The best and worst thing about recruiting is that it never truly ends. This past National Signing Day signaled the end of the 2017 recruiting cycle and the beginning of the 2018 one. And the 2018 cycle is already humming along. I started working on this post earlier this week and since then 247 updated their rankings and one of our top targets committed elsewhere. So ya, no sleep for the weary when it comes to recruiting.
Things could look a little different in 2018 though. Like Walt mentioned last week, some new recruiting rules could be coming down the pipeline with the biggest of all being the December signing period. If that rule change passes, it will be interesting to see how that changes the the recruiting cycle. Early enrollees have already kind of given us a glimpse at what an early NSD would look like but it will be interesting to see how many top kids decide to hold out for February and how many decide to end the process early. It could make National Signing Day in February quite a lot tamer than in the past which again is both good and bad in my eyes.
In an attempt to not once again post a massive article, I have broken this preview into two posts with one focusing on offense and the other defense. Today we talk offense and what names have popped up early on the board. It's important to know that we are still very early in the 2018 cycle and many things will change. At this time last year I thought Markail Benton was a lock to AU, Jarrett Stidham hadn't fully popped onto the radar and Brandon Martin was considered our top WR target. So take all of this with a huge grain of salt but it should give at least a starting point for the new recruiting cycle. Also I am no talent scout or insider just a dude that loves following this stuff and is willing to ramble incessantly about it. I am also only mentioning guys I think Auburn has a legit chance at below but understand the board is much larger than what I mention here.
So with all that said, here's early an look at Auburn's 2018 offensive recruiting board.
The Tigers already have a stud QB committed for the 2018 class in 4* Joey Gatewood out of Jacksonville, FL. Gatewood is one of the more interesting prospects this cycle. Last season he played on a team with 3 quarterbacks that can play FBS football. Because Gatewood was the best athlete of the bunch, he ended up playing more RB and WR than QB at times last season. He was even a kick returner showing that the 6'4" 223 lb QB is an elite athlete. The question though is whether or not he is an elite QB. We should get a better idea of that this year as one of those QBs graduated making it a 2 man rotation this season. The other big question is whether Auburn can hang onto him or not. Gatewood was incredibly close with Rhett Lashlee and was not happy about him leaving. Since then he has received a slew of offers and I would list him as a soft commit at this point. Still he hasn't decommitted yet and is willing to give Chip Lindsey a shot. If those two click then Gatewood could end up being the focal point of this class. If not we might be in the market for another QB recruit.
Because Gatewood has been committed since December 5th, 2015, Auburn hasn't really spread a wide net for QBs because they haven't needed too. But a name to watch even if Gatewood sticks is 4* Gerry Bohanon. When this week started he had not been rated despite having offers from Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss and others. Now though he's considered the #245 player in the country in 247 composite and I expect he could rise further with a strong senior campaign. The Tigers are recruiting him as an "athlete" but I would guess that would include getting a shot at QB even if Gatewood signed as well. He's another big kid at 6'4" 215 lbs who does a lot of different things for his team playing QB, some RB and LB. His throwing motion looks a bit funky to me but he's accurate nonetheless and would be a monster on the inside veer. I suspect that if we were to lose Gatewood, Bohanon would be recruited only as a QB but hopefully we don't find out. FWIW he has said in the past that Auburn is his "dream school" so at least early on I think Auburn is a legitimate contender.
Every cycle Auburn tries to sign at least 2 quality backs. That shouldn't change in 2018 and there's a chance we go for 3 if we lose some guys to the NFL. The Tigers are off to a fast start in that department this cycle already landing the commitment of 5'7" 160 lbs 3* Shaun "Worm" Shivers. 5'7" might be a bit generous as he might be closer to 5'5". This kid has speed to burn posting a 10.49s time in the 100 meter. But he can also be physical and isn't afraid to run up the middle. His highlight film has plenty of runs where he turns a corner and is gone but also shows him navigating through traffic up the middle and busting long gains. You also have to think it will be hard for defenders to find him running behind our massive line ala Brian Calhoun for Wisconsin in the 2006 Capital One Bowl. Shivers has also transitioned from recruit to recruiter and is already working hard to convince other Florida talent to join him on the plains next season.
Shivers won't be the only back we take this year. The clear top guy the staff would love to land is 5* Lorenzo Lingard out of Orange City, FL. Lingard will be battling Dalvin Cook's little brother and Florida State commit 5* James Cook and super stud RB 5* Zamir White out of North Carolina for top RB honors in 2018. Unfortunately for Auburn, he committed to Miami yesterday though I suspect we will keep after him. Still it looks like a longshot for Auburn right now unless they can get him back on campus or something drastic changes at Miami this season.
Most of Auburn's remaining RB targets are actually instate. The top 2 guys on the list appear to be 4* Harold Joiner and 3* Tae Provens. Provens is the definition of quick. I wondered at first if on his highlight film the video has been sped up because it just seemed like he was getting past the defenses so quickly. He has solid size to go along with that quickness as well. Joiner on the other hand looks like he could grow into a future Pettway type back as he stands at 6'3" 215 lbs already. However, he could also be moved outside and play WR as well and is being recruited as an "athlete" much in the same way Alaric Williams was in this past cycle. I really like Joiner's film and I think the Mountain Brook back is going to blow up over this next recruiting cycle.
After a monster WR class in 2015, the 2016 group has some upside but not the same star power. It's understandable considering the fact that Auburn hasn't exactly been a high octane passing offense recently and we replaced the dynamic recruiter Dameyune Craig with a relatively unproven Kodi Burns. But there is a very good chance that all changes this cycle as the Tigers are sitting pretty for a number of outstanding WR targets. However, I think for Auburn to actually land a few of these guys they are going to need our passing offense to show some life. Do that and it could be another big haul for AU.
After a cycle that featured relatively few AU/Bama clashes on the recruiting trail (Markail Benton, Tadarrian Moultry, Austin Troxell, Kendall Randolph were really all there were) I think you will see quite a few this season. The big one though will be over the state's top player in 4* Justyn Ross. Ross is a big kid at 6'3" with outstanding speed and the ability to high point the ball. He's a guy that could contribute day 1 for any team that lands him. The Tigers are hoping it will be them but they will have to fight off the Tide. An unfortunate fact is Auburn has not signed the 247 composite #1 player in the state since Nick Saban landed at Alabama. This is probably their best shot but they will also have to be battling the fact that Ross is incredibly close with recent Alabama signee Markail Benton. The two both played at Central High School in Phenix City, AL and despite Auburn being considered the leader for Benton for almost 2 years, the Tide were able to waltz in and pluck him away last summer. Auburn has John Broussard who played with both a few years ago but it's clear that Benton and Ross are very good friends and will have a big influence on each other. We have seen this film before in Reuben Foster and Rashaan Evans. I say all that not because I don't think Auburn can land Ross but to give you an idea of how far from a lock Ross is despite what some want to report.
Ross isn't the only outstanding instate WR. 4* Seth Williams and 3* Shedrick Jackson are both guys Auburn really likes. Williams appears to be a heavy Bama lean (I mean he goes to Paul Bryant High School) but I am not sure how high he is on the Tide's board. He wanted to commit last month with many thinking he would land at Alabama but ended up cancelling. I have no inside information but reading the tea leaves I am guessing the Tide won't take his commit at this time. So when junior day rolled around he visited Auburn and from all indications had a good time. It will be interesting to see if Auburn can make up ground here. Jackson is the nephew of a somewhat rememberable former Auburn runningback and has visited AU numerous times already. He doesn't have an offer yet but the rising Hoover star will probably get one this summer if he performs well at camps. It sounds like he won't be scared of playing in Bo's shadow so if he does get an offer I like the Tigers' chances.
Finally looking outside the state two big names standout: 4* Jacob Copeland and 4* Matthew Hill. Copeland is clearly a top target for Kodi Burns who visited him twice during the contact period leading up to NSD. He's a guy that can take a bubble screen and go 60 yards in a flash. Copeland has incredible athleticism and speed. Hill on the other hand is a kid that is slowly coming around to Auburn. He wants to see us improve at the QB position but if we do that we become a real player in recruitment. Both of these kids appear to be very high on Auburn's want list. If Burns somehow could sign a class of Ross, Copeland and Jackson that would be a HUGE pull this cycle. Here's to hoping we can throw the ball with some success this year and convince a few of these kids to jump on board.
It appears Chip Lindsey plans on using the tight end more moving forward. His first move on the recruiting trail as OC was to pass on 3* FB Chase Lasater and instead sign 3* TE John Samuel Shenker. They also brought in 3* TE Kemari Averett the final weekend for evaluation but decided to pass. So I fully expect to see a TE in this class. At this point in time it's hard to tell who that will be though. The Tigers have offered exactly 4 tight ends according to 247 and two of them (4* Jeremy Ruckert and 4* Mustapha Muhammad) look like super longshots at this time. The more likely candidate that sits on top of the list is 4* Tyneil Hopper. Hopper plays at Roswell in GA where Auburn just signed Malik Willis from so there are some relationships there already. Hopper's recruitment has picked up recently with a flurry of offers including Auburn and Alabama. He's a decent sized kid at 6'3" 225 lbs and has the athleticism to be a multiple guy that Lindsey likes to use out of the TE position. I expect over the summer we see more H-Back/TE targets emerge.
Other Names to Watch: 3* Zach Sheffer
Herb Hand showed last recruiting class that Auburn will take quality over quantity when it comes the big hogs up front. The Tigers wanted to sign 4 OL in the 2017 class but after landing three high quality guys by August the Tigers never could find that 4th that either they wanted enough for that last spot or their target wanted to sign with Auburn. The goal once again will most likely be to sign at 4 OL with 3 starters graduating this year but I don't expect Auburn to reach on anyone they don't want either.
In a perfect world Auburn would land their top 2 targets on the OL in 5* OT Jackson Carman and 5* OG Jamaree Salyer but let me go ahead and make it clear that unless something seismic shifts in the cosmos that ain't happening. So where is Auburn looking? In the early going it looks pretty clear that the top instate OL 4* OG Marcus "Tank" Jenkins is very high on AU's board and the Tigers appear high on his as well. He has visited the Tigers the most and for the most recent junior day brought up some teammates and friends to check out the Plains as well. Besides having an outstanding nickname for an OL, Jenkins is a very physical man up front who could play tackle or guard. More than likely with his lack of height he will end up on the inside. He has some work to do in pass protection but he plays with an edge you have to love.
The Tigers are in the hunt for a number of interior OL targets not named Jenkins. 4* Trey Hill, 4* Jalil Irvin and NR Ed Montilus appear to be the names at the top of the list. Hill is the #2 OG in the country and a guy AU has a great shot at early this cycle. Georgia and Clemson appear to be the leaders but Auburn is very much in the hunt. He's the mauler that AU loves to recruit for their interior players and would be a guy that could push for early playing time. Irvin is a former Michigan commit who opened things up in August. He named a top 4 of Auburn, Tennessee, North Carolina and Michigan in the fall and visited AU twice during the season. More than likely he will make a few stops by Auburn this spring and summer as well. Finally there is Ed Montilus, who despite not being rated right now has offers from Auburn, Miami and Florida who also happen to be his top 3. He's a big kid whose stock I expect to rise over the coming months.
As for top tackle targets, Auburn is after quite a few guys but the three main names that keep popping up are 4* William Barnes, 4* Christian Armstrong, and NR John Campbell. Barnes is teammates with Montilus at Chandler Cox's old stomping ground Apopka High School in Apopka, FL. He has a top group of Auburn, Florida, North Carolina and Miami but the two claim they are a package deal. I wouldn't be shocked if that changed and at this point in time I like Auburn's chances more with Montilus than Barnes but plenty can change over the next cycle. Armstrong is a guy that is considered a heavy UGA lean but has made a few trips to AU. He visited for junior day two weekends ago and it sounds like he is giving us a legitimate look. Still Auburn needs to do some work if they are going to catch the Dawgs. The most interesting of this group though is John Campbell. He has not been rated but holds 20 offers that include Auburn, Miami and Tennessee. He's only 16 years old but is 6'5" 290 lbs and many coaches love his upside. He claims to have no leaders but if I were a betting man I think Auburn or Miami would be the landing place right now for the big kid. Definitely a battle to monitor moving forward.