Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the top early targets for the Tigers in the 2022 class.
This is probably the position I have the least amount of insight on right now. Since Nick Eason’s hiring Auburn has offered a handful of lineman but pretty much all of them have been defensive tackles or strong side ends who I believe will grow into interior players.
Why that’s the case I don’t really know. Could mean that Auburn is going to focus on signing more interior DL prospects to eat space in Derek Mason’s 2-gap fronts. Could mean that Eason wasn’t as big a fan of the previous defensive tackle board and wanted to get some offers out to guys he likes more. Could mean that Auburn feels really good about the few names at the top of the list at defensive end. Could mean some of it or none of it.
No clue honestly but we have to start somewhere so here’s a look at a handful of names to keep an eye on at defensive end this cycle.
4-star Kenyatta Jackson | 6’5” | 231 lbs | Hollywood, FL
A top 100 player, Jackson included Auburn in his top 12 last summer. Where things stand with Auburn’s new staff is a mystery but I imagine the Tigers are still in hot pursuit. Clemson and Ohio State are believed to be the early leaders with Alabama, Florida, Florida State, and Oklahoma all major contenders as well.
Blessed beyond measures! #Top12 pic.twitter.com/gM9n3nY8XI— Kenyatta Jackson Jr (@_21shotz) June 23, 2020
Jackson is an elite edge prospect. Possessing a long, lean frame, Jackson will easily be able to play at 280+ without losing a step. Shows ability to win as a pass rusher in a multitude of ways including with brute force on a bull rush, speed around the end, or with his hands. Often left unblocked by offenses as the read man in hopes of neutralizing his athleticism but he’s still able to consistently make plays. A legit top 100 player.
4-star Justice Finkley | 6’2” | 255 lbs | Trussville, AL
Auburn was one of the first SEC programs to offer Finkley back in early 2020. That staff is now gone but I’d be shocked if Finkley was not still as highly regarded. Michigan appears to be trying to make a strong run at him hosting him on a virtual visit earlier this month. The Oregon Ducks were the most recent team to offer the state’s #6 ranked player. It would surprise me though if he left the state.
Finkley is a powerful end who excels at stopping the run. He’s got a powerful lower half and does a great job using leverage to win against larger would be blockers. Plays with a motor that runs pretty hot most of the time. Might have limited upside as a pass rusher at next level given the shorter frame and not possessing a necessarily elite first step. Could play some outside linebacker depending on how his frame fills out. High floor prospect who will contribute multiple years at his Power 5 school of choice.
4-star Caden Story | 6’4” | 235 lbs | Lanett, AL
This is a recruitment where Auburn’s new staff has had a major impact. The younger brother of Alabama defensive back Kristian Story, Caden has clicked with new Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin and new defensive line coach Nick Eason. He told AuburnUndercover’s Keith Niebuhr that Eason is good friends with Story’s uncle former Indiana Colt great Marcus Pollard. Story wants to commit on August 1st and the Tigers appear to be the early leader. The big question is what happens when/if that Alabama offer comes?
Lanett doesn’t face a ton of Power 5 talent loaded teams so some of these highlights are downright comical. However, Story is dominant like he should be and shows versatility to play all across the defensive line. Honestly, he reminds me a good bit of Marlon Davidson though he’s a bit lighter than Davidson was in high school. Story is a perfect fit for strong side end in Mason’s scheme.
4-star Eli Hall | 6’4” | 250 lbs | Shelby, NC
Auburn’s previous staff offered Hall last March but he’s been in communication with the Tigers’ new staff. He told 247Sports’s Brian Dohn that he’s spoken with both AU defensive coordinator Derek Mason and outside linebackers coach Bert Watts. Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, and Wake Forest all appear to be heavily involved in this race.
No junior tape available yet for Hall due to North Carolina pushing its high school football season to the spring of 2021. Given he plays as a standup end for his high school and Watts appears to be his point of contact there’s a chance Hall ends up at outside linebacker for the Tigers. I think though you get him in a collegiate strength & conditioning program and he’ll be playing at 270 easily. Very powerful athlete who can deliver a nasty punch and is an excellent finisher.
3-star Dylan Frazier | 6’5” | 250 lbs | McKinney, TX
Here’s a family connection that could work in Auburn’s favor. Dylan is Auburn tight end Brandon Frazier’s younger brother and has emerged as a Power 5 prospect himself. He doesn’t yet have an Auburn offer so it will be interesting to see if the Tigers decide to make a run at him this summer. For now, Big 12 programs like Baylor, Oklahoma State, and TCU appear to be the front runners.
Dylan plays both ways but his future at the next level is likely on the defensive side of the ball. He’s got a long frame but will need some time in the weight room before being ready to contribute. However, you can see his athleticism playing both ways. I also like his ability to shed blocks with his hands and make plays in the backfield. A name to file away for later.