Georgia's Todd Gurley could be the best back in the nation

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Georgia's junior running back Todd Gurley has earned plenty of accolades throughout his career, not the least of which was scoring 17 touchdowns his first year to break the Bulldog freshman record set by Herschel Walker.

That's high company, considering Walker is currently the most-beloved player in Georgia history and went on to have a highly successful college and pro career.

Now Gurley has been named the third-best player in the country in ESPN's College Football Player Rankings.

The top-100 players list ranks Gurley as the highest running back in the nation, above Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (tied for fifth) and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon (14th). 

That's not a bad place for Gurley, who for all intents and purposes has looked like a world-beater when he's been on the field. But nagging injuries have made that a big "if."

And for that reason, it's worth wondering whether Gurley is a safe bet as one of the country's best college players.

Humble beginnings

Remember that Gurley was not expected to be college's premier running back.

In fact, the Tarboro, N.C. native wasn't even expected to be the best running back on his own team when he arrived as a four-star prospect in 2012. That would be Keith Marshall, one of his best friends, from Raleigh, N.C.

Marshall was the prized recruit of that class, an All-American and a five-star prospect who was either the first or second-best high school running back depending on the recruiting service.

But Gurley chose to attend Georgia anyway.

During summer workouts, rumblings began to emerge: Gurley was showing himself to be a top-level running back, not just better than Marshall, but also better than anyone else on the roster.

Then Gurley ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns while adding a 100-yard kickoff return score to boot, in the very first game of the season. His status as a star was sealed from that moment on.

Huge upside

At 6-foot-1 and 232 pounds, Gurley is easily one of the strongest running backs in college.

But it's his deceptive speed and quickness which makes him the hardest running back to take down in the nation.

He's rushed for 2,374 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns in two seasons, despite missing three games and being taken out early from a few games due to ankle issues. Gurley is particularly adept at making defenders miss in the open field.

His long legs allow him to float past the competition.

And when he does get hit, his uncanny balancing ability keeps him upright in ways that shouldn't be possible for such a tall runner.

Uncertain prognosis

But can Gurley be the best running back in 2014? That depends.

If he stays healthy throughout the whole season, leads the Bulldogs to an SEC Championship or the College Football Playoff and continues to use its athletic ability to blow past would-be tacklers? Definitely.

But he will never rack up huge rushing totals because head coach Mark Richt uses a balanced attack between rushing and passing. He'll have to compete for touches with the aforementioned Marshall, who will certainly get his share of chances.

And without the stats, Gurley will almost certainly need a national championship run to put his name in Heisman contention. That's possible, but it will take a certain amount of luck.

That, and also a healthy ankle.

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