Sound the alarms. Alert the worriers. Order in a code red.

Auburn’s losses on offense are daunting: QB Nick Marshall, RB Cameron Artis-Payne, C Reese Dismukes and WR Sammie Coates were megastars for the Tigers. WR/KR Quan Bray and RB Corey Grant played important roles.

Considering Gus Malzahn’s successful system, which produced the second-best SEC offense in back-to-back seasons, carried a woeful defense in 2014, there’s reason for concern.

At least in a vacuum.

Don’t expect the pendulum to swing the other way, with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp forced to carry the slack caused by a suddenly-slumping Auburn offense. And that’s not a generic nod to Malzahn’s well-chronicled offensive genius.

The Tigers must avoid injuries to top skill players at all costs in 2015, because the team’s depth won’t be nearly as strong. But the talent drain at the skill positions isn’t nearly as daunting as one would imagine.


Prognosis: Improvement

It’s always dangerous to proclaim that a relatively untested quarterback is going to supersede the performance of a good outgoing one.

But that’s exactly what we’re prepared to do in the case of Jeremy Johnson. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback has the physical ability to become a bona fide NFL prospect at the position. Contrast that with Nick Marshall, who weighed 6-foot-1.5 and 205 pounds at the Senior Bowl, forced to transition back to corner to have a chance to get drafted.

Marshall was a good quarterback in Malzahn’s system, completing about 60 percent of his passes for 34 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in two seasons. Marshall had a strong arm, good for threatening defenses with the deep ball, but his biggest strength was his ability to execute the read option, a staple of Auburn’s offense the last two years.

Casual fans mislabel Malzahn as an offensive mind that skews toward the run, but he’s oscillated throughout his coaching career depending on his personnel. Auburn already has said it will put more emphasis on the passing game next year, in part because Johnson already is a much better downfield thrower.

Johnson, already 16/1 to win the Heisman Trophy, completed 12-of-16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in a first-half start against Arkansas while Marshall served a suspension. He’s completed 73.1 percent of his throws in limited time the last two seasons.

You’d think those are probably safer throws, while Marshall’s completion percentage suffered due to some big downfield plays offset by some deep misses. But Marshall averaged 8.5 yards per attempt, while Johnson sits at 11.0 on 78 passes. It’s no sure thing, but there’s a great chance Auburn is even better at quarterback next year.

The Tigers just won’t have the luxury of its starter getting suspended for a key SEC game due to marijuana and it making very little difference, because the team won’t have a backup as good as Johnson.


Prognosis: Steady

Auburn is losing 2,845 rushing yards from the 2014 team, or 85.7 percent of its production on the ground.

Yet it’s distinctly possible the Tigers running game could get better this fall.

Jovon Robinson, the No. 1 junior college player last season, could be one of the most impactful incoming players in the entire SEC. The 5-foot-11, 225-pound back could be a more important get for 2015 than defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Originally an Auburn signee, he practiced with the Tigers in the fall of 2012 before it was discovered that a Memphis high school guidance counselor had changed one of his grades, making him ineligible. So he’s waited three years for this moment.

Again, it’s dangerous to project a player based solely on hearsay, like Jacob Coker at Alabama last season, but Robinson proved it by rushing for 2,387 yards in 2013, leading the NJCAA. Based on what we know, projecting him to be at least as good as Cameron Artis-Payne seems conservative.

Roc Thomas ran 43 times for 5.0 yards per carry as a five-star true freshman. It’s possible Thomas remains a glorified jet sweep specialist, but he should get a few more opportunities this season. And four-star signee Kerryon Johnson, rated as the No. 2 athlete in the 2015 class, will get a chance to contribute as well if he acclimates quickly in the fall. Peyton Barber is in the mix as well, so the team shouldn’t have an issue with depth.

The Tigers do face a downgrade since Johnson is not the runner that Marshall was. But that is balanced by the arrival of Chandler Cox, the No. 2 fullback prospect of the 2015 class and an early enrollee. Auburn missed Jay Prosch last season, but Cox will give the team great flexibility at the “3-back” position. He’ll need to bulk up — Prosch left as a 250-pound steamroller and Cox enters at 225 — but should offer the team an improvement on offense.


Prognosis: Steady

Getting Williams to return to Auburn for his senior season against all expectations was a huge deal.

It would’ve been difficult for the Tigers to transition to a pro-style pocket passer at quarterback while simultaneously losing its top three receivers, including a pair of potential NFL standouts.

Bray was a nice player, but Auburn can sustain the loss of his 39 catches at 12.1 yards per. Coates was a downfield burner that kept defenses honest and bought the team room to run the ball. His inconsistent hands prevented him from being an even bigger star, but losing him is a body blow.

Williams, though, could be the No. 1 NFL prospect in the country at receiver, and he stands to benefit from the transition to Johnson. One alpha receiver that can singlehandedly crush secondaries, even with double teams, is enough, as Alabama proved with Amari Cooper.

Ricardo Lewis and Melvin Ray are complimentary players. The team needed more depth, and got it by flipping four-star WR Darius Slayton from Georgia, who could challenge Ray as the No. 3 option. Marcus Davis also provides depth at the position.

As long as Williams is on the field, this group should be just fine. He and Johnson could be the best QB-WR combo in the conference in 2015.


The team must replace Dismukes and RG Chad Slade along the offensive line. As mentioned previously, depth could become a major concern, especially if Johnson or Williams gets hurt.

But with the defense expected to get better and a group of skill players at least as good among the starters, Auburn is in great position to have a better season in 2015 and again contend for the SEC West title.

If the Tigers don’t win the West, it won’t be because of the talent drain at the skill positions.