This long and terrible off-season has almost reached its conclusion. This week, Bryan Harsin’s first Auburn football team will trot out onto the practice field to start fall camp. In a short amount of time, Auburn’s new staff must finalize the 2 deep, install the bulk of what they want to do on both sides of the ball and begin preparation for the grind ahead.
Before camp kicks off, I wanted to take one last stab at the depth chart focusing specifically on offense today. A lot has changed since my previous projection, most notably the portal additions of TJ Finley and Demetris Robertson. Where those two in particular fit in this fall will be fascinating to watch.
For this iteration, I am projecting what I think the depth chart looks like by the end of fall camp. It would be boring to just copy over what we saw in the spring. Plus a number of injured players are healthy and there’s those afore mentioned transfers to consider. Also no cowardly ORs. Gotta have a 4th & 1 mentality in everything you do.
Enough preamble, let’s get to the hot takes.
- #10 Bo Nix | 6’3” | 214 lbs | Junior
- #1 TJ Finley | 6’7” | 246 lbs | Sophomore
- #18 Dematrius Davis | 5’10” | 218 lbs | Freshman (EE)
- #14 Grant Loy | 6’5” | 230 lbs | Senior (6th Yr)
Auburn enters the fall camp with a quarterback competition looming. Bo Nix has 2 years starting experience but inconsistency has plagued his career thus far. Enter TJ Finley, a giant of a man with a rocket arm who had a rocky debut when thrust into action last fall. Bryan Harsin recruited Finley with the pitch that he’d get a fair shot at winning the job this fall. However, it’s also telling that Bo Nix was 1 of Auburn’s 2 representatives to SEC Media Days. Finley has a lot of work ahead of him if he wishes to unseat Nix in a single fall camp.
I actually think the more interesting question isn’t who starts for Auburn against Akron but who starts against Georgia? By that point Auburn will have played two big name opponents on the road. Nix has struggled while on the road in his career. Under Malzahn, Nix seemingly had an infinite leash. How much shorter will it be under Bryan Harsin? I suspect MUCH shorter and if Nix starts to melt down in either of those contests, I’d be shocked if Harsin didn’t give Finley a shot.
Hopefully that doesn’t happen and Auburn’s new coaching staff unlocks Nix’s full potential. But at this point it’s fair to be concerned if that will ever happen. The good news is Auburn has a viable backup this fall that can step on the field and perform against SEC defenses.
Behind those two lurks Dematrius Davis. The record setting QB out of North Shore is unlikely to have a major impact this season barring a rash of injuries. But his development over this fall will be important for the Tigers’ future. He doesn’t fit the mold of quarterback Harsin and Bobo seem to prefer, namely big arm quarterbacks who thrive pushing the ball down the field. Davis is a dynamic athlete who operates best in an RPO heavy attack. But he’s also a highly intelligent young man with excellent work ethic who will have an opportunity to watch and learn this season.
Some more big time QB battles are coming in the not too distant future.
- #4 Tank Bigsby | 6’0” | 208 lbs | Sophomore
- #8 Shaun Shivers | 5’7” | 189 lbs | Senior
- #27 Jarquez Hunter | 5’10” | 202 lbs | Freshman
- #24 Jordon Ingram | 6’1” | 199 lbs | Freshman
Without question the strength of this offense heading into the 2021 season is the running back room. Tank Bigsby headlines the group and is widely regarded as the best returning back in the country. When healthy he was pretty much impossible to tackle last season. The freshman ran through, over, and around defenders. His emergence gave Auburn’s meager offense a major lift during the middle of 2020 before his late season injury torpedoed any chances of a strong finish.
The top returning RBs in 2021— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 4, 2021
1. Tank Bigsby, Auburn
2. Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
3. Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma
4. Brian Robinson Jr, Bama
5. Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss
6. Breece Hall, Iowa Statehttps://t.co/ndCxRx92c7
But behind him is where things get interesting. Despite being ranked outside the top 700, Jarquez Hunter has very quickly emerged as one of the most talked about recruits in Auburn’s 2021 class for good reason. Hunter had a spectacular career at Neshoba Central where he broke Marcus Dupree’s career touchdown record. He won a state weight lifting title in cowboy boots and per Owen Pappoe is already squatting 600 pounds. Everything about him screams future star and there are lot of people penciling him in as the #2 back by the end of the year.
While I am VERY high on Hunter and believe he has All-SEC potential, people are sleeping on Shaun Shivers and how his skillset fits in Auburn’s new scheme. Worm has long been one of the most vocal leaders in Auburn’s locker room and no one plays with more intensity on each snap than Shivers. However, injuries and usage has limited his ability to fully emerge as an impact player in the SEC. There’s been incredible moments but he’s yet to have more than 70 carries in a season.
That changes in 2021. This is going to be a run heavy attack as the staff will play to the strengths of their personnel which will unquestionably be running the dang ball. Tank will be the star and Hunter will have a role but I fully expect Shaun Shivers to be the #2 back this fall and that the veteran will have his best year to date. Injuries could always shake things up but Worm is up to 190 lbs and based off what we saw this spring he appears to be in the best shape of his life since coming to AU.
Auburn will need all three ready to deliver as inevitably someone will get nicked up. The Tigers aren’t super deep at this position but they should have 3 very talented backs to rely on this fall.
Wide Receiver (X)
- #17 Elijah Canion | 6’4” | 214 lbs | Freshman (RS)
- #80 Ze’Vian Capers | 6’4” | 195 lbs | Sophomore
- #11 Shedrick Jackson | 6’2” | 196 lbs | Senior
- #81 J.J. Evans | 6’2” | 224 lbs | Freshman (RS)
The only question facing Canion is whether or not the redshirt freshman is ready to the guy. Is he ready to go head to head with guys like Derek Stingley Jr, Josh Jobe, and Derion Kendrick? Can he win those 1 on 1 battles? Can he make the tough catches week in and week out? He burst onto the scene during the Citrus Bowl and impressed again at A-Day. But we haven’t yet seen him matched up against elite SEC corners. To be an elite offense in today’s world you have to have elite weapons at wideout. Canion has shown flashes of having that ability. Now it’s about proving it week in and week out against elite competition.
Behind him I have two guys that could really slot in at a number of different positions. I have Ze’Vian Capers as a backup here but it would not shock me if he started somewhere in Auburn’s WR rotation, maybe even ahead of Canion. The former blue chip saw plenty of action last fall but few targets. He missed spring with an injury but is 100% ready to go for fall camp. He’s one of the biggest wildcards for this Auburn offense heading into 2021.
As for Jackson, he could play any of the 3 WR spots. Malzahn used him at the 5 mostly as a blocker for quick hitting concepts or outside runs. Like Capers, he missed spring ball so this will be the first time the new staff can really evaluate his skillset. Given his ability as a blocker, he’ll definitely see snaps this fall. Whether or not he’s a significant contributor will come down to his ability as a pass catcher.
Wide Receiver (H)
- #6 Ja’Varrius Johnson | 5’10” | 159 lbs | rSophomore
- #3 Tar’Varish Dawson | 5’11” | 161 lbs | Freshman
- #16 Malcolm Johnson Jr | 6’1” | 195 lbs | Freshman (RS)
No one on offense generated more buzz this past spring practice than Ja’Varrius Johnson. The diminutive but explosive wideout from Trussville, AL did not see much action his first two years on campus as he recovered from a lower body injury. He was fully healthy this past spring and impressed both Bryan Harsin and new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo with his consistency. I’ll be shocked if he’s not a major factor in Auburn’s offense this fall.
I have a bit of a hot take here moving the true freshman Dawson ahead of Malcolm Johnson Jr. I like both but there’s some serious buzz coming out of the Plains that Dawson has wow’d with his quickness and speed. He’s not very big which could limit his ability to contribute in 2021 but I think Auburn is going to find ways to get the ball in his hands this season.
Johnson could very well make me look dumb with this take as he’s one of the fastest players on the roster. But I still think he’s a year or two away from being a major contributor.
Wide Receiver (Z)
- Demetris Robertson | 6’0” | 190 lbs | Senior (6th Yr)
- #5 Kobe Hudson | 6’1” | 199 lbs | Sophomore
- #23 Caylin Newton | 6’0” | 209 lbs | Senior
Robertson isn’t officially on the roster yet but he’s expected to report to camp this week. The former 5-star is one of the most intriguing transfers in college football. He was a freshman All-American at Cal before being sidelined with an injury as a sophomore and transferring back home to Georgia. There he made limited impact as injuries and blocking struggles kept him off the field. Auburn is his last chance to regain his 2016 form and I think he’s going to make the most of it. Harsin loves speed at wideout and I think you’ll see Robertson heavily involved in Auburn’s offensive game plan each week both as a receiver and as a rusher.
Hudson saw plenty of snaps last fall but didn’t see many targets. The former do it all athlete out of Troup County lacks elite top end speed but can be difficult to tackle in open space. He reportedly had an up and down spring which was pretty much the case for every wideout. I think Robertson’s addition helps him more than any player as now Hudson will not have to be relied on as a top guy this fall. It gives him more time to develop as a pass catcher and route runner. Which in turn should set him up for a big 2022 season.
- #86 Luke Deal | 6’6” | 255 lbs | Sophomore
- #47 John Samuel Shenker | 6’4” | 249 lbs | Senior
- #85 Tyler Fromm | 6’5” | 240 lbs | Sophomore
- #40 Landen King | 6’5” | 214 lbs | Freshman (EE)
- #87 Brandon Frazier | 6’7” | 267 lbs | Sophomore
Despite Auburn not utilizing the tight end much in the passing game, Gus Malzahn built an impressively talented tight end room. Now it will have a chance to finally play a larger role in the offense as it appears the Tigers are likely to lean heavily on this group in 2021. With an inconsistent QB, an offensive line with pass pro concerns and an inexperienced wide receiving corps, it should not come as a surprise that Auburn plans to spend a lot of time in 11 and 12 personnel.
Coming up with an order was pretty difficult as I expect all five will see significant action this fall. I have Luke Deal at the top of the list as the former highly regarded prospect can do pretty much everything Brad Bedell and Mike Bobo want at that spot. He can line up with his hand on the ground and block a defensive end. He can split out wide and catch the football. He can line up in the backfield as a fullback and lead up the middle. Deal was a big time recruiting win three years ago and was one of Auburn’s most consistent blockers last fall. I think he’s poised for a breakout 2021 season.
Behind him is Mr. Reliable. John Samuel Shenker was a late addition to Auburn’s 2017 class courtesy of former Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. He’s developed into a swiss army knife who is capable of doing a little of everything which like Deal will make him very valuable to Bryan Harsin and Mike Bobo.
Fromm was one of the most improved players on the roster this past spring. He’s bulked up while still keeping his wide receiver athleticism. It would not surprise me if he saw the most targets at this position this fall.
At the bottom of the list are arguably the two guys with the most upside. Landen King has reportedly blown folks away with his athleticism and work ethic. There’s even talk he’ll see snaps as a wideout this fall to add depth to that room. Brandon Frazier has arguably the best high school tape of any tight end on Auburn’s roster but an injury limited him greatly in 2020. If he’s truly healthy again and regained his burst, he’s someone that could come on strong later this fall.
- #55 Brenden Coffey | 6’5” | 292 lbs | Senior
- #65 Alec Jackson | 6’5” | 323 lbs | Senior
- #77 Kilian Zierer | 6’7” | 294 lbs | Junior (RS)
Calling my shot. While Alec Jackson or Austin Troxell should be the favorites to win the starting left tackle job, I just believe there’s gonna be some sort of surprise starter in this group. The guy I have my eye on is former JUCO star Brenden Coffey. The former #4 JUCO OT is one of the best athletes on Auburn’s offensive line but he lacked the strength to hold up against SEC defensive lineman. This off-season he’s undergone one of the biggest transformations bulking up to nearly 300 pounds. Assuming he’s still as quick footed as he was coming out of JUCO, don’t be surprised if he cracks the starting lineup.
Jackson had a mysterious end to spring camp. He was part of the group that did not play at A-Day which featured a number of players that eventually transferred out. However, like TD Moultry, Jackson remained and is now angling to hold onto his starting left tackle gig. He was one of the lowest graded offensive tackles to start the 2020 season but improved over the course of the season. However, an injury derailed his progress and he was eventually pulled in the bowl game. I still think he’d be better suited in the interior but Auburn needs tackles and so he’ll continue to compete for a spot on the outside.
I have Coffey winning the job but it would not shock me either if Zierer stepped up and won too. The German native was one of the top ranked JUCO players in his class but a devastating knee injury late in his JUCO season prevented him from making an impact in 2020. He battled another injury in the spring so this summer is really the first time he’s had a chance to go through a collegiate strength and conditioning program. I think he’s a year away from being a starter for the Tigers.
- #56 Tashawn Manning | 6’3” | 335 lbs | Senior
- #62 Kameron Stutts | 6’5” | 337 lbs | Junior
- #54 Tate Johnson | 6’4” | 312 lbs | Freshman (RS)
Very quietly, Tashawn Manning had an excellent junior season in 2020. There were problems with Auburn’s offensive line but Manning was rarely the source. The former defensive lineman is now poised to build on his success last fall in an offensive scheme that should only further highlight his strengths as a run blocker. Don’t be surprised if he’s getting some All-SEC buzz by end of the year.
Behind him are two intriguing lineman. Kam Stutts is a physical road grader who is continuing to grow as a pass protector. Tate Johnson has the athleticism to do everything well as he continues to reshape his body for SEC competition. Both will likely compete for starting roles next fall.
- #52 Nick Brahms | 6’4” | 302 lbs | Senior
- #50 Jalil Irvin | 6’3” | 319 lbs | Junior
- #57 Avery Jernigan | 6’4” | 312 lbs | Freshman (RS)
No player outside of maybe Bo Nix has been more criticized on Auburn’s roster than Nick Brahms. The former blue chip recruit struggled when inserted to replace Kaleb Kim in 2018. In 2019, the lack of time in Auburn’s strength and conditioning due to his serious leg injuries showed as he struggled to consistently get movement at point of attack against SEC caliber defensive lineman. COVID disruptions and injuries killed Auburn’s 2020 offensive line’s chances of improvement.
But word on the street is that the player on the offensive line this new staff has the most confidence in is Nick Brahms. The veteran seems to have clicked with new offensive line coach Will Friend who has reportedly spent lots of time attempting to improve the player’s general knowledge of the game.
“One of the biggest things we were lacking, maybe, is football IQ,” Brahms said after Saturday’s A-Day spring game. “I think coach Friend has done a great job in teaching us the game of football. That can help us make the game slow down for us a little bit and really help the guys know what’s coming.”
“Looking at safety rotations and stuff like that, knowing where pressure is coming from,” Brahms said. “They show different stuff on defense and they kind of tip it off a little bit. So just knowing pre-snap, kind of expecting what’s going to happen, it helps us out a lot.
“So maybe in one look we’ll ... see a guy blitzing off the outside, we’re going to double with the guard and tackle. And then I can bring the backside guard with me if I think he’s going to slant across my face, and then I can climb to a linebacker. So it’s that kind of stuff – really thinking about the game of football.”
It would be a huge boost for this Auburn offense if Nick Brahms could take a major step forward this fall. He’s well liked and well respected in that locker room. Now it’s about consistently executing each and every Saturday.
- #58 Keiondre Jones | 6’3” | 345 lbs | Sophomore
- #71 Brandon Council | 6’4” | 335 lbs | Senior
- #74 Garner Langlo | 6’7” | 298 lbs | Freshman
Brandon Council is expected back for fall camp but he might not be close to 100% yet. He was unquestionably Auburn’s best offensive lineman before his injury. His versatility will allow him to compete for a starting role anywhere on the offensive line but given his long recovery and the fact he might not yet be 100%, I am not sure if he’s a starter week 1.
Instead, I am going with former 4-star Keiondre Jones. One of the most physical lineman on Auburn’s roster, Jones was forced into action last season following Council’s injury. He had bright moments but also some struggles most notably in pass protection. There’s no question the big man can move dudes off the line of scrimmage but if he can improve his footwork as a pass protector he could be in line for a big sophomore season.
- #59 Brodarious Hamm | 6’5” | 334 lbs | Senior
- #68 Austin Troxell | 6’7” | 305 lbs | Senior
- #69 Colby Smith | 6’8” | 314 lbs | Freshman
It’s hard not to cheer for both Brodarious Hamm and Austin Troxell. Both have experienced tremendous hardship in their years on the Plains. Hamm had to beat cancer before even arriving on Auburn’s campus. Before the start of last season, Hamm tragically lost his son just months after his birth. On the field, he’s battled numerous injuries while playing out of position at tackle.
Troxell has suffered 3 major knee injuries during his career. The former blue chip lost a lot of the quickness he showed as a junior in high school following all those surgeries and its cost him the opportunity to be a multi year starter for the Tigers.
But both are back to battle again this fall. I flipped Troxell to the right side due to projecting Coffey as the starting left tackle but Troxell could very well be the starter at left tackle himself. Hamm is likely solidified as a starter but if Auburn’s JUCO offensive tackles emerge, he could also slide inside.
Either way, Auburn will need both healthy and ready to go to be successful this fall. And honestly, given what they’ve been through, I’d love nothing more than both earn starting roles and have big final seasons on the Plains.