Editor’s Note: It’s a crucial year in Auburn. Gus Malzahn enters his fourth season in a bit of a rut, but he has proven he can quickly change the trajectory of the program when his team’s back is against the wall.
Auburn needs to find a quarterback, develop receivers and lean on a defense many expect to be much improved under coordinator Kevin Steele. Will all of the pieces come together in time for a successful season?
SEC Country takes a look at the 25 Most Important Tigers (and others) who will determine whether Auburn’s season is a success or failure.
21. Paul James III, defensive end
Paul James III arrived at Auburn with the idea of becoming the bookend to Carl Lawson‘s stellar stay on the other side at defensive end.
A foot injury, however, slowed his progress at Auburn in the spring and true freshman Marlon Davidson stepped in and was the surprise of practices. He very well could win the starting job, but don’t forget about James. He had 14 sacks at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in 2015 and garnered a four-star ranking and the label of the nation’s best weak-side defensive end in the junior college ranks.
“You can see he’s a big, strong, powerful guy that has a knack for rushing the passer,” said defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, “but that having been said, he’s still got a lot of snaps to get to work we need to get in.”
Auburn’s defensive line is the strongest unit — on paper — on the roster. If it lives up to the hype it needs a healthy Lawson and for James to step up after fully recovering from his foot injury. Remember, Auburn recorded only 19 total sacks last season, the second-worst mark in the SEC.
Coming Monday: Point the way