AUBURN, Ala. — Kyle Davis is the 14th Auburn football player to leave the program since the end of the 2016 season, and the 14th in a growing list of former blue-chip recruits who didn’t finish their career on the Plains.
After the confirmation of Davis’ dismissal came out Tuesday morning, several readers asked about these rising departure numbers. Here’s one that will serve as today’s Question of the Day:
How many players over the years have arrived at Auburn with a lot of stars, a lot of hype and ended up leaving the program (or kicked out of it), never coming close to the expectations. And why does it continue happening?
This isn’t a new problem for Auburn, and fans can go back before the Gus Malzahn coaching era to find examples — Michael Dyer, Zeke Pike, Kiehl Frazier, etc. But it’s only fair to judge Malzahn and his staff for the departures that happened under their tenure.
With that in mind, after going back through the recruiting databases, 15 Malzahn signees (2013-2017 classes) rated as 4- or 5-star recruits haven’t finished with the program. Here’s a list of those players and why they departed the Plains early:
- 4-star DE Elijah Daniel (2013): Daniel was kicked off the team in May 2015 after his arrest on multiple charges of burglary and theft.
- 5-star RB Roc Thomas (2014): Thomas struggled with injuries in his two years at Auburn and never established himself as one of the top backs. He transferred to FCS school Jacksonville State in June 2016.
- 4-star WR Duke Williams (2014): After leading Auburn in receptions and receiving touchdowns in 2014, Williams was kicked off the team in October 2015. The receiver reportedly punched four people at an Auburn bar before his dismissal, including teammate Xavier Dampeer.
- 4-star DE Justin Thornton (2014): Thornton redshirted in 2014 and only played in one game in 2015. He transferred to a junior college and later went to FCS school Jacksonville State.
- 4-star DB Kalvaraz Bessent (2014): Bessent redshirted in 2014 and transferred from Auburn in February 2015. He spent less than a year on campus.
- 4-star QB Sean White (2014): White started at quarterback for Auburn in 2015 and 2016 after Jeremy Johnson’s fall down the depth chart. He was the No. 2 quarterback for the 2017 season behind Jarrett Stidham until his arrest and dismissal in September.
- 4-star DB Derrick Moncrief (2014): Moncrief played in all 13 games for Auburn in 2014 and made one start. However, he transferred to Oklahoma State in the summer of 2015, citing playing time in Will Muschamp’s system as a key reason for his decision.
- 4-star RB Jovon Robinson (2015): Robinson was Auburn’s No. 2 running back in the 2015 season and was in line to be the featured rusher in 2016. He was dismissed on the first day of fall practice in August 2016 for several off-field incidents.
- 5-star DE Byron Cowart (2015): Cowart played sparingly in 2015 and 2016 for Auburn, failing to crack the starting lineup. He was passed by several freshmen, including Marlon Davidson, on the depth chart as a sophomore in 2016. Cowart left Auburn in September.
- 4-star DB Jordan Colbert (2015): After redshirting in 2015, Colbert transferred from Auburn in January 2016 without playing a snap.
- 4-star ATH Tim Irvin (2015): Irvin played in nine games as a freshman in 2015, but transferred to East Carolina in the summer of 2016. Irvin told reporters he “wasn’t comfortable or happy” during his time at Auburn.
- 4-star DT Antwuan Jackson Jr. (2016): After redshirting in 2016, Jackson left Auburn shortly after spring practice earlier this year.
- 4-star WR Kyle Davis (2016): Davis started several games as a freshman and a sophomore at Auburn and was its top receiver in yards per catch. He missed all of spring practice in 2017 due to “personal business,” was suspended for the season opener against Georgia Southern and was dismissed from the team over the past weekend.
- 4-star TE Landon Rice (2016): Rice was accused of rape after an incident in April 2016 and left Auburn in September 2016. He was not indicted on the rape charge, but Auburn University’s Title IX investigation reportedly found him “responsible” for sexual assault, per James Crepea of AL.com.
- 4-star QB Woody Barrett (2016): Barrett redshirted in 2016 and transferred from Auburn shortly after spring practice in 2017. He was passed on the depth chart by incoming quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham and Malik Willis.
- Transferred: 10
- Transferred before playing a snap: 5
- Dismissed: 5
As for the why, there’s a danger of painting with a broad brush when it comes to player departures from teams. Every situation and every player is different — and that’s not coach-speak. Different factors play into each one between playing time, coaching changes and injuries.
Look at a few of the transfers for examples. Derrick Moncrief and Tim Irvin were caught in the midst of changing coaching philosophies in the secondary, which put their playing time in flux. Irvin and Byron Cowart were recruited heavily by a defensive coordinator who left after just one year. Roc Thomas never established himself as a star for Auburn, but no one should say this staff can’t develop a running back.
(It’s worth noting the position that has drawn most of the ire of the fan base in terms of development, quarterback, got two solid seasons out of Sean White before his dismissal.)
A third of Auburn’s blue-chip transfers never stepped onto the field before leaving the program. It’s not surprising that three of them came in the defensive backfield, which saw both its coordinator and position coach change from 2014 to 2015 and then again from 2015 to 2016.
Another third of those blue-chip departures were due to dismissals. Malzahn hasn’t been afraid to dismiss a player that repeatedly gets in trouble, no matter their status on the team.
Duke Williams and Jovon Robinson were supposed to be star players. White was going to be the most valuable quarterback safety net in college football this season. Another player who fell out of blue-chip status, Markell Boston, would’ve been a needed depth piece in the secondary this fall.
Not every coach in college football — especially in the SEC — has been willing to do that. When a coach isn’t tentative on booting players who get in trouble, there’s a higher chance of more blue-chip players who won’t pan out.
Auburn has had more than its fair share of departures since the end of the 2016 season. A quick poll of SEC Country team writers across the conference showed that the next closest to Auburn’s 14 are LSU’s 11 and Kentucky’s 10.
It might seem like an epidemic under Malzahn. But, in reality, it’s more of a perfect storm of constant turnover on the defensive coaching staff, depth chart slides behind higher-rising young players and several highly touted offensive players who ran out of chances after getting in trouble with this staff.