Auburn headed into 2020 with some serious momentum. Coming off a huge win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl and a fantastic close to the Early Signing Period, Gus Malzahn’s squad looked poised to win 10 games for the 2nd time in 3 years and head into the offseason with an excited fanbase.
As has become routine under Malzahn, a tremendous high was followed with a tremendous low as the Tigers got absolutely thumped by a less talented Minnesota squad. So for the 5th time in 7 years, Auburn finishes their season with a loss. Lovely...
So what’s the best way to move past a frustrating ending to a promising season? Well, dream about next year of course! Just like last year, I am going to attempt to take various passes at the current state of the depth chart. For fun, you should read my first take following the Music City Bowl last season. A lot changes huh?
I fully expect some names listed below to find themselves in the transfer portal by next season (that’s just the world we live in now) and for some new names to join by the start of spring practice (late signees and transfers). But this is what we have to work with for now so I took my best shot.
I should note, I am going to approach these as “right now” depth charts which is why the majority of the 2020 signing class is listed at the bottom of their respective position groups. Hard to name someone a starter when they haven’t even practiced as an Auburn Tiger just yet. Also, I am only listing signees. I thankfully took the same approach last year which allowed me to avoid making any embarrassing projections with a certain hothead wide receiver...
Anyway, here’s my first pass at the 2020 depth chart.
- #10 Bo Nix | 6’2” | 207 lbs | Sophomore
- #24 Cord Sandberg | 6’3” | 229 lbs | rSophomore
- Chayil Garnett | 6’1” | 211 lbs | Freshman
There will be no #DECISION2020 this offseason (sorry Kotov) as the Tigers return their QB1 from last year. Bo Nix had a solid showing as a true freshman but will need to make some major strides if Auburn’s offense wants to start consistently scoring again against good defenses. Much of 2019, Nix was asked more to not lose the game than necessarily go out and win them. Yes he attempted quite a few passes in some big time contests but that 6.7 yards per attempt number tells you it was a lot of dinking and dunking, not stretching the field vertically. That will need to change next season. Luckily, Nix will be working with a proven QB developer in Chad Morris this offseason. If the Tigers are going to compete for championships next year, they will need Bo Nix to be a playmaker in 2020.
Finding a backup quarterback Auburn feels good about will be vital as well. Gus Malzahn was reluctant to run Nix after Joey Gatewood’s departure. Nix’s legs are too valuable to not be used. For him to be a factor in the run game, Auburn’s staff will need to feel like they can at least survive with their #2 quarterback. That will be a battle between Cord Sandberg and true freshman Chayil Garnett. Very interested to see how they do this spring.
Running Back (4)
- #28 JaTarvious Whitlow | 6’0” | 210 lbs | rJunior --OR--
- #3 D.J. Williams | 5’10” | 216 lbs | Sophomore
- #8 Shaun Shivers | 5’7” | 179 lbs | Junior
- #22 Harold Joiner | 6’4” | 215 lbs | rSophomore
- #21 Mark Antony-Richards | 6’1” | 195 lbs | rFreshman
- Tank Bigsby | 6’0” | 206 lbs | Freshman
I got a sneaky suspicion you won’t see all these names come August. That’s a lot of mouths to feed and only one football to go around. But this is a good problem to have. Auburn heads into spring ball with as talented and as deep a running back room as I can remember in some time. Now it’s about figuring out to get the most out of all this talent.
Boobee Whitlow is as infuriating a running back as Auburn has had in some time. He’s also been the best they’ve got at that position over the last 2 seasons. DJ Williams showed some promise, most notably against LSU but it was Boobee who often stepped up when Auburn needed a playmaker most this past year (Oregon, Texas A&M, Alabama). However, fumbles, injuries and inconsistency make it hard to be too in love with the Lafayette native. He heads into spring likely the top guy but he has plenty of competition nipping at his heels.
Shaun Shivers and Harold Joiner saw action this past season but in frustrating ways. When Shivers was in the game, you knew Auburn was going to run the ball outside. When Joiner entered, it was likely a pass. Both have unique skillsets that Auburn can use to score points but it will involve Malzahn being willing to let them run more than just a handful of plays when they enter the game.
The real wildcards though are at the bottom of the list. Richards is a former top 100 recruit who has drawn comparisons to Kerryon Johnson. Tank is a 5* who Gus Malzahn called a “one play drive” type of back. Both have the look of future stars for the Tigers. The question is are they ready now? Bigsby will be on campus early so both he and Richards will have a chance to prove they are this spring. Don’t be surprised if a name or two above them decides to bolt following spring ball when they see the writing on the wall.
- #47 John Samuel Shenker | 6’3” | 248 lbs | rJunior --OR--
- #32 Malik Miller | 5’11” | 235 lbs | rSenior
- #86 Luke Deal | 6’6” | 251 lbs | rFreshman
- JJ Pegues | 6’2” | 298 lbs | Freshman
The 3 back position has undergone a major makeover the last three seasons. Ever since Chip Lindsey’s arrival in 2017, Auburn has begun to use more players with tight end skillsets at the 3-back spot than traditional fullbacks. However, they have yet to find someone they trust to do everything at this position. In 2019, Auburn rotated three players at the 3 (Spencer Nigh, Jay Jay Wilson and John Samuel Shenker) which often tipped what type of play was coming. Nigh’s entrance typically meant run or at least he would be kept in for pass protection while Wilson was often in on pass plays. That must change in 2020 and I am optimistic it will with Morris’s arrival. He made the switch to true 11 personnel over Malzahn’s former preference of 20 when Morris took over at Clemson (Jordan Leggett comes to mind). My guess is Shenker will greatly benefit from Morris’s influence.
I should note, I moved Miller to this spot instead of listing him at running back. Miller is Auburn’s blocking specialist in the backfield and if he decides to stick around for a final season, it wouldn’t shock me if he filled Spencer Nigh’s role next year. That though could also mean Auburn finds themselves in a situation where once again the player in at the 3-back tells the defense the likelihood of what play might come next. Let’s hope someone emerges this spring who can do a bit of everything at this spot.
Wide Receiver (9/Split End)
- #18 Seth Williams | 6’3” | 224 lbs | Junior
- #19 Matthew Hill | 6’1” | 190 lbs | rSophomore
- #14 Zach Farrar | 6’4” | 210 lbs | rSenior
- JJ Evans | 6’2” | 192 lbs | Freshman
Seth Williams was Auburn’s most explosive weapon in 2019 snagging 59 passes for 830 yards and 8 touchdowns. It was the most receiving yards by an Auburn wide receiver since Sammie Coates torched defenses back in 2013. He will head into next season as Auburn’s top offensive playmaker and possibly some NFL buzz.
Behind him it will be interesting. I moved Matthew Hill to this spot even though he’s seen most of his time at the 2. If either or both Eli Stove and Anthony Schwartz are gone, Hill would likely slot back in at the flanker position. Either way, I think it’s past time he found his way onto the field. The former top 100 recruit didn’t get a ton of offensive chances in 2019 but more than made up for it with his effort on special teams. That stuff doesn’t go unnoticed and if Hill can put together a strong spring I would expect him to play a bigger role in Auburn’s offense next season.
Wide Receiver (5/Big Slot)
- #11 Shedrick Jackson | 6’0” | 190 lbs | Junior
- #85 Tyler Fromm | 6’5” | 218 lbs | rFreshman
- Ze’Vian Capers | 6’4” | 192 lbs | Freshman --OR--
- Elijah Canion | 6’4” | 201 lbs | Freshman
By the end of the year, Jackson had usurped Sal Cannella at the 5 spot in Malzahn’s offense. Jackson has found his way onto the field due to his outstanding ability to run block on the edge. I still think he can be a weapon in the passing game but given the talent around him not sure he will be asked to do more than what he’s done so far.
While Fromm is listed as a tight end, I expect his role to be same as Cannella moving forward. He’s a fantastic athlete with great hands and could be someone poised to see more playing time next fall.
Keep an eye on both of these freshman wide receivers. It would not stun me if either found their way into the rotation next season.
Wide Receiver (2/Flanker)
- #12 Eli Stove | 6’0” | 188 lbs | rSenior --OR--
- #5 Anthony Schwartz | 6’0” | 179 lbs | Junior
- #6 Ja’Varrius Johnson | 5’9” | 163 lbs | rFreshman --OR--
- #16 Jashawn Sheffield | 6’1” | 183 lbs | rFreshman
- Kobe Hudson | 6’0” | 185 lbs | Freshman
Eli Stove and Anthony Schwartz have both flashed big play ability but the consistency hasn’t been there due to injuries and general offensive struggles. Schwartz might not even be back next year if he decides to pursue track full time. I am also curious to see if Stove thinks about using a grad transfer to go to a more pass oriented offense (that’s pure speculation on my part). It would be big for Auburn to get both back healthy next year.
Kobe Hudson came to campus the same day he signed. He was Auburn’s longest committed signee in the 2020 class. He was a big time playmaker at QB in the state of Georgia the last two seasons. What I am trying to say is this is a kid Gus Malzahn loves and will see action next season. Whether that’s on offense or special teams, we will see but I will be stunned if Hudson isn’t apart of the rotation in 2020.
- #68 Austin Troxell | 6’6” | 310 lbs | rJunior
- #65 Alec Jackson | 6’5” | 304 lbs | rJunior
- Kilian Zierer | 6’7” | 284 lbs | Junior --OR--
- Brenden Coffey | 6’6” | 264 lbs | Junior
Auburn’s offensive line has struggled the past two seasons to get consistent movement up front against good competition. However, most of those struggles have come on the right side of the line. Prince Tega Wanogho developed into one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC and will likely hear his name called early in the NFL Draft. He leaves a big hole to fill especially considering the lack of prep offensive tackle signed in the last few recruiting classes.
On paper, Austin Troxell makes a ton of sense. The former top 200 player will bring some much needed toughness and physicality to this unit. But three major knee injuries in five years makes it hard to feel all the comfortable with the Madison, AL native being the blindside protector the next 2 seasons. If he can stay healthy, he will likely start somewhere on the line.
If healthy, I would probably have listed Kilian Zierer as the #2 option behind Troxell heading into spring. But he’s recovering from an ACL injury and won’t be able to participate until the fall. Coffey won’t be on the Plains until the summer. Both will have a chance to compete for the starting job but given the fact they won’t be able to battle for it in the spring, it will be tough for either to win the job by the season opener.
- #56 Tashawn Manning | 6’3” | 326 lbs | rJunior
- #62 Kameron Stutts | 6’4” | 320 lbs | rSophomore
Like Wanogho, Harrell was a solid starter for the Tigers the last 2 seasons. There’s a chance he gets drafted late but I fully expect him to at least get a shot at making an NFL squad this offseason. Unlike offensive tackle though Auburn has a plethora of replacement options in the interior.
When Auburn reached garbage time in 2019, Tashawn Manning entered the game at left guard. That makes it easy to pencil him in as the early leader to replace Harrell in 2020. But I expect Auburn to move folks around a bunch this spring so don’t be surprised if a different name emerges down the road.
- #52 Nick Brahms | 6’3” | 301 lbs | rJunior
- #79 Kamaar Bell | 6’2” | 320 lbs | rFreshman
- Avery Jernigan | 6’3” | 306 lbs | Freshman
The only position that looks set heading into next season is center. Brahms unseated Kaleb Kim once again in 2019 and will be Auburn’s most experienced starter in 2020. Now fully recovered from a nasty leg injury, Brahms should have a chance to take the next step this spring and hopefully give Auburn a more physical presence in the center of its line.
Behind him are two guys I really like. Bell was the last 2019 signee to make it to campus so not a complete surprise he didn’t see any action this past year. He’s a physical kid that needed at least a year to rework his body. Jernigan is already on campus and will battle for the #2 spot this spring. Both are also capable of sliding to either guard position if necessary.
- #50 Jalil Irvin | 6’2” | 299 lbs | rSophomore --OR--
- #58 Keiondre Jones | 6’3” | 325 lbs | rFreshman
- Tate Johnson | 6’3” | 325 lbs | Freshman
The biggest weakness of this offensive line the past 2 seasons has been at right guard. The combo of Kim and Horton struggled mightily to get consistent push against not only elite competition but against the likes of Tulane as well. For Gus Malzahn’s offense to succeed, it has to be able to run the ball consistently between the tackles, something it has not been able to do the past two years.
The good news is two very solid options exist to replace Horton. Jalil Irvin started against Samford when Horton was held out due to injury and acquitted himself well. Keiondre Jones generated a lot of buzz in fall practice until a concussion sidelined him and again earned some praise in bowl practice. Either of these guys could flip to left guard or center as well if needed.
- #59 Brodarious Hamm | 6’5” | 312 lbs | rJunior
- #72 Prince Michael Sammons | 6’7” | 307 lbs | rSenior
- #51 Justin Osborne | 6’4” | 280 lbs | rFreshman
- Jeremiah Wright | 6’5” | 340 lbs | Freshman
For going on two years now, there have been consistent reports that both defensive coaches and players have been incredibly impressed with Brodarious Hamm. Some so much so they have wondered why he wasn’t already a starter. We will likely finally get to see what the hype is about in 2020.
Hamm started his career in the interior so if Auburn were to have a few of these JUCO players emerge or say sign a 5* talent who could step in immediately and play, Hamm could move inside again. But for now, he looks to be the man to beat at right tackle.
Keep an eye on Osborne. Another swing player that could play guard or tackle, he’s an incredible athlete that came to the Plains needing to get stronger. I would not at all be surprised if he made some waves this spring.
- #1 Big Kat Bryant | 6’5” | 247 lbs | Senior
- #45 Caleb Johnson | 6’2” | 257 lbs | rSophomore
- Zykeivous Walker | 6’4” | 267 lbs | Freshman
For the first time in four years, Marlon Davidson won’t be setting the edge of Auburn’s defense. That is a huge hole to fill but luckily Rodney Garner knows what he is doing.
I have Big Kat listed here even though most of his starts have been at the Buck. But Bryant has played behind Davidson as well in the past and with Derick Hall’s emergence at Buck this past season, I think it makes a lot of sense to play Bryant here full time in 2020. His stats haven’t been gaudy up to this point but he’s been an important piece of this Auburn rotation. The Tigers will need him to be more productive though in his final campaign.
Walker is an early enrollee and will undoubtedly have a chance to crack the rotation. This was a huge win on the recruiting trail over Georgia. Auburn’s coaching staff believes he’s got what it takes to make an impact as a true freshman.
- #94 Tyrone Truesdell | 6’2” | 310 lbs | Senior
- #96 Jaren Handy | 6’5” | 259 lbs | Sophomore
- Daniel Foster-Allen | 6’4” | 264 lbs | Freshman
It’s wild to see how far Tyrone Truesdell has come. The former 3* prospect had to wait to see if Auburn would miss on their top DL target Ryan Johnson three years ago before getting the green light to sign. The first time Auburn fans saw Truesdell he was getting cussed out by Rodney Garner because he couldn’t finish a drill. Now he’s morphed into one of Auburn’s most productive lineman and will be a leader of this unit in 2020.
Behind him though are a lot of questions. Both Handy and Foster-Allen could play inside or out but given the need the Tigers have for bodies in the interior, I expect one, if not both to get a look inside. Handy especially has the makings of a future defensive tackle given his large frame. I thought he looked good in his limited action this past season. There will be plenty of opportunity for the Mississippi native to earn meaningful reps in 2020.
- #8 Coynis Miller Jr | 6’2” | 312 lbs | Junior --OR--
- #44 Daquan Newkirk | 6’3” | 306 lbs | rSenior
There will be a drop off on the defensive line in 2020. You don’t lose Derrick Brown and get better. But how big a drop off will be decided by the play of Coynis Miller and Daquan Newkirk. Injuries and inconsistency has plagued both in their time on the Plains but both have also posses the athletic ability to be playmakers inside. Auburn needs at least one to emerge as bone fide SEC starter.
- #29 Derick Hall | 6’3” | 230 lbs | Sophomore
- #55 T.D. Moultry | 6’2” | 243 lbs | Senior
- #25 Colby Wooden | 6’4” | 243 lbs | rFreshman
- Romello Height | 6’4” | 217 lbs | Freshman
The biggest surprise to me in 2019 was the emergence of Derick Hall. Auburn signed an impressive 2019 DL class. Hall though looked the least likely of that group to contribute early. He was thought to be a very raw prospect that would need a year or two of development to learn the position and get strong enough to play in the SEC.
Hall had different plans.
He very quickly became an important contributor to the Tigers’ ferocious 2019 front even earning starts against Alabama and Minnesota. Auburn has lacked an elite pass rush threat from the Buck spot since Jeff Holland’s departure following the 2017 campaign. Hall might change that in 2020.
Behind him are some interesting names. Auburn is still waiting for Moultry to take the next step. Colby Wooden came down with mono over the summer heading into the 2019 season and it took some time to recover. He should be good to go and ready to make an impact in 2020.
Then there is Romello Height. Auburn flipped the Georgia native on signing day from Miami. The staff reportedly believes he was one of the premier pass rushers in this 2020 class. I would lean towards him being a redshirt candidate given his need to put on some more weight but after what Hall did this past season, I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s apart of the rotation next year.
- #10 Owen Pappoe | 6’1” | 219 lbs | Sophomore --OR--
- #35 Zakoby McClain | 6’0” | 210 lbs | Junior
- #36 Josh Marsh | 6’2” | 218 lbs | rSophomore
- Wesley Steiner | 6’0” | 226 lbs | Freshman --OR--
- Cam Riley | 6’4” | 207 lbs | Freshman
I am only listing two linebacker spots given the fact Auburn spends most of their time in Nickel (2 LBs, 5 DBs) or Dime sets (1 LB, 6 DBs).
Owen Pappoe lived up to his 5* billing earning the starting job beside Britt as a true freshman. We saw flashes of his incredible athletic potential but he also struggled at times with his run fits (most notably against the Gophers last week). Zakoby McClain was actually more productive than Pappoe on less snaps but I think that’s more a credit to the “Ricochet Rabbit” than a knock on the true freshman. Both will once again be key pieces of Auburn’s rotation in 2020.
If there is a true freshman from this talented 2020 class that sees the field early my money is on Wesley Steiner. Like Pappoe he’s an elite athlete with the intelligence to grasp Auburn’s defensive concepts quickly enough to be ready to play. But it might be hard for him to crack the rotation given the returning experience and talent. At minimum, look for Steiner to bust some heads on special teams.
- #33 K.J. Britt | 6’0” | 236 lbs | Senior
- #31 Chandler Wooten | 6’2” | 228 lbs | Senior
- #48 O.C. Brothers | 6’1” | 231 lbs | rFreshman
- #43 Kameron Brown | 6’0” | 255 lbs | rFreshman
- Desmond Tisdol | 6’0” | 210 lbs | Freshman
It was never going to be easy replacing Deshaun Davis in the middle of this Auburn defense but KJ Britt might have done as well as anyone could have imagined. The rising senior will head into Auburn’s 2020 campaign as the returning leading tackler. The Tigers put a lot on the Alabama native which is why when he did make a mistake, it resulted in 6 points for the other team. In between the tackles, you would be hard pressed to find a better backer in the country. If Britt can improve his coverage skills, he’s got a chance to turn some NFL GM heads in his final season.
- #6 Christian Tutt | 5’11” | 190 lbs | Junior
- #15 Jordyn Peters | 6’1” | 195 lbs | Senior
- #11 Zion Puckett | 5’11” | 208 lbs | rFreshman
- Ladarius Tennison | 5’9” | 195 lbs | Freshman
I am interested to see what Auburn decides to do with the players listed above. All, sans really Tennison, could move elsewhere in the secondary where needed. Tutt has been outstanding as Auburn’s 5th DB but struggled at times in 1 on 1 coverage situations. But maybe Auburn gives him reps this spring at one of the open CB spots to see if he can improve?
There’s also Jordyn Peters and Zion Puckett. An injury robbed Peters of most of his junior season but he has proven in the past to be a more than capable DB in Auburn’s system. If the Tigers are worried about depth at safety, I think Peters would make a lot of sense back there. Puckett was one of the top signees of Auburn’s 2019 class but given the amount of returning depth Auburn had this past year, it’s not surprising he didn’t see any meaningful action. That will likely change in 2020 but will it be at the Star or might Auburn give him a chance at one of the other spots? I expect one of Tutt/Peters/Puckett to play elsewhere in Auburn’s secondary next season. I also expect all three to be important pieces of Auburn’s defense.
- #23 Roger McCreary | 6’0” | 188 lbs | Junior
- #14 Traivon Leonard | 6’0” | 198 lbs | rJunior
- Eric Reed Jr | 6’0” | 195 lbs | Freshman
While Javaris Davis often got the start at the cornerback spot opposite Igbinoghene, McCreary usually subbed in by the 2nd series and played even snaps with the senior. Now heading into 2020 with both Iggy and Davis gone, McCreary will be Auburn’s top cover corner. Not bad for the former 989th ranked player in the country huh?
Who plays behind him I have no idea. Traivon Leonard saw action early in his career and then completely disappeared. Reed was a big time ESD win for the staff but won’t get to campus until the summer. I like Auburn’s starting DB unit next season but there doesn’t appear to be nearly as much proven depth as there was last year. The Tigers will need to find a 3rd CB they trust this offseason.
- #18 Nehemiah Pritchett | 6’1” | 162 lbs | Sophomore --OR--
- Marco Domio | 6’1” | 172 lbs | Junior
- #12 Devan Barrett | 6’0” | 195 lbs | Senior
I listed most every 2020 signee at the bottom of their respective position only because it’s hard to project someone to a starting role when they haven’t even practiced once with the team. I made an exception with Marco Domio. The nation’s #3 ranked JUCO CB will undoubtedly be apart of Auburn’s DB rotation in 2020. Whether he’s a starter or not is yet to be seen especially since he was unable to enroll early.
That does open the opportunity for Nehemiah Pritchett. Like McCreary, Pritchett was not a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school but also like McCreary, Auburn’s coaching staff believed he was very underrated. Jeremiah Dinson compared his skillset to Carlton Davis which is high praise. He will likely start the spring as the top CB opposite McCreary. We will see if he can live up to Dinson’s comparison.
- #21 Smoke Monday | 6’2” | 186 lbs | Junior
- #16 Malcolm Askew | 5’11” | 185 lbs | rJunior
- #26 Jaylin Simpson | 6’0” | 162 lbs | rFreshman
It’s finally time for Smoke Monday to become a playmaker in Auburn’s secondary. A lot of folks, myself included, expected Monday to be an early impact player for the Tigers, which he has been, but I think we thought that impact might be more more impactful than it has been to date (what a sentence). He never unseated Daniel Thomas in large part because of his inconsistency. He might make a flash play one snap only to get out of position the next. There is no denying he’s got the athletic ability to be one of the best in the country. Now it’s about playing at a high level every single snap.
Malcolm Askew is one of the guys I will be keeping a close eye on this offseason. Askew got a lot of buzz last spring but did not see much meaningful action in 2019 given Auburn’s depth on the backend of its defense. Once a highly regarded recruit, it’s probably do or die time for Askew. It would be big for the Tigers if he could lock down that #2 spot behind Smoke this spring.
- #9 Jamien Sherwood | 6’2” | 204 lbs | Junior
- Chris Thompson Jr | 6’1” | 201 lbs | Freshman
Sherwood has been outstanding for the Tigers in his two years as Jeremiah Dinson’s backup. Now in 2020, it’s his turn to lead the charge. Interestingly enough, 2020 signee Chris Thompson Jr has been labeled with the same weaknesses as Sherwood coming out of high school. So it’s not hard to make the easy logical jump that Kevin Steele plans to use him in the same way as Sherwood. Given the fact he’s an early enrollee, I expect Thompson to see lots of action as a true freshman next season.
Whew that was a lot of words...
Plenty will change in the coming months as players transfer or new signees are added to the roster. But for now, this is my best guess at where things stand as we head into the offseason. I will take another stab at it just before spring practice when the roster should be a little more settled.