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Auburn's biggest strength: Running back

Kamryn Pettway is just one piece of a deep Auburn backfield in 2017. Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire

This week, we're taking a team-by-team look at the biggest strength for each team in the SEC. Next up are the Auburn Tigers.

Position: Running back

Key loss: Stanton Truitt III (transfer)

Key returnees: Kamryn Pettway, Kerryon Johnson, Kam Martin, Chandler Cox

Key newcomers: Devan Barrett, Alaric Williams

Breakdown: There were probably plenty of reasons why Chip Lindsey took the offensive coordinator job at Auburn, but one would think that the talent returning on offense in 2017 might have played a major role in the decision.

The Tigers have a trio of ESPN 300 wide receivers who will all be sophomores next year. They have three offensive linemen returning from a unit that was considered one of the best in the SEC. You could make a case for the offensive line as the team’s strongest unit. And Auburn also added former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham to the mix.

“I told him we’re in great shape offensively,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn joked at Lindsey’s introductory press conference Saturday. “I’m kind of jealous really.”

But the real strength of this offense is in the backfield, which is ironic given that Lindsey came in to improve the passing game among other things.

Don’t expect a complete 180, though. Just because Malzahn is retiring his offensive clipboard, it doesn’t mean that Auburn is going to change what it’s been doing for years. There will likely be more balance, but Lindsey is a smart enough coach to understand that he needs to get the ball in the hands of his running backs early and often next season.

Kamryn Pettway burst onto the scene this past fall, rushing for 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns in nine games. He had a four-game stretch against SEC opponents where he averaged 192.5 yards per game and went for at least 150 yards in every game. At 6-feet, 240 pounds, he might not be flashy with his bruising style. But he’s quick, and he's a load to bring down.

Plus, when you get tired of trying to tackle Pettway, Auburn can throw the faster, more elusive Kerryon Johnson at you. Johnson proved to be the perfect complement to Pettway, rushing for 895 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns.

There’s also rising sophomore Kam Martin, the fastest player in Auburn’s backfield. With Pettway and Johnson both on the mend, Martin showed some of that breakaway speed and rushed for 176 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama A&M. It will be interesting to see how Lindsey finds way to get the former Baylor signee more involved in the offense.

And then there's Chandler Cox, the team's H-back. It's easy forget about him -- he only had seven carries last season -- but Cox is a critical part of this offense. He’s responsible for helping open holes for the other backs, and he’s one of the best in the SEC at what he does.

As excited as everybody is about Stidham, Auburn is loaded at running back. And with Devan Barrett and Alaric Williams expected to sign next week, this team should be loaded for years to come.