Bryan Harsin caught most of the Auburn fan base and media off guard by releasing his 2- deep depth chart on Monday. The offense was pretty much what everyone expected it to be, sans Shedrick Jackson winning the WR1 job. That just speaks to the “Work, Hard Work” Jackson has put in since Harsin showed up to Auburn. Hopefully this season Jackson will be a force in the passing game, and not just a blocker on the outside. I was wrong about some of my positions of the backup offensive linemen, but don’t expect those guys to play the same position all season. Harsin and offensive line coach Will Friend have really pushed these guys to perform at multiple positions to give that unit some needed flexibility.
I did not talk about the defense, so let’s analyze how the Tigers will lineup on defense against Akron on Saturday.
No surprise that Colby Wooden will start at defensive end. Wooden has all the looks of an All-SEC performer this season. Auburn will turn to Wooden to be the primary pass rusher on the defensive line after recording 4 sacks last season. Wooden can stuff the run too, adding 9.5 tackles for loss in 2020. Zykeivous Walker behind him surprises me. Walker contributed as a freshman last season with 14 total tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 sack from the defensive tackle position. When you look at him, Walker looks like a defensive tackle. He wears number 3, and he looks like Marlon Davidson in an Auburn uniform. I still think Walker’s future is at DT, and it looks like Auburn does too as he’s up to 289 lbs. Moving to a 3-4 base defense under Derek Mason changes positions for a lot of guys, including Walker. “Zeke” brings some versatility to the d-line, so I expect him out there making plays a lot this season.
Tony Fair winning the starting nose tackle job in fall camp comes as no surprise. Fair, a senior, transferred to Auburn form UAB after last season. Fair was a major contributor on UAB’s defense in his 2 years of significant playing time in 2019-20. He had 57 tackles, 8 TFLs, and 2 sacks. He is going to plug the middle for this Auburn defense and make his linebackers playing behind him look really good. Fair really came to play on 3rd downs last year for UAB, as that unit finished 7th in the country in 3rd down defense in 2020. One of the biggest surprises of this depth chart is JJ Pegues as the backup nose tackle. Pegues, who came in and played on offense as an H-back/ tight end last season, moved to defense a few weeks into spring practice. Defensive line coach Nick Eason saw potential in Pegues, and convinced him to join his unit. Pegues was admittedly unsure about the move at first, but he has clearly turned heads there. I don’t know how much of an impact Pegues will truly make this season, but he is a big body that will clog up space in the middle for Auburn’s defense.
Auburn has had what seems like a mass exodus at the defensive tackle position since Bryan Harsin became the head coach. Tyrone Truesdell and Daquan Newkirk decided not to stick around and be apart of Bryan Harsin’s team in 2021. Harris and Burks have performed well by all accounts this fall. Marcus Harris, from Montgomery, comes in after playing for Les Miles at Kansas last season. He played in 8 games (5 starts), and recorded 32 tackles and 7.5 for a loss. Burks did not see the field much last season after transferring from JUCO. He did record a sack against LSU.
I was surprised to see Auburn list two defensive end positions on their depth chart. Derek Mason is installing a 3-4 base defense, so this position will be an edge player that will be standing up on most plays. Derek Mason uses a lot of multiple fronts in his defense, so it’s not a surprise he has Hall and Moultry, who were both traditional defensive ends for Kevin Steele, in this position. Hall will be the primary pass rusher for this defense. We saw him create a lot of pressure throughout his playing time at Auburn, getting to the QB for 3.5 sacks in 2020. Moultry will look to finally live up to his sky high potential he arrived to Auburn with. It is huge for him just to make the 2- deep depth chart. While he has struggled during his time at Auburn, Moultry has been able to amass 24 total tackles, 4.5 for a loss, and 3.5 sacks over 3 seasons.
Owen Pappoe was probably the easiest starter to name on this defense. He has the chance in 2021 to cement his legacy as one the best Auburn linebackers in program history. He is a freak athlete. He has all the looks of an All-American. Chandler Wooten opted out in 2020, but brings a lot of experience to the Auburn linebacker room. Wooten was named a captain this season, which just speaks to the influence he has on the team. Wooten will be a big contributor on this defense in 2021.
Another easy choice for the Auburn coaching when naming starters, Zakoby McClain returns after one of the best seasons a linebacker has ever had at Auburn. McClain led the SEC in tackles with 113, and that came in 11 games including the Citrus Bowl. Expect McClain to put up those numbers again as he enters 2021 with a chip on his shoulder after not receiving the awards or recognition he deserved after last season. Wesley Steiner will look to make his first impact for Auburn in his sophomore season in 2021. He played in 9 games as a freshman and recorded just 3 tackles.
Cam Riley OR
Cam Riley played in all 11 games last season and recorded 9 tackles. I expect his role to increase this season and for him to put up more numbers than in 2020. Riley was a highly decorated recruit; he was the 15th ranked player in Alabama in his class. He also starred in track in high school, so his athleticism will help him make a ton of plays when he’s on the field. Joko Willis has a ton of potential. He is from right up the road in LaGrange and played for Coach Tanner Glisson. He was highly recruited by Auburn coming out of high school, but he had to attend Independence Community College in Kansas before coming to Auburn. Willis was rated the top JUCO linebacker by ESPN. He is a kid that loves football and will give a ton of effort every time his number is called.
I don’t have to say much about Roger McCreary. He is a future NFL cornerback, and he is the best player in Auburn’s secondary. I expect nothing but the same high level of production from McCreary in 2021. Ro Torrence is the one of the surprises of this depth chart on defense. Originally from Bessemer, Torrence attended Hutchinson Community College in Kansas and starred there. He was the NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year and a JUCO All-American. He had 28 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and 1 interception at Hutchinson. Torrence balled out in fall camp to earn this spot in a deep Auburn secondary.
Nehemiah Pritchett will lineup opposite Roger McCreary on Saturday against Akron. Pritchett was a major contributor in the secondary last season. After playing 6 games as a freshman in 2019, Pritchett played in all 11 last season, recording 25 tackles and picking off his now teammate TJ Finley in the LSU game. He also added 11 pass breakups last year. Behind Pritchett is the SEC Freshman of the Week after his debut against Kentucky last season. Jaylin Simpson burst onto the scene last season before he was slowed by injury. After returning from injury, he could not reclaim his starting role. The ultra talented Simpson finished the season with 14 tackles, 1 TFL, and 3 pass break ups. The biggest omission of the cornerback position is West Virginia transfer Dre Miller. Miller was widely expected to be opposite McCreary this season, but that is not the case in Week 1. Miller will be a big contributor on this defense in 2021, make no mistake. Joining the team after missing spring practice surely contributed to him not making the first 2- deep depth chart of the season.
Another shoe-in and the most fun name to say on the team, Smoke Monday returns to lead the Auburn defense from the secondary. Monday has had a great Auburn career thus far and will surely build on it in 2021. We all know and love Smoke. Donovan Kaufman joins Auburn after spending his freshman year at Vanderbilt with Derek Mason last season. Kaufman can play all over this defense. He played safety, nickel, and some boundary corner for Derek Mason last season. He will likely see most of his time at nickel this year.
Opposite Smoke Monday will be Bydarrius Knighten. Kinghten transferred to Auburn from Southeast Missouri State, where he was a standout player. Knighten earned all-Ohio Valley Conference recognition in two of his 4 seasons as a starter. The SEMO standout brings experience to a position Auburn was really lacking. Knighten had 255 tackles in 4 seasons, so look for him to play a lot in the box almost as an extra linebacker. Zion Puckett at safety surprised me. He played the Star position for Kevin Steele, which was a DB that kind of did everything. I thought he would be a corner in this defense, but Mason clearly likes his upside at safety. Puckett played in all 10 games last season, recording 19 tackles and 3 TFLs. He also added 3 pass breakups.
The Auburn defense will be the strength of the team in 2021, much like it was the past 3, 4 seasons. Derek Mason brings a truly multiple defense to Auburn that will be based in the 3-4. It’s a new look, but one that is poised to try and stop the most potent offenses in the SEC.
Later this week, I will have an Akron game preview. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Maness_Will and The Crowded Booth on all media platforms so you don’t miss anything we put out this fall. From prep sports, to SEC football, to the MLB, to the NFL, we cover it all. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube!