Corey Grant is no stranger to Auburn fans. The running back was often seen on Saturdays last fall, running speed sweeps from the slot and taking handoffs in the backfield and rushing for big chunks of yards – 9.8 yards per attempt in fact.
However, it remains to be seen if the senior running back will receive the bulk of the carries in 2014 now that Tre Mason has left the Plains for the NFL.
When offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee met with the media on Sunday, he spent most of the time discussing Auburn’s talented freshman class. Nevertheless, Lashlee couldn’t help but gush when Corey Grant came up in the conversation. The offensive coordinator said he once thought Grant was a “scat back and a sprinter,” and though he was used often on outside runs last season, Grant is now a complete running back that is able to run anywhere.
“He’s very capable of running between the tackles now, which I think is a plus for us with our depth,” Lashlee said. “It’s just impressive. He’s a thick, big strong back that can fly.”
If you were looking for a way to describe the perfect running back, that just might be it.
We already knew that Grant can fly. As you can see in this Bleacher Report video from April that Grant has been clocked in the 4.2-second range in the 40-yard dash. That easily makes the Oplika native one of the fastest players in college football, and almost guarantees he’ll be an NFL draft pick following this season.
As a junior, Corey Grant used that world-class speed to gain 647 rushing yards and six touchdowns on only 66 carries. He got off to a great start to the 2013 season with 147 yards against Washington State in the first game of the year, taking a handoff 75 yards for a score in the process. However, the nine carries Grant had against the Cougars were the most of any game all season.
Number 20 was always a threat to opposing defenses in 2013,but he was a pretty one-dimensional runner. Grant gave us a glimpse that he has more than just speed in his toolbox when he ran over a Georgia Bulldog for a touchdown last season.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, he is not the biggest running back around. But, Grant has put on nearly 25 pounds since he was a high school senior. Ideally, a running back would be ten or twenty pounds heavier than Grant to withstand the wear and tear a season can take on a primary ball carrier.
Of course, Grant hasn’t been asked to be the primary ball carrier just yet. Cameron Artis-Payne, Grant’s backfield running mate is a slightly thicker 210 pounds, and holds a slight edge on the depth chart.
“Cameron Artis-Payne has been the guy so far, but you never know,” Tigers center Reese Dismukes told SiriusXM’s College Sports Nation recently. “You could have one guy clicking one week and that’s the guy they’re going to keep giving it to. I guess it’s just kind of a feel thing. I’m sure whoever has got the ball in their hands is going to bite at that opportunity and take it and run with it.”
Artis-Payne put up similar numbers to Grant last season with roughly one-third more opportunities. The senior had 610 rushing yards on 91 carries and scored six touchdowns for the Tigers in 2013. As Dismukes mentioned, Artis-Payne has been considered the favorite to replace Tre Mason as the number one running back.
To maximize Grant’s talents, the senior running back will be a major contributor as a kick returner. He returned only five kicks last season, but averaged 32 yards per return and took one 90 yards to the house against Tennessee.
It would also be reasonable to expect Grant to become somewhat more involved in the passing game. He had only four catches for eight yards last season, but could contribute as a receiver out of the backfield or from the slot position he held much of last season on the receiving end of bubble screens.
However things eventually shake out on the depth chart, both Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will both get plenty of touches. Both are talented enough to run for 1,000 yards or more in Gus Malzahn’s up-tempo power rushing attack. But don’t be shocked if the “big, strong back that can fly” eventually takes the reins. After all, he’s the total package.