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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Most Integral Player, No. 6: Mario Fannin

Our MIP countdown continues today with No. 6: running back Mario Fannin.

But first, this is your last chance to submit a question for Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs. My interview with him is tomorrow morning. Also, we're getting a tour of the new Auburn Arena this afternoon, so my hope is to get some pictures and video up on the blog later this afternoon. So check back for that.

Now for Fannin:
  • Skill level: 4. I think there's no doubt Fannin is one of the more talented players on Auburn's roster. He's shown it in flashes over the years, doing a variety of things rushing, receiving, returning, blocking. He's an all-around back who, when asked to do a specific job, does it pretty well. Is he the fastest back? No. The biggest? No. Does he have the best hands? No. But he does them all to a satisfying level, and the whole picture is very appealing. Running backs coach Curtis Luper spoke with a confidence about Fannin last spring the way he did with Ben Tate the previous year. And we all saw how Tate did last year.
  • Production history: 3. This grade might be low considering Fannin might eclipse 1,000 career rushing, receiving and return yards at some point this season, but his history as an everydown tailback the position he'll be asked to play this season is sketchy. He had fumbling problems as a freshman, something that dogged him the last three years. His yards seem to come on the edge of defenses, which might be more a function of how Auburn has used him the last couple years. It's hard to argue with the numbers: Fannin averaged 8.4 yards per carry on 34 attempts last season, but he's failed to top 300 rushing yards in each of the last two seasons. Consider this: heading into his senior season, Tate had 1,959 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. At the same point of his career, Fannin has 971 rushing yards and six touchdowns. That's a sizable gap.
  • Position importance: 4. This is obviously a prominent position in any offense, but especially Auburn's. And that's not even for the fact that Fannin is trying to carry on the legacy of the Tigers' storied running back tradition. It's because offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn bases everything in his offense off of establishing the run. Auburn's 5.0 yard per carry average last year was tied with Alabama for second in the SEC behind Florida. And that commitment won't change, especially with a new quarterback on the scene, one who hasn't played a significant down at the FBS level.
  • Backup competence: 4. I originally had this number lower, but then I took a second look at the backup options. Say Fannin wasn't in the picture. In the wake of the Dontae Aycock's departure, that leaves ... 1) Onterio McCalebb, a speed back who's good in spots but hasn't shown an ability to stay healthy or run consistently between the tackles, 2) Eric Smith, an H-back by trade who's more valuable doing a variety of roles, and 3) Michael Dyer, a tantalizing prospect, yes, but one who has never gone through a college practice at this point and, if history serves as a lesson, will take some time to acclimate himself to the college game. I don't think the Tigers are lacking options behind Fannin, but I do think they would be in an uncomfortable position without him.
  • Leadership: 3. I've never viewed Fannin as the rah-rah type. He comes across as a quiet, polite, introspective guy, one who doesn't get too riled up. I think that's a slight departure from Tate, who had, shall we say, a confidence in his ability probably surpassing anyone else's and didn't mind telling people about it. Tate seemed like the kind of player who would demand the ball when things were going tough. I don't know if Fannin has that same temperament.
  • Total: 18. We're getting to the elite level of the list here. Fannin is one of Auburn's most talented players, and if it weren't for most football teams' ability to easily plug in running backs and succeed, he'd probably be higher on the list. As it is, Fannin comes in at No. 6, meaning his success will probably translate to Auburn's. The senior has been waiting for this moment a while, and now as a senior, he's finally got it. I can imagine he's primed for this opportunity.


Tar Heel Tiger said...

Great minds think alike, and so do ours.

Marcus said...

You forgot about this guy:


Three yards and a cloud of dust baby :)

Andy Bitter said...

It'll be interesting to see Phillips as a ballcarrier. Although I think he will be extremely specialized. I can't seem him as a workhorse back by any means, at least not in the beginning.

Anonymous said...

If Dyer and McCaleb work out well in pre-season practices I wouldn't be surprised to see Fannin back at H-back. Something like that seems like it suits him better.

Speaking of Phillips, isn't his college position going to be D-tackle? Maybe they'll give him a week of preseason to try it out, but this guy can actually help on the d-line. RB, not so much.

Andy Bitter said...

Make no mistake: Fannin will be the tailback this year. Barring crazy circumstances, that's where he'll be all year.

And word is Phillips is going to get a shot at running back to start out. I can imagine Malzahn is intrigued by having a bruising tailback like that in his arsenal. It's something beyond anything Auburn really has on the roster.

Marcus said...

I was actually joking about Phillips because I assumed he'd end up as a 3rd sting defensive guy, considering his lack of recruiting credentials... but then today there comes a story out of Anniston that Malzahn called dibs on him and plans on trying to use him on offense. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

One of my buddies from high school plays for the tigers, he says Fannin is one of the strongest most athletic players he's ever seen. I think a lot of people are underestimating him. He is a prototypical NFL back size and speed wise as well...