One of the more critical position to watch during spring practice will be at running back, where the Tigers will be trying to develop much-needed depth.
The big issue for Auburn at running back heading into 2021 will be the development of depth after two Tigers announced that they would not be returning to Auburn even though all had the option available.
The two backs who departed were DJ Williams and Mark-Antony Richards. Williams spent two seasons with the Tigers, rushing for 400 yards with two touchdowns his freshman year. Many thought Williams was poised to become the feature back in 2020, but instead he took a back seat to Shaun Shivers and incoming freshman Tank Bigsby. Williams only rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns on a limited 38 carries last season.
Mark-Antony Richards only played one season for the Tigers, in which he had 20 rushing attempts for 76 yards and no touchdowns. Williams is currently at Florida State while Richards is still searching for a home in the transfer portal.
While the Tigers will only return half of their scholarship running backs, all of their walk-ons will return. Jay Sharp, Jacob Jaskinski and Payton Anderson are all walk-on backs who have not seen action, but who could provide depth in a crisis. Anderson was a prolific running back in high school, rushing for 5,000 career yards and 115 touchdowns and would be the most likely of the three to provide depth if needed.
Auburn may only return two scholarship running backs but the two they return have been some of the most consistent players on the Tigers' offense the past few seasons.
Shaun Shivers comes back to the Plains for his senior season after providing significant help in the run game over the past three years, even starting many games last season. He has rushed for 933 yards and seven touchdowns in his career and his 5-foot-7 frame provides a low center of gravity, allowing Shivers to deliver punishing hits.
Alongside Shivers will be Bigsby, who flashed on the scene as a freshman last season and quickly became the most stable part of the Auburn offense. In just his first year of college football, Bigsby rushed for 834 yards and five touchdowns along with 84 yards receiving. Bigsby’s 834 yards was second-most in program history for a freshman — only behind Michael Dyer’s 1,093 in 2010 and beating Bo Jackson’s 829 yards. Bigsby was also awarded SEC Freshman of the Year.
With the exodus of running backs, the Tigers will be bringing one in from its recruiting class who coaches hope will develop and make an early impact to provide some depth in the running back room. Jarquez Hunter is a three-star back out of Neshoba Central High School in Philadelphia, Mississippi. As a senior, he rushed for 1,687 yards and 22 touchdowns. Hunter was also rated as one of the top-12 players in the state of Mississippi.
A-Day will be a great time for fans to get their first look at the Bryan Harsin offense and see how the running backs are adapting to it. Shivers and Bigsby should make a great duo as long as they continue to develop, but should one or both of them suffer an injury then it could get dicey for the Tigers.
A-Day will be held in Jordan-Hare Stadium on April 17.