Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Auburn football recruiting notebook with Auburn recruiting beat writer Benjamin Wolk. In this edition, we look at Jalen Cunningham’s top 3, how targets fared in the new rankings and a busy week of visitors coming up.
Jalen Cunningham puts Auburn in top 3
College football recruiting can be a funny little game sometimes.
If you had asked Jalen Cunningham three months ago, he’d have told you his college decision was already made. The 330-pound defensive lineman from St. Clair County (Ala.) doesn’t hide the fact he grew up a big Alabama fan, and at one point in his recruitment, it seemed like a sure thing he’d end up with the Crimson Tide.
Alabama remains the projected front-runner, but Cunningham’s recently-released top 3 — Alabama, Ole Miss and Auburn — shows a few programs are making him think.
Top 3 Schools⁉️🔒🤷🏾♂️
— Ð1 Pröspêct🐐🤷🏾♂️ (@_5ifty5_) July 10, 2017
Auburn’s presence makes that group significant.
Alabama and Ole Miss were expected. Cunningham has always loved the Crimson Tide, and he’s told SEC Country in the past that the Rebels might have the best shot at upending the Tide. But Auburn can be considered a little bit of a surprise. Chalk it up to another example of Rodney Garner working his recruiting magic.
The Tigers didn’t even crack Cunningham’s top 5 when he released it in April. In three months, Auburn has managed to surpass almost all of those suitors.
“It’s crazy. I always thought I would hate going to Auburn, but I really don’t because of this coaching staff,” the lifelong Alabama fan said. “It was really the name Auburn that I hated, but now that I’ve been around them more, I really like it.”
Cunningham still plans to decide before the season, so it’ll be an interesting recruitment to watch.
There’s no question he wants to end up at Alabama, but will the Crimson Tide be interested? A source has told SEC Country that the Alabama staff, in particular, is closely watching Cunningham’s attempts to drop weight. He started the spring at 362 pounds and has already lost 30. That’s a good start.
But will it be enough for Alabama to accept his commitment? That’s the million-dollar question.
I’ve been around Cunningham enough to know his 330 pounds doesn’t look like bad weight. He moves well, and I’ve even seen him run some sprints as part of his weight-cutting effort. Let’s just say there are 295-pound linemen who don’t seem to know how to move their bodies as well as Cunningham moves his.
My Crystal Ball for Cunningham sticks with Alabama, and it’ll remain that way until the Crimson Tide decide to move on, if that happens. If they do, Auburn could gain a big, athletic defensive linemen despite not offering until late in the spring.
How Auburn targets fared in 247 rankings
As you may know, we use the 247Sports composite rankings at SEC Country. It aggregates all of the rankings from 247, Scout, Rivals and ESPN into one list. The list below has nothing to do with that composite. It’s strictly the individual rankings by 247Sports.
That service released a new version of its Top 247 prospects. Several Auburn prospects made positive moves on the list. As of now, there aren’t any Tigers commits ranked in the top 247, but there are plenty of targets expected to choose Auburn that could change that fate.
Here are the five most notable changes among Auburn targets.
- Justin Fields only moved up one spot, but boy, was it a big spot. Fields overtook longtime top prospect Trevor Lawrence for the No. 1 overall spot. Both quarterbacks are deserving of No. 1, but Fields’ most recent performance at the Nike Opening sealed the deal. It’ll be Lawrence’s job to take it back when the pads get put back on for the football season.
- Two of Auburn’s targets in the front seven — defensive end Azeez Ojulari and linebacker Channing Tindall — launched into the top 25. Tindall jumped from No. 45 to No. 22. Ojulari made a big move, from No. 180 to No. 25.
- Tight end target Luke Ford is one of the biggest movers. He cruised up 67 spots to No. 64 on the list. That move makes Ford one of the top three tight ends in the nation.
- Justyn Ross, for some reason, plummeted down the list from No. 47 to No. 138. Harold Joiner also dropped a few spots from No. 56 to No. 68. But Joiner’s drop, much smaller than Ross’, made it so there was a new No. 1 prospect in the state of Alabama, per 247Sports. That designation now goes to Joiner.
- The only prospect in the top 100 who I would consider a more-than-likely bet to land in Auburn’s class is wide receiver Matthew Hill at No. 87, which was an eight-spot drop. That’s not to say others — Fields, Tindall, Ojulari, Ford, Joiner, Trey Hill or JJ Peterson — won’t choose the Tigers, but Hill certainly has the highest chance.
Other key Auburn visits this week
In the Monday notebook, readers got a taste of the big week to come with visits. Justin Fields and Kearis Jackson plan to throw in Jordan-Hare Stadium, which will likely go down as the biggest visit combo this summer. Quindarious Monday returns to the Plains, as well.
But SEC Country has gathered a few more expected visitors this week. There will inevitably be more, and you’ll be delivered those tidbits as they come to our attention.
- 4-star wide receiver Matthew Hill from Brookwood High (Ga.) has been on commit watch list for a while. It’s not expected that he’ll commit when he’s on campus Wednesday and Thursday, but it’s also not out of the question. Hill is a big piece of the Fields puzzle. Yes, Jackson and Fields have been the ones talking most publicly about their hopes of playing college ball together. But Hill and Fields have known each other for a while and have expressed to each other privately the possibility of teaming up to play in college. Hill is expected to throw with Fields and Jackson, too.
- 3-star running back Kavosiey Smoke caught the attention of several coaching staffs this spring. Auburn is one of them. Smoke is the No. 716 overall prospect in the nation, listed as an athlete. The Tigers are still in the game for other running backs — Asa Martin, Dameon Pierce and Harold Joiner. Smoke will visit Tuesday. If he’s offered, that’ll give an indication into how Auburn feels about its other targets, as well as their rising impression of Smoke.
- JUCO offensive lineman Badara Traore is close to making a college decision. He has a top 7 of Ohio State, Nebraksa, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, LSU and Auburn. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound offensive lineman will take his official visit to Auburn over the weekend. He’ll arrive Friday and leave Sunday.