SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — Harold Joiner will join Auburn football’s crowded running back room this summer. But the Tigers already have big ideas for the 6-foot-3, 218-pound athlete from Birmingham.
Joiner, along with the 5-foot-7 Shaun Shivers, will be the newest additions at running back to a position that already has five scholarship players — none of whom are seniors. And Joiner is such a unique talent that Auburn coaches already are talking about moving him around the offense.
“Harold is such a different specimen from what we’ve had there because of how big he is,” Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton said last Thursday before his appearance at the Jackson County Auburn Club. “I can see Harold as someone who, again, can play multiple positions, whether it’s tailback, whether it’s 3-back [H-back], where it’s somewhere in the slot, whether it’s someone as an actual tight end.”
Joiner was a U.S. Army All-America selection from Mountain Brook High School during his senior season. He was ranked as the No. 5 running back in the country and the No. 4 player in Alabama.
But coaches and recruiting analysts see Joiner as a do-it-all playmaker for Auburn.
“Coming out of the backfield, he is just as comfortable with well above-average route-running ability and soft hands on his frame,” 247Sports’ John Garcia Jr. wrote. “Joiner, who runs better than his size suggests, is a tough runner to stop, but he is simply a matchup nightmare as a pass catcher against linebackers and safeties. He can line up at a number of positions at the next level and make a considerable impact sooner rather than later.”
— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) February 7, 2018
When Auburn picked up Joiner’s commitment in January, Gus Malzahn pointed to a player from his past as a possible archetype. During his tenure as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator, Malzahn coached Charles Clay, who had more than 2,500 receiving yards and nearly 1,000 rushing yards in four seasons.
Clay, who arrived at Tulsa as a running back, has played seven seasons at tight end in the NFL. Malzahn mentioned Joiner as a player who could “fill somewhat of a void” for Auburn, which didn’t sign a tight end in the 2018 class.
“When I think of Harold, I think versatile,” Malzahn said on National Signing Day in February. “I got a chance to coach a guy named Charles Clay a few years back, and I think they’re from that same mold. Talking about a guy that we feel really feel strong about that can come out of the backfield and stretch the field vertically. He can do a lot of different things with the ball in his hands, so we’re excited about him.”
With Auburn already moving one running back — sophomore Devan Barrett — to a hybrid role this offseason, Joiner’s best shot at early playing time could come in a multi-pronged position.
In Auburn’s standard three-wide offensive sets, the Tigers usually have one player at either tight end, H-back, second running back or an extra “big slot” receiver. Auburn wants players who can line up at multiple spots to limit substitutions, and Joiner could be a big step in that direction.
“He’s going to be in my room, so he’s going to be a running back by trade,” Horton said. “But I could see him being one of those guys that we put in multiple spots, much like what Coach has done in the past with maybe C.J. Uzomah or Charles Clay or people like that.”