1. Todd Gurley- Georgia. Gurley should be a serious Heisman Candidate and I am not sure that if he stays healthy that he just might be the best player in the entire country regardless of position. If he can keep himself together off the field he might surpass Winston. Gurley exploded onto the scene in 2012 with an incredible year and 1,385 rushing yards and 17 TDs. Gurley was injured some during his sophomore season and missed some action but still managed 989 yards rushing.
Georgia has always been known for great Running Backs from Herschel Walker to Garrison Hearst or Knowshon Moreno and many more. Other than Herschel Walker, Gurley is as good as any of them. Expect 2014 to be Gurley’s last season in Athens as the NFL comes calling. Also expect Todd Gurley to have a huge season and carry Georgia to the SEC East title. Gurley is a big Running Back at 6-1,235, but has excellent quickness and speed.
2. TJ Yeldon- Alabama. Yeldon doesn’t necessarily look like a big back but he is 6-2,220 and can move. He pretty much has it all and like Gurley will be gone after this season.Yeldon impressed immediately running for 1,108 yards and 12 TDs his freshman season out of Daphne, Alabama.
Yeldon topped that by rushing for 1,235 yards and 14 TDs as a sophomore. He will have to hold off other talented Alabama Running Backs Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry, but he has so far. Yeldon is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and he has super quick feet that never stop fighting for yardage. TJ Yeldon is a tough back that will make all SEC teams and probably all the All American Teams and head for the greener pastures of the NFL.
3. Melvin Gordon- Wisconsin Gordon is just plain explosive. He came in as a freshman and ran for 621 yards at over 10 yards per carry. Almost as impressive was his sophomore season when he ran for 1,609 yards at a whopping 7.81 yards per carry. All that while sharing backfield duties with senior James White who was just selected in the last draft by the New England Patriots. Gordon played in every game last season, but only started 4. Gordon is tightly wound at 6-1, 210 and will run around tacklers as well as right over them. Was 2nd team All Big 10 a year ago and could challenge for AA honors this season and become a high pick in next year’s draft. I’m hoping he returns to Wisconsin. Like Gurley, Gordon was not that highly rated out of high school.
4. Ameer Abdullah- Nebraska. This guy is super impressive like the Nebraska Cornhusker Tailbacks of yesteryear. Maybe one should almost expect to see Dr Tom Osborne standing on the sidelines while Abdullah runs the ball. Abdullah is very shifty and extremely quick. He’s got moves to spare which is necessary because he’s not the biggest guy around at 5-9,190. Abdullah is coming back for his senior year after running for 1,690 yards and 9 TDs as a junior. As a sophomore, Abdullah split time with long time Husker starter Rex Burkhead and still managed to put up 1,137 yards and 8 TDs. He might be the fastest and shiftiest of the top backs but a notch below the top 3. Good receiver out of the backfield and returns kicks as well. Originally from Homewood, Alabama.
5. Mike Davis- South Carolina. Mike Davis is the ideal size for a Running Back at 5-9, 215. Davis had to play behind the great Marcus Latimore as a freshman and had limited carries but ran for 275 yards and the talent was obvious early on. The sophomore from Stone Mountain, Georgia then ran for 1,183 yards and 11 TDs as a sophomore earning 2nd team All SEC honors. As one can see from this list, the 2 highest ranked Running Backs are also SEC backs so it will be difficult to earn 1st team All SEC.
Davis is a power runner deluxe and seems to love contact with defenders. In spite of his power running ability he has plenty of shake and bake and can outrun them when he breaks into the secondary. He is tough as nails and very productive in high school and highly recruited.
6. Duke Johnson- Miami. Duke Johnson has a burst like few others, he has another gear that few do. He can change directions on a dime and get back to full speed almost immediately. He is an outstanding Running Back as well as a return man. He is not the biggest guy at around 5-9, 188 or so but makes up for it with sprinter’s speed. Duke Johnson was a 5 star recruit out of Miami Norland and led his team to a 14=0 record and a state championship.
He had 947 yards rushing as a freshman at Miami and was an outstanding Kickoff returner with 2 TDs. As a sophomore, he rushed for 920 yards but only played in 8 games due to injury.
7. Jeremy Langford- Michigan State. Langford came to Michigan State as a Running Back but was placed at CB as a freshman. He moved to Running Back before his second year, but didn’t play much in 2012. He had a break out season in 2013 and rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 TDs. Michigan State has a very conservative offense and they love to pound the middle, SEC style, using Langford as a power back. He does have a little speed and quickness and can take it the distance if he breaks through. The Spartans have experience returning at QB, so hopefully, they can open up their offense just a little which would give Langford some better running room. He is 6-0, 205 and averaged 4.87 yards per carry in 2013.
8. Shock Linwood-Baylor. Some may be shocked by Shock Linwood being rated this highly. But, he’s going to have a huge season in 2014. He has excellent quickness and rushed for 881 yards on 6.88 yards per carry in 2013 and that was playing behind Lache Seastrunk. Seastrunk left early for the NFL being drafted in the 6th round by the Redskins. For the life of me I don’t get why somebody would declare early knowing they were going in the 6th round. Why not come back to school and play your last year and hope to get drafted earlier and get way more money?
Linwood will be the guy this year and should have at least 1,500 yards rushing this season. Linwood is tightly compact at 5-8, 200 and strong.
9. Derrick Henry-Alabama. Henry is not the starter or he would have been closer to the top of the rankings and somebody will need to convince me that he won’t be at the very top in a year or two. This is the guy that broke Kenneth Hall’s forever ago High School Career Rushing Record. He is truly phenomenal. Henry is huge at 6-3,240 and he’s fast as shown by an 80 yard run last season and a long run off of a pass in the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. If Henry had gone elsewhere, he probably would be sitting at #3 right now on the Running Back list.
It might be a tough season for Henry if he doesn’t see the field enough, but a coach really can’t bench TJ Yeldon. Yeldon has done nothing but produce for his only 2 years at Tuscaloosa.
I still feel like Henry will be one of the nation’s best players before he is done at Alabama.
10. Buck Allen- USC. Rest easy SEC fans, Javorius ‘Buck’ Allen is from Florida. He is from the talent producing Tallahassee Lincoln High and I have no idea how he escaped the Seminoles. Allen played in every Trojan game last season, but did not start until the last 4 and that’s when he opened some eyes. Allen is 6-1,215 and runs extremely hard. He rushed for 774 yards in 2013 with most of that coming at the end and looks to do even better in 2014. With a more experienced Offensive Line and a returning starter at QB, Allen will have a big season and open some Eastern eyes. Eastern media only notices USC of any school West of the Mississippi. Or, should I say, West of College Station, Texas and the most Western of any SEC school. USC is no longer the Jewel of the West, but that could return in a hurry with the arrival of Stever Sarkisian. People that are underwhelmed with him need to inspect the Washington Huskies team before his arrival and check it out now.
11. Malcolm Brown-Texas. Malcolm Brown has quietly rushed for 1,970 yards and 18 TDs with one year to go. For some reason, apparently Malcolm Brown was always in Mack Brown’s dog house. But, that’s not a concern for Malcolm Brown any longer. He is 6-0,225 and he is deceptively fast. Johnathon Gray ruptured his Achilles tendon last season leaving Brown as the main back and Gray may miss at least part of 2014. Brown may be the only experienced Running Back available for Texas. New coaching staff, new offense and system and Brown should benefit. Look for Malcolm Brown to finish out his career strongly in Austin and rush for around 1,300 yards or more. Texas has not had a 1000 yard rusher since Cedric Benson in 2004, but look for that to end this season.
12. Alex Collins- Arkansas. Razorback coaches, team and fans think they have the best 3 Running Backs in the country in Alex Collins, Jonathon Williams and Korliss Marshall. Not being the type to argue about every little thing, I will have to say that they have 3 very good Running Backs and Collins was the most productive a year ago rushing for 1,026 yards as a true freshman. He is lightening in a bottle, follows his blockers well and then just explodes when he sees an opening. Arkansas had a really young Offensive Line in 2013 and those guys are back and have a year of experience under the belts and should be really good. Plus, his QB has a year of experience and they have excellent receivers as well to take some pressure off of the running game. Look for the Hogs to have at least 2 1000 yard rushers in 2014 and another really close. All 3 of their backs are gifted and special. Not sure I would rate them over the Alabama RBs, but they are very good.
13. Karlos Williams -FSU Probably should have ranked Karlos Williams higher and he’s going to have a fantastic year in 2014 since he will be the top back at Florida State now with Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr gone to the NFL. Williams put up great numbers as a junior gaining 730 yards, but the most impressive thing was that he averaged 8.02 yards per carry and scored 8 TDs as a Seminole reserve. Williams was a Defensive Back, but moved to Running Back and excelled. Williams will have an excellent Offensive Line in front of him returning 4 out of 5 starters. Expect the Seminoles to have one of the top Offensive Lines in college football. Plus, obviously they return Jameis Winston and their All American Tight End and some top receivers. Everything is lined up for Karlos Williams to have a great season in 2014. He has good size at 6-1,225 and excellent speed.
14. Leonard Fournette- LSU. This is not the first time I have predicted a great season for Leonard Fournette. Fournette was the highest rated 2014 recruit in the entire country. I’ve seen Fournette play multiple times and he is a spectacular prospect. LSU coaches may choose to bring Fournette along slowly but he appears to be one of the top Running Backs to come along in a while. He has the size to make a great power back, but also has the moves of a much smaller back and he has great speed.
Also, his high school coach loved to run an empty backfield and move Fournette out to WR so he has very good hands as well as all of the other qualities.
Kenyan Drake- Alabama
Russell Hansbrough- Missouri
Adam Lane- Florida
Mark Weisman- Iowa