Every Monday and Thursday, Plainsman sports staffers Zach Tantillo and Nathan King will analyze an Auburn football player who has a chance to make a sizeable impact on the team next season.
Today’s Fortune Teller focuses on Devan Barrett, the newest wild card in a long history of versatile weapons in Gus Malzahn's offense.
Now an advantageous staple of the Gus Malzahn offense, the fly-sweep at Auburn has always been used by an elusive back who was a hazard to scamper all the way for six every time he got the edge. Whether it be Onterio McCalebb, Corey Grant or Eli Stove, a sprinting Tiger in the backfield running horizontally towards the quarterback usually means bad news for the defense.
Unless that Tiger is on the sidelines.
When Stove, Auburn’s jet sweep man of choice who averaged 10.5 yards a touch last season, suffered a torn ACL in the Tigers’ last practice before spring break, Malzahn recognized that Chip Lindsey’s offense needed a replacement, at least until Stove’s “expected” return time in the fall.
Malzahn traded one lightning-quick Tiger for another, moving sophomore running back Devan Barrett to wide receiver to fill the void left by Stove at Auburn's flanker position. Malzahn said the move wasn’t necessarily permanent.
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"He's the type where you need to find a way to get him the ball," Malzahn said. "With the injuries at wide receiver we moved him out."
As a freshman tailback out of Tampa, Florida, Barrett saw action in the backfield and as a return man for the Tigers in 2017. The former four-star athlete carried the rock 14 times for 79 yards, but seemed more comfortable snaring passes, hauling in 10 for 33 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown in the team's Peach Bowl loss to UCF.
"He's got a unique skill set," Malzahn said. "He was very good on the perimeter last year, and he can catch the ball. He catches the ball like a wide receiver. It's good for our team and good for him to be versatile like that."
Barrett found himself trapped in a spring log-jam in the backfield. Kam Martin was called the starter by position coach Tim Horton, and backups Jatarvious Whitlow, Asa Martin, Malik Miller and C.J. Tolbert had been receiving praise from coaches in spring ball.
“It’s not much (different) as you would think, with the different things we did with him last year,” Malzahn said of Barrett, who totaled more than 4,000 yards in his high school career to go along with 44 scores. “The thing that stood out to me is he does a good job of judging the ball and attacking the ball when it’s vertically thrown down the field, so you know, he’s a versatile guy.”
Single-season receptions and high school track record holders Ryan Davis and Anthony Schwartz are projected to receive equally heavy workloads if Stove isn’t available, but that doesn’t necessarily spell a letdown season for Barrett.
The sophomore is undoubtedly one of the most elusive offensive weapons for Auburn, and he gelled well with Jarrett Stidham last season when playing within his niche: catching swing passes and screens. If he sees ample playing time in 2018 — which is a big “if” bearing in mind Auburn’s abundant depth in the backfield and receiving corps, once it gets back to full strength — Barrett can shine behind an encouragingly systematic offensive line and a Heisman hopeful gunslinger.
Catch up on previous installments of the Fortune Teller series:
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