SEC Country
Incoming freshmen, from left, Harold Joiner, Asa Martin and Shaun Shivers could all play vastly different roles in the Tigers offense.

Where Harold Joiner, Asa Martin, Shaun Shivers fit in Auburn’s offensive plans

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AUBURN, Ala. — When Harold Joiner committed to play for Auburn football last weekend, an already crowded Tigers running backs room had to make room for one more.

Even though Auburn lost Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway early to the 2018 NFL Draft, Auburn is set to have seven running backs on its roster this upcoming season:

  1. Kam Martin
  2. Malik Miller
  3. Devan Barrett
  4. JaTarvious Whitlow
  5. Asa Martin
  6. Shaun Shivers
  7. Harold Joiner

Judging by Auburn’s use of running backs under Gus Malzahn, it’s safe to say the Tigers won’t use all of them in a rotation in 2018.

During Malzahn’s tenures as offensive coordinator and coach, Auburn has regularly used no more than four scholarship running backs in a given season. Most of the time, the fourth comes into the picture because of an injury higher on the depth chart. Auburn likes to play fast with a tight rotation at running back.

So what will that mean for Auburn’s numbers in 2018?

MORE: Auburn reportedly set to hire Buffalo AD Allen Greene to same position

Redshirts are possible for the trio of incoming freshmen, but Asa Martin, Shivers and Joiner will get their chances to contribute right away with what they show in the preseason. As for transfers, there hasn’t been much talk of any since Martin squashed those rumors after the Peach Bowl. Things can change quickly, though, especially if certain backs separate themselves in spring practices.

Auburn has already given traditional running back reps, either in games or in practice, to Kam Martin, Miller, Barrett and Whitlow. None of them seem like candidates to change positions. Whitlow already moved from wide receiver to running back in the preseason because the coaching staff liked his potential there.

That being said, two of Auburn’s incoming backs could have long-term futures in different roles than standard rushers.

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Auburn running back commit Asa Martin participated in Peach Bowl practices. (Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country)

Asa Martin fits the bill as a potential all-around back for the future. Malzahn compared him to Kerryon Johnson on the early signing day in December, and he’ll enroll early with a chance to fight for the starting running back job.

“He’s very good running the football. He’s got great quickness, he’s strong, he protects,” Malzahn said. “He was a very good protector in high school, which is rare. … And he catches the football out of the backfield like a wide receiver. So I think he’s going to give coach [Chip] Lindsey a lot of flexibility. He’s here early and he’s got a very good skill set, so he’ll be in the mix.”

Auburn coaches have already talked up Martin — the top prep running back in Alabama — like a future feature running back. They’ve already discussed different plans for Joiner and Shivers.

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Auburn commit Harold Joiner could fit a different type of role in the Tigers offense. (Sam Spiegelman/SEC Country)

Harold Joiner is a unique running back prospect. He stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 220 pounds, which makes him much taller than the average back. He brings a lot of athleticism, and his tape shows that he prefers running past opponents rather than through them.

“That boy is a dude,” Shivers said of Joiner. “He can do it all. He can run through the backfield, he can line up at slot, tight end and catch the little seam route — he can do everything.”

Versatility is a key aspect of Joiner’s game. At his size, he can play a number of positions. And during his official visit, Malzahn showed Joiner tape of Charles Clay, one of his former players at Tulsa. The current Buffalo Bills tight end was a do-it-all back at Tulsa, as he caught 189 passes for 2,544 yards and recorded 179 carries for 911 yards in his college career.

“They said my primary position would be running back, but they’d put me out in the slot a little bit and run some sweeps and things like that,” Joiner said. “[Clay], he played at Tulsa. He showed me clips of him. … It’s something different. I’m a versatile guy. I can make moves and run you over if I need to. I can do it all.”

With Auburn still in transition mode when it comes to its H-back and tight end positions — which will kick in fully after Chandler Cox and Jalen Harris complete their senior seasons in 2018 — Joiner could be the missing piece. His skill set will allow Auburn to be creative, even if he starts out as a standard running back.

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Auburn signee Shaun Shivers (center) could play several different positions on the Plains. (Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country)

Shaun Shivers can bring that same amount of versatility in a much different package. The Florida native said he was measured at 5-7 and 174 pounds during his official visit.

Shivers has track-star speed, much like Auburn wide receiver commit Anthony Schwartz. He also brings a lot of power, as he’s not afraid to run through tackles for a player his size.

Durability would be a major concern if the smaller Shivers ever tried to be an every-down back in the SEC, but Auburn is already talking about different ways of getting the ball in his hands.

“You know, slot, kick return, punt return,” Shivers said. “Move me around. Just get the ball in space and let me do what I do.”

MORE: Auburn OL coach J.B. Grimes makes first recruiting visit to see grad transfer

Auburn still has to find its next go-to running back among veterans Martin, Miller, Barrett and Whitlow. Martin will be a contender there as an early enrollee with an all-around game.

With all that depth, Auburn could afford to get creative with a couple of its spots. The athletic potential of Shivers and Joiner was too intriguing to pass up, even if they never become starting running backs at Auburn.

As Auburn’s offense continues its evolution to a more balanced attack with plenty of variety at its skill positions, there’s a lot to like about the future at running back. And the players themselves are leading that charge.

“We’ve got the best backfield in the nation,” Shivers said. “No one’s better than us three on the same team. We’re just going to do what we do when we get here. We’re going to have the best backfield for the next three or four years.”