In the early going, Auburn has one defensive commitment in 2018 — defensive end Daquan Newkirk.
He originally committed to the Tigers in the 2016 recruiting class, but academics pushed him to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he has repledged to Auburn. That’s Auburn’s only commit on the defensive side of the ball so far, but the Tigers have been active with defensive prospects.
Auburn expects to take 20 or so prospects in the 2018 recruiting class. So, assuming roughly half of them are on the defensive side, the Tigers will add about 10 defenders in the group.
Here’s a look at the top 10 prospects Auburn covets on defense:
4-star CB Jalyn Armour-Davis, St. Paul’s Episcopal (Ala.)
Ranking: No. 13 cornerback, No. 2 in Alabama, No. 93 overall
Skinny: Auburn began recruiting Armour-Davis well before Greg Brown joined the staff, but the state’s No. 1 defensive prospect remains the top defensive back target. Armour-Davis emerged on the recruiting scene thanks to the Auburn offer, which was his first.
Now, he’s a top-100 prospect who has offers from all the top programs imaginable: Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Florida State, LSU and many others. Those aforementioned programs are listed among Armour-Davis’ top schools.
He plans to make his final decision before his senior season. Auburn is the smart pick at this point, but Armour-Davis has been impressed by Florida State since his unofficial visit earlier this month. Auburn will be in it until the end because of the initial offer.
“Auburn’s always been one of my top schools. They were the first school to offer me. That played a huge role,” Armour-Davis said earlier this month. “Every time I come here, it just feels like a home.”
3-star DE Andres Fox, Mobile Christian (Ala.)
Ranking: No. 29 weakside defensive end, No. 17 in Alabama, No. 562 overall
Skinny: Fox’s ranking isn’t done rising. He still sits outside the top 500 nationally, but that will almost certainly change. Just look at the programs he’s considering: Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida State, Florida, Georgia and Southern Cal. Those are the schools in the running for the pass-rushing defensive end.
Fox grew up an Alabama fan, so many consider the Crimson Tide the favorite. Alabama will undoubtedly make a major push for Fox, but it’s actually Auburn — the team that initiated Fox’s recruitment — that the 247Sports Crystal Ball favors.
“I have a great relationship with all three of the defensive coaches. Coach (Rodney) Garner, coach T-Will (Travis Williams) and coach Kevin Steele. I met Gus one time in his office,” Fox said. “I really just like all the atmosphere.”
He wants to make his decision prior to his senior year to remain “loyal” to a school leading up to National Signing Day. Auburn is in the driver’s seat.
4-star safety Brendon Harris, Baylor School (Tenn.)
Ranking: No. 10 safety, No. 4 in Tennessee, No. 109 overall
Skinny: Auburn continues to evaluate the safety position in the 2018 class, but there’s no question Harris is near the top.
At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, the Chattanooga-based safety has the size and versatility to play at an elite level. Tennessee is the early in-state favorite to land him, but Harris is also considering Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, LSU and others. Harris hasn’t revealed much about his recruitment, but the Volunteers have all three Crystal Ball predictions so far.
Auburn only brought in one true safety in the 2017 class — Carlito Gonzalez — so the position will be placed at a premium in 2018. There will be several other targets who surface as the class carries on, but Harris is a solid starting place.
3-star LB Richard Jibunor, Athens Christian (Ga.)
Ranking: No. 61 athlete, No. 72 in Georgia, No. 729 overall
Skinny: Here’s another prospect near the top of Auburn’s defensive board despite a lower ranking. Jibunor hasn’t played football long enough (started his sophomore year) to be properly scouted by most of the recruiting services. Top-tier programs have scouted him plenty, however, and they’ve decided Jibunor is one of the best raw athletes in the Southeast.
He has received heavy interest from Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Miami and many other programs. Jibunor is starting to zero in on his favorite destinations and he hopes a final decision comes sometime before his senior season.
The 6-foot-4 linebacker returns to Auburn later this week to reunite with linebackers coach Travis Williams, who would be one of the primary reasons Jibunor would choose Auburn.
“But there’s some that really feel it so much, and I feel like I’m getting to the point where I’m figuring out one of the schools I might land, but I haven’t really decided where yet,” Jibunor said. “I just have a few schools where I really feel a lot of love from and really like the campus. I know I like Auburn a lot.”
4-star DT Coynis Miller, Jackson-Olin (Ala.)
Ranking: No. 23 defensive tackle, No. 8 in Alabama, No. 263 overall
Skinny: Miller has been recruited by Auburn for the better part of two years now. Contact with the Tigers’ staff initiated when Auburn began its recruitment of 2016 signee Tadarian Moultry, a close friend and former high school teammate of Miller. All Garner needed was one look at Miller’s 6-4, 295-pound frame to know he was SEC ready at defensive tackle.
Since then, all of Auburn’s top competitors — Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Michigan and others — got in on the fun.
Miller’s decision isn’t finalized yet, but the common belief is that it’s an Auburn-Alabama battle. Those two programs are recruiting him hard. He grew up an Alabama fan. His parents’ fandoms are split between the Iron Bowl rivalry. Also of note, another person close to Miller’s recruitment has told SEC Country that Miller is much more likely to go out of state than Moultry was.
Still, Auburn and Alabama are the likely landing spots for now. They both want Miller badly.
4-star CB Jordan Miner, Wiregrass Ranch (Fla.)
Ranking: No. 26 cornerback, No. 46 in Florida, No. 287 overall
Skinny: Miner announced on Twitter earlier this month that he won’t conduct interviews until his recruitment is over, so there won’t be a ton of new information on the 4-star cornerback until decision time.
SEC Country got a chance to see Miner play at the Under Armour camp in Orlando in February, and he was one of the best — if not the best — cover corners in attendance. Miner’s length makes it tough for wide receivers to separate from him. His agility, which he showcased with a top-8 finish in the iLLSPEED competition, gives Miner one of the best tracking speeds in the 2018 class.
At the time of the camp, Miner mentioned Auburn among his top schools along with Florida. Aside from Armour-Davis, Miner might be Auburn’s preferred option at cornerback in Brown’s first full recruiting cycle as Auburn’s defensive backs coach.
4-star OLB JJ Peterson, Colquitt County (Ga.)
Ranking: No. 1 outside linebacker, No. 6 in Georgia, No. 49 overall
Skinny: Peterson is the top outside linebacker in the 2018 class, which means every top Southeastern program wants him in its class. He hasn’t reveled much in the early going of his recruitment, but Auburn is certainly in the mix.
There is only one prediction on the 247Sports Crystal Ball. That goes to Florida, but Peterson’s recruitment is wide open.
Here’s what Auburn has going for it.
One, Williams is one of the top linebacker recruiters in the nation, and he’s looking to improve on an impressive 2017 linebacker class. Two, there is prior history between Peterson’s high school coach Rush Propst and Auburn’s staff, most notably new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. An OC isn’t usually a huge player in a linebacker’s recruitment, but relationships are everything in recruiting, so it will likely help.
Lastly, Peterson hasn’t said much about his recruitment, but whenever he does, Auburn is almost always mentioned.
3-star safety Juanyeh Thomas, Niceville (Fla.)
Ranking: No. 85 safety, No. 167 in Florida, No. 1,140 overall
Skinny: As mentioned with Harris previously, Brown still has evaluations to do before he determines his primary targets in the 2018 class. Thomas is an under-the-radar gem Brown has already sought out.
Thomas is a fringe 3-star prospect, meaning he’s actually a 2-star recruit on some sites. That’s blasphemous. Thomas will skyrocket up recruiting service rankings once more camps and evaluations take place. Brown didn’t need those numbers to change to know the Florida-based safety will be an SEC football player one day.
Thomas’ only other Power 5 offer is from Georgia Tech, but Florida State, Florida and Alabama are showing interest. Auburn gave the 6-foot-2, 192-pound prospect an offer on Jan. 9, which was two days after Brown officially took over as Auburn’s secondary coach.
That priority should tell you everything you need to know about how Brown perceives Thomas.
4-star OLB Quay Walker, Crisp County (Ga.)
Ranking: No. 14 outside linebacker, No. 21 in Georgia, No. 226 overall
Skinny: When Auburn signed Markaviest “Big Cat” Bryant on National Signing Day, it was considered a win. As much as it was a victory by adding the 4-star pass rusher, it also was good news with 2018 linebacker target Quay Walker.
Walker and Bryant are teammates, but more importantly, they’re close friends. The tandem has been on recruiting visits together since Walker was a freshman. They’ve seen most of the top schools in the Southeast together. So, when Bryant somewhat surprisingly chose Auburn, attention immediately turned to Walker, who was believed by many to be a 2-for-1 deal with Bryant.
Walker has downplayed the you-got-him, you-get-me narrative, but he hasn’t shied away from his continued love for the Tigers. Walker is at or near the top of Williams’ linebackers wish list.
The feeling, for now, is mutual.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to go where I think it’s the best fit for me. At the same time, it kinda played a big role where Markaviest went,” Walker said. “Y’all know I want to play with him.”
4-star ATH Nathaniel Watson, Maplesville School (Ala.)
Ranking: No. 20 athlete, No. 1o in Alabama, No. 279 overall
Skinny: It’s still not certain Watson will end up on the defensive side of the ball.
He’s participated in camps as a wide receiver and as a defensive back. Many evaluators project Watson as a linebacker. If that’s the route he goes, Watson will be a force at the position in the 2018 class. He’s been a regular visitor to Auburn — long before his stock began to rise.
That long-standing relationship will pay off come decision time. He’s not near a decision yet, he says, and part of that has to do with his position uncertainty. Once he finalizes that choice, the rest of the process will begin to play itself out for the 6-foot-3, 200-pound athlete.
Watson’s other Power 5 offers include Vanderbilt, Indiana, Illinois, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Once more programs figure out what position Watson will play, he will likely be more highly recruited.