Derek Mason ain’t playing around. Despite inheriting a defense stocked with blue chip recruits, Mason has gone to work in the portal to upgrade the talent on his side of the ball.
It started when the Tigers added Northwestern pass rusher Eku Leota back in January. Then they struck it big by snagging one of the top cornerback transfers in Dreshun Miller from West Virginia. Last week, Auburn added UAB nose tackle Tony Fair and SEMO safety Bydarrius Knighten. Earlier this week, Mason reunited with his former star recruit Donovan Kaufman. Today, he’s at it again, this time landing Kansas defensive line transfer Marcus Harris.
Harris was a low ranked 3-star recruit coming out of Park Crossing High School. In fact, Rivals had him as a 2-star. Les Miles recognized his talent and brought him out to Lawrence in 2019. He redshirted that fall before breaking out this past season.
I am not sure if Kansas’s previous staff realized what they had in Harris at the start of the year as he played sparingly and didn’t have much of an impact. But a strong showing against Oklahoma State earned him more snaps against West Virginia and boy did he make the most of it. Harris demolished the Mountaineers offensive line to the tune of 6 tackles with 3 going for a loss. He continued his hot play the next week against Kansas State with 2 more tackles for loss. He finished the season as the Jayhawk leader in TFL with 7.5. That would have put him 2nd on Auburn’s team behind only Colby Wooden.
When you turn on Harris’s tape the first thing that jumps out is how well he uses his hands. The big man has an explosive first step but excels at stacking and shedding would be blockers. He’s also deadly on slants where his quickness allows him to beat offensive tackles to the spot and disrupt the opponent’s run game. As a pass rusher, he’s not much of a threat but most of his rushes for the Jayhawks came on the edge. At Auburn, I imagine you’ll see him lined up inside on clear passing downs where his bull rush can more effectively collapse the pocket and make the quarterback uncomfortable.
I don’t make this comparison lightly but Harris reminds me a lot of Marlon Davidson in terms of skillset. He’s a heavy handed DE who can slide inside to a 1 or 2 technique or play outside at the 5. The Jayhawks rarely switched up fronts so Harris spent most of his time in a 4i (lined up on inside shoulder of OT) where he’ll likely see plenty of snaps in Mason’s 3-4 scheme. However, I think in Auburn’s new 2-4-5 nickel package he’s someone that will slide inside. If he can hold up to double teams down there he’s got a chance to be a major impact player this fall. Would not surprise me at all to see him push Marquis Burks for the starting defensive tackle position.
The Tigers are likely close to done on the defensive side of the ball unless some unmissable stud jumps into the portal. Auburn could still take former Texas A&M linebacker Ke’Shun Brown, a close friend of Harris’s, but otherwise have addressed their needs on defense. The focus now will turn to offense where the Tigers are looking to add at least one player to every room sans tight end. Auburn appears to be the team to beat for LSU quarterback transfer T.J. Finley and Central Michigan running back Jordon Ingram. They are continuing to monitor the portal for offensive tackles and I still expect them to add a veteran wide receiver if one becomes available.
When all is said and done Auburn could add as many as 12 players from the portal this off-season. It’s clear Bryan Harsin believed this roster needed some talent upgrades to compete this fall and he’s working hard to make that happen.
War Eagle Marcus!