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What’s your thoughts on Whitlow this spring?
— Cooper Shoemaker (@CooperShoemaker) February 26, 2018
AUBURN, Ala. — JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow is in a good spot heading into his redshirt freshman season for Auburn football.
The Tigers lost their top two running backs over the last two seasons — Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway — to the NFL draft. The top returner in terms of experience, Kam Martin, has durability and size concerns when it comes to an every-down role.
Whitlow, though, stands at 6-foot and 216 pounds and has room to grow with more time in a college strength and conditioning program.
While he didn’t play a lot of running back in high school, he scored 30 rushing touchdowns as a dual-threat quarterback as a senior. He made a habit of turning small holes into 6 points out of nowhere.
“I’ll tell you where he’ll help Auburn — he can take 5 yards and turn it into 50,” Whitlow’s high school coach, James Lucas, told SEC Country last summer. “When a kid is right in his face, he never takes his eyes off the end zone. He has in his mind, ‘I’ve got you beat.’”
The 3-star, last-minute signing from nearby LaFayette, Ala., showed enough on film to warrant a scholarship offer from offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. He showed enough in summer practices that made coaches want him to move from receiver to running back.
And he showed enough in Peach Bowl practices to get a lot of buzz from his teammates.
“He’s a really talented kid, yeah,” receiver Darius Slayton said in December. “He’s going to be a really good player. He doesn’t really look as athletic as he is. But he’s got good speed, good instincts, and I think he’s going to be a really good player.”
If not for an ankle injury in fall camp, some thought he would’ve played as a first-year freshman.
“He’s explosive,” defensive back Jordyn Peters said in December. “Like, it’s weird. He has elusive speed. He’ll come out, and he has good vision also. He knows when to hit the pockets and reverse field.
“He had one play where he reversed it, and it’s just to think like, if he didn’t get hurt, he probably could have contributed a little bit this year. He’s going to be a good player. I love playing with Whitlow.”
Whitlow wasn’t a highly rated recruit, with a lot of that coming down to the competition he faced in his smaller 2A high school. Still, Auburn has turned other overlooked 3-stars — Pettway, Peyton Barber and Cameron Artis-Payne, to name a few — into feature backs.
Whitlow has arguably the best size of any returning player in Auburn’s running back race. His speed is near the level of Martin, and his versatility should be a bonus in any passing game responsibilities.
Auburn’s best bet at running back in 2018 appears to be a committee approach with the speedy Martin and some sort of rotation of bigger rushers.
Whitlow and freshman early enrollee Asa Martin have the biggest upside of any backs on the roster. They both have the all-around games Auburn needs in Lindsey’s offense. They just don’t have the experience.
That should change over the next month, when both get touches in practices and scrimmages. Whitlow has a head start of a few months over Asa Martin, so he has the early edge for breakout performer at running back.
If he can continue what he did in Peach Bowl practices into the spring, Whitlow has all the makings of the next surprise star out of Auburn’s backfield.
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