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.
No coach on Auburn’s staff will face more scrutiny from the Auburn fanbase this recruiting cycle than Jeff Schmedding. The Tigers new inside linebackers coach and run game coordinator was a long time defensive assistant at Eastern Washington before taking over as defensive coordinator in Boise. He’s now replacing a former All-SEC linebacker turned ace recruiter and coach in Travis Williams.
That will be a tall task. Auburn’s linebacker corps had been wandering in the wilderness since his graduation in 2006 before returning to the top of the SEC upon T-WILL’s return. He very quickly transformed one of the biggest questions marks on Auburn’s roster heading into 2016 into one of its consistent strengths. While he took some tough losses on the trail, he also won some big time battles and left behind a room with plenty of talent for Schmedding.
Now it’s time for the former Boise DC to show his mettle. After only signing one linebacker last class and potentially losing as many as four next off-season, I expect the Tigers to sign a large 2022 linebackers class. It will give Schmedding plenty of opportunities to prove he’s up to the task of replacing Travis Williams.
Here are some names to know at inside linebacker in the 2022 class.
4-star Jalon Walker | 6’2” | 220 lbs | Salisbury, NC
Walker is set to announce his decision on March 28th. The Tigers are included in his final 6 but this is likely a Clemson, Georgia, and UNC battle with Dabo’s Tigers holding the upper hand. Auburn will undoubtedly continue to recruit the North Carolina native up until he signs but odds don’t look good for the good guys right now.
I will be announcing my commitment on March 28th !#AGTG pic.twitter.com/lvBUjSaDa8— Jalon Walker (@JalonWlaker) March 1, 2021
North Carolina just kicked off its high school season after postponing the fall schedule due to COVID-19. In just a single game’s worth of highlights you can see Walker’s versatility and overall talent. He can play all over the field and that versatility will allow him to be a three down backer at the next level. He’s a legit top 100 prospect who will likely see the field very early in his career.
4-star Jaron Willis | 6’2” | 220 lbs | Leesburg, GA
There’s some talent on this Lee County Trojans team out of Leesburg, GA. Willis is teammates with Auburn OL target 4-star Qae’shon Sapp. Willis was a priority for former linebackers coach T-WILL. In fact, T-WILL has offered Willis as an athlete at UCF, opening the door for him to play on both sides of the ball. I am not so sure the Georgia native is as high on this new staff’s board. He released a top 10 in January that included the Tigers but admitted to 247Sports’s Andrew Ivins that a lot has changed and that he likely needs to update his list. Reportedly Georgia Tech, Arkansas, Florida, and Florida State are now emerging as the top contenders.
Willis is an athletic thumper and checks a lot of the same boxes T-WILL always looked for in his linebacker room. He can run, hit, and play in space. I am skeptical he’s 6’2” as he looks a bit undersized but he’s a force to be reckon with when he meets a ball carrier.
4-star Shemar James | 6’3” | 200 lbs | Mobile, AL
The first 2022 prospect new Auburn linebackers coach reportedly watched upon arriving on the Plains was Shemar James’s. He quickly reached out to let the Mobile native know that he still has an offer from the Tigers. In fact, I might venture to guess he’s the #1 linebacker on Auburn’s board right now. Per James, he talks to Schmedding daily and it’s clear he’s a priority for this new staff. Will it be enough to pry him away from Alabama? That’s yet to be seen but it’s clear the Tigers are fighting hard to land state’s 8th ranked player.
LOADING...... ALL GLORY TO GOD @PORTCITYPROSPEC @Keith247Sports @ChadSimmons_ @FaithRampage @DemetricDWarren pic.twitter.com/2ibgu70WwO— shemar.james (@shemar0524) February 23, 2021
James is a stat sheet stuffer. He rushed for over 200 yards last fall and 5 touchdowns, caught 34 passes for 400+ yards and 7 touchdowns, and recorded 66 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 6 sacks. This kid is a football player. At linebacker, he’s an athletic, physical, downhill thumper. Shows the ability to be effective as a stand up rusher off the edge and as a scraping inside backer working his way through traffic to the ball carrier. I think he’s a top 5 player in the state in this 2022 class.
4-star TJ Dudley | 6’2” | 210 lbs | Montgomery, AL
It’s been trending towards Alabama for quite awhile in Dudley’s recruitment. He connected well with T-WILL but even with him on staff, Alabama was always going to be very hard to beat. It would not surprise me if he’s a Tide commit sooner rather than later. Let’s see if Auburn can make up some ground in the coming weeks.
Doesn’t take long to see why he’s nicknamed “Bull”. Dudley is a thumper with surprising range given his frame. An incredibly fluid athlete, things almost look effortless for him at times. He has the athleticism to play sideline to sideline but is at his best in the box coming downhill against the run.
4-star DeMario Tolan | 6’3” | 205 lbs | Kissimmee, FL
If Shemar James is not the first name on Auburn’s inside linebackers board it’s because that spot is occupied by DeMario Tolan. Tolan’s recruitment has exploded in the past two months landing offers from Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and plenty of others. This could be an early chance for this new staff to show they can beat out Kirby Smart for kids he wants as the Dawgs are reportedly also very high on the Florida native. Given all the action in just the past two months, I doubt Tolan is close to making a decision.
Another athlete with a long frame and elite athleticism. Tolan has explosive closing speed allowing him to very quickly hunt down ball carriers and quarterbacks. Athletic enough to play in space, Tolan is really is at his best in the interior. Likely a top 200 player before this cycle ends.
3-star EJ Lightsey | 6’2” | 210 lbs | Fitzgerald, GA
Lightsey has very quietly become one of the more coveted linebacker prospects in the state of Georgia. Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, and Michigan have all offered in the past two months. The instate Dawgs though might be tough to beat if they make a strong push. They reportedly offered the #21 ranked ILB last fall.
The move from defensive end to inside linebacker proved to be a good one for EJ Lightsey. The Georgian was a terror in the middle of the Purple Hurricanes defense and has now emerged as one of the top linebacker prospects in the southeast. He’s got a great frame at 6’2” 210 lbs matched with impressive quickness and a high motor. Lightsey shows good instincts in his ability to work through traffic and make plays in the backfield. He’s athletic enough to play in space and be solid in coverage.
3-star Powell Gordon | 6’3” | 215 lbs | Auburn, AL
Auburn’s most recent commit, Gordon has solidified his spot in the Tigers class and is now working to help Auburn land other high priority targets. When Gordon’s offer came last month it was only a matter of when not if he’d join Auburn’s 2022 class.
You will be hard pressed to find a quicker defender on this list than Gordon. The Auburn High standout had an insanely productive junior season lining up all over the field from defensive end to inside linebacker. If he can keep his elite quickness while putting on 20 lbs, Gordon has a chance to be an impact player for the Tigers down the road.