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

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Nov 2, 2013; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks running back Mike Davis (28) runs the ball during the third quarter against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks defeated the Bulldogs 34-16. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

3. Mike Davis, South Carolina

South Carolina tailback Mike Davis is poised for a big year in 2014. Davis ranks third in rushing among returning SEC running backs coming off of a sophomore season in which he ran for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns. A reliable receiver out of the backfield, Davis also caught 34 passes last season for 352 yards. He averaged 127.9 all-purpose yards per game last season, which leads the league’s returning players.

Davis will have the benefit of running behind one of the nation’s best offensive lines. AJ Cann is an All-American candidate at left guard, and left tackle Corey Robinson is likely to be a high round draft pick. Plus, the rest of the unit is as solid as any group in the SEC.

As South Carolina attempts to break in five new defensive starters and a new quarterback, expect Davis to be handed the ball early and often in 2014. He will pound on defenses with his 5-foot-9, 219-pound frame, grinding out yardage until he finds a crease for a big gain. Davis may slip ahead of Yeldon and onto the first team All-SEC squad, and possibly into the Heisman Trophy picture, before moving on to the NFL following the season.

4. Derrick Henry, Alabama

Nov 23, 2013; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry (27) carries the ball up the field against the Chattanooga Mocs during the second quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

And now we know why some people are overlooking TJ Yeldon. Derrick Henry was the third leading rusher on his own team last season with 382 yards, and both players ahead of him on the stat sheet return in 2014. He didn’t even play in four games last season. So, why in the world would he rank fourth on our list of the top ten SEC running backs? Did you see the Sugar Bowl?

Henry was far and away the brightest spot for Alabama in the post-season matchup with Oklahoma. The now true sophomore exploded onto television sets across the country with 100 rushing yards on only eight carries and a 61-yard touchdown catch. The performance gave average fans a glimpse into the talent Henry used to become the nation’s all-time rushing leader in high school.

Until the bowl game, Henry had not seen much of the field. But when he did, he did not disappoint. Henry ran for 111 yards on only six carries against Arkansas – taking one 80 yards to the house in the process. He had 50 yards on five carries against Georgia State and 66 yards on six touches against Chattanooga. Six-foot-three, 241-pound running backs are not supposed to gain yardage in chunks like that. Which is exactly why the expectations for Derrick Henry are so high.