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What’s next for Auburn’s football team on the recruiting trail?

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn talks about his about new players on National Signing Day Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, at the Auburn Athletic Complex in Auburn, Ala. (Julie Bennett /AL.com via AP) MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn talks about his about new players on National Signing Day Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, at the Auburn Athletic Complex in Auburn, Ala. (Julie Bennett /AL.com via AP) MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is well into the process of building his 2017 recruiting class.

The Tigers have three juniors verbally committed with at least a year until they potentially arrive on campus.

During his signing day press conference, Malzahn identified Alabama, Georgia and Florida as the three states Auburn hangs its hat on in recruiting. The 2017 class has one verbal commit from each state.

Calvin Ashley is an offensive lineman out of Dr. Phillips in Florida, Alabama native Alaric Williams is a running back at Southside and safety Carlito Gonzalez attends Stephenson in Stone Mountain, Georgia.  

Ashley is rated as a 5-star prospect by 247 Sports, Rivals and Scout.

The early verbal commitments are important if Malzahn wants to bring in another large group of early enrollees.

On signing day, Malzahn said the trend of early enrollees is here to stay in the SEC with it benefiting both coaches and players.

True freshman have a stronger chance of playing earlier in their career if they go through spring practice. Signing prospects to early financial aid agreements allows a program’s coaching staff to target fewer players leading up to signing day.

Auburn had a record nine early enrollees in 2016 in a class of only 21 players. With an even bigger group of seniors graduating next year, the Tigers could have additional room for incoming freshman.

It’s one of the reasons Malzahn is moving Auburn’s spring practice up a week. He wants to get a head start on recruiting going into the summer.

What will Auburn’s recruiting needs be?

The offensive line will be a top priority even with Ashley in the fold. Auburn is losing its two best offensive lineman to the draft (Shon Coleman, Avery Young) this year and will lose at least two additional starters (Alex Kozan, Robert Leff) next season.

Kozan started 13 games at left guard this season while Leff is expected to be one of the Tigers’ starting tackles in the fall.

Auburn could bring in a similar sized group of lineman to the five it signed as part of its 2015 recruiting class. According to 247 Sports, the Tigers have already offered more than 20 offensive lineman.

With Spanish Fort’s Tre Threat as the lone linebacker of the 2016 recruiting class, Auburn will need to add some depth at the position next year. JaViere Mitchell is the only linebacker graduating, but the Tigers have to protect themselves against injuries. 

The success Auburn had recruiting up front on the defense won’t deter it from adding even more talent up front. Montravius Adams will be a senior in the fall and Carl Lawson is a strong candidate to declare early for the NFL draft.

Malzahn pinned his hopes for a top 20 defense in the country on a strong defensive front. The focus on recruiting top talent at the “impact position” doesn’t sound like it’s going away anytime soon.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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