Over the next few weeks, SEC Country will take Auburn football fans to Summer School. Each session will focus on one position on Auburn’s 2018 roster, finding answers from spring practice and looking ahead to what might be the biggest questions for the fall.
This week, we will feature the secondary. We’ll start with a departure from form and focus on No. 1 cornerback, junior Jamel Dean. On Tuesday, we’ll look at the Tigers’ options at the other starting cornerback spot and the projected backups.
Answer from spring practice
Who will take the place of Carlton Davis in Auburn’s secondary?
Carlton Davis was one of the best cover cornerbacks in college football last season. The Tigers defense soared with Davis, who was drafted in the second round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this year. With his departure after three seasons as a starter, Auburn must find a cornerback who can take on Davis’ role of defending teams’ No. 1 receivers.
That will fall to Jamel Dean. The former Ohio State signee overcame two major knee injuries to reach this point. But last season, Dean stood out. He started the final 11 games for the Tigers opposite Davis and finished the season with 8 pass breakups.
With Javaris Davis sliding inside to the nickelback position — at least until Jordyn Peters returns to full health — Dean is the clear-cut top cornerback. Auburn’s cornerbacks play both sides of the field interchangeably, so designating him as a “boundary” or “field” corner isn’t important. He is Auburn’s best bet on the outside, though, no matter whether he lines up on the left or the right.
Number to know
87.2: According to Brandon Marcello of Auburn Undercover, Dean finished the 2017 regular season with a Pro Football Focus grade of 87.2. That was the best mark of any Auburn defensive player, and it’s also classified as an “NFL-caliber rating.”
Question for fall
Will Auburn’s secondary take a step backward without Davis?
Dean is bigger than Davis at 6-foot-2. He is arguably faster, too. He has the speed to run with fast receivers and the size to be physical near the line of scrimmage. What remains to be seen is if Dean can be that type of cornerback who can take away one side of the field like Davis frequently did during his time at Auburn.
It’s clear that Dean has all the physical tools to do that. The advanced stats show he can do that. But he doesn’t have a lot of experience facing No. 1 receivers, as last season was just his first completely healthy one in several years. He also could be prone to injury, which will put a lot of pressure on Auburn to make sure his backups are ready for 2018.
Auburn’s pass defense improved drastically with Davis — from 69th in the country in yards allowed per attempt in the year before he arrived on campus (2014) to seventh in 2017. The secondary is the biggest question mark on a defense that is loaded up front. The pressure is on Dean to deliver and make sure the unit doesn’t slip with him at the top spot.