SEC Football: Top 5 Running Backs Returning for 2014

Bryan HeaterCorrespondent IJanuary 21, 2014

SEC Football: Top 5 Running Backs Returning for 2014

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

    Die-hard college football fans will be indulging themselves in anything they possibly can to get through the next eight months with no football.

    From national signing day on February 5 to the start of spring practices, fans will be following their programs closely to keep sane until August.

    All of this is especially true for fans down south in SEC country. SEC fans eat, sleep and breathe football, and when it's all over every January, they die a little on the inside. 

    One way we get through this dreadful eight-month period is by debating over early rankings and lists, such as a way-too-early top 25 and power rankings of players. To ease your pain a bit, here is the first in a series of lists ranking the top five returning players at each position in the SEC, starting with the running backs.

    The SEC has some of the best running backs in the country and will have even more future stars with the 2014 recruiting class. However, we reserve the top five spots for backs that have played at least one season at the college level.

    With that said, here is the top five returning running backs for next season. Hopefully over the next few weeks, these rankings will help get you through this college football-less world until August.  

     

    All player stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

5. Kenyan Drake, Alabama

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    RB Kenyan Drake
    RB Kenyan DrakeButch Dill/Associated Press

    The first to make the cut is Alabama Crimson Tide running back Kenyan Drake. He hasn't had the amount of carries the other guys on here have had, but that's because he is the No. 2 back behind teammate T.J. Yeldon.

    As a sophomore in 2013, Drake averaged an eye-popping 7.5 yards per carry and even had two 100-yard games, despite carrying the ball a total of 92 times. He finished the year with 694 yards and eight touchdowns and had just one game that he played in with a long run of under 10 yards.

    What makes Drake so dangerous is his speed, which isn't matched by many in college football. His numbers would be All-SEC worthy if he was the No. 1 back, but based off of what he did with the carries he had, he makes this list.

    Drake could surpass 1,000 yards in 2014 and provide a two-headed monster for the Crimson Tide.

4. Alex Collins, Arkansas

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    RB Alex Collins
    RB Alex CollinsWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Alex Collins of the Arkansas Razorbacks has the potential to be much higher on this list. He's the youngest back to make the list with just a year under his belt.

    Collins became the second Razorback freshman tailback in school history—the first was Darren McFadden—to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season, finishing with 1,026 yards and four touchdowns on 190 carries.

    He was named the SEC Freshman of the Year and to the 2013 Sporting News Freshman All-American Team.

    Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment in his first year was opening his career with three straight games with over 100 yards on the ground, the first back in SEC history to attain the feat.

    What makes his season so impressive is the fact that the Hogs posed practically no threat through the air as quarterback Brandon Allen struggled all year. Despite teams stacking the box, Collins was still able to get his yards. He also split carries with Jonathan Williams, who had 900 yards and four scores on 150 rushes. It should also be noted that he was running behind an O-line that had two true freshmen.

    Collins has elite ball-carrying vision and is only going to get better with each passing day.

    He has a rare combination of speed and power, running over defenders or juking them out of their shoes. Expectations for his sophomore season are sky high, and if Arkansas can find a quarterback that can be effective, Collins could see a big jump in yards and touchdowns in 2014.

3. Todd Gurley, Georgia

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    RB Todd Gurley
    RB Todd GurleyJoe Robbins/Getty Images

    Here is another guy that has the potential to be much higher on this list. Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley comes in at No. 4 due to an injury-riddled sophomore campaign. 

    Gurley burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2012, rushing for 1,385 yards, 17 touchdowns and earning First Team All-SEC honors.

    He saw a drop-off in 2013, finishing with 989 yards and 10 touchdowns on 57 less carries than his first year.

    However, the decline in numbers was due to a high-ankle sprain suffered against LSU on Sept. 28. The injury sidelined Gurley for three games and put a damper on what was supposed to be an even better season than his first.

    Still, he managed to rush for nearly 1,000 yards and had four games with over 100 yards. As disappointing as 2013 was for him, David Paschall of Chattanooga's Times Free Press wrote in December that Gurley isn't dwelling on it.

    If he can stay healthy, Gurley has the skills to climb to the top of this list.

2. Mike Davis, South Carolina

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    RB Mike Davis
    RB Mike DavisJeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

    South Carolina Gamecock Mike Davis was one of the top-rated running backs coming out of high school in 2012, but unlike Collins, he had to wait patiently his first year behind starter Marcus Lattimore before getting his shot to be the feature back.

    He got his chance this past season and didn't let it go to waste.

    Davis went from 52 attempts for 275 yards and two touchdowns in his freshman year to 1,183 yards and 11 scores on 203 carries in 2013 despite dealing with ankle, shoulder and rib injuries over the course of the season that sidelined him for the Coastal Carolina game. 

    Davis rushed for over 100 yards in seven out of the 12 games he played in. Every time he touches the ball, Davis is a threat to take it all the way to the house. He had just two games with long runs of under 10 yards and seven with game-long runs over 20 yards, including four with over 40.

    He has the skills to be not only one of the conference's best backs in 2014, but also one of the best in the country.

    Davis could very well eclipse the 1,500-yard mark in his junior year and will be one of the funnest players to watch regardless of position. 

1. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

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    RB T.J. Yeldon
    RB T.J. YeldonRVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

    Alabama Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon was another highly-touted back in the class of 2012, however he didn't have to wait a year like Davis to make a big impact.

    After rushing for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman, Yeldon avoided a sophomore slump, amassing 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns.

    He has breakaway speed, shown by him having a long run of over 10 yards in all 12 games he played in. He had just one game with a long of under 15 yards and had long runs of over 20 yards in 10 games and over 30 in five.

    Yeldon does have some power to his game, but he is at his best when he's out in space, using his speed and elusiveness to get by tacklers. 

    This could be his last year if he is projected to go high in the 2015 NFL Draft. With AJ McCarron graduating, expect Yeldon to see an even bigger role as the Crimson Tide and head coach Nick Saban get their new quarterback settled in.