If you’re joining us late: we’re taking an overview of Auburn’s 2010 recruiting class as it stands today, with the final few pieces ready to fall into place over the next couple of weeks. We’ve done the offense; here comes the defense (and special teams), which has a lot to get excited about but isn’t quite as stacked as the offensive class … yet.
Another area of major need for Auburn: with half of the ends on the roster set to graduate next year, one of the remaining three looking more like a pass-rush specialist than every-down player (Ford did look like a promising pass-rush specialist, mind), and another miles away from seeing the field, a replenishing of the depth chart and a couple of instant-impact types were both musts. Chizik and Co. are most of the way there–Bonomolo and Sanders should both be capable of contributing right away and Delaine’s a super-athletic small-school sleeper. But the addition of Lemonier–the freshly-minted No. 35 player in the country, according to Rivals–would take the DE class from “excellent” to “freaking awesome.” No other ends I’m aware of seem like possibilities for Auburn; if Lemonier goes elsewhere (Florida St. seems to be the other major player), I’d imagine the spot will be saved for ’11.
Finally, we come to the part of the class where it’s OK to be nervous. Auburn will (probably) be fine this fall with Blanc and Fairley starting and Lykes and probably Clayton (sliding inside when need be) behind them, but past that … yeesh. With Terrence Coleman and Josh Jackson heading off to JUCO and Jamar Travis failing to impress in his freshman season–as Andy Bitter wrote, “I can’t imagine the staff thinks too highly of Travis, since they burned his redshirt to fair catch a kickoff”–the ’09 class of tackles is looking dangerously like a total bust. So the Tigers need to get some top-level guys into the pipeline and need to do it now. As things stand today, that hasn’t happened–Carter has a ton of potential, but he’s just one guy. (Not to mention that recent products from his Greenville High haven’t always panned out.)
So I’d argue that the Whitaker-Thornton-Jones triumvirate represent the three most critical recruits left on Auburn’s board. Smith also represents an intriguing possibility; freshly decommitted from Tennessee (congratulations on not enrolling early, Calvin), he’s a four-star talent who also just happens to be a teammate of Lemonier’s. With the impact players for the ’11 depth chart currently looking like Fairley-plus-whoever Auburn can find in this class, I’d be happy to see three of those four guys land at Auburn.
Other position groups in this class might be more star-studded, but with the possible exception of the offensive line I don’t think I like any of them as much as I like this set of linebackers. With possibly only two underclassmen on the roster (in the event of Pybus’s departure), Chizik and Co. had (once again) to try and put together both 1. a large class that could give them an actual, you know, second-string 2. some players who could see time from Day 1. And so here we are: the rock-solid, tough-as-nails proven winner with the NFL dad who’ll start cracking heads this spring (in Curry); the whirling dervish tackling machine whose motor just doesn’t seem like it’ll let him fail (in Holland); the physical, cat-quick outside ‘backer you just know Tubby would have snapped up in a heartbeat (in White); and finally, the out-and-out stud in the NFL-ready body for whom the sky is the limit (in Owens). Every item on the checklist has been crossed off.
Hyperbole? Of course. But we’ve all got our irrational favorites, right? These guys are mine. Chizik and Co. still might not be done, though: Ted Roof visited Beasley, an alleged athletic wonder who could play anywhere from tight end to linebacker, late last week.
Not a lot of star power here, or immediate impact with two of the three (White and Davis) converting from full-time quarterback duty in high school. But that’s OK: Mincy seems like one of those guys whose physical gifts don’t leap out at the gurus but whose offer sheet (LSU / Michigan / Miami / North Carolina / Ga. Tech) suggests he’s going to prove a lot of recruitniks wrong, and sooner rather than later. Davis and White might need a transition year, but it’s telling that Auburn’s coaches took them over more highly-ranked prospects. In a couple of years, I think this will look like a fine class of corners.
Still, it would have been nice to have snagged another top-notch talent in the event of a 2009-like wave of injuries; too bad ex-Vandy commit Bradley Roby (who was scheduled for an Auburn visit this month) committed to Ohio St. today.
The sudden injury crisis to close 2009 both obscured and illustrated why this is probably the position of least concern for Auburn’s 2010 class. Having to move Washington over from corner showed how desperate the Tigers were at the time … but with T’Sharvan Bell taking some major strides down the stretch and McNeil poised to make a full recovery, Auburn looks set for a solid two-year McNeil / Bates / Bell rotation. So Chizik and Co. probably don’t feel they have to take any gambles on safety recruits this year, which it’s why it’s such a solid endorsement for McNeal (who they sewed up early) and why I’m guessing Chizik really will give Howard his promised shot at RB.
Nonetheless: if Howard flees to Clemson or Kentucky, would Auburn stand still at just one safety in the class, especially when they’ve clearly lost faith in Mike Slade? (Remember: Cole saw the field against Northwestern before Slade did.) This is one of the spots where we could conceivably see a Bates-style surprise commitment down the stretch.
On roster: 2 (Byrum, Shoemaker)
Needed: 1 P, 1PK (assuming you don’t want to start true frosh in ’11)
Commits: 2 (Cody Parkey, whose Rivals mug shot has finally been reaplced with one that doesn’t make him look 12, Steven Clark)
Pretty straightforward: in ’11 you need a new PK and a new P, so you go out and sign the No. 1 kicker in the country and one of the top-ranked punters. Nice.
Again, we’re looking at six possible commitments between now and Signing Day. I don’t think it’s too hard to guess who Chizik and Co. would hand-pick to fill those slots if they could: Lattimore, Lemonier, Mack, Whitaker, Jones, and Thornton, with Beasley right behind. (Or maybe in front of one or two of those guys. Who knows.)
Who do they get? I’m sure there are people out there who could make a much-more informed guess than I could, but I’ll try anyway. Auburn confidence seems far too high on Whitaker (and Georgia’s staff problems too prominent) for me to see him getting away; that’s one. Arkansas and Ole Miss seem to be the only major competition for Jones and they’re both having fairly lackluster recruiting seasons; I think he’ll be two. I have no idea how the rest will shake out, but I like how the slow build of the budding Lattimore-to-Auburn sentiment resembles the Reed recruitment; what the hell, that’s three.
The other guys I’m even less confident about: Mack has such strong family ties to Carolina, it’s still hard for me to see him pulling the trigger on going out-of-state. FSU has a lot of recruiting momentum and are coming hard after Lemonier. Thornton’s mostly been tight-lipped, it’s seemed, but when he’s spoken he’s generally seemed to speak ever-so-slightly more favorably of Georgia or Penn St. (That he’s mostly spoken to the AJC might have something to do with it, though.) Beasley’s stuck with Clemson for a while and his most likely position–linebacker–is one Auburn’s fairly well-stocked on. In the end, I think Auburn gets only one of these four–which, given how good each one of them is, would still be quite a success–to make four, and then a secret Mystery Recruit in the secondary or offensive line makes five. Chizik and Co. finish by keeping Coleman and Howard in the fold and leave the very last slot open for next year.
Bear in mind: this staff has beaten out even the most optimistic projections time and time again on the recruiting trail, so there’s plenty of reason to believe we’ll be celebrating even harder on Signing Day than we would in the event of the above. Fingers crossed.