Auburn's 2016 recruiting class is mostly filled (there may be an addition like Stephen Davis Jr, we'll see), so now is a good time to talk about the Superlatives and Concerns of 2016 and what those may mean for the 2017 recruiting cycle.
Defensive Line and Wide-receivers.
Obviously. Dameyune Craig and Rodney Garner wound up in the Top 5 of recruiters nation-wide for their signing day (and pre-signing day) hauls. Auburn had the best defensive line class in the nation according to 247 Sports and one of the top wide receiver groups, as well. These are two positions where Auburn did very well.
Auburn snagged one of the top JUCO players at the position, someone who can play the Nick Marshall role immediately if he wins the job. They also picked up a talented high school freshman who can do much of the same. Woody Barrett isn't as fast as John Franklin III, but he's got time to grow into the position.
I know, you're probably questioning me for putting this as a superlative. However, Auburn got what they needed. Would the Tigers have liked one more tackle? Probably. They still signed two very good players, though, and the need wasn't as large given Texas transfer Darius James will be eligible this season. The biggest thing behind this is the recruiting job Herb Hand did to get Prince Sammons back down to Auburn for a visit for the first time in two years and then get him on board in just a few short weeks.
Auburn only signed one true linebacker in this class in Tre Threat. Paul James was listed as a linebacker, interestingly enough. There's also the chance someone like Stephen Davis Jr could play linebacker if/when he signs with the Tigers. Auburn lost three seniors at the position and only brought in one person to replace them.
There's only one running back in this class, but Auburn only lost one running back. It's not as large a concern to me as it is to some, but I do understand. Roc Thomas has been injury prone, Kerryon Johnson just had shoulder surgery, and that leaves Jovon Robinson as the workhorse. We're fine with that, of course. Malik Miller arrived in January, so he'll get a lot of reps at the position in the spring. He has a lot of potential to be another in the line of bruising running backs for Auburn.
Why Only One Linebacker and Running Back?
There are a number of possibilities. With Paul James listed as a Linebacker, that could answer some of the questions. The lack of LBs in this class isn't a matter of missing on a lot of prospects, though. Auburn just didn't really push for many. I think that's a product of being happy with what's on the team right now along with not wanting to use spots in this class when they can bring in some great ones next year.
That's the crux of it. This wasn't as talented a year group as some in the past and I think Auburn suspects there will be more talented players on the board next year. By not signing players just because they wanted to fill slots, the Tigers will have more positions available next year that they can count back to. I would guess we'll see at least 2-3 linebackers next year, and Auburn will push for them to be early enrollees if they can.
There's similar thinking behind the running back position. Auburn was happy with Malik Miller. The Tigers never appeared to push hard for any other backs after some of the big names were off the board. They're happy with what they have, confident in what they can get next class, and don't want to waste spots just to fill the class.
Final 2016 Class Thoughts
This is a perfect example of a team getting exactly what they needed. You always here that in Coach Speak, but I think it's the case with this class. Auburn still pursued some other big-name targets, but they never pushed for many lesser targets if they suspected they would miss on the home runs. The only example of this I can think of is Daniel Thomas, but I suspect he was brought in due to the Stephen Davis Jr situation just as much as missing out on Nigel Warrior.
Auburn could have offered a few more 3* OL and LBs. They didn't, though. They were happy with what's on the team right now, content with who they had in the 2016 class, and confident in being successful with that until next year. The fact that this still ended up as a Top 10 class shows just how good this staff is at recruiting.
What's The Focus in 2017?
I think this is obvious, and we've already discussed it. Linebackers and offensive linemen will be the keys in 2017. Auburn signed a stellar OL class in 2015 and will need to sign a few next year to maintain depth. 5* OT Calvin Ashley is already on board as a commit and an Auburn target just decommitted from Alabama this morning. There will be less focus on DBs and WRs given then number brought in the last two years. I suspect there will be some defensive linemen, too.
Alaric Williams is listed as an athlete and he's a little light to be an every-down back, so either he's going to need to put on some weight, or Auburn is going to need to bring in at least once more running back in the 2017 cycle. I suspect it will be the latter.