Mike Davis aims to be top back among talented junior class

jkendall@thestate.comApril 5, 2014 

Mike Davis hasn’t seen much live action this spring because USC coach Steve Spurrier wants to keep the Gamecocks junior running back healthy for the fall.

“I am just basically sitting back and learning more things,” Davis said. “It’s a nice feeling, but I am a guy who likes to go out there and compete.”

The 5-foot-9, 216-pound Davis rushed 203 times for 1,458 yards last year, notching the fourth-highest, single-season rushing total in school history despite a collection of nagging injuries that slowed him the second half of the season.

“Even though they say (the starting job) is mine, I like to compete,” Davis said.

He will get that chance this fall, not only against South Carolina’s competition but also against an impressive crop of junior running backs against whom he is sure to be measured.

The SEC features Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon. Nationally, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Miami’s Duke Johnson are members of the group.

Davis measures himself against those players “a lot,” he said.

“I am friends with most of the guys who are up top,” he said. “Of course, I like being up there. I want to be up top amongst them.”

CBSSports.com ranks Davis as the fourth-best NFL prospect in that group, behind Gurley, Yeldon and Gordon.

Davis, like all of those running backs, will be eligible for the NFL draft at the end of this season, and the increasingly physical nature of his position has pushed many running backs out of college early recently. (LSU’s Jeremy Hill would be a member of the vaunted junior class, but he left after his redshirt sophomore season in 2013.)

Davis acknowledged this spring that this could be his final season in Columbia.

“I will talk that over with my family,” he said. “It could be.”

Running start

USC’s Mike Davis ranks among the top five junior running backs in the nation (*CBSSports.com ranking in the 2016 NFL Draft Class):

MIKE DAVIS, USC, 5-9/219

Last season: 1,183 yards, 11 TDs

Career: 1,458 yards, 13 TDs

The Facts: Surprised last year with impressive speed to go along with a strong inside game; could be a Heisman candidate if he stays healthy.

Rank: No. 4*

MELVIN GORDON, Wisconsin, 6-1/207

Last season: 1,609 yards, 12 TDs

Career: 2,328 yards, 16 TDs

The Facts: As a redshirt junior, could have turned pro but chose to return. He gained 146 yards on 25 carries against USC in the Capital One Bowl.

Rank: No. 3*

TODD GURLEY, Georgia, 6-1/232

Last season: 989 yards, 10 TDs

Career: 2,374 yards, 27 TDs

The Facts: Came to Georgia overshadowed by Keith Marshall, but his combination of speed and strength won out. He missed three games last year with injuries.

Rank: No. 1*

DUKE JOHNSON, Miami, 5-9/196

Last season: 920 yards, 6 TDs

Career: 1,867 yards, 16 TDs

The Facts: Another top runner bitten by the injury bug, Johnson broke his ankle against FSU last year and is not expected to practice this spring.

Rank: No. 5*

T.J. YELDON, Alabama, 6-2/218

Last season: 1,235 yards, 14 TDs

Career: 2,343 yards, 26 TDs

The Facts: Has had at least 175 carries in his two seasons but will have to hold off Derrick Henry, who is coming off an impressive Sugar Bowl performance.

Rank: No. 2*

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