SEC Football: Ranking the 5 Best Returning Running Backs

David AldridgeFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2013

SEC Football: Ranking the 5 Best Returning Running Backs

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    Talent is abundant in the SEC. No matter what side of the ball, the conference is loaded with players who have a bright future playing in the NFL.

    Many players have already decided to take their talents to the next level, but this simply provides an opportunity for other young players to step up and take their places.

    However, the running back position in the SEC features a group of guys who had tremendous success in 2012 and will look to build on that in 2013.

    Here are the five best returning running backs in the conference.

    (All stats via ESPN.com)

5. LaDarius Perkins: Mississippi State

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    LaDarius Perkins showed a ton of promise for the Bulldogs last season but struggled in the team's biggest games. In other words, his play was representative of the entire team.

    Perkins will enter his senior season in 2013 as one of the key pieces in Dan Mullen's offense. In 2012, the junior running back carried the ball 205 times for 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Perkins also proved to be a threat as a receiver, finishing the year with 19 receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns.

    In order for Mississippi State to become more than a middle-of-the-pack SEC team, Perkins will need play well against good competition and help take some of the pressure off quarterback Tyler Russell.

    Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Perkins has the ability to do it.

4. Jeff Scott: Ole Miss

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    In what feels like will be his 10th season at Ole Miss, Jeff Scott returns to Oxford, Ms., for his senior year in 2013.

    Scott will be a major part of Hugh Freeze's attempt to build on the tremendous momentum he created with the Rebels in his first year as head coach in 2012.

    Scott, a 5'7", 175-pound running back from Miami, Fl., provides the dangerous combination of elusiveness and speed that makes him a threat to score anytime he touches the ball. Scott led the Rebels in rushing the previous two seasons, and he could see his numbers increase with the continued development of quarterback Bo Wallace.

    Whether it's by taking handoffs or by catching passes out of the backfield, Scott is too talented to not get a healthy share of touches for the Rebels next season.

3. Jeremy Hill: LSU

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    When the 2012 season began, Jeremy Hill was the least talked about in the LSU stable of running backs.

    People were wondering how Les Miles would distribute carries between Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford, Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue, and, in typical Les Miles fashion, he did something completely different. Instead, Jeremy Hill became the featured running back for the Tigers.

    Hill finished the season with 755 yards and 12 touchdowns, which is particularly impressive when considering that he saw limited action in LSU's first six games.

    The freshman from Baton Rouge, La., ended the year with an excellent performance against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, finishing the game with 124 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.

    Expect Hill to carry the load for the Tigers in 2013, and show his skills as one of the best young players in the country.

2. TJ Yeldon: Alabama

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    No Eddie Lacy for the Crimson Tide? No problem.

    TJ Yeldon was introduced to the country last year on Alabama's epic game-winning drive against LSU. Yeldon's 28-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass from AJ McCarron gave the Crimson Tide the lead with 51 seconds to go and kept them on course for another BCS Championship.

    With Eddie Lacy's departure to the NFL, Yeldon will become the featured back in an Alabama offense that is known for its physical running game.

    Yeldon finished his freshman season with 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns on 175 carries and Crimson Tide fans can expect his workload to increase next season.

    With TJ Yeldon ready to go, running back is yet another position where Alabama doesn't rebuild, but simply reloads.

1. Todd Gurley: Georgia

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    In almost any other conference in the country last season, Todd Gurley would have been a lock for the Freshman of the Year award. But Gurley plays in the SEC, where the 2012 Freshman of the Year also won the Heisman Trophy. Take a bow, Johnny Manziel.

    However, none of this changes the fact that Gurley is set to dominate the SEC next season. Even while sharing carries last season, Gurley finished the year with 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns.

    Gurley's physically punishing running style and deceptive speed make him difficult to stop, particularly after he has worn down a defense over the course of a game. Gurley also benefits from playing behind an experienced offensive line and Aaron Murray, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in SEC history.

    The Bulldogs are talented enough to win a national championship next season, and Gurley is talented enough to carry them to it.