Everyone has heard of one-hit wonders. In music, movies, sports and other forms of entertainment you will always find those select individuals who immediately hit their peak only to spend the rest of their days trying to replicate their prior feat to no avail.
NFL talent evaluators tend to be wary of prospects with limited college resumes, or rather, athletes that that have only shown next-level talent over a single season or sometimes a mere handful of games.
All 32 teams want to bring in players who have a clue when it comes to how to prepare, as well as understanding the opposition from the way they line up to how they execute their plays after the ball is snapped.
One of the knocks on rookie-in-waiting Peyton Barber has been that he’s running the risk of leaving college too soon given the fact that the redshirt sophomore only has one season’s worth of consistent game-to-game action in Auburn’s offense. In fact, prior to the 2015, Barber had only accumulated 10 carries in his first two years in the SEC.
While the experience factor holds true for quarterbacks, wide receivers and a host of other draft-eligible players, running back is by and large a position where an athlete’s heart and instincts play arguably the biggest roles in determining his ultimate success.
Running backs are evaluated differently from the standpoint of overall usage. Multiple seasons of 250 to 300-plus carries add to the wear and tear of ball carriers that typically have a very brief window of prime years at the pro level.
That fact that Barber will begin his NFL odyssey with only 248 career rushing attempts on his personal odometer is a plus along with the vision and patience the underclassman showcased during his breakout campaign in setting up his blockers. Staying in school for another year or two wouldn’t have made him any more proficient in those areas.
And while the Georgia-born 232-pound pile driver may not have the volume of game highlights that either Derrick Henry or Devontae Booker bring to the table, he has already acquitted himself well in pass protection with how he steps up in anticipating and protecting against the blitz.
But Barber’s true claim to fame is his physical running style. The former Tiger isn’t one to dance or stutter-step his way to positive yardage; instead he uses his powerful lower body to run through tackles while maintaining a low center of gravity.
The SEC product’s natural inclination to fall forward during his runs was reflected in one piece of statistical data indicating Barber as the running back with the lowest percentage of runs that went for zero yards or fewer in his conference.
Number 25’s instincts, size and physicality may also be partially attributable to his rich NFL bloodlines. Barber’s cousins include Marion Barber, Marion Barber III, Dominique Barber and Jeremy Langford, all of whom are current or former pro players.
But for those who continue to question his decision to leave the college ranks early, Barber would have faced being part of a talented four-headed backfield featuring the likes of Kerryon Johnson, Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas had he decided to stay in a burnt orange and navy uniform. Additionally, Barber was only 30 credits short of his degree at the time of his announcement of turning pro.
With neither playing time nor health being guaranteed, the one-year bell cow made the logical decision by striking while the iron is hot.
While answering questions at a combine press conference in February, Barber also shared his financial incentive to enter the draft by explaining how his mother was homeless and in need of monetary support.
The recent turn of events in Barber’s life teaches us that one should always examine each individual case carefully before opining that a college prospect may be jumping the gun in declaring for the draft as an underclassman.
In my recent interview with the 1,000-yard rusher, he was very thoughtful and courteous in his responses, but what stood out prominently was the confidence and conviction in his voice.
Barber is aware of the road he’s traveled, but isn’t looking back. He knows what he wants and where he’s going. Here are some of his musings and reflections two days prior to the kickoff of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Next: Peyton Barber interview