Auburn signed a top-10 recruiting class, but this might prove to be the most important in terms of immediate impact.
The Tigers will count on more than a handful of newcomers to produce immediately, with the most notable addition at quarterback.
SEC Country examines the five newcomers Auburn fans need to remember as the Tigers continue summer workouts and enter the start of practices in August.
1. QB John Franklin III
Many inside and outside the program have pointed to Sean White as the favorite in the quarterback race heading into the summer months, but John Franklin III has nowhere to go but up as he continues to learn the playbook and polish his arm.
It appears, as of right now, the three-man race among White, Franklin III and Johnson could become a two-man race early in preseason camp, with those two likely being White and Franklin III.
The big knock on White is his inability to get Auburn in the end zone. Too often the offense stalled in the red zone last season and his one touchdown pass in seven appearances (143 pass attempts) can not be ignored.
Plus, JF3 provides Auburn a much-needed fast option in the zone-read attack. He’s more Nick Marshall than any other quarterback on the roster, and while he may not be amazingly accurate downfield, he may prove to be the best option for a team looking to build and grow with a crop of new receivers by leaning on the running game. Running back Jovon Robinson will be JF3’s best friend and it’s why we believe Franklin III will become the starter at some point this upcoming season.
2. WR Nate Craig-Myers
Auburn lost its top receiver and needs an influx of new players (up to three and maybe four) to contribute immediately and possibly start. Nate Craig-Myers out of Tampa Catholic is at the top of the list and is already on campus learning and working out with the quarterbacks.
Who will step up and replace Ricardo Louis for a nice 1-2 punch in the passing game? Senior Marcus Davis is a solid option but he hasn’t quite had that breakout season yet. Craig-Myers has an answer.
“Myself,” Craig-Myers told SEC Country in April, “and whoever wants to tag along.”
The nation’s No. 6 receiver is “certainly capable of it,” Tampa Catholic coach Mike Gregory said. “Mentally, it’s a matter of how well he picks up a college playbook.”
We expect Craig-Myers to not only contribute but start this upcoming season.
3. DE Marlon Davidson
The surprise of the spring, Marlon Davidson was an absolute beast on the left side at defensive end. A foot injury to junior college transfer Paul James III, a fellow newcomer, paved the way for Davidson to prove himself this spring, and he passed with flying colors. He looks the part of a defensive end in the SEC. Physically, he’s built to last, and now it’s just a matter of him learning the finer points and being molded quickly by defensive line coach Rodney Garner for the upcoming season.
RELATED: Davidson the surprise of spring
In the end, James III likely will be the starter heading into the season, but Davidson is a great option on the opposite side of All-SEC defensive end Carl Lawson.
Davidson has the makings of a star in the SEC, even in an incoming signing class heavy with elite defensive linemen.
4. WR Kyle Davis
Another receiver among the talented group former Auburn receivers coach Dameyune Craig helped secure before bolting for LSU 11 days after National Signing Day, Davis has something the other three newcomers do not: experience in the system.
Davis arrived at Auburn in January but had to fight through a shoulder injury throughout the spring, but the mental reps he received were invaluable.
“The good thing with Kyle was that he was able to get a spring underneath his belt, even though he didn’t practice, which is fine. He can see how we do things, he can see how I coach, he can see how I teach,” receivers coach Kodi Burns said.
“That was really good for him to sit back and say, hey, coach, what do I do on this route? What do you think on this play? He was in the meetings, he was at practice, we worked with him after practice, before practice. He got mental reps as well as physical reps. Just having him around was really big this spring.”
Physically, Davis looks the part of a receiver ready to hit the field, but will he be one of the three or so newcomers to do so? He has solid competition with Craig-Myers, Eli Stove and Marquis McClain.
5. LB T.J. Neal
Auburn’s biggest need on defense is linebacker, and though Tre’ Williams will provide some great leadership and solid production, an additional starter is needed. More importantly, a starter with experience is required to help the Tigers. Enter: T.J. Neal, Illinois’ leading tackler last season, who promises to be a humble and quiet presence in workouts in an effort to earn the respect of his teammates this summer.
“I feel like I’m a very athletic guy. I run well,” Neal said. “I’m very instinctive and my biggest attribute as a football player is my knowledge of the game. I’m very disciplined and I believe in my footwork and certain things like that. As I watch film of myself, I critique myself really well: certain things on how I want to step, take on blocks and do certain things, I pay attention to all the small things.”
Neal received spring practice footage from teammate Tray Matthews to study and has been living and breathing Auburn football for several months. He calls the opportunity to play on a defense with Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams to being a “kid in the candy store.”
Neal finished with 109 tackles for the Illini in 2015, ranking eighth in the Big Ten. He racked up 207 tackles during his final two seasons at Illinois.