This week, SEC Country is counting down the “7 from ’17” for the 2017 Auburn football season — seven picks in seven categories from the Tigers’ 10-win campaign. Up next, the top breakout players from 2017.
Auburn football returned a lot of talent from its 2016 squad and had a few high-profile playmakers rise up the depth chart during the offseason.
But some of the bright stars of the Tigers’ 2017 campaign came from surprise places — playmakers who weren’t expected contribute in a major way (let alone start) but nonetheless did so in the run to the SEC West title. Auburn had an overlooked receiver break out for a record campaign, a few freshmen carve out roles on an elite defense and some offensive reserves rise in certain spots.
Here are the picks for Auburn’s top 7 breakout performers — the ones who surprised us the most — from the 2017 season.
7. WR Noah Igbinoghene
Noah Igbinoghene received just a few opportunities to carry the ball in his first season, but he flashed plenty of potential to change games during those chances. He took over kick return duties during the 2017 season and broke a huge one against Ole Miss. Igbinoghene, the former Alabama high school state track champion, had another long return against UCF in the Peach Bowl. His special teams work will get him some more attention in the 2018 season. If Auburn can find the right role for him on offense, watch out.
6. QB Malik Willis
After he sat out the first three games of his career, the Malik Willis hype train left the station against Missouri, when he put together a few impressive plays in his first action. The next week against Mississippi State, he broke off a 67-yard touchdown run. Willis tossed a touchdown pass against Arkansas, but he mostly stuck to running the ball in garbage-time situations in the 2017 season. Still, his ability to generate yardage in an instant had Auburn fans impressed with what he’ll be able to do down the road for the Tigers.
5. DB Jordyn Peters
Jordyn Peters was far from the highest-rated recruit in Auburn’s Class of 2017, but it didn’t matter one bit. Auburn threw him into the fire early, especially after Javaris Davis missed time with an injury. Peters lined up as a dime back for most of the SEC slate and came up with a few big plays, including a third-down breakup on Calvin Ridley in the Iron Bowl. Peters also showed a nice ability on blitzes, as he came up with 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a hurry during the regular season. He should be a key piece for Auburn’s secondary in 2018.
4. DE T.D. Moultry
Talk about turning it on late in the season. T.D. Moultry went from prized linebacker recruit to backup Buck defensive end to Jeff Holland in less than a year. The true freshman had most of his production — 15 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks — in the final half of the season. Moultry picked up big-time snaps as the season went on, including a crucial final stretch against Georgia and Alabama. Now that Holland is off to the NFL, Auburn can have some confidence in its next wave with the way Moultry finished 2017.
3. OG Marquel Harrell
While Casey Dunn went from reserve to key centerpiece for Auburn’s offensive line during the 2017 season, he was expected to be a top name up front at some point. Marquel Harrell, though, looked like a backup guard who would provide depth behind Mike Horton and Braden Smith. That changed when Horton went down with an injury, and Harrell stepped in well. He started six of Auburn’s final seven games and didn’t miss a step from the level Horton established at left guard early in the season. His performance ensures Auburn will have two experienced guards to build around in 2018.
2. DE Nick Coe
Nick Coe was a popular name in the preseason for his versatility and incredible physical gifts. But the redshirt freshman exceeded expectations quickly for the Tigers. He repped at both defensive end and defensive tackle and was highly productive. His 4.5 tackles for loss ranked seventh on the team — impressive for a player who didn’t start — and he had a memorable sack in the Iron Bowl. Coe has all the tools to become a household name, even on an Auburn defensive line that will return most of its talent in 2018.
1. WR Ryan Davis
Of all the players on this list, Ryan Davis entered the season the most likely to start. But there wasn’t much buzz around the junior heading into 2017, as Auburn had younger, more talked-about receivers set to take over. Davis, instead, became the go-to guy for Jarrett Stidham. He smashed Auburn’s single-season record with 84 receptions this season, and he tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (5). Not bad for a receiver who had only 25 receptions last season. Davis surprised many by being one of Auburn’s top playmakers of 2017.