It’s Year Of Running Back In SEC In 2014

T.J. Yeldon

It seemed to take a while to be fully understood, but one of the themes that came out of Southeastern Conference Media Days this year is that this is truly the Year of the Running Back in the SEC.

A year ago the talk was about the SEC quarterbacks, the long list headed by returning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and including Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray of Georgia, Zach Mettenberger of LSU, Connor Shaw of South Carolina, and James Franklin of Missouri.

One thing they all have in common:

All are gone.

That’s not to say a quarterback won’t emerge as the outstanding player in the conference this year, but the big competition in selection of the pre-season All-SEC Team was ranking the running backs.

As reported prior to release of the team, journalists were asked to vote for four running backs. Our planned picks were T.J. Yeldon of Alabama, Todd Gurley of Georgia, Keith Marshall of Georgia, and Derrick Henry of Alabama.

It was no surprise that the first team selections were Yeldon and Gurley. In fact, they were second and third in votes received. Crimson Tide wide receiver Amari Cooper was first with 282 votes, Yeldon second with 281, and Gurley third with 280.

Our pick of Marshall helped him only to third team, and Henry wasn’t one of the top six running backs in the voting as the SEC released three teams.

We certainly could understand the media picking Mike Davis of South Carolina and Alex Collins of Arkansas as second team running backs. They ranked third and fourth (behind Yeldon and Gurley) in leading SEC rushers returning from last year.

Marshall was joined on the third team by Corey Grant, the former Alabama scrub who transferred to Auburn.

While it may be hard to imagine who could pick the 5-11, 205-pound Grant over the 6-3, 241-pound Henry, there is a good reason. Voters could vote only for those players on the pre-season ballot and the nominees were provided by the schools. Alabama chose not to include Henry on the ballot.

When we got to the ballot, we voted for South Carolina's Davis, replacing Henry.

(Now, if you want to look at something really hard to believe, it is the voters overwhelmingly voting recently-revealed dopester Nick Marshall of Auburn as the All-SEC quarterback.)

But we digress.

The six men who made the three All-SEC teams at running back are only part of the story.

Last year’s top two SEC rushers were Tre Mason of Auburn and Jeremy Hill of LSU, now both departed.

Yeldon was third, rushing 207 times for 1,279 yards (102.9 per game), and Gurley fourth (in yards per game, which is how the SEC ranks rushers), 165 carries for 989 yards. Davis and Collins are other returning SEC running backs who had 1,000 yards rushing.

The 12th leading rusher in the SEC last year (and sixth leading returning running back) was Kenyan Drake of Bama, but Drake wasn’t nominated by Alabama. Indeed, he currently is not a member of the team owing to off-season discipline problems, though he is expected to return and battle for playing time. He had 92 carries for 694 yards, 7.5 per carry.

Henry was particularly impressive late in the year and finished his first season at Bama with 35 carries for 382 yards – 10.9 yards per carry.

In addition to Georgia with Gurley and Marshall, Arkansas has a pair of top returning tailbacks in Collins and Jonathan Williams. Texas A&M has a low pair, Trey Williams and Tra Carson. Others nominated by their schools as all-star candidates at the crowded running back position are Terrance Magee of LSU, Marcus Murphy of Missouri, Kelvin Taylor of Florida, and Josh Robinson of Mississippi State.

This year’s Doak Walker Award (given to the nation’s top college running back) includes many of these on its first watch list. Nominees are Yeldon, Henry, Collins, Jonathan Williams, Davis, Gurley, Magee, Trey Williams, Carson, Robinson, and Taylor.

Auburn led the nation in rushing last year, and not just because of Mason with his 1,816 yards. Quarterback Nick Marshall rushed for 1,068 yards.

And there’s another running back to watch out for in 2014 as many expect freshman Leonard Fournette (6-1, 224) to come in and beat out returning LSU tailbacks Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard.

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