Where is Roc Thomas?
With Artis-Payne gone to the NFL after winning another SEC rushing crown, Auburn’s second straight player to do so, speculation swirled over who would become Auburn’s next feature back.
Would it be Roc Thomas, the former five-star player, who was electric in limited action, yet was seen fumbling the first play from scrimmage in the 2014 Iron Bowl, not to reappear?
Would it be Peyton Barber, who had sustained injuries, yet was well thought of by coaches in players each of the last two springs?
Would it be Jovon Robinson, the one-time Auburn recruit, who was the best back in JUCO?
I speculated in the preseason (A Roc and a Hard Place) that Thomas would emerge as the starter. I didn’t really think he was the best running back of the three, but he seemed to have an extra dimension that the other two lacked. And, indeed, Thomas was named Auburn’s starter against Louisville, but was sidelined with injury, as was Robinson, which led to the emergence of Peyton Barber.
As the season has progressed, however, Thomas has not gotten much onfield presence. In terms of pure tailback ability, most fans would agree that Robinson has the higher upside and Barber’s heart and determination cannot be questioned, which makes them a solid one-two punch. Thomas’ fumble against Jacksonville State, which nearly cost the Tigers the game, certainly did not help his case, nor has the emergence of Kerryon Johnson.
And, there’s no question that Thomas has not been the only player with problems, as evidenced by the other receivers inability to hang on to passes and Jeremy Johnson’s interceptions and fumbles. Louis’ fumble at the one-yard line in the UGA game was the final blow in that game. However, Thomas has been the one on the bench.
In his time on the field, Thomas has provided some interesting stats.
- He’s Auburn’s third-best wide receiver with 200 yards, 13 short of Melvin Ray who is at number two.
- He’s fourth on the team with 11 catches.
- He is far and away the most explosive receiver with a yards- per -catch average of 18+ and holds the longest receiving TD of the year at 51.
- His rushing touches and yardage reflect his relative ranking as he is fourth in both categories. In total touches, though, he is in second place with 45 total touches for 354 yards and a 7.9 yards-per-touch average.
That’s not too shabby. It seems to indicate that in a year when Auburn’s fall from grace, especially offensively, has been monumental that the coaches may be overlooking a fine player. Whether at running back or receiver, are the coaches following a basic credo: put your best athletes on the field and get them the ball? Statistically speaking, it seems that one of Auburn’s greatest gifts is being underutilized.