Five Key Breakout Players for Auburn in 2019
K.J. Britt will be the new quarterback of the Auburn defense (photo: Julie Bennett/al.com)
It’s just five days till kickoff for the Auburn football team. As the Tigers inch closer to their opening date with Oregon, the hype has been building around Gus Malzahn’s seventh Auburn team.
As always the Tigers enter the season with unanswered questions, the biggest of which perhaps is the amount of success the Tigers can have against what many see as the toughest schedule in the nation? Can the defense be as good as the preseason hype? Can the offense return to the dominant machine it was in 2013–2014?
Many prognosticators expect the Tigers to rebound from last year’s disappointing 8–5 season in a big way. But for Auburn to get back to championship level football, it will need some players to turn in all-conference breakout performances in 2019.
Here are five players (two on defense and three on offense) that are set to have breakout seasons heading into 2019.
There’s been much written this summer about an Auburn defense that is loaded with talent. Gus Malzahn has been quoted as saying this squad may be the best he’s ever had during his tenure on the Plains.
However, most of that hype has been due to a defensive line all members of which may all NFL in their futures. Yet, one area of concern is at linebacker where the Tigers lost all of their starting linebackers from 2018.
The most critical replacement will be at the middle linebacker spot. He’s the guy that is the field general for the defense, a sort of defensive quarterback. Auburn had a great one the last couple of years in Deshaun Davis.
K.J. Britt will be called on to replace him. The 6′ 0″, 236 pound linebacker is known as a physical player. He had 23 tackles last season as a backup. Now that it’s his time, that number should skyrocket.
Britt is a physical player, but being physical is not enough for the position seen as the quarterback of the defense. That position requires a player to also be football savvy and a leader. Linebacker coach Travis Williams said K.J. will be a player that will be remembered for years to come. “He is a natural born linebacker and a natural born leader,” said Williams.
And Williams knows something about leadership. He was the leader of the 2004 undefeated defense. And when coach T-Will says that K.J. will be a name that fans will remember, you can take it to the bank: K.J. Britt will have a breakout year in 2019.
See the rest of the list after the jump:
Speaking about the hailed defensive line, there is one concern heading into the season. Who will replace Dontavius Russell, now playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars? It looks like Tyrone Truesdell has won the spot after a tight position battle during fall camp. The former 4-star looks to have beat out Coynis Miller and Daquan Newkirk,
He’s certainly proven he’s capable the last two years. As a backup he played in 21 games, recording a fumble recovery, a deflected pass and tallying fourteen tackles. Playing alongside Derrick Brown should help his numbers increase drastically this season.
Truesdell has the potential to be a run-stuffing defensive lineman. His large size (6′ 2″, 310 pounds) in the middle of the line could help him to take on double teams, which should open things up for Brown and the rest of the line.
Coming out of high school Tyrone was ranked ranked among the top 40 prospects at his position by 247 Sports, ESPN, and Rivals. And after waiting in the wings, this could be his time. His mentor Dontavius Russell thinks his protégé will have a breakout year in 2019, and so do we.
There is a virtual logjam of talent in Auburn’s backfield. Although the starter appears to be Boobee Whitlow, there is one player who should get a lot of touches in 2019. At 5′ 7″, 180 pounds, Shaun Shivers may not look the part, but he’s proven his mettle.
Shivers rushed for over 6,000 yards during his high school career and averaged 5.3 yards a carry in limited action as an Auburn freshman. He ran for 371 yards and scored three touchdowns in his first collegiate season. A track star for the Tigers, he has blazing speed and could be used a lot as a sweep guy much like Onterio McCalebb was in 2010.
According to his position coach Carnell Williams, he has more than speed, he has great running instincts. “I am talking about instincts, instincts,” Williams said of the diminutive back. “I am excited to see what he brings.”
Still speed is his main attribute. And Williams also said “You can’t coach speed and [Shaun] has a lot of it … I am looking forward to seeing him in some open fields running away from guys.” And we are too, coach!
Jay Jay Wilson
Jay Jay Wilson transferred form Arizona Sate to play his final year of eligibility for Auburn. He is an athletic marvel, having played four positions for the Sun Devils over a four-year period. His versatility saw him score touchdowns both as tight end and as a linebacker while in Tempe.
At 6′ 3″, 249 pounds, he has the size to play H-back. Yet, he may be the best receiver out of the backfield, which could add another dimension to the offense’s arsenal. In limited time at tight end, he caught five passes for 97 yards and three touchdowns at ASU. And during high school, he caught 165 passes compiling 2,538 yards and scoring 19 touchdowns. He also knows how to run the ball effectively, having scored 18 touchdowns on 714 yards rushing at Valencia High in California.
Wilson impressed coaches and players alike during fall camp. The Tigers’ expected No. 1 running back, JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow, said he likes Jay Jay’s ability. “That boy is a dog,” said Whitlow. “When he steps on the field—he just turns the lights on. It’s on from there.”
All of Gus Malzahn’s best teams have had a great blocking back. Jay Jay Wilson could be the next one.
The last name on the list is no surprise. After a preseason quarterback battle with 4-star recruit Joey Gatewood, Bo Nix was named the starter.
He certainly has the résumé to suggest a successful collegiate career. The son of an Auburn quarterback legend and a 5-star recruit who won back-to back state titles and was named “Mr. Alabama Football,” Nix threw for over 12,505 yards in his high school career. He finished with 127 touchdowns and 34 rushing scores—all State records.
With an experienced offensive line and a solid wide-receiver corps that includes veterans Seth Williams, Sal Cannella, Eli Stove, and Will Hastings, the potential is there for him to have a breakout year. By all accounts he is ready for the challenge.
If Bo can live up to the billing, the Tigers should have a good season. All eyes will be on him this Saturday in Dallas when the Tigers face No. 13 Oregon. We’re pulling for him.