Five Auburn Players Poised to Have a Breakout Year on Defense in 2017
Can Jeff Holland replace Carl Lawson as the main disruptive force on the Auburn defense? (photo: AP/Butch Dill)
Much has been written in the off season about a possible resurgence of an Auburn offense led by air raid offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. As the Tigers inch closer to their opening date with Georgia Southern, the hype has been building around an offense that has two All-SEC caliber running backs, an experienced line, a slew of potential breakout receivers, and highly touted quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Many prognosticators expect the Tigers to rebound from last year’s disappointing 8-5 season in a big way. But for the Tigers to get back to championship level football, they will need some players to turn in some All – Conference breakout performances in 2017.
Last week here at Track ’em Tigers we took a look at players from the offense who I believe are poised to make that type of impact. This week we look at some defensive players that could play an important role in helping the Tigers contend for a championship.
Here are five defensive players that are set to have a breakout year heading into the season:
* Javaris Davis (CB) – A four star recruit who was ranked as one of the top 10 corner backs in the South. He was a track star who played running back and receiver in high school. Javaris used his swift and physical attributes to the max in 2016 earning freshman All-America and first-team All-SEC freshman honors.
As a backup for most of last year he made 37 tackles including a sack and four tackles for a loss, and had had two interceptions. This could be the year he really makes a big impact as a true starter.
* Jeremiah Dinson (CB) – He was a highly sought after recruit from south Florida who chose Auburn over Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, and 18 other D-1 schools. Although he hasn’t played in a football game in nearly two years (due to severe injuries in Auburn’s 2015 win over Texas A&M) he has big shoes to fill as he’s expected to take over for Auburn’s back-to-back leading tackler Rudy Ford.
He’s worked hard for two years to return to the field and it now appears he’s as strong and fast as he ever was. Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele has been really high on the junior saying, “He’s really fast and he’s got a tremendous skill set.”
* Daniel Thomas (DB) Thomas was not rated very high as an incoming recruit but he’s a hard worker who made an impact in 11 games last year as a freshman. He finished the season with 16 total tackles, one pass breakup and two interceptions (both against Alabama in the Iron Bowl). “He’s come along by leaps and bounds,” Auburn defensive backs coach Greg Brown said.
He will probably play safety but Brown says, “He’s one of those guys that can play multiple positions. He’s got that sort of skillset, not only movement-wise for coverage but he’s got the physicality to tackle in there and be smart enough to understand the schemes.” Look for Daniel Thomas to be a mainstay on the Auburn defense for the next three years.
* Jason Smith – (DB) I maybe going out on a limb somewhat with this one but I see Smith as ‘the’ surprising defensive player in 2017. A versatile athlete with speed and agility, Jason came in as a quarterback who moved to wide receiver in 2015. He made Auburn’s longest offensive play of the 2015 season when he caught a 77-yard touchdown pass from Jeremy Johnson in the Iron Bowl.
He’s now been moved to defensive back. He got a lot of reps with the first-team defense in fall camp and impressed coaches with his ability. At one of his post practice press conferences, Coach Malzahn called him, ‘A heat seeking missile.”
* Jeff Holland (Buck) – Although he spent the last two seasons as a reserve defensive lineman Holland is another guy with big shoes to fill having played behind the great Carl Lawson. Despite limited action, Jeff has tallied 17 career tackles, two sacks, and has the most quarterback hurries (7) of any returning player. Holland came in ranked in the top10 defensive ends in the country by 247 Sports and ESPN and Scout rated him No. 1 among Florida players.
He was also rated a PrepStar top 175 basketball player. That quickness and athleticism on the round ball court should be a big plus in evading blockers. The success of the pass rush will lay heavy on his shoulders. If he can be anywhere near the disruptive force that Carl Lawson was … the Auburn defense should be in good shape in 2017.
For a detailed outlook of the 2017 defense, check out this week’s TET Podcast.