How Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon Have Been Able to Succeed in SEC as Freshman RBs

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 2, 2012

Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon
Alabama RB T.J. YeldonJamie Squire/Getty Images

Two seasons ago, it was South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and Auburn's Michael Dyer that burst onto the scene with fantastic freshman seasons at the running back position. In 2011, Isaiah Crowell did the same at Georgia.

Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon have emerged as big-time threats at the running back position in 2012 and are big reasons why their respective teams, Georgia and Alabama, are in good positions to win their divisions and play for the SEC title on Dec. 1.

So what makes these two players so successful?

For Gurley, it's a combination of size, speed and scheme that has allowed the Tarboro, N.C., native to rush for 740 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first eight games.

The 6'1", 218-pounder came to Athens as the "other running back" behind fellow star recruit Keith Marshall but immediately established himself as a player that could contribute in fall camp, and that proved true in Georgia's season opener vs. Buffalo. He rushed eight times for 100 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Bulls and added a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

He displayed his power and speed in that season opener and hasn't looked back since, solidifying his role as the starting running back for the Bulldogs.

Billed as the "next Trent Richardson" due to his build and jersey number may be too much hype for a true freshman, but from what we've seen this year from Gurley, that moniker is not as much of a stretch as you might think.

Georgia's offense is loaded with stars like quarterback Aaron Murray and wide receivers Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell, but their success is predicated on Georgia's ability to run the football and make plays through the air off play-action. 

Yeldon has been successful for many of the same reasons.

At 6'2" and 216 pounds, Yeldon had the body type to be successful in the SEC from the moment that he stepped foot on campus in January.

Like Gurley, he didn't disappoint in his debut, rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown in Alabama's season-opening win over Michigan. Working primarily as the No. 2 running back behind Eddie Lacy, Yeldon still has amassed seven touchdowns and 649 yards—53 yards more than Lacy.

That's a testament to the system and success that Alabama has enjoyed this season. The hallmark of any Nick Saban team is to run the ball and play defense, and this year's Crimson Tide team has been so successful that it has allowed Yeldon to not only ease into the college game, but excel as a backup.

Yeldon is such a danger in the open field. He has the size to run through defenders, speed to run around them and the athleticism to jump over or around them, like in the clip above in Alabama's win over Missouri.

That presents a problem to the opposition.

Had Johnny Manziel not burst onto the scene at Texas A&M and become one of the most dangerous weapons in all of college football, we'd be talking about Gurley and Yeldon in the discussion for SEC Freshman of the Year.

But settling for the title of best freshman running back isn't a bad consolation, especially considering each of their teams is in the Top 10 and in the hunt for the BCS national championship.

These two players are the future of the SEC at running back, and if the first eight games of their respective careers are any indication, the future looks very bright.