9. RB Kerryon Johnson
Why he’s here: Kerryon Johnson started the season as Auburn’s primary running back after three others left the program in the span of a single offseason. He bulked up while keeping his same speed and shiftiness, and it paid off on the scoreboard time and time again.
Johnson scored 11 touchdowns — the most for any offensive player on the roster in the regular season — and averaged nearly 5 yards per carry. He rushed for 90-plus yards in four of the first five games of the year. After an ankle injury against Mississippi State cost him the starting job to the red-hot Kamryn Pettway, Johnson still delivered with 5 touchdowns in the final five games of the season.
“Kerryon, he’s as even-keeled a guy as you’re going to find,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said last month. “Kerryon is going to be the same every day, which you love that about him. He’s tough, now. … If he hadn’t gotten nicked up, I think he would be probably around a 1,000-yard back.”
Johnson’s versatility became a huge help for the Tigers after Pettway took over as the top rusher. The sophomore was Auburn’s top kick returner at 23.5 yards per return, and he was the most effective Wildcat “quarterback” on the team. The package became a go-to for Auburn deep in the red zone, where he helped the Tigers solve their woes in that department.
“It’s been crazy the timeline of running backs we’ve gone through just in the past year,” Johnson said last month. “I don’t think anybody would’ve guessed this upcoming season that we’d have one (1,000-yard rusher), way less two. But that’s just a testament to a coach like Coach Horton, who’s great at what he does. You have an offense that’s great at running the ball. We set ourselves up for a great opportunity.”
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) September 29, 2016
Kerryon Johnson's absurd TD: Leff allows pressure, White lobs and Ryan Davis chops down the tree on a lead block. pic.twitter.com/CfUnYIrwNg
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) September 11, 2016
Season stats: 173 carries for 862 yards and 11 TDs
Next season: Johnson will be back for another season on the Plains, where he’ll most likely share the load again with Pettway. Johnson’s ability to play multiple roles for the Tigers on offense and special teams is important, and he should get his fair share of touches behind the bruising Pettway. Auburn coaches said they looked at the running back rotation as more of a co-starter situation. Johnson is the perfect complement to Pettway in this run-first attack.
Top 10 Auburn players
No. 10: Marlon Davidson
No. 9: Kerryon Johnson