Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the top early targets for the Tigers in the 2022 class.
Auburn’s running back room went from one of the deepest in the country to one of the shallowest in just one season. With Devan Barrett returning to his natural position and Jarquez Hunter signing earlier this month, Auburn’s room looks a little better heading into spring practice. However, three of Auburn’s four backs will absolutely be gone in 2 years so it’s very important Auburn loads up this cycle.
Luckily, the 2022 RB class is pretty deep. Carnell Williams was the one holdover from Gus Malzahn’s staff so this is the one position AU will be able to benefit from previous relationships. My guess is Auburn takes two backs, possibly a third if he’s the right guy.
Here is a look at who those guys might be.
5-star Emmanuel Henderson | 6’1” | 185 lbs | Hartford, AL
The nation’s #1 ranked RB is expected to make his decision on March 13th. Not that long ago, this would have probably meant good news for the Tigers. But following the 2020 season and the coaching change, Henderson appears to be trending elsewhere, namely Alabama or Georgia. However, this race isn’t over and Auburn continues to pursue. Carnell Williams being retained keeps the Tigers in this fight. Let’s see if he can close the gap over the next month.
Henderson’s numbers dipped in 2020. Granted, by dipped I mean he went from averaging over 12 yards a carry to averaging over 9 yards a carry. I mean what a terrible drop right?
Henderson’s a big kid at 6’1” 185 lbs. It’s easy to see him playing at 205 or 210 without losing a step. And man does this kid have some speed. He consistently gets the edge and when he does he’s usually good for 6. I’d like to see more of what he can do between the tackles. Still, he’s unquestionably an elite talent and one of the top running backs in the 2022 class.
4-star Trevor Etienne | 5’10” | 200 lbs | Jennings, LA
The younger brother of Clemson star Travis Etienne, Trevor has emerged as one of the top RB prospects in the 2022 class. Understandably, Clemson is viewed as the heavy favorite especially considering they’ve offered exactly two running backs: Etienne and Henderson. But Auburn is in pursuit and if Etienne wants to create a legacy elsewhere while still wanting that family feel, why not the Plains?
Etienne is a physical back with some nice shiftiness in traffic. I am not sure if he has the same burst as his older brother but he has more than enough speed to get the edge and pick up some big plays. I am very interested to see if he has the same sort of dominant senior year his brother did back in 2016.
4-star Terrance Gibbs | 6’0” | 190 lbs | Winter Park, FL
Gibbs recently released a top 12 that featured the Tigers.
All glory goes God, I’m beyond blessed to have everyone that supported and helped me through this long journey. #top12— Terrance (@mTerrance122) January 13, 2021
Editor: @Hayesfawcett3 pic.twitter.com/E3odYQZ4nE
As of today, I think Florida and Miami are the two programs to keep the closest eye on in this race. Gibbs wants to visit before making a decision but that will be difficult with the NCAA reportedly preparing to extend the dead period to the end of May. Let’s see if the Tigers can get him on campus sometime this summer.
Gibbs is a wildcard in this 2022 class. He had an absolutely explosive 2019 season where he rushed for 1,503 yards and 21 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he suffered a major knee injury before his junior season. Coaching staffs can’t evaluate him in person either to see how his recovery has gone. However, his 2019 tape speaks for itself. Gibbs is a no nonsense back whose difficult to bring down. Doesn’t necessarily possess elite break away speed but Gibbs runs violently and has impressive change of direction. This is a guy that will consistently get you yards after contact.
4-star Dallan Hayden | 5’11” | 195 lbs | Memphis, TN
Hayden is one of my favorite backs in the is class. The Memphis native sports an impressive offer list featuring Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Tennessee. Carnell Williams is reportedly high on him as well but this could be a tough race to win. Dallan is the son of former Volunteer running back Aaron Hayden. He was one of the first recruits Josh Heupel called upon being named Tennessee’s head coach.
Hayden rushed for over 2,000 yards last season and 24 touchdowns. He’s an incredibly fluid runner who doesn’t seem to lose momentum when changing directions. Rarely going down on first contact, Hayden is trouble when he can find open space. Possessing nice burst, he can explode through an open lane for a big gain. Don’t be surprised if he’s a top 100 player by the end of this cycle.
4-star Damari Alston | 5’11” | 205 lbs | Atlanta, GA
Alston was initially set to make a decision on January 1st but elected to hold off. Now he’s emerged as one of the top RB targets for a number of major programs including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU, and Ohio State. It’s hard to tell just how in this race Auburn is right now. The Buckeyes, Crimson Tide, and Gators might be the early top contenders.
It’s fun watching Alston run the football. He’s a pinball of a back who consistently bounces off would be tacklers for big gains. He isn’t necessarily going to out run many people at the next level but he’s got the frame and strength to consistently gash defensive fronts by plowing through defenders. Alston also flashes the ability to make plays in the passing game as a receiver. An all around solid running back prospect who could step on campus day 1 ready to contribute.
3-star Branson Robinson | 5’11” | 220 lbs | Madison, MS
If high school athletes were stocks and I were your financial advisor, I’d demand you buy as much Robinson as you could afford before this stock took off. Robinson is rated the #35 running back in the country but his offer list features a whose who of college programs. Auburn offered in January so they have to play catch up to the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and Mississippi State in this recruitment but a pursuit is worth it.
I am of the opinion Robinson is a top 5 back in this class. It’s hard not to see some Nick Chubb when you turn on his tape. He’s a big kid at 5’11” 220 but moves like he’s 5’9” 180. His feet never stop moving at contact. Robinson also has a sick jump cut that he uses with devastating effectiveness on the edge. He and Hayden are probably my 2 favorite backs early in this 2022 cycle.
3-star Quinshon Judkins | 6’0” | 195 lbs | Pike Road, AL
It didn’t take long for Carnell Williams to re-offer Judkins upon being retained. The Pike Road standout has seen his recruitment pickup in recent months with the Big 3 in Florida all offering in the last couple of months. Auburn appears to be making Judkins a priority in the 2022 class. I think there’s a very good chance he ends up in the Tigers 2022 class.
A dynamic athlete with an SEC frame, Judkins has nice top end speed that makes him a threat to take it the house when he finds some green grass. Flashes some ability to make tacklers miss in open space. Would like to see him run with a touch more physicality in 2021 but he’s without question a quality SEC running back prospect.
Justin Williams | 6’0” | 200 lbs | Dallas, GA
Williams doesn’t yet hold an offer from Auburn but that could soon be changing. Per AuburnUndercover’s Keith Niebuhr, Williams is in weekly contact with Auburn’s running backs coach. As of now, Arkansas, Louisville, Nebraska, Tennessee and West Virginia appear to be the top contenders but an AU offer would shake things up in a big way.
Great combination of size and speed. Williams is the exact type of running back prospect Auburn just hasn’t done a great job recruiting over the past few years, 200+ lb backs who can run effectively between the tackles in the SEC. He has great vision allowing him to see cutback opportunities for big plays. Impressive speed for a kid his size. Don’t be surprised if his offer list grows in the coming months.
Tae Meadows | 5’10” | 180 lbs | Roanoke, AL
File this name away. Meadows has a handful of offers at this point, mostly from G5 programs, but is someone that could see his recruitment take off this fall. If you tuned into the 4A state championship game last fall to watch Dylan Brooks, chances are good you know who this kid is too. He rushed for over 2,000 yards last season including 264 yards and 4 touchdowns in the championship. I imagine more collegiate programs are going to become familiar with his name in the coming months.
I love Meadows’s patience as a runner. He’s not in a hurry, instead allowing his blockers to do their jobs and then attacking when the lane is there. He’s shifty in the open field and runs with an edge you love to see. Meadows reminds me a lot of former Wetumpka star La’Damian Webb.