Auburn football: Projecting the Tigers' spring running back depth chart

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 26, 2014 

Auburn’s Corey Grant (20) scores on a 21-yard run during the first quarter of Saturday’s game against Georgia.

LAUREN BERNARD — Auburn University

Editor's note: Auburn's spring practice starts March 18. Some positions are set in stone. Some are up for grabs. Auburn beat writer Ryan Black has already evaluated all the personnel groupings on the team (which you can find here), but now he's paring that down even further to account for every individual position, projecting how the depth chart will look when the Tigers get back on the field for the first time since the BCS championship game. The series continues with the running backs.

Who's Who:

Corey Grant, senior: 66 carries, 647 yards (9.8 ypc), six touchdowns

Cameron Artis-Payne, senior: 91 carries, 610 yards (6.7 ypc), six TDs

Johnathan Ford, sophomore: Six carries, 73 yards (12.2 ypc) TD

Peyton Barber, redshirt freshman: No stats; redshirted in 2013

Projected depth chart:

1. Grant

1a. Artis-Payne

3. Barber

4. Ford

Analysis: This one is a complete toss-up.

At this point, we have no idea who the coaches have tabbed as the marquee running back heading into the spring. With that being said, it only makes sense that the senior duo of Grant and Artis-Payne should each be viewed as the No. 1 option until proven otherwise. (Ironically, that's the same way they were listed at the end of last spring, as there was a three-way logjam at the top of the depth chart with Artis-Payne, Grant and some guy named Tre Mason.) It says here that by the time the A-Day game finishes up April 19, Artis-Payne will have the job to himself. At 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, he's got a similar build to Mason, and in what may be a surprise to some, clocked in at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, mirroring the time that the Heisman Trophy finalist posted at the NFL combine on Sunday.

Grant is a speedster; that's not going to change. But to expect him to be an every-down back is asking a bit much. Expect similar numbers in the yards per carries department next fall even if his touches decrease overall.

Then we come to the unknown: Barber. After redshirting last season, spring practice will be his first chance to really showcase himself for the coaches. He's far and away the biggest back the Tigers have (he's reportedly up to nearly 230 pounds), which could give the offense a dimension it never had last year — a battering ram to use in short-yardage and goal-line situations. (Another prediction: Barber will move up to No. 2 on the depth chart when Auburn begins fall camp in August.)

Yes, Ford was included here if for no other reason than the possibility he'll return to offense. It's still up in the air at this point, though the Alabama native has made it clear that he yearns to play running back. Then again, it likely won't be his decision to make. If the coaching staff wants him to remain at corner, that's where he'll stay.

Even if Ford is taken out of the equation, the trio of Artis-Payne, Barber and Grant is nothing to scoff at.

Of course, when highly-touted true freshman Racean Thomas and Kamryn Pettway join the fray in the fall, Gus Malzahn and Co. will have even more weapons at their disposal.

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