AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football doesn’t have an official depth chart yet for 2017. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear coaches and players proclaim in fall camp “every job is still up for grabs” or one of its classic football-speak variants.
But it wouldn’t be true. The Tigers will return double-digit starters this season, and a few position battles are as good as done before they even hit August. Auburn’s quarterback “battle” seems like a formality at this point.
Gus Malzahn and his staff have issues to sort out over the course of fall camp, which opens July 31 on the Plains. Replacements for several key starters who are now off to the NFL must be decided. Players who pulled ahead in battles during the spring could get jumped on the depth chart between now and September.
Here’s the first half of SEC Country’s projected Auburn football depth chart. If the season started today, this would be a best guess at a three-deep, so to speak — barring any unforeseen such as injuries.
In this projected depth chart, though, each position is listed with a job security breakdown. How solid are these projections, and which ones have the chance to change in camp? Let’s break down the locks, the ongoing battles and everything in-between for Auburn, starting with Chip Lindsey’s offense.
- Jarrett Stidham, sophomore
- Sean White, junior
- Malik Willis, true freshman
Job security: Officially a competition, unofficially a lock
Barring injury or a massive collapse in fall camp, Jarrett Stidham will start at quarterback for Auburn in 2017. It’s true his addition, along with Malik Willis’ arrival, brought much-needed depth to the position. But make no mistake — Auburn got Stidham, a Baylor transfer, so he could start in 2017 and unlock the downfield passing potential of a tweaked offense.
White will be a valuable backup who will give it his all in fall camp. Willis might see playing time in 2017. However, this is Stidham’s show, and everyone is waiting for Malzahn to confirm the worst-kept secret in the SEC. The former Baylor quarterback is on the Plains to take over the offense and do what White couldn’t over the last two seasons.
- Kamryn Pettway, junior
- Kerryon Johnson, junior
- Kam Martin, sophomore
Job security: No. 1 and No. 2 are locks; No. 3 could go any way
Kamryn Pettway led the SEC in rushing yards per game last season and will start for the Tigers in 2017. After not getting a single touch in the opener against Clemson, Pettway proved why that was a wrong decision for the rest of the year. Kerryon Johnson, who could be a bigger weapon for Auburn in Lindsey’s offense because of his receiving ability, will get his fair share of touches behind Pettway.
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton said the No. 3 job was up for grabs during the spring, and that will continue in fall camp with the arrival of 4-star freshman Devan Barrett. While Malik Miller was No. 3 last year before his season-ending injury, a bigger and stronger Kam Martin looks like the favorite to keep his spot. Expect a decent amount of rotation at this position, though, in 2017.
Wide receiver — Split end
- Darius Slayton, sophomore
- Kyle Davis, sophomore
- Marquis McClain, redshirt freshman
Wide receiver — Flanker
- Nate Craig-Myers, sophomore
- Ryan Davis, junior
- Jason Smith, senior
Wide receiver — Slot
- Eli Stove, sophomore
- Will Hastings, junior
- John Franklin III, senior
Job security: Top four looks solid, but specific roles can change
Auburn has a lot of versatility at its receiver position in 2017, so the distinct positions could change. For example, Eli Stove was used at flanker and slot receiver in A-Day. The Tigers sometimes use a “big slot” receiver in a four-wide set, and Nate Craig-Myers and Kyle Davis fit well in that role.
Darius Slayton is the returning leader at receiver, and he started 11 games last season. He’ll be the top player going into the season at the outside receiver spots. Craig-Myers stood out in the spring and will have an edge over Davis, who missed all of camp. Auburn’s best possible lineup at wide receiver appears to be Slayton, Craig-Myers and Stove, with Davis as the next man up at almost any spot.
Will Hastings was a favored target of Stidham during spring practice, and he could carve out a role again in 2017. Former quarterback John Franklin III could be dangerous on sweeps and reverses. Ryan Davis falls in the pecking order behind younger, bigger receivers, but he’s sure-handed. Finally, watch out for the physical Marquis McClain, who could make a big jump with a strong fall camp.
- Chandler Cox, junior
- Jalen Harris, junior
- Sal Cannella, sophomore
- Jalen Harris, junior
- Sal Cannella, sophomore
- John Samuel Shenker, true freshman
Job security: Cox is a lock, Harris is firmly ahead of the versatile Cannella
Chandler Cox will start at H-back for the third year in a row, and he’ll get opportunities to put his hand in the dirt at tight end. Jalen Harris is the leader at tight end, a position that will continue to be big on run-blocking but add more in terms of passing. Coaches and teammates say Harris did a good job of improving as a receiver during the spring.
Sal Cannella’s role is undecided, but chances are he’ll get several balls thrown his way in 2017. Cannella is Auburn’s tallest receiving option at 6-foot-5, and he could line up as a “big slot” receiver as much as a traditional tight end. While he’ll need to work on his blocking technique in order to jump Harris as the top tight end, Auburn coaches should get creative with the Chicago-area native.
- Darius James, senior
- Prince Tega Wanogho, sophomore
- Calvin Ashley, true freshman
Job security: James is a clear favorite at LT, Ashley could make noise in fall
The offensive line could change drastically between now and September, depending on how line coach Herb Hand wants to lock down his veteran and versatile group. But Darius James was a strong starter at left tackle for Auburn in 2017. If he stays at tackle, he should keep the job without too much problem. Prince Tega Wanogho will continue to develop behind him this season.
Auburn coaches have repeatedly said 5-star freshman Calvin Ashley will get every chance to win playing time this fall. It’s difficult to start at left tackle as a true freshman in the SEC, though. Ashley looks too talented to redshirt, but he might not be ready to start if James goes down. The prediction: Ashley has a strong fall camp, wins the “sixth man” jumbo set job as a true freshman and gets mop-up duty at left tackle.
- Mike Horton, sophomore
- Marquel Harrell, sophomore
- Brodarious Hamm, true freshman or Nick Brahms, true freshman
- Wilson Bell, senior
- Marquel Harrell, sophomore
- Tyler Carr, sophomore
Job security: Bell will start, Horton is next in line if no one moves
Wilson Bell will start at Auburn in 2017 after transferring from Florida State. He has plenty of Power 5 experience and fills an immediate need at a guard spot that doesn’t return a starter. The question, though, is whether he’ll play left guard or right guard. The right side was his natural one at Florida State, so let’s pencil him in as Braden Smith’s successor there.
Mike Horton looked like a potential starter in spring ball, and he has the movement ability Auburn likes out of its pulling guards. If Bell stays on the right side and Austin Golson doesn’t move positions, Horton should be the starter on the left side. Marquel Harrell, who needs to show more consistency, is the next man up. Tyler Carr will add to the depth while Brodarious Hamm and Nick Brahms will most likely redshirt.
- Austin Golson, senior
- Casey Dunn, senior
- Kaleb Kim, sophomore
Job security: Golson has edge in offensive line’s biggest battle
Austin Golson returned to center for Auburn last season after a spell at left tackle, and it was a better fit for both him and the offense. The Tigers brought Casey Dunn as a graduate transfer from Jacksonville State, where he was a two-time FCS All-American and almost one-time upsetter of Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Golson will stay as the starting center unless Dunn outplays him in camp. If that happens, Golson could take over the left tackle job again and move James to the inside opposite Bell. Auburn would have a five-senior starting lineup up front in that scenario. But Dunn seems more like a valuable depth piece in case of emergency at the moment, so Golson retains here.
- Braden Smith, senior
- Prince Sammons, redshirt freshman
- Austin Troxell, true freshman
Job security: Biggest lock on offense
Braden Smith moved from guard to tackle in the spring, and he believes he’ll stay there during the fall. The position demands improved pass protection — especially in Lindsey’s offense — and dominant run blocking. Smith is Auburn’s best all-around lineman and a clear All-American candidate in 2017.
Prince Sammons made impressive strides during his redshirt season as a new offensive lineman. He needs more time to develop, and another year behind Smith should set up an interesting future battle between himself and 4-star tackle Austin Troxell. The Madison Academy product told SEC Country he should be ready for fall camp after two major ACL injuries, and he could be a future star up front.