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

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Nov 9, 2013; Knoxville, TN, USA; Auburn Tigers running back Cameron Artis-Payne (44) runs the ball against the Tennessee Volunteers during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Auburn won 55 to 23. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

9. Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn

You’ve been patient, but we’ve finally reached the first Auburn Tiger on the list. Auburn will put up big rushing numbers in 2014, and at this point, senior Cameron Artis-Payne is the leader in the race to replace Tre Mason. He ran for 610 yards and six touchdowns on 91 carries last season and reached the century mark twice.

Should Artis-Payne hold off challengers Corey Grant and Roc Thomas for the role of primary ball carrier in Gus Malzahn’s offense, he could shoot up this list. Tre Mason wasn’t exactly a household name on a national scale until he took a firm grip on the top rushing duties early last season, but he exploded down the stretch and finished the year in New York at the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

A similar season for Cameron Artis-Payne is not out of the question. Of course, it’s not out of the question for Grant or Thomas either, should one of them emerge.

Simply put, the 5-11, 210-pounder will need to establish himself on the depth chart before he can be mentioned in the same breath with elite SEC running backs. Sure, Keith Marshall and Alex Collins have players ahead of them in the pecking order, but Auburn will share carries among three or four players this season, including quarterback Nick Marshall.

10. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas

Sep 28, 2013; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks running back Jonathan Williams (32) rushes during the first half against the Texas A&M Aggies at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The second team to place two running backs among the top ten is Arkansas, whom the Tigers will have to contend with in their season opener on August 30. As previously mentioned, Williams is the Hogs’ starting running back. He had 900 rushing yards last season as a sophomore, and will have plenty of opportunities to improve on that production in 2014.

We saw the best of Jonathan Williams – just like we saw of Arkansas as a whole – in the season’s first three games. He ran for more than 116 yards and a touchdown in each of the Hogs’ wins, but struggled in the middle of the season.

As the Razorbacks geared up for a strong push down the stretch, Williams picked up the pace. He hit the century mark for the fourth and final time November 2 against Auburn, as he gained 104 yards on 15 carries. However, he failed to find the end zone – something that plagued both Williams and Collins in 2013.

Something that makes Williams a player to watch in 2014 is his pass catching ability. Expect Arkansas to use more creative play calling in order to get the balls to their playmakers. Williams had 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2012, including three catches for 150 yards against Kentucky. He had two TD catches against Texas A&M last year.

11. Corey Grant, Auburn 

Apr 19, 2014; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers running back Corey Grant carries the ball during the first half of the A-Day spring game at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

So, the title says we’re ranking the top ten SEC running backs. You should know, though, that the eleventh best back in the Southeastern Conference is Corey Grant.

No player with more than 60 attempts averaged more than Grant’s 9.8 years per carry. He is a weapon in the slot on speed sweeps, and can take the ball to the house on any play because he is one of the fastest running backs, not only in the SEC, but in the entire country.

What do you think of the Fly War Eagle pre-season top ten SEC running backs list? Was there someone we missed? What changes would you make to the order? Let us know in the comments below.