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Auburn Football Recruiting: Portal Talk

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Breaking down what Auburn has lost to the portal this off-season and who they could add in the near future.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 UAB at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No matter where you fall on the scale between “college athletes should do whatever the hell they want without any penalty” to “scholarships are blood contracts binding a player to an institution until death”, the transfer portal has become and will continue to be a central part of the college football world.

Auburn fans became intimately aware of the portal this past week when four Tigers announced their intentions to enter it and find a new home. In fact, Auburn has lost a total of 15 players so far to the portal with their being a decent likelihood that a couple of more could enter in the coming weeks. Here’s a quick rundown on who has all departed.

  • QB Cord Sandberg (Eastern Kentucky)
  • QB Chayil Garnett
  • RB D.J. Williams (Florida State)
  • RB Harold Joiner (Michigan State)
  • RB Mark Antony-Richards (UCF)
  • WR/S Matthew Hill (USF)
  • OG Kamaar Bell (FAU)
  • OL Justin Osborne (SMU)
  • DT Daquan Newkirk (Florida)
  • DT Coynis Miller (Jackson State)
  • DT Jay Hardy
  • OLB Jaren Handy
  • LB Octavius Brothers (Purdue)
  • LB Josh Marsh
  • CB Kamal Hadden
  • S Chris Thompson Jr.

That’s a lot of attrition especially when you also add Auburn’s NFL Draft departures in Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz, Jamien Sherwood, Christian Tutt, and Jordyn Peters.

The good news is just as players can use the portal to find homes elsewhere, Auburn can use the portal to find talented players who can make an immediate impact for the Tigers this fall. Especially now that it’s being reported that Auburn has more than 3 spots remaining in this class.

Both AuburnUndercover’s Keith Niebuhr and AuburnSports’s Jeffery Lee reported over the weekend that Auburn plans to add more than 3 players from the portal in the coming days. In fact, that number might be as high as 7 or 8.

How can that be?

I’ll admit that I don’t know for sure but I believe that Auburn (and many other programs) will be utilizing the blueshirt rule to go over the 25 initial counter limit. To qualify for a blueshirt a player must have been “unrecruited” meaning they did not take an official visit to the school, the coaching staff did not visit the player’s home, no National Letter of Intent was signed, and the athlete was given no form of athletic aid. If a player meets those standards then they can be put on scholarship on the first day of practice in August without that scholarship counting against the 25 limit for each recruiting cycle. The 85 scholarship limit still applies but this is a creative way teams in the past have been able to add extra players to a class, usually a special teams player like a long snapper or punter, without that scholarship counting against the class’s 25 limit.

Now think about how this transfer portal recruiting is going down. Official visits aren’t allowed so no players are meeting with coaches on campus. Coaches aren’t allowed to meet with recruits in person at the moment. None of these transfers need to sign a National Letter of Intent to join the program and given the semester is coming to an end, aid is unlikely to be needed. So my best guess is Auburn and other programs are using that qualification to add more transfers than would typically be allowed in order to back fill spots lost to the portal or fill important needs heading into the 2021 season.

It should be noted that those spots will then be lost for the next cycle. So if Auburn were to add 7 players via the portal, they would only have 21 spots available in the 2022 class. But I also suspect that there will be some rule changes in regards to the initial counter rule and how it is applied to the portal. At minimum, with virtual visits becoming standard practice in recruiting, teams could use this strategy again next year to add more transfers after signing 21 high school players.

All of that speculating and rambling is a long way of saying, Auburn is planning to add some more players from the portal in the very near future.

The Tigers already have two transfers committed in Northwestern defensive end Andrew “Eku” Leota and West Virginia cornerback Dreshun Miller. Both have very good chances at earning starting gigs for this 2021 season.

So who else could join Auburn’s roster? I wrote last week about one of Auburn’s top targets in former Vanderbilt safety Donovan Kaufman. He’s reportedly down to a final two of Auburn and Texas with a decision coming anytime now. The Tigers continue to feel good about their chances and are hoping that his close relationship with his former head coach Derek Mason will be enough to seal the deal. Kaufman is another player who could start immediately for the Tigers this season.

Two other targets have emerged in recent days. First, there’s former UAB nose tackle Tony Fair. The 6’3” 335 lb gap stuffer signed with Indiana State out of high school before transferring to Pima Community College in Tucson, AZ where he was ultra productive recording 144 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. He then signed with the Blazers where he’s helped anchor the defensive front for one of the best C-USA defenses the last two seasons. Now he’s looking for an opportunity to play at a big time program and boost his stock for the NFL Draft next spring.

With Jeremiah Wright sidelined with an ACL injury and Jay Hardy in the portal, Auburn’s nose tackle depth chart is pretty thin. Tyrone Truesdell is using his extra COVID year and 2021 signee Lee Hunter has the size and ability to play there as well. But Auburn could definitely use someone like Fair who is the prototype for a 3-4 nose tackle and has proven he can play against Power 5 talent given his performances against Tennessee and Miami.

Fair dropped a top 3 over the weekend featuring Auburn, Ole Miss, and Purdue but this feels like Auburn’s race to lose. Don’t be surprised if the Tigers land the big nose tackle later this week.

The other target that has emerged per AuburnUndercover’s Keith Niebuhr and AuburnSports’s Jeffery Lee is former 3-star RB Jordon Ingram. The St. Paul’s standout had multiple SEC offers in the 2020 cycle including ones from Auburn, LSU, and Kentucky but none had a spot for him on National Signing Day resulting in the playmaker signing with Central Michigan.

Obtaining offers from West Virginia, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Alabama, Southern Miss, Tennessee, Troy and Virginia Tech, the 2020 three-star running back from Alabama didn’t sign a national letter of intent.

Ingram became one of the few top prospects left on the market.

“I sit here humbled and confused, as I didn’t vision when this day came I wouldn’t be celebrating with my friends and family as I revealed what university I would be attending,” Ingram wrote on Twitter. “I just never imagined that I wouldn’t be signing on the dotted line.”

He was grayshirted due to pandemic concerns arriving in Mount Pleasant, MI this past spring. He entered the portal following spring ball likely in hopes of finding an opportunity back down south.

But this year, Central Michigan and coach Jim McElwain have a large crop of newcomers joining as spring ball begins. A large chunk of the Chippewas’ 2020 recruiting class spent the fall semester at home and are coming to campus for the spring semester. They’re with the team now and will participate in spring ball.

As we saw on A-Day, Auburn’s run game will be the strength of this team in 2021 thanks to the 1-2 punch of Tank Bigsby and Shaun Shivers. The concern is what happens if either, or God forbid, both went down? Devan Barrett was the only other scholarship running back on the roster this spring and he hasn’t touched the football in 3 years. Jarquez Hunter joins the team this summer providing Auburn more depth but 4 is still a pretty small number for a program that’s expected to lean on the run game.

Ingram would essentially give Auburn a 2nd 3-star RB signee in that 2021 class given he will have four years of eligibility remaining. He’s a big kid at 6’1” 215 lbs with great lateral quickness. He lacks break away speed but his style is a great fit for Auburn’s zone heavy scheme. Finding someone willing to transfer to the Plains knowing Tank will be the man the next 2 seasons would be difficult making someone like Ingram the perfect type of addition.

While no names have emerged, it is highly likely Auburn will sign at least one maybe two offensive lineman from the portal. The Tigers desperately need some offensive tackle help but finding an SEC caliber starter available will be difficult. Most likely, Auburn will have to hope a multi-year starter from a G5 or FCS school decides to go looking for an opportunity at a bigger program to improve their draft stock. That’s worked well in the past for guys like Jack Driscoll.

Auburn is reportedly also hoping to find a veteran wide receiver who can help lead this talented but inexperienced WR corps this season. Before you ask, Justyn Ross is not transferring to Auburn (I recommend noting who is pumping that info and ignore them in the future) but there is noise that the Tigers could be adding a proven weapon in the not too distant future.

Finally, I still expect Auburn to try and find a quarterback to add depth this fall. Right now, if Bo Nix were to go down, Auburn would either have to turn to Grant Loy or Dematrius Davis. Loy has experience but is not necessarily the person you want running the offense when facing SEC defenses. A lot of people, myself included, are very high on Davis but you’d love to avoid having to throw him into the fire before he’s ready. That’s why finding another QB would be big for the Tigers. Though again, asking someone to leave their school only to be a backup on the Plains could be a tough sell. More than likely Auburn will need to target a younger QB who can be convinced he will compete for the starting gig once Nix departs.

The month of June is likely to be a historic month in the college football recruiting world but I don’t think Auburn fans are going to have to wait that long to see fireworks on the trail. I expect Auburn’s staff to lock in a number of transfer commits over the coming days in an effort to improve the 2021 roster.

War Eagle!