries. Magee was impressive in limited work last year, averaging 6.6 yards per rush on 86 attempts. He also posted two 100-yard efforts in 2013. We are guessing Fournette handles the No. 1 role, but if Magee earns a split, he needs to be higher on this list.
Carson ranked fourth on the team in rushing yards last season, but all signs point to a breakout year in 2014. The Oregon transfer is regarded as Texas A&M's most versatile running back and scored seven rushing scores on 62 carries last season.
Hansbrough finished second on the team with 685 rushing yards in 2013. With Henry Josey departing, the door is open for Hansbrough or Marcus Murphy to emerge as a No. 1 back. Expect both Hansbrough and Murphy to each surpass 700 rushing yards, but our guess is Hansbrough leads the team in rushing in 2014.
Lane has been an effective option for the Volunteers in a timeshare with Rajion Neal the last two years. From 2012-13, Lane averaged 5.4 yards per carry and scored six rushing scores. With Neal out of eligibility, Lane will slide into the 1A role with freshman Jalen Hurd pushing for time. The talent is certainly there, but will Lane manage more than 120 carries in a season for the first time in his career?
Murphy is one of the SEC's top all-around threats. He rushed for 601 yards and nine scores last year, averaged seven yards per punt return, caught 11 passes for 79 yards and averaged 22.2 yards on kickoff returns. Murphy is slated for an increased role in the backfield with Henry Josey departing.
Looking for a player who could have a breakout season in 2014? Look no further than Starkville, as Robinson is set to takeover for LaDarius Perkins as Mississippi State's No. 1 back. Robinson rushed for 459 yards on 78 attempts last year, including 101 in the 24-17 victory over Arkansas. Freshman Aeris Williams will be a name to watch in the fall.
Heard was a four-star recruit by 247Sports in the 2010 signing class and spent the first two years of his career at Nebraska. During his short stint with the Cornhuskers, Heard rushed for 462 yards and four touchdowns. And after sitting out 2013 due to transfer rules, Heard is poised to make an impact in Kentucky's backfield. The Ohio native rushed for 55 yards in the spring game.
Hurd is expected to be one of the key pieces in Butch Jones' rebuilding effort on Rocky Top. The Tennessee native ranked as the No. 40 incoming freshman in the 247Sports Composite and rushed for 66 yards and one touchdown in the spring game. Expect Hurd to push Marlin Lane for carries in 2014.
The Rebels are expected to employ a backfield-by-committee approach in 2014, with Mathers, Jaylen Walton and junior college transfer Akeem Judd battling for carries. Mathers edged Walton by 42 yards for the team rushing lead in 2013. Ole Miss has solid depth here and a true No. 1 workhorse isn't necessarily needed in Oxford this year.
Combine Kemp's development with Braylon Heard's arrival and it's easy to see why Kentucky is expected to take a step forward on offense this year. As a true freshman in 2013, Kemp led the team with 482 yards. He also dealt with an ankle injury for most of his freshman campaign. With an offseason to heal, Kemp should be an even bigger part of the Wildcats' offense.
With Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans off to the NFL, the Aggies may lean a little more on their rushing attack in 2014. Tra Carson appears to be entrenched as the starter, but Trey and Brandon Williams will have a role in the backfield. Trey Williams is a big-play threat, averaging 7.1 yards per carry in 2013. He also averaged 25.2 yards per kickoff return.
Walton ranked second on the team with 522 yards behind I'Tavius Mathers last season and led all Rebels with 1,360 total yards. The Memphis native brings speed and elusiveness to the backfield and is a reliable pass-catcher (28 receptions in 2013).