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C&M Roundtable: Who Will Lead Auburn in Rushing in 2020?

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Auburn will have a new leading rusher in 2020. The question is who amongst the Tigers talented but unproven backs will it be?

Alabama v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Auburn’s leading rusher the last two years, JaTarvious Whitlow, is gone meaning Auburn will have a new top dog in 2020. The Tigers head into next season with a running back room loaded with unproven talent. DJ Williams is Auburn’s leading returning rusher but faces stiff opposition for the starting spot from former blue chips Shaun Shivers, Harold Joiner, Mark-Antony Richards and Tank Bigsby. The brilliant contributors here at College & Magnolia offer their insightful takes on who will be RB1 this season.


AUNerd

While infuriating at times, I will miss Boobee Whitlow. Without him, Auburn doesn’t beat Alabama, Oregon or Texas A&M last season. He struggled hanging onto the ball and had a tendency to blindly cut backside for no reason but he also played with such competitive fire and seemed to step up when Auburn needed him most.

The good news is Auburn has plenty of talent still on the roster. To me, this will be a 3 man race between DJ Williams, Mark-Antony Richards and Tank Bigsby. I love Worm but I don’t see him as the feature back. I think Harold Joiner is very talented but I am not sure if his future is at running back. Malik Miller can bust some heads but he’s not as physically gifted as Auburn’s other options.

Of that trio, I am on team Richards. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the 3 but I think Richards’s skillset fits what Morris is going to want from his running backs moving forward. An injury sidelined Richards for his freshman season so it’s easy for folks to forget he was a top 100 player in that 2019 class. Incredibly versatile, Richards was recruited to play safety or wide receiver by other programs. Auburn’s coaching staff believes he compares best to Kerryon Johnson and could add some big play ability to the Tigers run game. I am not sure though if he will cross the 1,000 yard mark because I expect Auburn to spread the carries out between a number of talented backs this season.

Verdict: Mark-Antony Richards


Jack Condon

We’re in an odd spot where Gus Malzahn doesn’t have a definite, identified feature back yet for his offense. We also don’t really know how things will change with Chad Morris apparently being given a ton of control on running the offense. Morris’ offenses at Clemson had some fantastic backs that were able to gain really solid yardage, with a 1,000-yard performer in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Looking back at the game logs for the Clemson backs, it seems like they’d identified a feature guy before the season started, and rode that guy for the most part. This is in contrast to Gus using the first couple of games to feel the rotation out before finding his workhorse. Of the three most likely candidates to be the primary tailback (Antony-Richards, Williams, Bigsby), I think that Bigsby might be the one whose running style is closest to those Clemson backs of the early 2010s.

Gus isn’t averse to letting a freshman come in and run the ball, so I’m saying that Tank wins the job and gets close to 1,000 yards this year on the ground. With a name like that, I don’t want to get on his bad side by picking someone else.

Verdict: Tank Bigsby


Ryan Sterritt

Hey... Y’all want to see a dead body?

Auburn Lead Rushers Under Malzahn

Year Player Carries Yards TDs % of Carries
Year Player Carries Yards TDs % of Carries
2019 JaTarvious Whitlow 156 763 10 29%
2018 JaTarvious Whitlow 150 787 6 42%
2017 Kerryon Johnson 285 1391 18 59%
2016 Kamryn Pettway 209 1224 7 42%
2015 Peyton Barber 238 1017 13 52%
2014 Cameron Artis-Payne 303 1608 13 73%
2013 Tre Mason 317 1816 23 64%

Auburn’s ground game has been missing a true number one back the last two years. Where once there was a sole feature back spearheading the offense, since 2018 the carries have been a bit more democratic. Part of this has to do with Boobee’s inability to stay healthy, sure, but even then, it was clear he wasn’t trusted in the way the starters were in years before. What this allowed for, though, is a number of young guys to get carries they otherwise wouldn’t have in Gus’s system.

In fact, Auburn returns four backs who all had at least 12 carries last season. While the amount of returning production isn’t terribly high (43% of rushes and yards), the running back room should have plenty of experienced faces. This should compliment well the two new stars, Mark-Antony Richards (who redshirted last season) and borderline 5* Tank Bigsby.

What does it all mean? It’s pretty much a grab-bag as to who will lead the way this fall. Without any offseason work, I think it’s safe to say the two new guys won’t emerge at the top of the depth chart at the beginning of the year. I’ll play it safe and go with Auburn’s returning rusher from last year, DJ Williams, to lead the team this season. He showed promise last year, totaling 84 carries for 400 yards against the meat of the conference slate. I’m not sure he makes it to 1,000 yards, which I know Auburn fans everywhere are dying for, but I think it’s because the passing game improves and a large stable of backs step up throughout the season more than anything else.

Verdict: DJ Williams


James Jones

With Boobee gone, the competition is wide open. In the past, Malzahn would favor whomever picked up the blocking assignments faster. With the move to a more RPO-based passing game, my guess is that doesn’t matter as much anymore. The running back will occupy a rusher by carrying out the run fake. Given that, I think it opens up the possibility of a true freshman taking things over by about the mid-point of the season. My guess is there won’t be a 1,000 yard rusher this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see DJ Williams in second place with over 600 yards, and the leader somewhere close to 900.

Verdict: Tank Bigsby


Son of Crow

Who do I want it to be (part 1): Harold Joiner. He is a massive man and also no one is expecting him to win the job and it would be hilarious and JABA if he were to come in and Kam Pettway the conference this season. Who do I want it to be (part 2): Shaun Shivers. ¡El Gusano SIEMPRE! Shivers runs with hatred in his heart and a chip made of anthracite on his shoulder. He is compact and dense and burns hot.

Who will it be? Man listen, DJ Williams looks like an Auburn leading rusher. He also played last season which makes me feel like—in the COVID19-affected offseason—he is going into fall camp firmly entrenched as RB1.

Verdict: DJ Williams


Well not much of a consensus amongst the braintrust so it’s up to you dear readers to point the way. Who will lead Auburn in rushing in 2020?

Poll

Who will lead Auburn in rushing in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Malik Miller
    (1 vote)
  • 7%
    Shaun Shivers
    (11 votes)
  • 4%
    Harold Joiner
    (6 votes)
  • 47%
    DJ Williams
    (71 votes)
  • 12%
    Mark-Antony Richards
    (19 votes)
  • 27%
    Tank Bigsby
    (41 votes)
149 votes total Vote Now

War Eagle!