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Early impact: Five freshmen who could have impact for Auburn in the fall

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn assistant coach Dameyune Craig celebrates WR Nate Craig-Myers committing to Auburn on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. (Zach Bland | Auburn Athletics)
Auburn assistant coach Dameyune Craig celebrates WR Nate Craig-Myers committing to Auburn on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. (Zach Bland | Auburn Athletics)

Auburn isn’t going to let experience dictate its depth chart in 2016.

Following a disappointing 7-6 campaign, the Tigers incoming freshman class will have a chance to contribute right away with the team looking for a spark.

“The way we’re recruiting, we hope all of them have a chance,” Malzahn said. “We’re going to give all of these guys the opportunity to help. They’re very talented, and we’re going to play the best out there.”

Malzahn played 12 true freshmen in 2015 with two of them developing into starters. Defensive back Carlton Davis started eight of Auburn’s final nine games while Chandler Cox received the majority of this season’s starts at h-back.

Auburn focused on getting a number of key recruits on campus in January as early enrollees to give them an inside track to contributing in their first year.

Here’s a look at five freshmen who have the best chance at making an impact in the fall…

1. Landon Rice, TE, Calhoun: Coach Malzahn spent plenty of time discussing how Auburn’s large class of defensive lineman and wide receivers fit into the team’s 2016 plans, but Rice still jumps to the top of the list thanks to his versatility.

Rice could play at tight end, line up outside as a receiver, see time at h-back and be a special teams contributor.

He’s physically developed at 6-foot-5, 246-pounds and is already on campus.

Auburn didn’t get the kind of contribution at the h-back position it would have liked last year, and rarely used a tight end as anything but a blocker. Rice is a dynamic player that could thrive in Malzahn’s offense.

2. Antwuan Jackson Jr., DL, Cedar Grove: Auburn wants to establish a dominant defensive front and improve one of the SEC’s worst pass rushing units. The Tigers signed five lineman and three of them including Jackson are already on campus.

The transition to Division 1 isn’t easy — Byron Cowart struggled with the adjustment early in the season — but coach Rodney Garner needs a few of the freshman to contribute in the fall to give Auburn some much needed depth.

Jackson gets the nod over his new teammates on the list as a tackle that can rush the quarterback while being a run-stuffer in the middle. He should be physically ready to contribute at more 6-foot-2 and 308 pounds.

3.Kyle Davis, WR, Archer: Auburn has very few returning players on scholarship at the position and the coaching staff needs to find someone to help replace the production of top receiver Ricardo Louis. Davis is a physically gifted wideout and proven playmaker. As an early enrollee, he should have a slight edge over the similarly talented Nate Craig-Myers.

4. John Franklin III, QB, East Mississippi CC: Malzahn’s past success with similar dual threat quarterbacks running his offense can’t be ignored. Many expect Franklin to come out the winner of Auburn’s four-way quarterback battle. With Franklin having to beat out three other quarterbacks, two with experience, it won’t be easy.

Auburn’s freshman defensive lineman and wide receivers have an easier path to playing time with multiple spots up for grabs. Franklin could end up as the key member of the 2016 class, but he has plenty to prove this spring.

5. Eli Stove, WR, Niceville: Malzahn identified Stove as one of the under the radar players in the class. Stove has an opportunity at wide receiver, but could also be an electric return man for the Tigers. He also could get a few carries on the jet sweeps Malzahn likes to call.

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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