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Auburn RB Peyton Barber caps breakout year with surprise decision to declare early for NFL Draft

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn running back Peyton Barber (25) runs the ball and is tackled by Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland (19) during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Auburn, Ala.
Auburn running back Peyton Barber (25) runs the ball and is tackled by Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland (19) during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Auburn, Ala. AP Photo

Auburn running back Peyton Barber made the surprise decision to declare for the NFL Draft Monday afternoon hours before the NCAA deadline for underclassman to submit the necessary paperwork.

Barber explained his decision to give up his junior and senior years of eligibility on social media.

“I have decided to forego my eligibility at Auburn and enter the 2016 NFL Draft,” Barber posted on his Instagram account. “This was a very tough decision for many reasons but after my family and I prayed about it, I know I am ready for the next step and this is the best decision for me. Auburn is a special place and having the opportunity to play football at Auburn has been a dream come true.”

“I am close to graduating, so I will continue to work towards my degree even as I pursue my dream to plain the NFL. I would like to thank all of my coaches and all of the support staff at Auburn, especially Coach Malzahn, Coach Lashlee and Coach Horton. Thank you to all of my teammates as well. Lastly, thank you to the best fans in the world! I will always be an Auburn Tiger War Eagle.”

Barber joins Auburn offensive tackles Shon Colemn and Avery Young as the third player to declare for the draft. Defensive lineman Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams both announced their plans to return for the 2016 season.

The redshirt sophomore finished the season with 1,016 yards with 13 touchdowns. His success earned him team Offensive MVP honors as voted on by coaches and players at the program’s year-end banquet in December.

Barber went from an unheralded backup to the most consistent performer on Auburn's offense less than a week into the season.

The soft-spoken Georgia native, who openly discusses how he’s been “overlooked” his entire career, had thought about transferring following a challenging redshirt season.  

His rise to importance started in Auburn’s season-opening win over Louisville when injuries to Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson opened the door for playing time.

The redshirt sophomore carried the ball 24 times for 115 yards against the Cardinals and helped close out the victory with four first down runs in the fourth quarter.

“A big part of the second half – we had two really good drives in the second half: the one to open the half and then the one to go down and go up I think it was 31-10, we took six or seven minutes off the clock,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “A lot of that was running the football and a lot of that was because Peyton was making yards after contact, wasn’t getting tired, so really proud of him.”

During the week leading up to the game, Barber worried the coaching staff had “lost faith” in him because of mistakes he made in practice. Coach Malzahn tried to reassure the running back he would get his opportunity in a late-night text exchange.

The 5-foot-11, 225-pounder was Auburn’s best player in the first half of the season. He had five 100-yard rushing performances and a memorable three-game stretch scoring 11 touchdowns.

He accounted for all of the Tigers’ 35 points in a win over San Jose State going for 147 yards and five touchdowns.

“We knew he had the chance to be a very good running back,” Malzahn said after the win. “The thing that stands out to me about Peyton is it is very important to him. He reminds me of Cameron Artis-Payne, about the importance of the game, the team, and everything that goes with it. He shows great toughness.”

Barber stayed at the top of the depth chart until he suffered an undisclosed injury against Arkansas. He split the workload over Auburn’s final four games with Jovon Robinson.

Despite fewer carries, Barber still broke the 1,000-yard mark in a 31-10 win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl. Barber downplayed the achievement in December putting the focus on Auburn closing out the season on a positive note.

“I've been looking for it for the last couple of games and I haven't gotten it, but at the same time it's all about winning,” Barber said. “As long as we win, that's all that matters.”

In talking about his future leading up to bowl game, Barber didn’t hint about the possibility of entering the NFL Draft. He said his focus was on improving his game and winning the starting job in the spring saying he was “up for the challenge.”

“There's a lot more I can improve on and I can show people that I wasn't able to show people this year,” Barber said. “People think I'm just a downhill runner and I don't really have any speed. I don't feel like that's the case. I really haven't been given an opportunity.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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