National Signing Day is two weeks away and Auburn’s new coaching staff has plenty of work to do. The Tigers only signed 11 players in the Early Signing Period leaving 13 spots left to fill in this 2021 class (Oscar Chapman’s blueshirt counts against this year’s number).
While this is a transition class for Harsin and should not be used as an indicator for how well he can or cannot recruit, a strong close would be a nice way to start his tenure. There’s also the fact that you don’t want a massive talent gap in your roster due to a lost year.
The talent pool is quite shallow following December but there are still a handful of SEC caliber recruits available to sign. There’s also the transfer portal which I expect Harsin to use pretty extensively this off-season though it should be noted the penalty free one time transfer rule decision appears to have been punted to 2022 likely shrinking that talent pool as well.
Still, I expect Auburn’s 2021 class to end up being pretty solid. If a few of these final recruiting battles go the Tigers way, they should climb back into the top 20.
Running Back Reload
Auburn entered last spring with six running backs on roster in JaTarvious Whitlow, Shaun Shivers, D.J. Williams, Harold Joiner, Mark-Antony Richards and Tank Bigsby. Only two remain in Tank and Worm.
That’s a small room for any offense but especially for one that is expected to lean heavily on the ground game. While both Harsin and new Auburn offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have a history of productive passing attacks, both believe in establishing a strong ground game in order to attack teams deep with play action. They need to restock that room fast with playmakers.
Given those number concerns, it’s highly likely Auburn will sign someone from the portal. In particular, AuburnUndercover’s Keith Niebuhr reports that former Texas running back Keontay Ingram is a name Auburn fans should be keeping an eye on. Ingram missed much of this season with an ankle injury but was an integral part of Texas’s attack in 2019 rushing for 853 yards and 7 touchdowns while catching 29 passes for 242 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’s a big back at 6’0” 233 lbs with impressive explosion and lateral quickness. He’d be a perfect #2 punch to Tank in 2021 if he were to sign with Auburn and get a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately.
Auburn will also be looking at the prep ranks for RB help. Heading into this late period I had my eyes on four prospects: 4-star Byron Cardwell, 4-star Ke’Travion Hargrove, 3-star Jaylin White, and 3-star Jarquez Hunter. In recent days, Auburn has offered two of them.
Two days after being retained, Carnell Williams offered Hunter.
Hunter’s had a highly productive high school career in Mississippi rushing for nearly 6,000 yards and just under 80 touchdowns. He’s a tremendous athlete who does a little of everything for Neshoba Central from running the ball, to sacking quarterbacks, to even returning punts. A handful of other programs are attempting to jump in late as well including Iowa but it would be a shock at this point if Hunter didn’t end up on the Plains.
The other offer went out to California native Byron Cardwell.
In Harsin’s introductory press conference he made it clear that Auburn would not be afraid to go anywhere to get talent. It hasn’t taken long for Harsin to back up his words.
Cardwell is a 6’0” 203 lb back with big time burst and impressive vision. He was unable to play his senior season due to COVID but this is a kid with the ability to step on campus day 1 and contribute. The distance from the Plains is reportedly not a sticking point for him and his mother is actually originally from Alabama. The Tigers have joined his top group of Cal, Oregon, USC and Texas A&M. UCLA and Florida are also involved. Let’s see if Cadillac can close on the nation’s #8 ranked RB.
Tennessee Fall Out
The Tennessee athletic administration chose a unique way to celebrate MLK Day. They decided to fire their head coach for cause following an investigation they themselves started in order to unearth recruiting violations to justify not having to pay Jeremy Pruitt’s buyout.
But one program’s dumpster fire is another man’s late recruiting wins and there’s a very good chance the Tigers could pounce on this opportunity starting with an offensive tackle prospect. 3-star OT Colby Smith announced his decommitment not long after the Pruitt news.
Smith committed to Tennessee back in May when Will Friend was still the Volunteers OL coach. Now on the Plains, it hasn’t taken long for Friend to reach back out to his old commit and Auburn is now a top contender. The 6’7” 270 lber is also considering the instate Tar Heels so this is far from a slam dunk but would be a nice late addition to the Tigers 2021 class. A class that currently only has one offensive line commit.
But that’s not the only damage so far for the Vols. Former Auburn target 4-star DE/OLB Dylan Brooks signed with Tennessee in December after getting assurance that Jeremy Pruitt would be his head coach. Following Pruitt’s firing, Brooks has reportedly asked to be released from his National Letter of Intent.
Huge news tonight: Tennessee 4-star DE signee Dylan Brooks of Roanoake (Ala.) Handley has officially submitted a request for his NLI release. More here on this player, who was a major Auburn target. https://t.co/MA0B8A7tn1 @SWiltfong247 @RyanCallahan247 @wesrucker247 pic.twitter.com/iNOoL8HG0D— Keith Niebuhr (@Keith247Sports) January 20, 2021
I suspect Tennessee will agree which would allow teams to once again recruit the top 100 prospect. If he’s available to sign again on NSD you really have to like Auburn’s chances. The Tigers struck out on every major pass rushing target this cycle but might now have a 2nd chance at one of those targets.
I am also keeping my eye on a handful of other Tennessee signees and commits in 4-star RB Cody Brown, 4-star WR Julian Nixon, 3-star WR/TE Roc Taylor, and 3-star DE/OLB Byron Young. I don’t expect all of them to end up leaving Tennessee for Auburn but if any decide to reopen things, the Tigers could be a top contender.
Top Remaining 2021 Targets
Here’s a quick rundown on the remaining targets in the 2021 class to know:
- 4-star LB Trevin Wallace - Wallace was one of the first prospects Harsin contacted after being hired. While not retaining Travis Williams would be a blow in this recruitment it would not be a death knell. Harsin, Derek Mason and Jeff Schmedding are all hard after the Georgia native and the Tigers are still in a good position to sign the playmaker.
- 3-star WR Tar’Varish Dawson - Long time Auburn commit Tar’varish Dawson made the understandable decision to hold off signing early after Gus Malzahn’s firing. He’s now become one of the most sought after prospects in the late period earning offers from a number of high profile suitors including Florida State, Texas A&M and Mississippi State. The Aggies in particular are the team to watch but Harsin has made Dawson a top priority. As of today, I think he sticks.
- 3-star DB Dontae Balfour - The news is not as positive when it comes to Balfour. The Florida native was set to sign with the Tigers in December until the coaching change. While Auburn is in his final 3 with LSU and North Carolina, it appears the Tar Heels have made a big move. There’s still time for Auburn to close the gap and retake the lead but I think UNC might be tough to beat down the stretch.
- 3-star OT Jordan Moko - Will Friend is working hard to find Auburn some OT talent late in this cycle. Not only are the Tigers pursuing Colby Smith but have they are also after the #1 JUCO OT. Auburn offered the Australian this week and are hoping to become a factor late. Oregon, LSU and Texas A&M are considered the top contenders.
- 3-star DB Juwon Gaston - Gaston doesn’t yet hold an Auburn offer but that could be changing soon. The standout from Montgomery, AL was one of the top performers at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game along with Auburn signee A.D. Diamond. The Gamecocks are considered the team to beat but we’ve learned already that if Harsin wants something from Shane Beamer he can get it.
- OL Eric Wilson - Initially, Auburn appeared to be out of the race for the Harvard graduate transfer following Malzahn’s ouster but it sounds like that might not be the case. He told 247 that Auburn and Penn State are both under heavy consideration. The Nittany Lions might currently be the team to beat but the Tigers are still fighting.
There are also a handful of other names I am monitoring over these last two weeks. Players that haven’t yet announced an Auburn offer but could be targets the Tigers make late moves on in guys like 3-star CB Jadarrius Perkins, 3-star DL Jimmori Robinson, WR Latreal Jones and QB Jason Brown.