Byron Cowart Requests Release From Auburn
It has seemed inevitable for the last year that Byron Cowart, one of the top recruits in the nation coming out of high school, would eventually transfer from Auburn. While his decision may have been surprising to some, the transfer of five-star recruits isn’t anything new in the SEC. Take SEC West foes Texas A&M and Alabama, for example. The Aggies and Tide both have had multiple five-star quarterbacks leave their programs.
Of course, Alabama has ridiculous turnover because of the sheer number of elite prospects that end up in Tuscaloosa. The issue with elite recruits, especially at quarterback, has put Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin on the hottest seat in the SEC.
Auburn began battling with the nation’s elite recruiters when Gus Malzahn came to the Plains. In that time, Auburn has signed 13 five-star recruits (according to Rivals), including Byron Cowart.
He was Auburn’s highest ranked signee, but he never lived up to his lofty five-star ranking. You may recall our scouting report of Cowart, where I shared some early thoughts that he wasn’t as good as advertised.
It wasn’t surprising that he couldn’t find traction early as a true freshman in 2015. But his inability to find playing time as a sophomore had to be disheartening as incoming freshman five-star recruits Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown earned immediate playing time. Disturbingly for Cowart, he was banished to the third string entering 2017.
At the start of the season, Cowart made the move to defensive tackle from defensive end when freshman Nick Coe pushed him further down the depth chart.
The final straw may have come this Saturday when Coe earned the starting nod against Mercer in place of Marlon Davidson. While Cowart was penciled in as a defensive tackle, it would have been a great time to move him to his natural spot, at least for a game. Instead, Cowart played limited snaps, recording a single tackle, while freshman Coe and Big Kat Bryant received the bulk of playing time.
Was the issue with Cowart just a personal problem, such as an attitude issue? Or could it be part of a systemic problem the Auburn staff has in identifying and developing recruits into SEC caliber players?
A deeper look into the situation reveals a worrisome trend: the inability of blue-chip, skill-position recruits to pan out. Of those 13 five-star recruits, five were kicked off the team or transferred, including skill-position players Michael Dyer, Roc Thomas, Duke Williams, and Jovon Robinson. Only Cam Newton panned out as a skill-position recruit, but he was a “one-and-done” player from the beginning.
Auburn’s success stories include Shon Coleman, Montravius Adams, Kris Frost, Carl Lawson and Tré Williams. Although Kris Frost never lived up to his five-star billing, he was a heavy contributor over his career as while battling injury and coaching turnover. Obviously, this is a credit to the defensive staff, in particular D-line coach Rodney Garner.
Garner said Cowart, “Came in with unrealistic expectations. [The media] put more pressure on the kid than he could ever live up to. It’s a process. As he continues to get better, he will play. Just because your stars and ratings don’t match up, that’s on you.”
That sentiment has been attributed to Cowart each year that he has been on the Plains, but it isn’t something that has been said about fellow five-star guys Marlon Davidson or Derrick Brown. In fact, the opposite has been echoed about both of them from the day they arrived.
According to the coaches and players, both showed up ready to play on day one and never looked like freshmen. This is a primary reason that Cowart never made headway on the depth chart. He leaves Auburn with just 15 tackles, with 1.5 for losses, in his 26-game college career.