Biggest Needs: Auburn returns the second-most starters in the SEC West, behind Ole Miss, which is good news. The offense loses five of those starters, but who’s to say that’s bad, considering how poorly this group played throughout the season. The three biggest losses on offense are RB Onterio McCalebb, TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen and WR Emory Blake. Auburn needs running back depth, a difference-maker at quarterback and wide receivers who can make explosive plays down the field.
The good news for Auburn is that they return eight starters on defense, but the Tigers lose two of their best and most experienced players in LB Darren Bates and DE Corey Lemonier. Above all, the linebackers struggled tackling in space, and they had no impact players at the second or third level. The Tigers had a solid defensive line who didn’t exactly play up to potential, but beyond the first level, this group struggled all year and finished 13th in the conference in total defense.
Needs Met: Let’s start on offense. Gus Malzahn signed three running backs in JUCO transfer Cameron Artis-Payne, Johnathan Ford and Peyton Barber. That’s a great start, and the three combined with Tre Mason should create a more potent running game. Malzahn also signed Alabama’s player of the year in quarterback Jeremy Johnson, who will compete for playing time along with JUCO transfer Nick Marshall. The Tigers also signed five wide receivers, with standouts Jason Smith and Tony Stevens looking to make an impact next season.
A strength on last year’s team will be even stronger next year on the defensive line. Malzahn and his staff hauled in a defensive line class to remember with three five star players in DE Carl Lawson, DE Elijah Daniel and DT Montravius Adams. This staff also inked five defensive backs and two linebackers who should provide immediate help. JUCO LB Kenny Flowers should provide an instant spark to a struggling position.
Biggest Get: Arguably the surprise of National Signing Day was five-star DT Montravius Adams. The Georgia native had the Bulldogs and Clemson high on the list, but Auburn got the last visit and closed the deal. Current Auburn defensive line coach and ace recruiter Rodney Garner gets credit for this one.
Biggest Miss: I don’t want to say Auburn got the wrong Alexander brother from Florida. They landed Mackenro Alexander, but they missed on MacKensie, who will be a standout at the next level for Clemson.
Final Evaluation: If not for Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss and Alabama being the talk of National Signing Day, Auburn would be getting more pub. Malzahn removed Gene Chizik’s entire staff and kept no holdover coaches for transition purposes, and he still finished better than what Chizik or anyone else could have done. Completely new staffs aren’t supposed to finish like this, but Malzahn rewrote the script on Wednesday.
Final Grade: A-
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