Just about everyone expects rookie Ronald Jones to be the lead back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at some point. Peyton Barber is out to make sure the point when it happens is further away than most predict.
It’s pre-season Week 1, so it’s important we don’t get too riled up about anything good or bad. But, I’ve been a fan of Barber since he was in Auburn and was incredibly excited when he landed in Tampa Bay.
Granted, I wasn’t quite sure what he’d turn in to, just like everyone else.
In 2016 he was an undrafted free-agent trying to make enough money to give his family a better life.
Two seasons later, he’s the primary running back on an NFL team trying to get his team back on track after a disappointing season followed a promising one.
Some might say he fell into the starting job. After all, it was Doug Martin’s job to lose until his personal demons got the better of him, right?
Well, I say Barber’s ascension to the top of the Buccaneers depth charts is a combination of opportunity and preparedness.
So when Martin’s career demise in Tampa Bay came to fruition, it was Barber who took the lead role.
Not Charles Sims, who not long ago was splitting time with Martin as the two formed one of the most effective duos in the NFL. Not him.
Also, not Jacquizz Rodgers, who came in as a veteran with experience under coach Koetter and even started in place of Martin with fairly good results at one point since joining the team. Not him.
It was Barber. And in his first pre-season start in the first season he’s coming in as his team’s first running back, he carried the ball four times for 21-yards and a touchdown.
He also caught two passes. A good sign of his coaches trying to find ways to get him involved considering he has been viewed as sort of a one-dimensional back. Those catches went for negative yardage, so we aren’t there yet, but it’s improving.
I didn’t call Barber the feature back for a reason. I don’t believe this team has one. Each has a role they’re better at than someone, and each can be used in ways unique to them. At halftime of the Buccaneers’ pre-season win over the Miami Dolphins, Barber communicated the same sentiment,
“I think we have a very special backfield. I feel like everybody is special in their own way,” said Barber. “I feel like I can run in-between the tackles, I can catch, I can block. I feel like Ronald can do the same. I feel like we have a really special backfield.”
One of the more exciting parts of this backfield is the fact we haven’t even seen all of it yet. Another undrafted rookie, Shaun Wilson, was inactive for Week 1.
He’s been generating a lot of buzz around training camp, and has been since he arrived relatively unnoticed to the team’s rookie mini-camp earlier in the summer.
Even when Wilson makes his competitive debut for the Buccaneers, we should still expect to see Barber being the primary back, even if he isn’t the feature back.
Perhaps we’ll still see Jones overtake him. But if Barber keeps running the way he did in his first act of 2018 averaging more than five-yards per carry, the rookie may have more ground to make up than he expected.