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2019 Position Preview: Defensive Backs

Only the offensive line rivals the secondary in terms of number of returning starters.

Auburn v Washington Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

A lot of talk this offseason has been on the QB race, development of the offensive line and the return of the three headed beast on the defensive line. But there’s an overlooked unit on this Auburn team that could become a strength by season end - the secondary.

Departures

  • Jamel Dean (2nd Round Pick) - 30 tackles (22 solo) 2.0 TFL sack 2 INT 9 PD FR
  • Cam’Ron Kelly - 2019 signee that transferred to UNC due to family issues

Returners

  • Jeremiah Dinson (rSenior) - 64 tackles (31 solo) 4.0 TFL sack 2 INT 3 PD FF
  • Javaris Davis (rSenior) - 41 tackles (36 solo) 3.0 TFL sack 2 INT 8 PD
  • Daniel Thomas (Senior) - 74 tackles (48 solo) 2.0 TFL 2 INT TD 3 PD FF 2 FR
  • Noah Igbinoghene (Junior) - 50 tackles (39 solo) 1.5 TFL INT 11 PD FF
  • Jordyn Peters (Junior) - 24 tackles (12 solo) 3.5 TFL sack PD FR
  • Devan Barrett (Junior) - 3 tackles (3 solo)
  • Traivon Leonard (Junior) - N/A
  • Malcolm Askew (rSophomore) - N/A
  • Christian Tutt (Sophomore) - 25 tackles (17 solo) TFL sack INT
  • Jamien Sherwood (Sophomore) - 22 tackles (12 solo) 1.5 TFL 1.5 sacks INT 2 PD
  • Smoke Monday (Sophomore) - 15 tackles (7 solo) 2.0 TFL 2.0 sacks INT
  • Roger McCreary (Sophomore) - 5 tackles (2 solo) PD

Newcomers

Strength - Experience

Yes, I know I am using the same strength as yesterday but it’s true for both. For the 2nd straight season Auburn lost a starting cornerback to the 2nd round of the NFL Draft (a good problem Auburn is starting to consistently have). But unlike last season, Auburn literally returns everyone else. Javaris Davis, Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson all decided to return giving Auburn four returning starters in the backend. Even better, Auburn returns every reserve plus adding three talented freshman. That’s absolutely huge as Bill Connelly found last year, the highest correlation between returning production and improved performance comes from the secondary.

Weakness - Explosive Plays

Auburn’s defense last season finished ranked #14 in defense according S&P+. They were outstanding in a number of areas but there was one glaring weakness to this defensive unit - their propensity to give up explosive plays. Auburn finished 97th in defensive IsoPPP which measures ability to limit big plays. A big piece of that was in the secondary which really reared its ugly head in Auburn’s losses last season. Tennessee’s offensive success often came on 3rd and long when a wideout would win a 50/50 ball. Georgia drove a dagger late in the first half with a long TD that Auburn never quite recovered from while the Tide shredded Auburn’s secondary in the 2nd half. If Auburn’s defense wants to be dominant in 2019, they must do a better job getting off the field on 3rd down which means they need this experienced secondary to make some big plays in big moments.

Prediction

For the 3rd straight season, Auburn will have a 2nd round draft pick out of its secondary. Between Javaris Davis and Noah Igbinoghene, the Tigers have two very talented cover corners with the potential to have huge years in 2019. Iggy had a phenomenal debut on the defensive side of the ball and with another offseason to fully work on his craft, I expect a few of those pass deflections to become interceptions this season.

What I am interested to see is who emerges as the #4 cornerback in the rotation next season. Davis and Iggy are locked in as starters with McCreary most likely the first man in. Can Devan Barrett join Iggy in making the transition from reserve offensive skill player to SEC corner? The answer to that question might not matter a ton in 2019 but could be vitally important in 2020.

War Eagle!