Auburn Tigers running back Peyton Barber shot up the depth chart this season because of injuries and tallied 1,017 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He decided to parlay that performance into a shot at NFL glory Monday and declared for the 2016 draft.
Barber issued a statement, per Brandon Marcello of AL.com:
I have decided to forego my eligibility at Auburn and enter the 2016 NFL Draft. 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 that 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 play in the NFL. I would like to thank all of my coaches and all of the support staff at Auburn, especially Coach (Gus) Malzahn, Coach (Rhett) Lashlee and Coach (Tim) 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!
Zac Jackson of ProFootballTalk noted Monday was "the deadline for underclassmen to declare their intentions to enter the 2016 NFL Draft."
Barber was a redshirt sophomore in 2015 and actually began the campaign as the third-team running back. However, Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson suffered early injuries, and Barber went on to notch 100-yard rushing days in five of Auburn’s first seven games, including a five-touchdown performance against San Jose State and a four-touchdown outing against Arkansas.
At his best, Barber showed elusiveness in the open field and solid power in the hole at 5’11” and 225 pounds.
Marcello called the decision a surprise, and CBS Sports actually had Barber among its 2018 NFL draft running back prospects because of his sophomore status during the 2015 year. Barber is rated as the 12th-best back on that list, although he surpassed expectations in 2015 for the Tigers and will do so again if offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s comments in November are any indication, per Marcello:
There's not a kid who would deserve and you would want it to happen for more than him. We've got some other really good kids, but Peyton's such a hard worker. He doesn't complain, he's quiet, he just goes about his business and he's been that guy this year when a lot of times when we needed someone to step up he's done it.
Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee weighed in on Barber’s decision to turn pro:
Totally get Auburn RB Peyton Barber going pro. 1,000-yard back, splitting with Robinson in 2016 and loaded RB draft class next year.— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) January 18, 2016
Among those potential star running backs Barber would have to compete with in the "loaded" 2017 draft are LSU's Leonard Fournette, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, Georgia's Nick Chubb and Florida State's Dalvin Cook.
Sallee’s rationale for the decision is also something of a silver lining for Auburn because it will still have Robinson in the backfield to shoulder more of the load without Barber. Robinson averaged 5.5 yards per carry this season (compared to Barber’s 4.3) and finished with 639 rushing yards and three scores.
He only had four carries before an Oct. 31 game against Ole Miss because of injuries but still managed to run for more than 90 yards in five of his team’s final six games, including the Birmingham Bowl, when he posted 126 rushing yards and a score in the victory over Memphis.
Robinson was the main ball-carrier for the Tigers down the stretch and likely will be again in 2016, which takes some of the sting away from Barber’s departure for Auburn.