Production and team value.
Those were the determining factors folks at ESPN.com used Tuesday when ranking the top 10 running backs of the SEC for the 2014 season.
Not much of a surprise to most, but Georgia’s Todd Gurley leads the list at No. 1.
What may be more of a surprise is the Alabama tandem of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry coming in at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
“After registering 1,235 yards last year, Yeldon became the first back in school history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in his first two seasons. Yeldon has had his fumbling issues, but when he’s in control he’s extremely tough to stop with the strength he has to grind out yards. Add on his speed and elusiveness, and Yeldon has no problem making defenders look silly.”
“OK, so all the excitement around him stems from an incredible high school career and a superb bowl performance. But we saw so much power and finesse in all 161 yards of total offense he had in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Henry is the total package and an every-down back who can push his way through the line of scrimmage like a tank but is also deadly in space. Don’t be shocked if he eats up a big chunk of Yeldon’s carries.”
On the surface, it appears to make sense. Henry caught the eye of Alabama fans everywhere after he ran for 100 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma.
Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who spoke in Mobile on May 28 at the DEX Imaging 20th annual L’Arche Football Preview, said he envisioned expanded roles for Yeldon and plenty of carries for Henry.
And the move of Mobile native Jalston Fowler to fullback, Kiffin said, will result on the Vigor product blocking for the trio of Yeldon, Henry and Kenyan Drake. However, it could also cut down the number of plays Yeldon and Henry see in a game, splitting time in a traditional two-back set with a fullback.
“There probably aren’t three more talented backs in the NFL on a roster than we’re fortunate to be able to work with at Alabama,” Kiffin said.
Kiffin might be on to something. On Tuesday, Mel Kiper named Yeldon as one of the top draft-eligible running backs for the 2015 draft.
Check out ESPN.com’s list in the gallery above.
A couple of other notables from the list:
Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne makes the list at No. 9. He “is built to carry the load” and his “downhill style should thrive with more touches,” per ESPN. Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton didn’t have a clear-cut favorite in the race but said the starter would be Artis-Payne or Corey Grant if a game was played in April.
Meanwhile, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who was named one of 10 freshmen to make an instant impact by AL.com’s Mike Herndon, debuts on the list at No. 8, despite not playing a snap for the Tigers.
It’s not the first time, of course, a player appears on a ranking like this without playing a down as Alabama’s Jacob Coker made ESPN.com’s list of best quarterbacks for the 2014 season.
For complete analysis of the running backs, go to espn.com.