Mildly put, Auburn’s 2020 roster has some large holes to fill. SEC Defensive player of the year, Derrick Brown, his defensive counterpart Marlon Davidson, cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, offensive linemen Jack Driscoll and Prince Tega Wanogho and safety Daniel Thomas were all drafted. Senior wide receiver Sal Canella is gone, and with him his fortunate habit of making one spectacular catch a game. Fifth year wideout Will Hastings fulfilled his destiny, signing with the Patriots. And the Tigers also lost two starters in the secondary in senior defensive back Javaris Davis and the team’s leading tackler in 2019, safety Jeremiah Dinson. Just to name a few. But, there is still plenty of potential for this year.
So, who is going to step up for the Tigers? Ultimately, it will start and end with the revamped offensive line. However, I believe there are three seniors, none of which are pass blockers, who are critical to Auburn’s success this season. If this team wants to contend for an SEC and National Championship, these guys have to show up.
1. Big Kat Bryant – Defensive End:
No one expects Auburn’s defensive line to match the production of last years. But, if the Tiger’s defense wants to maintain their reputation of a deserving-to-be-feared unit, Big Kat Bryant will have to be a focal point. In 2019, Brown and Davidson combined for 11.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. Big Kat, on the other hand, had nine quarterback hurries but struggled to finish plays, registering just 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. One could argue that it is going to be even harder to get to the quarterback with the absence of Brown and Davidson, but with two All-Americans playing in front of him, it’s no wonder his numbers weren’t great. Big Kat has the All-American potential; it’s time to show it.
2. Eli Stove – Slot Receiver:
Eli Stove can heat up faster than the household appliance with which he shares a name. Defenders, thou shall be cooked. No, but for real. Stove reminds me so much of Ryan Davis, Auburn’s all-time leader in receptions and breaker of Minkah Fitzpatrick’s ankles. Stove had a nice bounce back year after a knee injury forced him to redshirt in 2018. Stove, Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz are the only three players listed as wide receivers that registered more than three catches in 2019. Williams is a potential 1st round pick and Schwartz may be the fastest man alive, meaning they will get a lot of attention. Therefore, Stove has to thrive in his slot niche. If he can be a good safety valve for quarterback Bo Nix and provide the occasional big play on screens, the Tigers’ offense could be one of the best in the country. Can you imagine a three-play drive that starts with screen to Stove, followed by an end around to Schwartz and capped off with a fade to Seth Williams? Did someone say heaven?
3. T.D. Moultry – Buck:
This one is a wild card. While he has competition from sophomore Derrick Hall, in my opinion, Moultry’s experience give him the edge. Moultry is a former five-star recruit who hasn’t lived up to expectations. He was banged up at the beginning of 2019, but even after getting healthy, he finished the season with only one sack and four tackles. Nick Coe was slated to start at buck to begin last season, but a series of off-the-field troubles resulted him only starting one game. The dominance of Brown and Davidson concealed the glaring hole that was left by his absence. But this year, the defensive line needs all the help it can get. If Moultry can tap into the potential that so many saw in him coming out of high school, then Kevin Steele’s defense might have a secret weapon. If not, he could quickly lose his spot to Hall and the team could suffer for it.
- K.J. Britt – Middle Linebacker: I hesitated putting Britt on here because he’s an All-SEC linebacker who will show up and make big plays all season – no question. However, with no Chandler Wooten and a talented but young linebacker group, Britt will shoulder a ton of responsibility.
- Tyrone Truesdell – Defensive Tackle: Similar to Big Kat, Truesdell has big shoes to fill. He would have been in the top three, except defensive ends typically have more upside and impact than defensive tackles.
- Members of the secondary: Despite losing four starters from last season, Auburn’s secondary appears to be in decent shape. Younger guys will start in front of these seniors, but nonetheless, they will have a role to play. Last year, Malcolm Askew and Jordyn Peters were backup safeties and Devan Barrett, after beginning his Auburn career on offense, was a backup corner. Barrett played in seven games, Askew in six and Peters made only 11 tackles with one pass deflection. Look for one or two of these guys to break out and become important rotational contributors to the Tigers’ secondary.