AUBURN, Ala. — There has long been a knock on Gus Malzahn for how he handles the most important position on the field for Auburn football — quarterback.
Malzahn entered the 2017 season speaking highly of the “quality depth” Auburn finally had at quarterback for the first time in his tenure. It had long been a problem for the Tigers, even when Malzahn was a coordinator. Quarterbacks that didn’t pan out or left the team for various reasons have dotted Auburn’s recent history.
Now, after an SEC West title and a 10-win season, Auburn is in the midst of its best run at quarterback acquisition in some time.
Take a look at the quarterbacks Auburn has signed since Malzahn became the Tigers’ offensive coordinator in 2009:
|YEAR||NAME||QB RANKING IN HIGH SCHOOL|
|2010||Cam Newton||5 (signed with UF)|
|2013||Nick Marshall||N/A (rated as CB, signed with UGA)|
|2017||Jarrett Stidham||4 (signed with Baylor)|
|2017||Malik Willis||N/A (rated as No. 21 ATH)*|
|2018||Joey Gatewood||N/A (rated as No. 3 ATH)**|
Rankings taken from 247Sports Composite
*Willis was not rated as a quarterback in high school
**Gatewood is rated as No. 3 dual-threat quarterback by Rivals
When Auburn signed Stidham, it was like picking up a 5-star quarterback. He was one of the nation’s best quarterbacks out of high school and impressed in limited action at Baylor as a freshman.
In Willis, Auburn appears to have gotten an underrated talent. Willis didn’t play quarterback in high school for much more than his senior season, and he was committed to play defensive back at Virginia Tech before Auburn flipped him. The early returns on Willis show he could be an excellent dual-threat quarterback in Auburn’s offense after an impressive freshman campaign.
Gatewood garnered high recruiting rankings at both athlete and quarterback, depending on the outlet. He stood out at the Under Armour All-America Game and has drawn comparisons to Cam Newton thanks to his size and athleticism. No matter the rating, Gatewood was one of the highest-rated offensive playmakers in the Class of 2018.
The recruiting rankings can and will change between now and when Nix signs. But he’s already viewed as one of the best quarterbacks in the country for his class and would be a huge pickup for Auburn with his legacy status. If Stidham leaves Auburn after the 2018 season, the Tigers will replace him in the quarterback room with another strong-armed former blue-chipper who can also make plays with his legs.
Even with Gatewood’s vague ranking as a recruit, Auburn is in place to string together three former top-10 quarterback recruits in three straight classes. (And then there’s Willis, who has the ability to start in the near future as an underrated prospect.) Auburn has only signed consecutive ones just one other time since 2009 — when Kiehl Frazier joined the team after Cam Newton’s one-and-done 2010 season.
Stringing together several top-tier quarterback talents, though, has eluded Auburn until now.
If Auburn can combine that with improved development under offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, the Tigers should be set at signal caller.
The constant competition should push the quarterbacks across the future depth charts, and the numbers themselves will be a big-time boost for a team that has long struggled with injuries and attrition at the position.
In terms of roster building and planning for the future, Malzahn and his staff already had Auburn in a spot to contend. Nix’s commitment Wednesday gives the Tigers more reason to believe in their potential.