Former Auburn running back Peyton Barber rolled the dice forgoing his final two years of eligibility to enter the NFL.
Barber’s team was optimistic going into the weekend with his agent’s internal projections showing teams across the league grading the running back as a day three pick.
The Alpharetta, Georgia native spent the weekend in his hometown and watched the final day of the draft with a small group of family and friends trying to avoid the television as much as possible.
“I don’t like to show my emotion, so it was hard,” Barber said. “I was anxious, really anxious.”
As pick after pick was announced it became increasingly difficult for Barber to avoid the broadcast.
Barber’s hopes were dashed numerous times Saturday as teams called to express interest, telling him they might use one of their upcoming late round picks on him only for them to pass.
“I had calls from the fourth round on,” Barber said. “The first call I got was Oakland, but they ended up taking someone else (Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington) and the Redskins called, but they also took a different running back (Georgia’s Keith Marshall).”
The substance of those conversations with NFL executives changed late in the day when teams started calling Barber to gauge his interest in signing as an undrafted free agent. Barber quickly adjusted his expectations, but didn’t sugarcoat his emotions in the moment.
“I wasn’t mad, but I’ll be honest it kind of sucked to not hear my name called,” Barber said.
Barber huddled with his agent Michael Perrett and father Ken Barber to weigh multiple offers before the draft was even over.
“I had choices,” Barber said. “The Rams, Patriots, Green Bay, the Falcons and a couple others. I was the second guy (running back) on Atlanta’s list, so I didn’t really think about them.”
A deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quickly came together. The Buccaneers offered Barber better financial terms — a small signing bonus and Florida has no state income tax — and opportunity to make the roster.
Tampa Bay’s lack of depth at the running back position is in Barber’s favor.
All-pro starter Doug Martin is entrenched as the team’s starter after signing a five-year contract extension in the offseason, but Martin’s backup Charlie Sims is the only other player that played in the league last season.
The team didn’t draft a running back and only signed other undrafted free agent (Missouri’s Russ Hansbrough) at the position.
Perrett announced Barber’s three-year deal less than an hour after the final pick. If Barber makes the Bucs roster he can make the league minimum $450,000.
“I’m going to have to prove myself all over again,” Barber said.
It’s not a situation Barber is unfamiliar with. The 5-foot-10, 228-pounder worked his way from the bottom of Auburn’s depth chart to become the latest in a long line of 1,000-yard rushers this past season.
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton sees Barber succeeding the same way former Tigers back Corey Grant did with the Jacksonville Jaguars after going undrafted in 2015.
“Whether it's Auburn or whether it's the NFL, the best players are going to play,” Horton said. “So even though Peyton Barber didn't get drafted, I have no doubt at all that he's going to have a great chance to make the Buccaneers' team, just like Corey Grant did a year ago. I thought, 'Man, Corey Grant is going to get drafted. He's got such great speed. Every time he touches the ball, he gets 10 yards.' And he didn't get drafted, (but) then of course he made the team. So I think the same thing will happen with Peyton.”
As Barber prepares for his first NFL mini-camp this weekend, he’s already received advice from his friend and former teammate.
“He told me to have the same mentality I had at Auburn,” Barber said. “You have to make a couple plays a day to get the coaches to notice you.”
Barber reported to Tampa Bay Thursday and will participate in a mini-cap Friday and Saturday along with former teammates Davonte Lambert and Cassanova McKinzy.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Barber said. “It’s a new environment, different setting, but at the end of the day it is just football.”