The official 2021 Auburn football depth chart has dropped. Here you go:
There aren’t too many surprises here, but let’s run it down:
- QUARTERBACK: After Bryan Harsin announced recently that Bo Nix would be the starter if we kicked off last week, then it pretty well set in stone that T.J. Finley wouldn’t be able to do enough to catch up and overtake him before Akron. There have been reports that Finley’s been a better passer than Bo in drills, but game action is still TBD. No shock here.
- RUNNING BACKS: Duh, the most important player on the Auburn roster is TB1. Tank Bigsby retains his spot, and Shaun Shivers brings the upperclassmen moxie in the backup spot. I know they’ll both play, and both get a ton of carries. Hopefully we do get to see a truly Heisman-like campaign from Tank, though, as that would honestly just be a lot of fun.
- TIGHT END: Is this the year that we finally see the tight end utilized properly? MAYBE. Bryan Harsin has used the big guys more than Gus Malzahn did in the past, and John Samuel Shenker gets the nod as the first guy on the field. Interesting that we don’t see Brandon Frazier anywhere there after he got some good playing time in 2020.
- WIDE RECEIVERS: Basically all we heard in fall camp was that Ja’Varrius Johnson and Demetris Robertson were the guys that showed huge improvement and the skills to be actual stars for Auburn at receiver. What’s troubling and interesting is that they combined for 12 catches in 2020 (all by Robertson), and now have overtaken guys that played quite a bit for Auburn last season. Shedrick Jackson may be poised to finally break out with a starting role, but he only had 6 receptions a season ago. Ze’Vian Capers and Kobe Hudson each grabbed 7 passes in 2020, and both are now second teamers.
- OFFENSIVE LINE: While there aren’t many surprises in terms of starters, it remains to be seen exactly how good this group will be. There are a couple of questions lingering out there. First, can they all stay on the field when it comes to COVID. There were multiple players missing time over fall camp. Second, even if they stay on the field, are they talented enough to make a push against the Georgias, Alabamas, and Texas A&Ms of the world? Pass protection was, quite honestly, awful at times last year, and it’s a big reason why Bo Nix has the hair trigger on bailing. We have four seniors and a sophomore in the starting five (unless you swap Tashawn Manning for Keiondre Jones with the OR statement, then it’s five seniors). This may end up being the most important position on the team, but we won’t know until week three in Happy Valley.
- DEFENSIVE LINE: This is going to be a different group from last season, with new faces all throughout the middle due to the transfer market and position switches. Despite that, they’ve reportedly been a force in fall camp. Are they good, or are they just going against the Auburn offensive line? We shall see. Colby Wooden slides outside, and the transfers Tony Fair and Marcus Harris move inside (Tony Fair is 330 pounds at nose tackle, my word), while Derick Hall is up to 251 pounds and likely to disrupt the industry hard.
- LINEBACKERS: No questions, complaints, or issues here. Auburn’s two captains, Owen Pappoe and Chandler Wooten (technically the “Star” position, but we’ll lump it in with the backers) sit here and should be poised for giant seasons. Wooten returns from the sit-out in 2020 and was voted captain by his teammates, so you know he’ll be ready to make his mark, while Pappoe and Zakoby McClain likely form the best linebacker duo in the league. McClain led the nation in tackles last year, and he could do the same again.
- DEFENSIVE BACKS: No real surprises here either. Auburn was honestly stacked at this position, as it was an area of stockpiled talent over the past couple of seasons under Gus. Roger McCreary could very well end up as Auburn’s next first-round cornerback, and Nehemiah Pritchett brings 25 tackles and TEN pass breakups from 2020 into the other starting slot. Ro Torrence got a ton of talk in fall camp, and Jaylin Simpson played very well as a true freshman last season. We don’t even see Dreshun Miller, the WVU transfer, on the two-deep, so Auburn is in good hands at corner. Safeties are also a solid group, with Smoke Monday back again for his senior season, joined by Bydarrius Knighten, the grad transfer from SEMO, and Donovan Kaufman, a follower of Derek Mason, who spent last year at Vandy now coming in as a backup.
- SPECIAL TEAMS: Anders Carlson comes back for his senior year as placekicker, we’ll have to see how quickly his older brother can start popping out babies. Oscar Chapman returns at punter after averaging 41.0 yards on 28 punts in 2020. The punt returners are two of the starting receivers in Johnson and Robertson, and Kaufman/Pritchett will share kickoff return duties. Kaufman averaged over 27 yards per kick return last season at Vandy, but the other three guys have never returned a punt or a kickoff in their collegiate careers.
Overall, the offense has promise. Depending on offensive line play, and whether Bo Nix has learned to step up in the pocket and take the hit, we could have a pretty good little attack. We’re not talking Alabama of last year or the Joe Burrow Show or 2019, but something that allows Auburn to stick around against everyone on the schedule. If not, it’ll look a good bit like it did in 2020. Defensively, the team could be very good. Like, top ten nationally. It’s no stretch to say that with the returners in the back seven, and the versatility of the unit as a whole should allow Auburn to match what basically every offense wants to do and provide a counter against the different attacks we’ll see throughout the season.