Who’ll have an immediate impact this fall?
War Eagle, everybody! We’re less than two weeks away from national signing day, and the recruiting scene is churning along at a frantic pace. I’ve always viewed the process as a necessary evil, but not one I enjoy following. Still, after Auburn’s current team went 0-8 in the SEC, I’m curious who’ll be brought in to help right the ship.
Looking at the national recruiting ratings, Auburn’s current crop of “hard commits” ranks the Tigers somewhere between 19th and 22nd in the nation. In the SEC, Auburn ranks 8th or 9th best out of 14 teams. The previous three seasons Auburn finished in the top 5 in the nation, but that did not translate on the field. Former Tiger head coach Tommy Tuberville used to derisively call it, “recruiting out of magazines.”
On paper, one would think that three top 5 classes and a 20th ranked one would be sufficient to build a strong team. I’ve heard repeatedly that the current incoming class is geared toward making an immediate impact, and filling needs. Looking over the list from various sources, I really don’t see that being the case.
As it stands now, 8 of Auburn’s 16 hard commits are consensus 3 star recruits. The Tigers currently have three consensus 4 stars, and one 5 star. While most SEC rosters are full of 3 star recruits, those guys don’t typically come in and start as freshmen, unless there’s great need.
In my opinion, Auburn’s greatest position of need next fall is linebacker. The Tigers graduated three guys from an already thin unit, and there’s precious little experience coming back outside of Jake Holland. Ellis Johnson’s defensive scheme only puts two linebackers on the field at a time usually, but in reality Auburn played mostly nickel defense with two linebackers last year. Surveying the commit roster, I see only one linebacker, Cameron Toney, from Huntsville High School.
With only scholarship quarterbacks Khiel Frazier and Jonathan Wallace returning, there’s definite need at quarterback. Auburn has Alabama’s Mr. Football committed, Jeremy Johnson from Carver, Montgomery. Johnson seems tailor made to run the Malzhan offense, but a true freshman quarterback is rarely the salvation for an SEC team. The other quarterback commit is JUCO quarterback Nick Marshall. Can he repeat Cam Newton’s unlikely run from junior college to Heisman in a few short months?
Auburn has three JUCO guys already enrolled that will take part in spring drills. Running back Cameron Artis-Payne is being looked at as a potential starter alongside Trey Mason in the Auburn running game. Mason will have a leg up on experience, knowing the plays, protections and routes already.
A lineman on each side of the ball from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas round out Auburn’s early enrollees. Ben Bradley is a big defensive tackle that will try to find his way into a crowded Auburn rotation. Devonte Danzey joins a loaded offensive line roster.
Relying on JUCO players for immediate help is dicey, at best. It’s been said that the guys are in junior college for a reason. While it’s to be commended that the guys got their academic ship turned around, they often suffer physically while concentrating on classwork. JUCO players that don’t work out immediately don’t usually have time to develop. On Auburn’s 2010 national championship team, a hole on the offensive line was plugged by JUCO lineman Brandon Mosley, but it was expensive in terms of scholarships. It took two JUCOs to fill that slot, basically. Both Mosley and Rosell Gayden were signed to fill that void. Gayden left the team pretty quickly. And that’s two scholarships awarded in 2010 that aren’t helping at all now.
On the other hand, Auburn has seen some pretty exciting JUCO players over the years. Who can forget battering ram Rudi Johnson, who ran over the SEC in 2000, en route to an All-Pro NFL career? David Irons was a JUCO player who turned into a lock-down SEC corner. And of course, there was Cameron Newton. Sandwiched between 4 years in which Auburn went 9-23 in the SEC, Newton took Auburn to a national championship!
On the current commit list, I see some high school guys who could grow into great college players. But most of these guys are going to redshirt this fall, and help build depth for the future. Folks, next season we’ll win with mostly what we already have. It’s as simple as that.
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