Note: All seniors have their profiles linked, although they are not filled out yet.
What seemed like a possible run at the College Football Playoff National Championship (say that ten times fast) was thwarted by a 7-28 drubbing at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game. The Peach Bowl loss to an undefeated UCF team was a somewhat quiet close to an exciting year for the Tigers. There is reason to hope for Auburn fans heading into 2018 though. The team is returning a plethora of talent on the defensive side of the ball. That continuity paired with a potential first round selection at quarterback could end up propelling the team to another shot at the playoffs.
That potential first rounder at the quarterback position? That's redshirt junior Jarrett Stidham who has a knack for the big play. Stidham also has an affinity for dropping his eyes and looking to run, which is going to be a double-edged sword for the team this season. His mechanics scare me given his longer release motion and elongated setup, but he generates zip on his passes to make up for smaller landing zones downfield. The most apparent thing with Stidham's game is his natural accuracy. He can distribute the football to all levels of the field with some quality placement. The Auburn offense did him no favors with their scheme, but he needs to be more reliable. His hot/cold performance pattern could drop his stock, but if he irons out the flaws there is good reason to believe in him as an early round selection.
Receivers Will Hastings and Ryan Davis may not be worth investing draft picks in, but both bring some quality traits that may be worth having in camp come next Summer. Hastings is the more refined of the two despite having played the position for less time. His measurements are going to be a massive question mark, as he is only 165 pounds. He's not a complete route-runner yet, but the signs are there that he can develop into one if given time. Hastings utilizes timing and setup alterations to eat up cushion and carry himself into the defender's personal space. Once he's in their grill he stays disciplined with his head and feet to keep them guessing prior to the break point. His ability to hold up to the rigors of the NFL game will determine whether or not he gets a real opportunity to showcase and build his skill set at the pro level.
Davis isn't as technical as Hastings is, but he was a much better producer last year for the receiving corps. He is only listed at 5'9" and around 175 pounds, but he plays much bigger than that once the ball is in his hands. Davis is a machine after the catch where he can both elude defenders and lower his shoulder to create yardage. Whenever the ball is in his catch radius Davis is surefire to bring it down. The problem is that his catch radius is not that impressive. He was rarely asked to get passes downfield, mostly working screens and underneath stuff. His transition to the next level may be more difficult than Hastings, as he'll face a steeper learning curve when it comes to running a full route tree and learning to escape press against better competition.
The defensive line is a killer's row, so I'll avoid talking about some potential underclassmen like Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson, neither of which impressed me during the evaluation process. The highest grade I gave out amongst the Auburn defensive line players belonged to the stout Dontavius Russell who ate single blocks up like I eat Red Lobster's cheesy biscuits. Russell plays with excellent leverage and has the mass to take on interior linemen at the point and win most of the time. His balance could use some work as he can get tripped up too easily when attempting to disengage, but the skills are there to play 1-tech or maybe even 0-tech. His pass rushing will need some refinement and some improved counter speed. The flashes are there to become a viable three down defensive linemen if he can be more reliable getting lateral and interrupting rushing lanes while staying on his feet.
Across from Russell the most frequent face was underclassman Derrick Brown who I placed a late fourth round grade on. Brown is probably the most athletic of the three big names on the interior. He's strong as an ox and turns his bull rushes into pocket collapses multiple times a game. The biggest problem facing Brown is his inability to use counter moves and form a plan when rushing the passer. He'll often get locked up and grind to a halt if his bull rush fails. Once his burst off the snap is gone he seems almost complacent wherever he stops at. When he does get slowed down Brown gives up leverage and raises his chest, allowing himself to be knocked out of the play entirely. The tools are tantalizing, but they aren't demonstrated on the field.
The last big name to watch out for this season on the Auburn defensive line is explosive pass rushing specialist Andrew Williams. Williams is reminiscent of Taven Bryan and R.J. McIntosh who were both near unblockable at times during their collegiate career. The one major drawback of the two is one that Williams shares. He allows his pad level to rise so outrageously high off the snap that he might as well be standing on his tip toes. When given the all clear to just hunt for the quarterback and get penetration he is a creative rusher who uses plenty of tricks to get by. Swims, rips, push/pulls, almost anything you can throw out there. He's an absolute dog when in pursuit and he never turns off his engine. Williams will need to put on significant weight if he wants to hold up in run defense situations, as he can get washed out by angrier blockers. Look for him to put up big numbers in the box score this year, but don't expect him to be a reliable short yardage player.
Moving further back into the defense you'll be much more hard-pressed to find draftable prospects. The linebacker corps is good for the college level, but the traits may not be there to translate to the next level. The guy with the best odds is likely Darrell Williams who brings some serious heat when he comes downhill. Williams is a serious presence in the run game as he presents a jarring punch that can knock 300 pounders on their behinds. Word for word, I described him as a bash them over the head type of player in my full notes. He's built like an old school bruiser with a massive frame and an attitude. Williams will struggle in coverage due to questionable change of direction burst and fluidity, and while he is a big hitter he isn't a reliable one in the open field. His potential as a run stuffer should get him a camp invite and maybe even a practice squad spot.
The more highly touted Deshaun Davis may be the leader of the Auburn defense over Williams, but I was unimpressed with his tape. Davis checks in at 245 pounds, but he's only 5'11" and may be too thick for his own good. Much like Williams he is a willing run defender who comes up to impact that area of the game, but he's much more limited as an athlete. His approach is often misguided and he takes plenty of poor angles in pursuit. If Davis were able to translate his tenacity into play-making ability he'd be a guy worth discussing more this year. For the moment he's one of the lesser guys on the team and likely out of football come 2019 kickoff.
Montavious Atkinson is the third musketeer, and the least talked about amongst the linebacker group. He's not the tank that his 245-250 pound teammates are, but Atkinson is an easy mover at 220 pounds. He is quick enough to trail in coverage and keep backs locked down as they come past the line of scrimmage. He doesn't possess the strength to take on blockers, but he can seek out the football and work his way towards it. Atkinson will likely need to improve his tackling strength to deal with NFL runners, but he can grip on and drag down most SEC backs. Although he has enough athleticism to deal with some basic assignments he should not be viewed as a phenom in coverage. Atkinson lacks sideline to sideline ability and will struggle if asked to hold down the middle of the field by himself. His limited play time at Auburn could draw some concerns, but he is probably in play to be the biggest riser on that defense this year.
The highest grade I gave out to an Auburn player during my study was to nickel corner Javaris Davis who was a stunningly gifted mover that translated his talent into coverage ability. Davis is a legit 4.3 40-yard dash type of athlete and it shows in his ability to recover from mistakes and break on the football. Although he can be pushed around by more imposing receivers (a huge part of why he played nickel last season) he stays hot on the heels and contests at the catch point. He's a lot like Donte Jackson last year in regards to how scrappy he plays despite being below average height for the position. Davis transitions smooth in both man and zone coverage, looking at ease regardless of what he's asked to do. The physicality in the run game is what makes him truly stand out as a prospect. He flies upfield with a head full of steam and puts his whole body into hits. He's a near guarantee to finish receivers regardless of the size. The biggest problem for most evaluators will be his lack of experience playing on the outside. He might get a shot to showcase his skills against the bigger guys now that former star cornerback Carlton Davis has moved on to the league.
I can't finish this article without mentioning the cornerback that is getting the most noise on the roster. Jamel Dean has gotten a lot of attention thanks to some great athletic testing in high school and college. He's a track guy who can really book it when the pads are off. When the pads are on, it's a different story. Dean doesn't showcase his long speed when he loses position to receivers, often falling behind in the routes. His change of direction is not good enough to mirror opposing players through their takeoff and stem. Dean is listed at 6'1" and 205 pounds, and it shows in the way he plays at the line of scrimmage. When working in press he can shut down routes off the snap and displace receivers for quite a while. The actual coverage though? It's not up to par with expectations. The tackling and run defense ability isn't either.
There's plenty of talent on the team that hasn't yet been unlocked, but the early bet I'd make is on the Tigers having a few stumbles along the way and falling short of their title hopes. The draft hopes? Stidham, Davis, and Brown will all make their cases to be early selections. The rest of the team? They'll have some work to do if they want to be considered future stars after college graduation.
CB Javaris Davis: Early 3rd Round
DT Dontavius Russell: Late 3rd Round
QB Jarrett Stidham: Early 4th Round
DT Andrew Williams: Late 4th Round
DT Derrick Brown: Late 4th Round
WR Ryan Davis: Undrafted
WR Will Hastings: Undrafted
LB Darrell Williams: Undrafted
LB Montavious Atkinson: Undrafted
DE Nick Coe: Undrafted
DE Marlon Davidson: Undrafted
CB Jamel Dean: Undrafted
LB Deshaun Davis: Undrafted
S Jeremiah Dinson: Undrafted
WR Darius Slayton: Undrafted
If you'd like to read my full notes on the Auburn Tigers prospects that I scouted, you can do so by clicking the link below.