AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football welcomes several newcomers this week — early enrollees who represent a growing trend in the college game over the last few seasons.
The numbers of early enrollees on the Plains have skyrocketed over the years. The Tigers will officially add eight more on Monday with quarterback Jarrett Stidham, tight end Salvatore Cannella, cornerback Malcolm Askew, offensive guard Nick Brahms, linebacker K.J. Britt, defensive tackle Tashawn Manning, quarterback Malik Willis and linebacker Chandler Wooten.
The benefits of enrolling early are obvious. Players can get settled on campus a full semester early, which means they can take advantage of spring practices instead of starting in the summer like most recruits.
But what is the success rate of Auburn’s early enrollees in the Gus Malzahn era? Here’s a look back at the mixed results of early enrollees from Malzahn’s first four years at Auburn. Some were instant successes, while others never quite panned out for reasons both on and off the field.
DE Marlon Davidson: Davidson is the best example of how enrolling early can benefit a player in his true freshman season. The younger brother of former Auburn defensive end and current staffer Kenneth Carter, Davidson hit the ground running in spring practices and earned a starting job for the Tigers by fall camp. Davidson recorded the second-most tackles of any Auburn defensive lineman in 2016, and he has the look of a star with his all-around skill set and relentless motor.
DT Antwuan Jackson Jr.: Jackson Jr. was one of Auburn’s highest-rated recruits in the Class of 2016, but he didn’t make an instant impact on the Plains. The Tigers had plenty of experienced depth at defensive tackle and Jackson dealt with some injuries on scout team duties in 2016. With Auburn losing several seniors down the middle, Jackson will be one to watch this spring.
WR Kyle Davis: Davis enrolled early with plenty of promise, but a shoulder injury limited his participation in spring practices last year. Davis suffered another injury in the summer — this one to his foot — that made fall camp another grind for him. But Davis made the catch of the year for Auburn in his second game, and he finished 2016 with a team-high 20.67 yards per reception. With a full offseason of preparation, Davis could be the leader Auburn needs at receiver in 2017.
CB John Broussard Jr.: A product of nearby Phenix City, Ala., Broussard Jr. enrolled early to get a jump-start on his development at cornerback. He came in undersized at 5-foot-11 and 168 pounds, but he still played in seven games as a reserve cornerback behind Carlton Davis. If Broussard can continue to grow, he has the skills to be a tough defensive back in the SEC.
DE Paul James III (JUCO): Versatile pass rusher James III broke into the rotation at defensive end during the first part of the season. However, he suffered a freak knee injury during a drill before Auburn’s Week 4 matchup against LSU. He has a chance at a medical redshirt, so his eligibility could remain intact heading into 2017.
QB John Franklin III (JUCO): Franklin III was expected to come in immediately and contend for Auburn’s starting quarterback job. He only made one start due to a shoulder injury to Sean White and was pulled in the second half. Outside of that Vanderbilt game, Franklin showed flashes of brilliance with his speed and deep passes. However, Franklin never looked settled in Auburn’s offense as a No. 1 option, and he’ll enter the 2017 season as an outsider to the quarterback competition with Jarrett Stidham and White.
LB Tre Threat: Threat appeared in all 13 games for Auburn in the 2016 season, mostly on special teams. The Tigers stuck to a tighter rotation at linebacker, so Threat’s opportunities on defense were limited. But he’s an important piece behind the likes of Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams and Tre’ Williams for the 2017 campaign.
RB Malik Miller: A high school teammate of Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson, Miller stepped into a big spot for the Tigers after three different rushers left the program in the offseason. Miller started as the third option behind Kamryn Pettway and Johnson, as he brought more of an all-around game compared to the speedy Kam Martin. He suffered a knee injury in Week 5 against Louisiana-Monroe but has a chance to get a medical redshirt.
RB Jovon Robinson (JUCO): After originally enrolling at Auburn in 2012 and later leaving the program after an NCAA investigation into his grades, Robinson came back to the Plains in 2015 as a JUCO recruit from Georgia Military College. Robinson rushed for at least 90 yards in five of his final six games in 2015 after injuries and depth chart issues kept him off the field. Robinson was expected to lead the Tigers in 2016, but Auburn dismissed him on the first day of fall camp following several off-the-field incidents.
OG Tyler Carr: Carr enrolled early at Auburn as a 4-star offensive guard prospect, but he redshirted in his true freshman season. In 2016, Carr appeared in 12 games but didn’t crack the two-deep on the offensive line. He’s expected to challenge for more playing time this offseason.
QB/WR Jason Smith (JUCO): Auburn brought Smith, another former high school commitment to the Tigers, on board to compete at quarterback. But Smith moved to wide receiver before the start of the 2015 season, where he finished third on the team in receiving yards as a speedy target. Smith fell down the depth chart in 2016 — with several injuries playing a role in that — and only recorded 4 catches for 60 yards. He has one more season left at Auburn.
DB Tim Irvin: Irvin was a late pickup after Auburn hired Will Muschamp to be its defensive coordinator for the 2015 season. Irvin started one game at nickel for the Tigers — the season opener against Louisville — but his usage fell throughout the season. He recorded 18 tackles as a true freshman before deciding to transfer to East Carolina a few months after Muschamp’s departure.
HB Chandler Cox: Auburn signed Cox with the lead-blocking H-back position in mind and he started 10 games there as a true freshman. He started all 13 games there as a sophomore in 2016, developing into a much more consistent force in Auburn’s rushing attack. While Cox has been part of some unsuccessful Wildcat experiments, he’s still a key returning starter for the Tigers in 2017.
OT Bailey Sharp: Sharp is another offensive lineman who redshirted in 2015 after enrolling early. He appeared in two games for Auburn in 2016 — Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama A&M — but he’ll have a chance to move up in the depth chart following some departures on the offensive line.
QB Tyler Queen: Injuries have limited Queen’s chances to contribute for Auburn in a big way. He had elbow surgery after Auburn’s 2015 season opener against Louisville, where he entered as the team’s No. 3 quarterback on the roster. Queen injured his shoulder last spring and required surgery. He made his return to the practice field in December.
DT Maurice Swain Jr. (JUCO): A valuable depth piece in his two seasons at Auburn, Swain Jr. backed up Montravius Adams at nose tackle in 2015 and 2016. The Tigers relied on Swain and fellow JUCO pickup Devaroe Lawrence this past season, and their presence will be missed up front.
WR Duke Williams (JUCO): When Auburn signed former No. 1 JUCO wide receiver Williams after the 2013 season, the Tigers were looking for a go-to receiver. In 2014, he led the Tigers in receptions (45) and yards (730). His catch radius and ability to win 1-on-1 battles were huge boosts to the Auburn offense. But Auburn dismissed Williams in early October 2015 after an incident in which he broke the jaw of fellow 2014 JUCO signee Xavier Dampeer.
DB Derrick Moncrief (JUCO): Moncrief joined Auburn as the nation’s top JUCO safety in 2014 and made one start for the Tigers. He rotated in heavily at safety in his one season before deciding to transfer to Oklahoma State in May 2015. Moncrief sat out 2015 and recorded 16 tackles in 2016 for the Cowboys.
WR/RB Stanton Truitt: Injuries kept Truitt from reaching his full potential at Auburn. After impressing as an early enrollee in the spring of 2014, Truitt appeared in a couple of games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. In 2015, Truitt started two games before suffering another shoulder injury against Ole Miss that knocked him out for the season. Truitt moved from receiver to running back in 2016 and injured his ankle against Georgia. After playing sparingly in the Sugar Bowl, he announced his decision to transfer last week.
TE Chris Laye: Following a redshirt season in 2014, Laye appeared in three games behind Jalen Harris at tight end in 2015. He announced his decision to transfer shortly before spring practices in 2016.
OC Xavier Dampeer (JUCO): Dampeer backed up Reese Dismukes at center during the 2014 season and then did the same for Austin Golson in 2015 before his jaw injury at the hands of Duke Williams. Dampeer recovered in time to start four games at center for the Tigers in 2016 before an undisclosed injury forced Golson back inside. The Tigers stuck with that lineup for the rest of the season.
DT Ben Bradley (JUCO): Auburn didn’t have a single high school early enrollee in Malzahn’s first season as head coach. Bradley arrived when Auburn needed some help along the middle of its defensive line. He started nine games in two seasons on the Plains, recording 6 tackles for loss and 7 QB hurries. Bradley was an unsung hero for the Auburn defense in 2013 and 2014.
RB Cameron Artis-Payne (JUCO): Artis-Payne was Tre Mason’s primary backup in Auburn’s literal run to the SEC championship and the final BCS National Championship Game, rushing for 610 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2013. Artis-Payne took over in 2014 with 13 touchdowns and more than 1,600 yards next to Nick Marshall. He was a first-team All-SEC selection before becoming a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
OG Devonte Danzey (JUCO): Danzey stepped up for Auburn in 2014 after the player he backed up at left guard, Alex Kozan, was out for the entire season. Danzey started seven games there in 2014. In 2015, he provided depth at several spots up front and started the final three games of the season at center. While he was never a star offensive lineman, Danzey served the Tigers well in his three seasons.