Jump to content

Spring 2020: AU Freshmen to Watch


Recommended Posts



AUBURN — Gus Malzahn has never been afraid to lean on freshmen.

Six of the 19 2019 signees who made it through the entire season with the program last season played past the four-game redshirt limit. That’s a small group in terms of volume (each of the previous four years featured double-digit contributors) but certainly not in terms of impact.

Quarterback Bo Nix passed for 2,542 yards. Running back D.J. Williams ranked second on the team in rushing yards. Linebacker Owen Pappoe started all 13 games and ranked sixth with 49 tackles. Buck Derrick Hall was a key part of the rotation on the defensive line.

That number seems bound to go up in 2020. Twenty-one of the 26 members of Auburn’s No. 7-ranked recruiting class are out of high school. And the Tigers have plenty of holes to fill on the depth chart, given how many departures there were at running back, on the offensive and defensive lines, and in the secondary.

Only nine of those true freshmen enrolled early. But they’re not the only freshmen on the spring roster — the other 13 remaining members of that 2019 class redshirted last year (some due to injury or illness) and will be trying to prove that they have what it takes to contribute in their second seasons on the Plains.

Here are 12 names to pay attention to when practice begins on March 16:

Tank Bigsby & Mark-Antony Richards — RB

The true freshman Bigsby and redshirt freshman Richards were already players Auburn (and its fans) were excited about even before JaTarvious Whitlow entered the transfer portal. With last year’s leading rusher gone and only Williams and Shaun Shivers returning as primary ball-carriers, the two rookies can put themselves in position to be very meaningful contributors at running back with a good spring. They both fit what first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris likes to do on offense, which is feature the running back in the passing game.

And the talent is certainly there. The 6-foot, 209-pound Bigsby is the fourth highest-rated player the Tigers have signed at the position, behind only Michael Dyer, Cadillac Williams (who is now the position coach) and Roc Thomas. He rushed for 1,636 yards and 27 touchdowns during an injury-shortened senior season at Callaway High in LaGrange, Georgia, after running for 2,221 yards the year before. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Richards was a four-star athlete in the 2019 class who has drawn comparisons to Kerryon Johnson for his running style and pass-catching ability. He was sidelined all of last season after undergoing knee surgery in the fall, but he totaled more than 3,000 all-purpose yards as a senior at Wellington (Fla.) High the year before, has been going through Auburn's offseason conditioning program and is expected to be at least close to 100% in time for the start of spring practice.

Kobe Hudson & Ja’Varrius Johnson — WR

The 6-foot, 185-pound Hudson is the smallest of the four wide receivers Auburn signed in the 2020 class (Elijah Canion, ZeVian Capers and JJ Evans are all 6-foot-2 or taller), but he’s also the highest-rated and the only one to enroll early. He caught 62 passes for 1,424 yards an 13 touchdowns between his freshman and sophomore seasons at Troup County High before playing quarterback as a junior and senior, when he passed for 5,015 yards, rushed for 2,386 and totaled 75 scores. Malzahn said Auburn will be creative in the ways they get the ball to Hudson. The same might be said for Johnson, who did not play as a freshman because of injury but was a four-star recruit coming out of Hewitt-Trussville High, where he caught 87 passes for 1,683 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior.

Auburn will have a lot of bodies at wide receiver once Canion, Capers and Evans arrive over the summer, and Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove are already solidified as the top options at the position. But the feeling is that Morris wants to throw the ball more this season, and with Will Hastings, Sal Cannella and Marquis McClain gone, and Schwartz focusing on track this spring, Hudson and Johnson will get a chance to show what they can do.

Jashawn Sheffield — WR/DB

Sheffield could also be in the mix at wide receiver. But he gets his own entry on this list because that might not the only position he’ll play this spring. Auburn signed the 6-foot-1, 183-pound Brunswick, Georgia, native as a four-star athlete in 2019. He focused on wide receiver and carried twice for 30 yards in his college debut against Samford after missing the early part of the season with a leg injury, but he played on both sides of the ball as a senior at Frederica Academy, totaling 959 all-purpose yards on offense and two interceptions and two fumble recoveries on defense. The Tigers have had success moving wide receivers to defensive back before — see: Noah Igbinoghene — and have a lot of holes to fill in the secondary, so it’s possible Sheffield could get a look there.

Zion Puckett, Jaylin Simpson, Ladarius Tennison and & Chris Thompson Jr. — DB

Speaking of the secondary, these four players (two redshirt freshmen and two early enrollees, respectively) should all get plenty of opportunities this spring. Between Igbinoghene, Javaris Davis, Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas, the Tigers are down four of five starters from last season. They need bodies opposite Roger McCreary at cornerback, behind Christian Tutt at nickel, and to rotate with Smoke Monday and Jamien Sherwood at safety.

Puckett appeared in four games at nickel last season and could join Tutt and veteran Jordyn Peters in the mix there. Simpson signed as a four-star corner in 2019 but practiced at safety, as well, during his redshirt season. Tennison is a four-star athlete a lot of top programs were after to play on both sides of the ball, but Auburn will start him out on defense this spring. Thompson is a four-star safety the Tigers plucked out of Texas, and the fact that he enrolled early could lead him to him becoming a rotational piece immediately (which is the same path Monday and Sherwood followed in 2018). Auburn also has Nehemiah Pritchett, who is a sophomore after appearing in seven games last season but should be a much bigger factor at corner this year. Four-star safety Eric Reed and JUCO cornerback Marco Domio will join that group this summer.

Keiondre Jones — OL

Auburn needs to find four new starters on the offensive line to play around incumbent center Nick Brahms, and the 6-foot-3, 325-pound Jones has the makings of a foundational piece. He didn’t play as a true freshman out of Callaway High (where he once blocked for Bigsby), but he was a four-star recruit ranked as the No. 8 guard in the country in the 2019 class. If Brodarious Hamm and Austin Troxell stick at tackle, Jones could get a long look at guard along with Jalil Irvin and Tashawn Manning. First-year offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. probably won’t go into the spring with any preconceived notions of who should start and who shouldn’t, so every role could be up for grabs.

Zykeivous Walker & Colby Wooden — DE

Auburn is loaded at the buck spot with Hall, Big Kat Bryant and T.D. Moultry all returning, but there is a big hole on the other side of the defensive line where Marlon Davidson — a four-year starter at defensive end — used to be. Bryant also has experience at that spot, but defensive line coach Rodney Garner loves to rotate guys, which could leave plenty of room for Walker and Wooden to contribute. The former is a four-star early enrollee who ranked No. 3 nationally at the position coming out of Schley County High in Ellaville, Georgia. The latter was a four-star recruit in the 2019 class who was limited to four games last season after dealing with a bout of mononucleosis during the summer.

Josh Vitale is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshVitale. To reach him by email, click here.



Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...