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Reviewing Auburn’s 2019 Signing Class

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It wasn’t perfect at times but once again Gus Malzahn is bringing another talented bunch to the Plains.

Owen Pappoe’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/opfreak15/status/1023353055851540481

Another signing day in the books and it was a mixed bag for the Tigers. The day started with a road bump when Auburn missed on 3* DT LeDarrius Cox. It became a car crash when 5* WR George Pickens flipped his two year pledge to Georgia. But Auburn rallied, landing three straight important commitments in 4* DL Charles Moore, 4* RB Mark Antony-Richards and 3* OG Kamaar Bell. The Tigers missed on ANOTHER offensive tackle target in Ira Henry but finished the day on a high note with 3* LB Octavius Brothers.

As for the class as a whole, it’s still arguably one of the best in Malzahn’s tenure. It’s a little more top heavy than last years though not as loaded with 4* talent. However, Auburn did a good job of addressing most of their needs (sans that whole offensive tackle thing). Here’s a quick rundown of how it stacks up to previous Malzahn classes.

Finishing 6th in the SEC isn’t exactly exciting but Auburn actually finished 3rd amongst SEC programs in player average. They just didn’t get the volume needed to land back in the top 10.

But there’s also a feeling that it could have been so much more. Two recruitments would have vaulted this class from just outside the top 10 to the 3rd ranked class in the nation. Auburn held onto Pickens for 500+ days before he bizarrely flipped to the Dawgs. Auburn at one point was the favorite to land 5* OT Wanya Morris but lost out last summer to Tennessee. Win those two battles and the Tigers have the 3rd ranked class in the country. So while this is absolutely a strong class, I can’t help but wonder “what if”.

Still, this is a class to be excited about and I think has a number of early impact players. Here’s a position by position breakdown on who signed and what they might bring to the program over the next 3-4 years.

Quarterback

It was a down year for quarterbacks in the 2019 class. If your program was in search for an early impact player at the position then the options were pretty durn slim and chances are you didn’t find anyone that will be ready to play next year.

Unless you’re Auburn.

Bo Nix was one of really two truly elite quarterbacks in this class with the other being Oklahoma signee Spencer Rattler. Nix was Auburn’s second commit this past cycle and one of the leader’s of this signing class. On the field, he lead his Pinson Valley squad to a 2nd straight state title, captured the Rivals 5* Challenge MVP Award and finished 2nd at the Elite 11. Dude’s good.

Nix has the wheels to be effective on the ground but excels as a passer. He’s at his best it seems when everything breaks down around him. There isn’t a throw on the field he can’t make and being the son of former Auburn QB turned current Pinson Valley head coach Pat Nix, Bo has a deep understanding of the game that allows him to process what’s happening at a fast pace. I don’t know if he will win the QB battle this offseason but I do know he will raise the bar for what it takes to be the starting QB for the Tigers in 2019.

Running Back

Auburn has had two of their past three seasons derailed due to a lack of depth at the RB spot. That shouldn’t be a problem in 2019. Between what Auburn signed in last year’s class (even including Asa Martin’s transfer) and what they are bringing in this class, the Tigers have a ton of talent in that room for new RB coach Cadillac Williams to work with this season.

Richards was one of the biggest prizes of the day. Younger brother of former Miami standout WR Ahmmon Richards, he elected to pave his own way and leave the Sunshine State for the Plains. You will hear plenty of comparisons to Kerryon Johnson during his career due to his patient running style, defender crunching stiff arms and fondness for the #21. He can do a little of everything so don’t be surprised if Auburn gets him involved as a true freshman in a number of different ways.

Then there’s DJ Williams, whose wild recruitment ended in joy for Gus Malzahn in December. Williams blew up in late December and it’s hard not to get excited watching his tape. He’s a powerful back that refuses to go down on first contact. The Tigers have had some concerns with some recent RB signees about their ability to handle a 20-30 carry load in the SEC. That won’t be the case for Williams.

Wide Receiver

It’s hard not to think what could be if he 5* WR George Pickens had stuck to his pledge. But wide receiver might be second only to the defensive line in terms of the amount of talent stockpiled at that position.

Jashawn Sheffield was a key early signee for the Tigers. He spurned South Carolina’s advances and given what later happened with Pickens, that was big for Auburn to get him to sign early. Sheffield could flip over to defense and play safety if needed but looks likely to stick at WR for now. He had a strong showing in Orlando, FL earlier this year at the Under Armour All-America Game which subsided some of my concerns about his ability to compete against top talent due to the fact he played against weak competition over his high school career. He’s a long athlete with some good speed and the ability to make things happen after the catch.

While Pickens was undoubtedly the most talented wide receiver in the state of Alabama this past class, no one was as productive as Ja’Varrius Johnson. His summer commitment came out of nowhere and left a lot of Auburn fans scratching their heads wondering why Auburn might take someone of his low rating that early in the process. His senior year quickly showed why. While diminutive, Johnson is as explosive an athlete as I have seen this cycle and has a chance to see the field early. I would find a way to get the ball into this kid’s hands a few times each week because there’s a chance it goes the distance every time he touches it.

Tight End

Auburn fans’ favorite position is coming back in style this class. The Tigers made tight end a priority early this cycle and struck big on two of their top targets.

Tyler Fromm happens to be the younger brother of Jake Fromm. Get ready to hear that factoid every time Auburn plays Georgia over the next four years. But Tyler is much bigger and athletic than Jake. He’s similarish to CJ Uzomah in that he can line up all over the field for the Tigers. He battled a shoulder injury most of his senior year so his numbers aren’t flashy but his skillset should help him find his way onto the field relatively quickly.

I’m a huge Luke Deal fan. Unfortunately, the South Carolina native tore his ACL during his first practice and will miss all of spring ball. I think there’s a good chance he would have challenged for a starting role at the 3-back spot. Why? He’s already a very talented blocker who can handle both DEs or scraping linebackers. He’s also a weapon in the passing game with his massive frame and strong hands. I’m really high on Deal’s future with the Tigers.

Offensive Line

I wouldn’t call this OL class a complete success but it’s not a failure either. Auburn struck out on basically every OT target this past cycle which is even more painful when you realize how deep this cycle was at that position in the southeast. But Auburn did land three talented prospects at this spot including holding off FSU for Bell on signing day.

Keiondre Jones was an immediate priority for JB Grimes and it’s easy to see why. Jones is actually ranked as the nation’s top guard by ESPN and excelled in Orlando at the Under Armour All-America Game. Weight has been a problem at times for him, ballooning up to north of 340 this summer. But when he’s got his weight down he becomes a lot lighter on his feet and a terror up front. I suspect Jones will challenge for playing time in 2020.

One of the more intriguing signees was Justin Osborne. He transferred to IMG last summer but never played a down and instead returned home to Flower Mound, TX. As a result, there wasn’t a ton of senior film available on him. However, the limited tape I’ve seen has me excited. He has a long frame, light feet and a great motor. Auburn will start him out at OT though he could slide inside if needed. It will be interesting to watch him develop over the coming seasons.

Finally, there’s Auburn’s NSD prize. Kamaar Bell became a must sign for the Tigers after they missed on William Putnam and Clay Webb in December. Bell is a big man at 6’3” 325 lbs and like Jones will need to keep an eye on his weight while on the Plains. Also like Jones, he’s a mauler who will push Auburn’s returning veterans in 2020 for snaps. It sounds like Auburn wants to start him out at center but he could slide to guard if needed.

Defensive Line

No coach is as consistent as Rodney Garner. You know each year he’s going to field a talented, disciplined defensive line and he’s going to sign a solid class. This year’s class was especially talented and interestingly 75% from Mississippi. That state was LOADED with elite defensive lineman and Auburn really capitalized, helped by Marcus Woodson’s connections in the Magnolia State.

Moore was one of the biggest signing day wins for the Tigers. Unfortunately, his decision came after the Pickens news so I don’t think it was met with the fervor it probably should have been given his ability. The big man reminds me a lot of Marlon Davidson coming out of high school and could work his way into the rotation this fall. He fits that mold that Garner covets of long framed kids who can play all the way from a 0 technique to a 9.

His partner in crime up front for the foreseeable future will be Jaren Handy who is properly nicknamed “Stone”. Of all of Auburn’s talented DL signees, Handy probably has the highest upside. He could be a Derrick Brown type of dominant in the interior but he’s going to have to learn how to use that massive frame to his advantage. With Brown and Davidson’s return, Handy will have the time to learn the position before being called on for serious action. I think when that time comes he will become one of Auburn’s most heralded defensive prospects.

Probably the rawest prospect of this bunch is Derick Hall. He’s a freak athlete that some wanted as a stand up linebacker. Auburn sees future pass rushing terror and it’s easy to see why. With long arms, flexible hips and a quick twitch, Hall has a chance to morph into a terror off the edge. But he’s going to need time to do so and I don’t expect him to be an early impact player. Good thing is Auburn is so deep at Buck they won’t need him to be.

Finally, there’s probably the most SEC ready prospect in Colby Wooden. Wooden was recruited by everyone in the southeast but had a final two of Auburn and Clemson. Two schools who are dang good at finding DL talent. Wooden could play Buck or SDE for the Tigers and it will be interesting to see how Auburn uses him. If I had to pick one guy from this group to see meaningful snaps as a true freshman Wooden would actually be my pick. He’s an early enrollee so he will get that chance.

Linebacker

This is an odd linebacker class. You have the best linebacker in the country with two prospects ranked outside the top 800. But I’ve come to trust Travis Williams’s wisdom and spending just a little time watching these dudes play you can quickly see why he’s excited about this bunch.

I will be stunned if Owen Pappoe isn’t playing a ton of snaps for Auburn out the gate. He’s the most athletic defensive prospect in the 2019 class and gives Auburn a kid who can really play sideline to sideline. KJ Britt, Chandler Wooten and Zakoby McClain are the early favorites for next year’s rotation but I fully expect Pappoe to join that bunch by the end of spring. He’s got a chance to be a special player.

I love watching OC play football. Brothers was once a UCF commit who backed off that pledge once Auburn and others came calling the fall. I’ve said before he reminds me of Jamien Sherwood in his ability to affect a game in so many different ways. He’s an outstanding athlete who once given time to better learn the position should develop into a talented middle linebacker for the Tigers.

Kameron Brown ain’t afraid to hit people. He’s the thumper of this bunch and inside the tackles is his domain. The big question for him is whether he can make plays outside of the box, something linebackers MUST do in this modern age of football. If he can’t, he might end up at fullback for Auburn which I don’t think would be terrible. But T-WILL will give him his chance on defense first and you can bet he will show up ready to play.

Defensive Back

Auburn’s DB recruiting has stepped up a notch these last two cycles. After signing a loaded DB class in 2018, one that contributed big time as true freshman, Auburn is following it up with an equally talented group. Don’t be surprised if once again the Tigers are leaning on true freshman in the secondary.

Zion Puckett, in my opinion, is the 3rd best player in Auburn’s class. If asked to stack rank all of Auburn’s signees it would go Bo Nix, Owen Pappoe, Zion Puckett. He’s a long, quick athlete who excels in the open field as a tackler and thrives when the ball is in the air. He could play any position in the secondary though I think his future is at corner. I think he will be a 3 & out type of talent for the Tigers.

Auburn journeyed up to Virginia this cycle and came back with a big time athlete. Cam’Ron Kelly was a dominant QB for his Oscar Smith squad but his future is on the defensive end for the Tigers. Auburn likes him at cornerback though I think he will make a beast at the nickel spot. Kelly is a big kid with elite closing speed and the physicality to deliver blows to ball carriers. Given his experience as a QB, he also is a heady player who can quickly decipher what the offense is trying to do and attack.

Another former QB turned full time DB is Jaylin Simpson. Once destined for Florida State with his high school teammate Jashawn Sheffield, Auburn capitalized on the opportunity that arose upon Jimbo Fisher’s departure. Simpson spent most of his time as Frederica Academy’s quarterback but will now transition to DB full time. He’s insanely quick but will probably need a year to put muscle on so he can physically play against SEC competition.

Finally, there’s Nehemiah Pritchett. Arguably the fastest prospect in this class, he dazzled Auburn’s coaching staff with sub 4.4s at a camp over the summer. That lead to an offer and an eventual commitment. Listed at 6’0”, Pritchett might have one of the longer wingspans of this group making him tough to handle in press coverage. I’m not sure if he has the hips to play CB at the next level but he could easily transition to safety or nickel if needed.

War Eagle!