With National Signing Day in the books, now feels like a good time to take a first stab at Auburn’s 2021 depth chart. Yes, the Tigers are likely to add 5-6 more players before August. However, sans maybe Dylan Brooks, chances are pretty good those additions won’t happen until after spring ball.
Surprisingly, the start of spring practice isn’t that far away. Bryan Harsin’s first practices as Auburn’s new head football coach are expected to begin in mid-March. It will be this new staff’s first chance to really evaluate what kind of team they inherited.
So that makes this depth chart exercise much different than ones in year’s past. Chances are good that with the coaching turnover, some players will emerge given the new opportunity while others may find themselves not well suited for the new scheme. With that in mind, I chose to make predictions based on how I think the depth chart will look post spring, instead of how I think it might look heading into spring. Chances are extremely good I will be very wrong but that’s never stopped me before on this website.
I should also note that I am choosing to progress every player’s eligibility by a year even though the 2020 season technically did not count against it. It was just easier for me to think of Bo Nix as a junior rather than a redshirt sophomore but that’s just a personal preference.
We start today on offense where the Tigers return arguably the best running back in America but face plenty of questions at the other 10 spots. Let’s take a look at how Auburn’s 2021 offense might look this fall.
- #10 Bo Nix | 6’2” | 213 lbs | Junior
- #14 Grant Loy | 6’5” | 230 lbs | Senior (6th Yr) — OR —
- Dematrius Davis | 6’0” | 195 lbs | Freshman (EE)
- #15 Chayil Garnett | 6’1” | 216 lbs | Freshman (RS)
It’s time for Bo Nix to live up to his 5-star hype. The Auburn legacy was throw into the fire as a true freshman in 2019 where he had moments of brilliance but also his fair share of failures. The hope was Nix would take a meaningful step forward in 2020 but it didn’t happen. Undoubtedly, losing spring practice hurt his development but the lack of improvement was concerning. He will head into the 2021 season with the most to prove on this offense as his growth will be one of the most critical factors in Auburn’s chances this fall.
Behind him things are interesting. Grant Loy returning gives Auburn a 4-deep QB room. While Loy is a veteran with starting experience, I am not sure he will be the guaranteed backup for Bo in 2021. 4-star signee Dematrius Davis is one of the winningest quarterbacks in Texas high school football history. He’s already on campus and will have a chance to compete for playing time this spring. My guess is he will impress and at worse cement himself as the #2 guy in that QB room.
- #4 Tank Bigsby | 6’0” | 204 lbs | Sophomore
- #8 Shaun Shivers | 5’7” | 179 lbs | Senior
- #10 Devan Barrett | 6’0” | 200 lbs | Senior
- Jarquez Hunter | 6’0” | 222 lbs | Freshman
With the signing of Jarquez Hunter and the news that Devan Barrett will be returning to his natural position, the running back room doubled in size within the last week.
The Tigers will enter the 2021 season with the best returning running back in the country. Auburn’s offense will undoubtedly be built around Tank Bigsby and it wouldn’t shock me to see the Tigers’ star tailback cross the 1,500 yard mark this fall. The real question is what kind of depth do the Tigers have behind him.
As is tradition, rumors swirled that Shaun Shivers aka Worm would be hitting the portal. Turned out, he was the only upper classmen that chose to stay. An unquestioned leader in Auburn’s locker room, Shivers did some good things last fall when healthy but only saw double digit carries twice all season. I think he’s a solid counter punch to Tank and it will be interesting to see how this new coaching staff utilizes his skill-set this season. But I still think it would be a good idea for the Tigers to go find a proven, veteran running back in the portal to ensure Auburn has the depth it needs to make it through an SEC schedule.
Wide Receiver (X)
- #17 Elijah Canion | 6’4” | 213lbs | Freshman (RS)
- #11 Shedrick Jackson | 6’0” | 201 lbs | Senior
- #81 J.J. Evans | 6’3” | 210 lbs | Freshman (RS)
- Hal Presley | 6’3” | 197 lbs | Freshman
Going back through Bryan Harsin’s previous depth charts at Boise State, he gave the wide receiver position 3 designations: X, H & Z.
The X is similar to the 9 in Gus Malzahn’s system or probably better known as a “Split End”. He will often line up on the line of scrimmage opposite the tight end resulting in him having to beat press coverage more often. In the past, guys like Cedric Wilson, Thomas Sperbeck and John Hightower have manned this spot. It’s a position where you likely will feature your #1 receiver, someone with a combination of great size and speed you can count on to consistently win his 1 on 1 matchups.
Figuring out who Auburn’s best all around receiver will be this season is impossible at this point. But given his breakout performance in the Citrus Bowl, I don’t think it’s too crazy to pencil in redshirt freshman Elijah Canion at the X. He looked the part against Northwestern, demonstrating an impressive combination of speed and size. We will see if he can build on his strong bowl performance this spring.
I also have Shedrick Jackson, JJ Evans and Hal Presley all listed in this spot. Ze’Vian Capers could easily fill this role as well. Keep an eye on Hal Presley. The true freshman won’t arrive until the summer but he’s got the skillset to make an immediate impact this fall.
Second catch of Elijah Canion's Auburn career. Pretty, pretty good.pic.twitter.com/M7rcZg4A8O— Josh Vitale (@JoshVitale) January 1, 2021
Wide Receiver (H)
- #5 Kobe Hudson | 6’1” | 196 lbs | Sophomore
- #23 Caylin Newton | 5’11” | 201 lbs | Senior
- #6 Ja’Varrius Johnson | 5’9” | 160 lbs | rSophomore
The H in Harsin’s scheme is the slot receiver. Not big or little slot, just your typical slot wideout. Typically these have been smaller, shiftier guys. The last 3 seasons, CT Thomas has been featured at the H in Boise State’s offense where caught over 100 passes for over 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns.
I have Hudson listed as the starter even though he’s a little bit bigger than the guys Harsin usually plays. But Hudson is shifty with good hands and could thrive in matchups against nickel corners or safeties.
Behind him are two intriguing players. Newton saw action early while Shedrick Jackson was injured but disappeared later in the year. He won over the previous coaching staff with his blocking ability but I am hoping the new staff gives him some chances to touch the football this fall.
Johnson is on my short list for breakout players this fall. He’s the prototype for what you want in a slot receiver and will have a chance this spring to prove he deserves some touches next season.
Wide Receiver (Z)
- #9 Ze’Vian Capers | 6’4” | 194 lbs | Sophomore
- Malcolm Johnson Jr | 6’1” | 185 lbs | Freshman (RS)
- Tar’Varish Dawson | 5’11” | 165 lbs | Freshman
The Z could also be called the “Flanker” in other schemes. This wideout often lines up off the ball as he’s usually on the same side as the tight end but opposite the X or Split End. The Z will be used more in motion than the X. Typically the Z has lead Harsin’s offense in receptions so route running and hands are a priority at this spot.
Capers saw plenty of action as a true freshman for Gus Malzahn and I think has a chance to emerge as the Tigers top wideout in 2021. The Georgia native is a long, thin athlete with great hands and the ability to make plays after the catch. I could easily have put him at the X over Canion but I think he’s more versatile and if Canion, Capers and Hudson are the Tigers top 3 WRs next fall, this is probably the best way to use their skillsets.
Anthony Schwartz may be gone but there’s still some elite speed on this roster. I think a lot of folks have forgotten about Malcolm Johnson Jr who reclassified to 2020 and enrolled at Auburn a couple of weeks before the season started. He could be Auburn’s next great deep threat.
I have Dawson at the Z over the H just because he reminds me so much Boise State’s leading WR of the past two seasons Khalil Shakir. Dawson to me is a bone fide blue chip chip prospect who has a chance to thrive in Auburn’s new offense.
- #87 Brandon Frazier | 6’7” | 270 lbs | Sophomore
- #89 J.J. Pegues | 6’2” | 300 lbs | Sophomore
- #86 Luke Deal | 6’6” | 247 lbs | Sophomore
- #47 John Samuel Shenker | 6’3” | 241 lbs | Senior
- #85 Tyler Fromm | 6’5” | 237 lbs | Sophomore
- Landen King | 6’5” | 220 lbs | Freshman (EE)
Auburn has been loading up on tight ends over the past three recruiting cycles but have seen little production from the position. That could change in 2021 as Harsin and Bobo rarely line up without a tight end on the field and even have packages where 3 are on the field at once. They inherit a room loaded with talent that just needs more opportunities to shine.
Shenker being low on this list isn’t an indictment on him as a player. To the contrary, he’s got the exact skillset Harsin loves in a tight end. He wants them to line them up all over the field and Shenker has proven he can handle those responsibilities. However, he will be playing baseball this spring, meaning this new staff won’t be able to evaluate him until the fall. That’s going to give some very talented underclassmen the chance to shine.
I still believe in Brandon Frazier. An injury robbed him of much of his freshman campaign and he did not seem to be the same level of athlete upon his return. Assuming he’s healthy and he’s got his explosiveness back, I think Frazier has a chance to make a major move this spring. To me he’s got NFL potential if he can stay healthy.
I have Pegues #2 for a simple reason. Both Harsin and Bobo like to make frequent use of a fullback or H-Back. Pegues has one of the more unique skillsets on the roster and I expect you will see Auburn’s new offensive braintrust attempt to exploit it this fall. I think you will see Pegues lined up as a traditional fullback on one snap only to be at H-Back the next. His versatility will allow Auburn’s offense to run a few core concepts out of a lot of different formations.
- #68 Austin Troxell | 6’6” | 312 lbs | Senior — OR —
- #65 Alec Jackson | 6’5” | 315 lbs | Senior — OR —
- #77 Kilian Zierer | 6’7” | 294 lbs | Junior (RS) — OR —
- Colby Smith | 6’8” | 320 lbs | Freshman
This position will make or break Auburn in 2021. If the Tigers can get competent play from the left tackle position this fall, it would do wonders for Bo Nix’s confidence in the pocket. That in turn, would likely give Auburn’s offense a chance to take a big step forward as its QB won’t be looking to flee at the first sign of trouble.
I am not sure though if that player is on Auburn’s roster just yet. Alec Jackson and Austin Troxell both saw action at left tackle, neither excelling. Jackson was dreadful to start the season, like graded as one of the worst in Power 5 bad, but steadily improved before injuries tanked his play once again.
As for Troxell, it’s clear those three major knee injuries have taken their toll on the former blue chip prospect. He’s just not the same athlete he was though he’s still a competent backup. He saw time at both left and right tackle but just doesn’t have the quickness to handle the higher end edge rushers in the SEC.
That makes Kilian Zierer the biggest wildcard heading into this spring. The former top ranked JUCO prospect missed all of 2020 with a knee injury. He’s reportedly healthy and ready to compete for a starting role this spring. Does he still have the athleticism he flashed in JUCO? Is he strong enough to play in the SEC? It would be a huge boon to this Tigers offense if he could answer both of those questions in the affirmative in a few weeks.
I think most likely, Auburn’s starting left tackle is not currently on the roster and won’t be until this summer.
- #56 Tashawn Manning | 6’3” | 324 lbs | Senior
- #54 Tate Johnson | 6’3” | 309 lbs | Freshman (RS)
He didn’t necessarily wow but Tashawn Manning had a solid debut at guard for the Auburn Tigers last fall. The former defensive lineman was one of the few constants on Auburn’s starting offensive line in 2020 and will likely remain so in 2021. The wildcard would be if Auburn could bring in a starting caliber left tackle from the portal and slide Alec Jackson inside.
- #52 Nick Brahms | 6’3” | 299 lbs | Senior
- #50 Jalil Irvin | 6’2” | 310 lbs | Junior
- #57 Avery Jernigan | 6’3” | 306 lbs | Freshman (RS)
In two seasons as Auburn’s starting center, Nick Brahms has underwhelmed. It’s not that he’s been awful but the former blue chip has not played at the level hoped when he signed back in 2017. That doesn’t mean all hope is lost though. He is still one of the most experienced lineman on the team and hopefully with another healthy off-season of strength training, he can take a step forward this fall.
But don’t be surprised if this new coaching staff gives some other guys a shot at winning this position this spring. Brandon Council in particular is someone that could make a lot of sense here if some other players step up in other spots.
- #71 Brandon Council | 6’4” | 325 lbs | Senior
- #58 Keiondre Jones | 6’3” | 335 lbs | Sophomore
- #62 Kameron Stutts | 6’4” | 325 lbs | Junior
Before his injury, Brandon Council was unquestionably Auburn’s best offensive lineman in 2020. The Akron transfer played all over the line of scrimmage and was one of the few to play at a consistent high level. Getting him back healthy will be huge for the Tigers offense. He could start at right guard, left guard or center depending on where the Tigers need the most help.
Jones had some impressive moments this fall and some not so impressive ones. As a run blocker, the massive 6’3” 335 lb Georgia native was at his best but his pass blocking skills still need great improvement. It wouldn’t surprise me if he took a big step forward this off-season and earned back the starting right guard spot allowing Council to slide to center.
- #59 Brodarious Hamm | 6’5” | 330 lbs | Senior
- #65 Brenden Coffey | 6’5” | 279 lbs | Senior
- Garner Langlo | 6’7” | 280 lbs | Freshman
Hamm entered 2020 with plenty of hype earning preseason All-SEC honors. His play didn’t necessarily back it up but given the struggles elsewhere on the line, Hamm performed fine until his injuries. It was clear watching his play though that he’s better suited for guard. If the Tigers can find a starting left tackle and either JUCO players step up, Auburn might be able to slide Hamm inside where I think he would thrive.
I didn’t expect to see Coffey start in 2020 due to him arriving later in the year and likely needing a year of strength training before being ready for SEC play. But injuries forced him into action, including starting in the Iron Bowl. The athleticism was clear but so was the lack of lower body strength. Coffey has potential to develop into an SEC caliber right tackle but must get stronger to be more effective in the run game.