Gus Malzahn’s 2018 signing class was his lowest ranked class since being named head coach of the Auburn Tigers. At #12, it was the first time Malzahn had not had a class ranked in the top 10. It had the 2nd lowest point total of any Malzahn class (2017 is the lowest). Someone should let that group know they aren’t supposed to be making waves like this....
The truth is those numbers are a bit misleading. If you look a bit deeper you can see that last year’s signing class was in fact one of the deepest classes Auburn has signed in the past 6 years.
Only the 2015 class (arguably Malzahn’s best in terms of on field production) contained more 4*s. Only the 2016 class had a better average player ranking. So while this year’s incoming freshman class lacked top end talent (which is why the point total is lower and why it ended up just outside the top 10), it’s loaded top to bottom with blue chippers. Guys that recruiting analysts think can be durn good football players.
Turns out, they might be onto something.
One of the biggest storylines that’s emerged this fall is the impact this 2018 signing class is having. It started in the spring when the trio of blue chip defensive backs in Smoke Monday, Jamien Sherwood and Christian Tutt all impressed teammates and coaches alike.
“What really helped us is the three young freshmen in Tutt, Sherwood and Monday coming in and picking things up very quickly,” Steele said. “It allows us to really move the checkerboard around, if you will, almost — I don’t want to say daily, but each week we’ve kind of configured it a little different ways almost like we had an injury and move guys certain places, so we’ve got some depth created there.”
That praise has only continued this fall and from the looks of things, all three have worked their way to the #2 spots at their respective positions. But the 4th member of that bunch, Roger McCreary, didn’t get to campus until this summer. That hasn’t stopped him from making an impact either. Kevin Steele compared him to Noah Igbinoghene earlier this week. I don’t know if he has yet worked himself into the rotation but chances are good you will at least see him on special teams.
But this fall it’s been the wide receivers that have turned the most heads. Shedrick Jackson arrived early but was limited some in the spring with injuries. He’s back healthy this fall and has had some bright moments, including a 10 yard stop route in Thursday’s scrimmage. However, it’s the three new enrollees who have gotten the most praise.
Matthew Hill was Auburn’s 2nd highest rated prospect and a guy that looked likely to contribute early. Jarrett Stidham called him “saavy” after some nifty moves in Thursday’s scrimmage while Darius Slayton has been impressed with his route running.
“(Matthew Hill has) done really well; he’s a quick kid,” junior receiver Darius Slayton said. “I think he’ll really be able to help us. He gets in and out of his breaks well and he has good hands
With Eli Stove’s injury, it seemed clear that world class speedster Anthony Schwartz would be a likely candidate to fill that role. From the sound of things, he’s making a strong bid to do just that this fall. Slayton even had to admit that he could no longer claim to be the fastest man on offense anymore.
“It’s funny one because I’m not the fastest guy on offense anymore. They are really impressive to watch, to be honest, Anthony and Shaun,” Slayton said. “I think both of them have been really impressive the first three days.”
But the real surprise to me from this group has been Seth Williams. I was high on Williams coming out Paul Bryant High School in Cottondale, AL but I thought he would need some time to develop. He seemed to rely mostly on his athleticism in high school and I thought he might need a year or two to work on his technique before making an impact ala Marquis McClain. I am apparently very wrong.
Williams’s athleticism has impressed everyone including Gus Malzahn, Chip Lindsey and Jarrett Stidham. He’s been mentioned a few times as a dangerous red zone threat but has also displayed the ability to make fun things happen after the catch. On Thursday, he turned a slant (YES A SLANT BABY) into a 70-80 yard touchdown. Something he did a ton of in high school. I get the impression that Stidham REALLY likes his new toy at wideout.
“Seth (Williams) is obviously a big body; he can go up and get the ball,” Stidham said. “I don’t know what his vertical is, but he may have the highest leaping ability on the team. And Darius Slayton may get mad at me for saying that. (Williams) can flat-out make some impressive plays.”
Excitement around this freshman class is not limited to just those two position groups. Asa Martin is at worst the #3 tailback and will have a chance early this season to win the starting job. Shaun Shivers apparently surprised some people in this week’s scrimmage, showing that he’s more than just a speed back. Meanwhile, Zakoby McClain got a lot of love from Deshaun Davis recently and seems like a good candidate for “guy that obliterates return men” this fall. And then there’s Richard Jibunor who has apparently mastered two of the most important things on defense according to Kevin Steele: there’s only one ball and you should go chase it.
“He can run, and he knows there’s one football out there and he likes to practice,” Steele said. “So, if you’ve figured out that there’s only one ball out there, chase it and you could run, then you got a chance.”
Now obviously none of these kids have played a single collegiate snap just yet and right now everything’s hype. But considering the fact that Gus Malzahn is usually tight lipped with praise ESPECIALLY when it comes to freshmen, it’s hard not to get a wee bit excited about all this positivety coming out this fall.
Chances are good a few of these kids will recede into the background come fall due to the veteran talent ahead of them. I don’t think all four freshman wide receivers make a huge impact when you got guys like Darius Slayton, Ryan Davis and Nate Craig-Myers returning. But I do think you will see 1-2 of them earn a lot of meaningful snaps this fall. I feel pretty confident in saying that Monday, Sherwood and Tutt will be apart of the rotation at defensive back and I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone like Coynis Miller work his way into more meaningful playing time by season end.
No matter what happens moveing forward though it’s clear that this 2018 siging class has made their presence felt this fall. At a minimum, it should challenge Auburn’s veterans to raise their game or lose their spot. Ain’t nothing wrong with a little competition.