Top Ten SEC Running Backs: Where Do Artis-Payne and Grant Rank?

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Apr 12, 2014; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley (3) runs for a touchdown during the first half of the Georgia Spring Game at Sanford Stadium. Red defeated Black 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

1. Todd Gurley, Georgia

There are many great players in the Southeastern Conference, but Georgia’s Todd Gurley may be the best of them all. In two seasons, Gurley has run for 2,374 yards and 27 touchdowns with a deadly combination of speed and power. The issue for Gurley thus far in his career, and the reason he fell just shy of the 1,000-yard mark last season, is injuries.

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Last year, it all started on his first carry of the season. The 232-pounder blew past the Clemson defense and ran 75 yards for a touchdown, however, he pulled a quad muscle during the run that would hamper him for weeks.

Gurley rebounded from the injury with very good performances against South Carolina and North Texas. Then, after rushing for 73 yards on only eight early carries against LSU, he injured his ankle and would miss the next three games.

Want to know how much the Bulldogs missed him? They escaped in overtime against Tennessee, and then lost at home to Missouri and on the road to Vanderbilt. Once the Tarboro, North Carolina native returned to action against Florida, the Bulldogs won four of their last five regular season games.

After Gurley came back, an interesting thing happened to the Georgia offense that should carry over into 2014. Todd Gurley became an option in the passing game. He had 32 catches, 399 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions over the last six games. Of course, Gurley showed he is a pretty good runner too, averaging 89.8 yards per game on the ground during that same stretch.

With quarterback Aaron Murray gone to the NFL, expect offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and head coach Mark Richt to get number three the football as much as possible. If Gurley can stay healthy – and that’s a big if – he is a surefire Heisman Trophy candidate.

2. TJ Yeldon, Alabama

Jan 2, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon (4) carries the ball in front of Oklahoma Sooners defensive end P.L. Lindley (40) in the first half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Is there an elite SEC running back that has flown under the radar as much as TJ Yeldon has this off-season?

Think of it this way: no Alabama running back in the history of the program has run for as many yards in his first two seasons as Yeldon has. There are only two active players in all of college football that have rushed for more yardage than Yeldon.

He may not be the flashiest, but TJ Yeldon runs with great vision and makes the most of each of his carries. Solidly built at 6-foot-2 and 221 pounds, Yeldon has averaged more than six yards per carry in each of his first two collegiate seasons.

As a sophomore in 2013, Yeldon had 1,235 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 207 carries. However, because Derrick Henry has emerged as the next big thing in Tuscaloosa, Yeldon has not received the amount of national coverage he may deserve.