Jarrett Stidham and Noah Igbinoghene — Auburn’s last two offensive commitments — filled two gaps in the 2017 recruiting class.
Until those decisions, the Tigers held zero commitments at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and defensive line. Stidham and Igbinoghene removed the absence of the first two. As for tight end, Auburn awaits the Wednesday announcement by junior college target Salvatore Cannella.
The defensive line, on the other hand, remains much more of a mystery.
It’s a strange situation Auburn faces. The line-less 2017 class operates in stark contrast to the double-digit deep line already on the roster. Auburn only loses the services of Montravius Adams and (likely) Carl Lawson next season. But the Tigers still need to fill the standard 2-3 spots.
There’s an awkward combination of stressing the need to fill them, while also recognizing the depth and ability to emphasize needs elsewhere. Now, it’s time to begin placing that emphasis squarely on the defensive front.
The Tigers will start right in their own backyard. In-state prospects Ryan Johnson and Alec Jackson are the primary names to emerge as Auburn preps for a sprint-to-the-finish January.
“They just stress the issue that they need me,” Johnson told SEC Country. “Like I said, they don’t have any D-linemen in the class right now. They just don’t want me to go anywhere else.”
Johnson starred at St. Paul’s Episcopal (Ala.) this season, which earned the 4-star defensive lineman a roster spot in the Alabama-Mississippi all-star game last week in Montgomery. He spent the week with a quintet of Auburn-committed teammates, as did Jackson.
Both linemen applauded the recruiting efforts of Malcolm Askew, KJ Britt, Tadarian Moultry, Jordyn Peters and Igbinoghene.
“They said, ‘Listen, take all your officials, but come to Auburn. You’re an Auburn man,'” Jackson said.
Jackson will, at the very least, listen to part of that advice — he’ll take his officials. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive lineman from Montgomery, Ala., dropped his top 4 schools at the beginning of December. They were Auburn, Ole Miss, Southern Cal and Florida.
He already officially visited the Trojans, and because of that, Jackson said they’re his favorite. With that said, Jackson conceded that’s primarily based on Southern Cal being his only official visit thus far: “Once I start going on my other visits, I’ll start picking out this one is better than the other ones and so on,” Jackson said.
It’s always been a dream of his to pick up a hat on signing day, so that’s what he’ll do. Jackson gave his take on each of the four schools in consideration.
- On Auburn: “Auburn stands just as high as all the other teams. Like I said, I’ve been growing up an Auburn fan. Just having the opportunity to try to go play for them is just great. … They always express to me how they need more D-linemen to back up the rest of the D-linemen. Knowing that I’m one of the guys that they’re choosing is just great.”
- On Southern Cal: “The reason why I have Southern Cal is they’re just a great football team. D-line coach, he’s a great D-line coach. And it’s California. It’s L.A. Who don’t want to live out there? … I just had a lot of fun out there with the players and the coaches. Fans were amazing. They showed me and my moms a great time when we went out there.”
- On Florida: “I can’t wait to try to go out there and admire their facilities, soak it all in. I can’t wait to go down there and check it out.”
- On Ole Miss: “I have Ole Miss in there because they always have a good D-line. The D-line is what made that up. Another reason is my mom is supposed to be moving to Mississippi soon.”
Those official visit dates are set: Auburn on Jan. 13, Florida on Jan. 20 and Ole Miss on Jan. 27.
Johnson’s plan is scheduled as well.
The No. 12 player in the state of Alabama will take at least four of his official visits. Those will go to Stanford on Jan. 13, Alabama on Jan. 20 and Auburn on Jan. 27. Texas will get a mid-week visit from Johnson. He still hasn’t decided if he’ll make it to Southern Cal or Notre Dame — the other two schools in his top 6.
Also noteworthy: Johnson picked up an Oregon offer Monday, which could draw some late interest for a prospect already looking all over the the country.
For now, that means Auburn gets the last OV stab at him, but there is plenty to happen between now and then. Johnson even suggested he might make his decision in mid-January and still take official visits after that. He will just make his decision “when the feeling is right,” he said.
Those six schools all remain in solid contention, though the two in-state schools and Stanford appear to have the upperhand at this time. Johnson is a high IQ guy who plans to major in engineering. The academic pull of Stanford is obviously key, but Auburn’s engineering tradition should help, too.
Johnson took the time to break down his opinion of each school:
- On Auburn: “Coach (Kevin) Steele came in this year and improved the defense. The front seven this year was great. I mean adding to that would be nice. D-line, coach (Rodney) Garner knows what he’s doing. He’s been around. He knows what it takes as well. It’s a family atmosphere. Coach (Gus) Malzahn is a great man, great family man as well. It’s a lot of different things.”
- On Alabama: “16 national championships. Coach (Karl) Dunbar knows what he’s doing. He was in the NFL. He knows what it takes to get there. Coach (Nick) Saban does the same thing. It’s a machine. It just keeps on churning.”
- On Stanford: “They’ve been known for academics, of course. But lately, on the football side of it, too. They’re a school to be reckoned with. I went out there last year.”
- On Texas: “It’s a program with a lot of good history. I don’t want to just rule them out because of the coaching staff change. Tom Herman and the D-line coach, they’ve reached out to me. They’ve stressed the issue that they need D-linemen. I just don’t want to rule them out because once they get it together, it’s going to be a hard team to stop.”
- On USC: “The D-line coach, he knows what he’s doing. He’s the sack leader in NCAA. When you have people at the school that know what they’re doing, and it’s another school with a lot of history, good things can happen.”
- On Notre Dame: “A lot of history, again. Coach (Keith) Gilmore knows what he’s doing. Coach (Brian) Kelly, I haven’t talked to him too much. Great academics as well. You get a degree from Notre Dame and you’re set for life.”
Johnson clearly isn’t scared to consider out-of-state schools. He said “broadening his horizons” is something that helped drive his top 6. The Stanford academic element will be something tough to turn down.
Still, this could become a classic Iron Bowl recruiting battle down the stretch. At the moment, it appears Alabama — while still recruiting Johnson regularly — has put more of its focus on LaBryan Ray, the No. 1 prospect in the state of Alabama. They are similar athletes, and if the Crimson Tide only have room for one, Ray might get the edge.
Regardless, Johnson offers a big body and high motor who will be successful at any of the top 6 programs. Auburn will continue the weekly home visits once the contact period resumes.
More than a 2-star?
At SEC Country, we use the 247Sports Composite rankings. By that measure, Traivon Leonard — who flipped from UNC to Auburn on Monday — is rated as a 3-star prospect. But there are services that list Leonard as a 2-star cornerback.
It makes you wonder.
Wesley McGriff has an eye for talent. As an NFL guy, he also knows what it takes to transition from high school to college to the pros. Auburn has eyed a few under-the-radar cornerbacks in the 2017 class, but Leonard appears to have received more attention than most.
To flip a commitment, it takes extra effort. Leonard committed to North Carolina early in 2016, but McGriff didn’t let up his chase. He attended a game earlier in the season and, according to 247Sports’ Keith Niebuhr, Leonard received two Auburn in-home visits.
Back to the ranking: It fits the trend of this class. Jordyn Peters and Carlito Gonzalez aren’t highly ranked prospects despite relatively high production on the field. Malcolm Askew is higher up on most boards but hasn’t gotten much work in the defensive backfield this fall during his stint as a quarterback.
Leonard is the No. 1,062-ranked prospect, and it seems weird writing a comma in a numerical ranking for an SEC commit. That tells me McGriff sees something that other scouts don’t. That explains McGriff’s relentlessness to chase a UNC commit rather than focus on any of the 110 cornerbacks ranked ahead of Leonard.
It’s one of those commitments that is so lowly ranked that you have to assume a seasoned veteran like McGriff knows something that others don’t.
Check out his full 2016 season highlights for yourself:
Auburn, the QB hoarders?
What did you expect after a 2016 season when everyone complained about the quarterback play?
Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee won’t let that happen again. The Tigers scored big with Jarrett Stidham on Saturday evening. They went to work again Sunday for the final in-home visit for Lowell Narcisse, who will enroll early.
The trip to St. James, La., appears to have paid off. Narcisse de-committed from LSU on Monday morning. He reset his final decision day for Jan. 1, when he’ll announce at the Under Armour All-America Game.
But let’s read into this one a little. He de-committed from a school on the first day when coaches can no longer make face-to-face contact. Narcisse renamed a top 3 that included LSU, Auburn and Memphis (Great bet: Narcisse picks the Tigers).
It sure seems like Auburn has the advantage over a team he just de-committed from and a non-Power 5 program. Things can change. LSU can name an offensive coordinator that might ease Narcisse’s concerns. But the late change in heart also indicates a softened push from LSU’s end.
The 247Sports Crystal Ball has already begun to sway heavily in Auburn’s direction.
Why add another quarterback, you ask? Well, the Tigers don’t want to fall into another injury dilemma like this season when there isn’t a confident No. 2 choice. But it could also be setting the stage for some potential transfers. John Franklin III and Woody Barrett could see the rise to the top of the quarterback depth chart as a major challenge.
Having Narcisse would help.