Every recruiting class has its surprises, busts and breakout stars. With that in mind, SEC Country takes a look at four signing classes (2012-15) at Auburn as Gus Malzahn enters his fourth season coaching the Tigers.
We take a look at the careers so far for these players, sum them up and provide a simple stock return: up, even or down. Today we look at the recruiting class of 2013, the first of the Gus Malzahn era.
DT Montravius Adams, ★★★★★
What happened: A starter who struggled to be consistent in his first two seasons, he has developed into a force in the middle of the defensive line. A breakout season is within reach as he enters his senior season and what could be a special one for the Tigers defense. He had seven tackles for loss in 2014, but that number dropped to three in 2015. An uptick is expected in 2016.
DE Carl Lawson, ★★★★★
What happened: If you want to see the impact he can make, look no further than the first half of the season opener against Louisville in 2015. He changed the game, forced the quarterback to throw an interception on the first play and continued to demand attention until a hip injury put him on the sideline. He never was quite the same in 2015, and after sitting out the entire 2014 season after an ACL tear, we’re still waiting to see a fully developed, completely healthy Lawson take the field for a season. If he does that in 2016, look out.
DE Elijah Daniel, ★★★★
What happened: He played two seasons, accumulated 3.5 sacks and was arrested in the spring of 2015 before transferring to Murray State. A prospect that should have been much better for the Tigers.
WR Tony Stevens, ★★★★
What happened: He has caught 19 passes in three seasons, including 13 for 174 yards and one touchdown in 2015. It’s time for him to live up to the hype. He showed promise as a true freshman but fell off the map in 2014 (one catch) and we’ve been wondering since if he will become a true threat in the Tigers offense. He gets one more chance in 2016.
RB Jovon Robinson, ★★★★
What happened: Back at Auburn for a second time, he’s living up to the hype as we finally got to see what he’s capable of doing in the last third of the 2015 season. He ran for at least 90 yards in five of the last six games as he slowly took over for Peyton Barber. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry and finished with 639 yards. He’ll start in 2016 and could have an All-SEC type season in this offense, which has produced 1,000-yard rushers in each of the last seven seasons.
QB Jeremy Johnson, ★★★★
What happened: Everything looked set for a stellar final two seasons on the Plains. His performance against Arkansas in 2014 set the stage for high expectations. Throwing for 200-plus yards to go along with two touchdowns in the first half opened eyes, and as he continued to sit on the bench and wait for his turn behind Nick Marshall, the possibilities seemed endless for the big-armed, big-bodied quarterback. Something happened, however, and no one can quite explain it. He threw six interceptions in the first three games — most of them directly to open defenders — and was benched after three weeks. He returned to the field when Sean White was injured, but he was never quite the same. He’s in the mix for the starting job entering 2016, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations. He can change that this summer and fall.
DT Ben Bradley, ★★★★
What happened: The junior college transfer finished with 36 tackles in two seasons, including one sack. He never cracked the starting lineup and wasn’t as fast as Auburn hoped he would become.
RB Rudy Ford, ★★★★
What happened: He went from running back to safety, and has had some great games. In fact, he could still play running back if the coaches need him. He led Auburn with 118 tackles last season after making 93 stops in 2014. Still, it’s difficult to forget the 12.2 yards per carry he averaged in garbage time in 2013. He’s a freak athlete.
WR Jason Smith, ★★★★
What happened: He tried to compete against Jeremy Johnson for the quarterback job when he arrived on campus in 2015, but he quickly pulled out of the competition and moved to receiver. He caught 13 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns in 2015 and is a big-play treat in the offense. Oh, and he was 0 for 2 passing with one interception if you’re wondering why he’s not moving to quarterback any time soon.
WR Earnest Robinson, ★★★★
What happened: The 2013 Under Armour All-American selection never made it to Auburn’s campus and went to East Mississippi Community College.
QB Nick Marshall, ★★★
What happened: Auburn’s best return on the recruiting trail of the Gus Malzahn era. He broke records at Auburn, rushed for 1,866 yards, threw for 4,508 yards in his two-year career and led the Tigers to an SEC title and national runner-up finish in his first year as starter in 2013. Malzahn said people would look back in a few years and realize just how great of a quarterback Marshall was, and that is not lost on us at SEC Country. Other than Cam Newton, he’s the best quarterback to play for Malzahn in his 10 years as a college coach.
LB Cameron Toney, ★★★
What happened: Five total tackles (no solo stops) in two years. He didn’t get many mentions this spring, either.
OG Deon Mix, ★★★
What happened: A late steal from Mississippi State in 2013, Deon mix has played in only a handful of games and doesn’t appear to be on the lips of Herb Hand’s potential sixth or seventh man on the offensive line rotation. He played in two games in 2014 and one in 2015.
RB Peyton Barber, ★★★
What happened: You never know when your number will be called, and Peyton Barber certainly took advantage. Injuries to Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson in the opener in 2015 opened the door for Barber, who took over and finished with 1,016 yards and 13 touchdowns. He saved the Tigers against Louisville by melting the clock with his runs and did it again against in-state FCS foe Jacksonville State with a crucial third-down catch in overtime and the game-winning touchdown. He left after his junior season to seek a life in the NFL, but he’ll forever be remembered from saving a season on the brink. Barber’s family told me he was contemplating leaving the team before the 2015 season. If that had happened, Auburn may have started the season 0-2, including a loss to Jacksonville State.
CB Kamryn Melton, ★★★
What happened: He played in three games in 2013, suffered a knee injury and sat out the 2014 season before transferring to Troy in May 2015.
WR Dominic Walker, ★★★
What happened: He redshirted in 2013 and never played in 2014. He then transferred to Copiah-Lincoln Community College.
S Mackenro Alexander, ★★★
What happened: The brother of Clemson star Mackensie Alexander, he had four tackles in 2013, did not play in 2014 and transferred in the spring of 2015. He landed at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
RB Cameron Artis-Payne, ★★★
What happened: The junior college transfer got his shot after Tre’ Mason’s stellar season in 2013 and did not disappoint with 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014. Never one to shy away from a challenge, he had some strong words about the Big Ten’s defenses before the Outback Bowl and wondered aloud if he could hit 2,000 yards in a season in the Big Ten. He’s now playing for the Carolina Panthers.
S Khari Harding, ★★★
What happened: Four total tackles at Auburn before he decided to transfer to Tulsa to be closer to his sick father.
LB Kenny Flowers, ★★★
What happened: Coaches expected him to compete for a starting job as a junior college transfer in 2013 but that never happened. He finished his Auburn career with nine tackles.
OG Devonte Danzey, ★★★
What happened: The junior college transfer mostly spent his time as a backup at two positions.
K Daniel Carlson, ★★★
What happened: The Lou Groza finalist a year ago was one of only three kickers to boot four field goals of 51 yards or more in 2015. He broke an Auburn record with 16 straight field goals made and hit a career-long field goal of 56 yards in the season opener against Louisville. He’s been nothing but a blessing for the Tigers, whose only miscue came at the end of the 2014 season: a missed field goal in overtime against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. But that was at a time when he was handling all kicking duties and his leg was worn out.
CB Marcus Davis, ★★★
What happened: He has proven to be a great punt returner, but we’re still waiting or Auburn to stretch the field with him at receiver. Davis, of course, moved to received despite being classified as a cornerback during the recruiting process. He has accumulated 491 yards and three touchdowns receiving in three seasons, including a career-high 217 as a true freshman in 2013. He will be looked upon to lead the Tigers receivers this season, which means he’ll have every opportunity to put up big numbers.
P Jimmy Hutchinson, ★★★
What happened: He punted for one season — nine times — and called it quits.
S Brandon King, ★★★
What happened: He played two seasons, accumulating 19 tackles and forcing one fumble. He might be the most confounding member of this recruiting class as he has since found a home with the New England Patriots, where he has received some good feedback. As for Auburn, things never seemed to pan out.
2013 recruiting class
Rankings: 10th nationally; 6th SEC
Portfolio: Seven of 25 players left the team, were booted or never made it to campus. There were some huge stars in this class to emerge, too, including three running backs (Cameron Artis-Payne, Jovon Robinson, Peyton Barber) and the biggest winner of all: quarterback Nick Marshall. Oh, and let’s not forget about defensive tackle Montravius Adams and end Carl Lawson. This was a stellar class in Malzahn’s first season and it has paid off in the years since.
Overall stock: Up