Who is the SEC's Next Great Freshman Running Back?

USA TODAY Sports

The conference has had some prolific freshman rushers of late. Who is next in 2013?

Since 2003, the SEC has had 11 freshman running backs rush for at least 800 yards on the season. Here they are, including their recruiting rank and whether the team's previous leading rusher had left the team prior to their freshman seasons:

Player School Season Yards Rivals.com Stars Leading Rusher Left?
Justin Vincent LSU 2003 1001 4 Yes
Thomas Brown Georgia 2004 875 4 No
Darren McFadden Arkansas 2005 1113 5 Yes
Arian Foster Tennessee 2005 879 3 Yes*
Knowshon Moreno Georgia 2007 1334 4 No
Terry Grant Alabama 2007 891 4 Yes
Marcus Lattimore South Carolina 2010 1197 5 No
Michael Dyer Auburn 2010 1093 5 Yes
Isaiah Crowell Georgia 2011 850 5 Yes
Todd Gurley Georgia 2012 1385 4 Yes
T.J. Yeldon Alabama 2012 1108 5 Yes

The asterisk in Arian Foster's line is due to the fact that Gerald Riggs came back but missed half of 2005 due to injury. Foster piled up most of his yards after Riggs went out. Technically it should be a "No", as Tennessee's leading rusher did return that year, but I am rating it as a "Yes" because Foster wouldn't have hit 800 yards at his early season pace during the time when Riggs was healthy.

Anyway, some patterns emerge. Nearly all of these guys were four or five-star recruits; the only three-star guy here hit the 800-yard threshold due to the guy in front of him getting injured. Most also got their shot in part because the previous season's leading rusher left.

Here is a list of the four-star running backs that signed with SEC schools this year; Rivals only gave five tailbacks a five-star rating and none of them signed with SEC schools. I can hear what you're saying, and no, there won't be any four- or five-star signees playing as a redshirt freshman this year. The only one who didn't play last year was Jovon Robinson, and he's at Georgia Military College following an eligibility controversy stemming from his hometown of Memphis.

Signee School
Altee Tenpenny Alabama
Alvin Kamara Alabama
Derrick Henry Alabama
Tyren Jones Alabama
Alex Collins Arkansas
Johnathan Ford Auburn
Kelvin Taylor Florida
A.J. Turman Georgia
Jordan Wilkins Ole Miss
Kailo Moore Ole Miss
Mark Dodson, Jr. Ole Miss
David Williams South Carolina

Right away, we can probably rule out any of the four Alabama guys as long as T.J. Yeldon doesn't get hurt. Yeldon figures to be the lead guy well out ahead of anyone else, and when that happens, the backup at Bama doesn't hit 800 yards. Sorry, guys. A.J. Turman is out too, as he'll be buried behind Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall at Georgia. We'll see you in 2015.

I actually think we can probably rule out the Ole Miss guys too. Jeff Scott is coming back as the primary running back, and he barely broke 800 yards himself last year with 846. Part of the problem for them is that QB Bo Wallace will be getting plenty of carries (143 last year, second on the team by far), and the other part is that sophomore RB I'Tavius Mathers is in the way and won most improved offensive player honors for the spring. Mark Dodson reportedly looked good, but Hugh Freeze's offense probably won't allow anyone other than the primary running back to hit 800.

Johnathan Ford will have an uphill climb for the same reason at Auburn. In Gus Malzahn's seven seasons as a I-A offensive coordinator or head coach, only twice has he produced more than one 800-yard rusher. One time was in 2006, when he had McFadden and Felix Jones (and only partial control), and the other was 2010 with Dyer, Cam Newton, and Onterio McCalebb. Auburn's 2012 offense won't match its 2010 offense, to say the least. So, we're probably only looking at one 800-yard rusher, and it'll probably be Tre Mason again like it was last year.

The same goes once more for David Williams at South Carolina. Like Wallace at Ole Miss, Connor Shaw will have a good bit of carries, reducing the potential work load for running backs. Plus when Steve Spurrier hasn't had Lattimore available over the past few years, he's often gone with a platoon rather than settling on another guy as the feature back. Mike Davis was in that rotation last year after Lattimore went down, and Brandon Wilds is back after playing some in 2011 but missing 2012 to injury. Unless Williams can somehow replicate Lattimore's success, he won't get enough carries to hit 800.

Now we're down to two guys.

Kelvin Taylor might have a shot at Florida. Even if Jeff Driskel improves under center, the mediocre receiving corps will force the Gators to keep it on the ground quite a bit like last year. Last year's leading rusher, Mike Gillislee, is gone after graduating. Taylor was an early enrollee and looked good in practice and the spring game. Sophomore Matt Jones figures to be the primary back, but Taylor should see the field a lot too. He doesn't have a great shot if he can't pass Jones up, as Driskel will get some carries too, but the outlook appears better for him than any of the aforementioned guys.

That leaves one left: Alex Collins at Arkansas. Bret Bielema loves to run the ball, and his Badgers had multiple 800-yard rushers in two of his final three years at Wisconsin. The Razorbacks have also lost their top two running backs in Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis. Collins will have to contend with three sophomores that are leading the depth chart right now, and he doesn't have Taylor's advantage of being an early entrant. Running back is one of the easier positions to learn though, so he might get to 800 yards if he excels.

The SEC had three seasons in the span since 2003 where it didn't have an 800-yard running back. The 2013 season might be another one thanks to depth at the position and changing offensive schemes. If someone does it though, Collins and Taylor are the most likely suspects.

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