All in all, Auburn currently has 18 scholarship defensive backs listed on its official 2016 roster.
Here’s the breakdown by class:
- Seniors: 4
- Juniors: 4
- Sophomores: 3
- Freshmen: 7
Of those seven freshmen, three of them are redshirts, including Javaris Davis who has been an overachieving cover corner this season. Still, the mass in numbers in the freshman class tells me one key thing: First-year secondary coach Wesley McGriff enjoys strength in numbers.
In the 2016 class, McGriff joined the staff and made late pushes to help land Daniel Thomas and Jayvaughn Myers. He also played an integral role in holding on to Marlon Character, who flirted with South Carolina close to National Signing Day once Will Muschamp made the transition from Auburn to South Carolina.
McGriff has shown what he can do in a small window. Now, it’s time to see his first full recruiting cycle of work. T.J. Davis, Josh Holsey, Rudy Ford and Marshall Taylor will be the four seniors to leave the team after the season. There are no early entry NFL Draft guarantees, but safety Tray Matthews might be the only one who comes closest to qualifying.
This particular topic comes at a crucial point for Auburn.
As it stands, there are three commits in the class right now — Malcolm Askew, Carlito Gonzalez and Jordyn Peters — that will, without question, play in the secondary. Tray Bishop will get his chance at quarterback, but he’s playing in the U.S. Army All-American Game as a safety, so that should give you some impression of his defensive backfield ability.
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Over the weekend, one cornerback target (Chris Henderson) took his official visit to Auburn. Another cornerback target (Shawn Shamburger) selected Tennessee instead of Auburn, though that might have been a strategic move on the Tigers’ side.
That’s just the beginning of the defensive back conversation for Auburn.
What will be particularly interesting is the dynamic at the safety position. Auburn already has two commitments at safety — Peters and Gonzalez. Both are 3-star prospects, which isn’t always a fair indication of talent level, but the Tigers coaching staff could still be hunting for a more highly touted option.
There are a few choices remaining for Auburn, and the Tigers stand in solid position for a number of good ones.
Where do the Tigers stand with all of their remaining safety options? Here’s a few to consider:
4-star safety Devon Hunter
Hunter might be the best uncommitted player remaining on Auburn’s board. The 4-star safety from Indian River High School (Va.) came down to the Plains for the Arkansas game on an unofficial visit. The 53-point throttling had to leave some kind of impression on Hunter.
Virginia Tech has long been considered the favorite to land the in-state safety. He’s the No. 2 overall player in the state, and the rest of the top 10 are all going out of state. The Hokies need Hunter badly, which could play into their favor. But Auburn is certainly a factor for Hunter, and the Tigers are making him a priority.
He said at the Arkansas game that expects to take an official visit to Auburn. Virginia Tech isn’t the only challenger, however. Florida is in the mix, and his tenacity does have the look and feel of a Gators safety.
But it does say something that a prospect would make an unofficial visit to a school in the middle of the high school season. Hunter has shown much more interest in the Tigers than maybe was previously believed, and McGriff’s background in the NFL has to be a huge player in that movement.
I still think it’s a long shot to land Hunter, but the chances are growing ever so slightly.
4-star safety C.J. Avery
Chalk another one up to the McGriff factor.
Avery didn’t have Auburn among his top teams, ever, until McGriff came on board. Avery’s father played his college ball for McGriff during one of his early career stops at Kentucky State. That added the initial intrigue, and Auburn has helped sell itself from there.
Avery, the safety from Grenada (Miss.), always had Mississippi State and Ole Miss at the top of his chart. Once he built his relationship with McGriff and took his official visit for the LSU game, his affection for Auburn skyrocketed.
To show how much Auburn wants him: McGriff, after being in Mississippi twice already for Auburn games this season, went to watch Avery play again last Friday before the Tigers met Vanderbilt. McGriff has been on Avery regularly since the official visit, and the game visit Friday is just another example of him going above and beyond to try and land the out-of-state target.
In my recently released projection, Avery made the Auburn commit list. That’s something that, for the time being, I think the Tigers should feel pretty confident about.
3-star ATH JaTarvious Whitlow
Whitlow attended the Vanderbilt game last week, and he continues to maintain that Auburn is the leader to land his services among a group of suitors that includes UAB, Troy, Southern Miss and Tulane.
The Tigers stand above the rest of the list, but a few contributing factors might be holding back the finalization of the process. Whitlow still has some academic variables (not a concern, just variables) that need to get worked out before Auburn puts its foot on the gas with his recruitment.
Also, Whitlow posts jaw-dropping numbers as an offensive player at LaFayette (Ala.), where he’s a 3-star prospect who plays quarterback, running back, kick returner, punt returner, kickoff specialist and sees time on defense. Auburn wants him as a safety, but Whitlow, in my opinion, is fully capable of playing offense — even quarterback — at the Division I level.
UAB, who is recruiting him the hardest, could hold the edge there, if Whitlow values position over program. Other schools could enter the equation late. His high school team is undefeated and a state-title run could add some late exposure for a prospect who doesn’t plan on deciding until February anyway.
At the end of the day, I think Auburn wins out on Whitlow. Though, if he does end up on campus, don’t be surprised if you end up seeing him on the offensive side instead. If you’ve ever watched the guy play football, you know how special he can be with the ball in his hands.
4-star safety Deangelo Gibbs
Auburn won’t give up on this one until it’s over. Gibbs has been an Auburn target since the beginning, and he always enjoys his days and nights on the Plains.
Gibbs is pretty careful about revealing his preferences, but the Tigers still find the way into his top group whenever he mentions it. That list includes Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida. All six of those institutions chase Gibbs with full force.
He’s the No. 41 overall player in the country for a reason. At 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds, he’s been slotted at multiple positions over the course of his recruitment, but safety appears to be the one for him when it is all said and done.
The attention Auburn has shown Avery the last two months tells me one of two things: 1) Gibbs has shown some resistance and 2) Auburn wants to load up at safety. With Gonzalez and Peters already committed, it is getting a little bit cluttered at the position, so Gibbs — who always seemed like a long shot for Auburn anyway — might be a pipe dream at this point.