The Auburn Tigers lost their starting tailback Tre Mason to the recent NFL Draft. Mason finished his senior season with 317 carries for 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns. He jumped onto the scene in 2013 and really showed just the type of running back he was. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Mason is no longer on the team, but the offense has several options for the starting role.
Running back Corey Grant finished last season as the third leading rusher on the Tigers’ offense. He had 66 carries for 647 yards and six touchdowns, finishing behind Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall. Grant has been considered more of a jet sweep running back rather than a true running back. He doesn’t have the ideal size for an every-down back, but he does have the ability to run between the tackles. Grant has a good shot at being the team’s premier back.
Cameron Artis-Payne is another Auburn running back who can be the go-to guy. Last season he finished with over 600 yards and six touchdowns. Going into fall practice in 2013, Artis-Payne was expected to be Auburn’s No. 1 running back, but Mason stepped onto the scene and really showed out. Many believe that the 2014 season will be Artis-Payne’s coming out party. He was rated the No. 1 JUCO running back in 2013. Lofty expectations might have hurt Artis-Payne last season, but I expect him to be the starter in Week 1.
Sophomore Johnathan Ford is the least likely candidate to see valuable time running the ball. Last season he finished with only six carries for 73 yards and one touchdown. If he wants to get carries, Ford must improve a lot. He hasn’t proven to be a durable back in the SEC, and I don’t expect him to see any significant playing time in 2014.
The biggest sleeper of the group might be Peyton Barber. Barber didn’t see any action during his freshman campaign after being redshirted. Although Barber doesn’t get the notoriety of the other backs, many players on the team believe he is a star in the making. He comes to practice and works hard, which his teammates respect. I don’t expect Barber to make a huge impact in 2014, but his future is bright in Auburn.
Roc Thomas, who will arrive at Auburn this summer, has been told by coaches that he will have every chance to compete for playing time. Thomas is a powerful back with great vision and elusiveness. He might be the Tigers’ next great running back, but I think it will take him a little while to adjust to playing in the SEC. Look for Thomas to see key snaps in 2014, as he is too athletic not to be on the field.
The Tigers showed last season that they love to run the ball. Since they run a no-huddle offense, it is important to have fresh legs ready to go. Luckily for the Tigers, they have plenty of depth at the position. It will be interesting to see who gets the first snap in 2014.