SEC Football: Power Ranking the Best Running Backs of 2013

Jake Martin@JakeMartinSECCorrespondent IIIFebruary 25, 2013

SEC Football: Power Ranking the Best Running Backs of 2013

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    The SEC might as well be renamed the land of the running backs.

    The reason, of course, lures from the explosion the freshmen running backs had onto the scene last season.

    Alabama's T.J. Yeldon helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship with 1,108 rushing yards, while Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 2,144 rushing yards for the Georgia Bulldogs.

    Oh, and that freshman Jeremy Hill at LSU led the Tigers to victories in the fourth quarter against both South Carolina and Texas A&M. We're all still scratching our head at the fact that he had no rush attempts against Clemson in the final 15 minutes.

    So with all of these great running backs entering their sophomore seasons, it begs the question—who's the best? Here are the top 10 running backs in the SEC for 2013.

10. Jeff Scott

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    If it's speed you're looking for, Jeff Scott is your man.

    Scott was a top 10 rusher in the league last season because of his ability to get to the edge and sprint up the field.

    It allowed him to lead the Rebels in rushing with 850 yards and six rushing touchdowns. However, Scott's stature limits him from breaking as many tackles as he'd like.

    At 5'7", 175 pounds, Scott is squirmy, elusive and evasive. But what separates the elite in the SEC from Scott is the power they possess, the ability to wear down defenses in the fourth quarter.

9. Alfred Blue

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    Let's see if Alfred Blue can return to form.

    In 2011, Blue was simply a nice change of pace. Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard and Michael Ford were the main contributors at the running back position, but Blue was still able to produce 539 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

    In 2012, Blue started the season as the Tigers' top running back. He rushed for 270 yards and two touchdowns in three games. However, in the third game of the season, Blue went down with a season-ending knee injury.

    Can he become the running back he once was before the knee injury occurred? Should he recover 100 percent from the injury, he'll easily be one of the best running backs in the league with his powerful running and smooth style of evading defenders.

8. Ben Malena

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    He's no Johnny Manziel, but hey, who is, right?

    Manziel led the SEC in rushing with 1,410 yards to go along with his league-leading 21 rushing touchdowns. He outgained starting running back Ben Malena by 602 yards.

    That's saying something when you take into account how great Malena is at running the football. Malena averaged just over 10 rushing attempts per game with Texas A&M last season, and he was still able to rush for 808 yards during.

    Manziel, as he should, will be the focal point of the offense, but Malena will provide the Aggies with a nice change of pace.

7. Rajion Neal

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    Tennessee fans are going to have to make due with Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane Jr.

    The trifecta of Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson are all gone, so Tennessee's passing game in 2013 will likely take a backseat to the rushing game.

    Therefore, it's time for the rushing game to take center stage. Leading the way will be Neal, who led the Vols in rushing with 708 yards and five rushing touchdowns in 2012.

    The absence of Bray should make the Vols lean on Neal more in 2013, and that could lead to a breakout year for the soon to be senior.

6. LaDarius Perkins

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    LaDarius Perkins has always teetered on the edge of elite.

    Perkins is undoubtedly one of the best running backs in the league, and he has been for a few years now. However, he lacks the flash and appeal that Gurley, Hill and Yeldon all possess.

    Instead, he's a workhorse. He had the fourth most rushing attempts in the league last season with 205, and that's including missing the LSU game.

    He posted 1,024 yards and eight rushing touchdowns last season, and with he and Tyler Russell returning, the pieces are all falling into place for Dan Mullen's offense next year.

5. Tre Mason

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    Tre Mason will benefit greatly from Gus Malzahn. This should take Mason's game to the next level.

    In 2012, Mason was the Auburn offense. He rushed for 85 yards per game, which made up nearly 28 percent of Auburn's yards per game (305).

    Mason served as the hard-nosed runner last season, while Onterio McCalebb gave the Auburn Tigers speed on the edge.

    Losing his partner in crime, McCalebb, will hurt, but Malzahn's offensive ingenuity will increase Mason's production and make him a top running back in the league.

4. Keith Marshall

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    The diaper dandies were magnificent last season, weren't they?

    They were so great that the rest of the countdown features four true freshmen. Entering their sophomore campaign, progression is expected.

    At No. 4 on the list is Georgia's Keith Marshall. Marshall rushed for 759 yards and accounted for nine total touchdowns for the Bulldogs last season.

    He did that while sharing the backfield with Gurley. Marshall is good enough to start at most schools in the country, but with a player like Gurley alongside him, he should be content being part of the best one-two punch in all of college football.

3. Jeremy Hill

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    Just how deep is LSU's talent pool in the backfield?

    It seems like every year the Tigers find a new running back that's more talented than the previous guy—in 2012, Hill emerged as one of the best running backs in the SEC.

    Nevermind his 755 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. Rather, look at his physical gifts to truly appreciate how talented this running back is.

    Here's a back that can break tackles and use his lateral movement to shake defenders in the open field. Hill will share the backfield with Alfred Blue in 2013, but he should still rush for over 1,000 yards with his abilities and breakaway speed. That, of course, is if LSU's coaching staff decides to feed him the football in the fourth quarter.

2. T.J. Yeldon

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    The past few years, LSU has found one great running back after another.

    Alabama, on the other hand, has replaced a Heisman-winning running back with a Heisman candidate, a top NFL draft pick and now with a future Heisman front-runner.

    As good as Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy all were for the Crimson Tide, Yeldon might become even better.

    Yeldon rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first season of college ball, and he did that while sharing the backfield with Lacy, who rushed for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns. You can only imagine what his statistics will be as the starter.

1. Todd Gurley

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    Gurley is not only the best running back in the SEC, but he's the best running back in college football.

    You remember when Steve Spurrier said Jadeveon Clowney could have went to the NFL straight out of high school? The same might be true for Gurley.

    As a true freshman, Gurley led all running backs in the SEC with 1,385 rushing yards and was tied for most rushing touchdowns with 17. Like Hill and Yeldon, Gurley boasts that rare combination of power and speed. However, Gurley's speed and power resembles one of the greatest running backs in the SEC history.

    Comparisons to Herschel Walker don't happen everyday and they shouldn't, but the way Gurley breaks tackles and races past defenders in the secondary sure is reminiscent.