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Mapping out what Auburn has coming for Class of 2017, what it still needs

North Cobb linebacker Chandler Wooten poses for a photo with past and future teammate Tyler Queen after committing to Auburn during halftime of his team's spring game Friday afternoon.
North Cobb linebacker Chandler Wooten poses for a photo with past and future teammate Tyler Queen after committing to Auburn during halftime of his team's spring game Friday afternoon. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn is slowly climbing the national recruiting ratings — it now sits in the top 20 at No. 16 on 247 Sports composite rankings — thanks to a flurry of commits this summer.

Any concern over Coach Gus Malzahn’s future on the Plains hasn’t impacted his coaching staff’s ability to recruit top talent.

Malzahn is hoping to land a fourth straight recruiting class in the top 10, an accomplishment he didn’t lock down until 5-star defensive lineman Derrick Brown picked Auburn on national signing day.

The Tigers have done well recruiting their two positions of need (offensive line, linebacker), but the team has plenty of work to do to fill out a class expected to reach the maximum number of 25 signees allowed.

Here is a position-by-position look at Auburn’s recruiting needs:

Defensive Line

Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner wants a strong rotation of guys up front to pair with likely future first-rounder Carl Lawson. Garner should have that this season with seniors Montravius Adams and Devaroe Lawerence joining potential breakout candidate Marlon Davidson. The Tigers’ defensive front that failed to produce consistent impact plays last season could be one of the team’s strengths in the fall.

What they’ll lose: Adams, Lawerence and Maurice Swain are set to graduate. Lawson has a year of eligibility left, but he will declare for the NFL Draft come January.

2017 reinforcements: None so far

Outlook: Auburn will work to add at least two defensive linemen to the mix for 2017. One of them could come from the junior college ranks with former verbal commit Daquan Newkirk working out academic issues at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The Tigers are in the mix for 4-star in-state prospect Ryan Johnson. The St. Paul’s senior announced his top 12 at the end of May, and was one of the prospects invited to campus for Big Cat Weekend.

Linebackers

Auburn knew it had issues with its linebacker depth after signing only one player (Tre Threat) in 2016. It added Illinois graduate transfer T.J. Neal, who started two seasons in the Big Ten, to add critical experience at the position. Coaches expect junior linebacker Tre’ Williams to anchor the middle of the defense while seeing improvement from Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams.

What they’ll lose: Neal will be one and done for Auburn like former Michigan safety Blake Countess was last year.

2017 reinforcements: Four-star linebacker Tadarian Moultry (Jackson-Olin High School, Birmingham Ala.), three-star linebacker Chandler Wooten (North Cobb, Kennesaw, Ga.)

Outlook: Auburn could add two or even three more names to the list. Central High School linebacker Markail Benton had the Tigers as one of his three finalists, but picked Alabama in early June. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and linebackers coach Travis Williams will turn to Buckhorn linebacker Will Ignot (4-stars) and Oxford linebacker Kenny Britt (4-stars).

Secondary

Auburn is excited about its young secondary with the opportunity to build it around sophomore Carlton Davis. The 6-foot-1 Florida native was the break out player from the Tigers’ 2016 class and could be paired with 6-foot-2 Jamel Dean to create an imposing tandem for opposing quarterbacks. The team’s leading tackler the past two seasons Rudy Ford returns as Auburn’s most experienced defender at safety.

What they’ll lose: Ford is gone along with Miami (OH) graduate transfer Marshall Taylor and the oft-injured Josh Holsey.

2017 reinforcements: Four-star athlete Malcolm Askew (McAdory High School, McCalla, Ala.; three-star safety Carlito Gonzalez (Stephenson, Stone Mountain, Ga.)

Outlook: Auburn won’t have an immediate need at the position a year from now, but the defensive coaching staff will want to add one or two more names to its current list of 11 verbal commits. Tre Shaw out of Cedar Grove High School in Georgia is someone the Tigers would love to get. Shaw is announcing his decision on July 18th from a final four that includes Auburn, Clemson, USC and UNC.

Offensive line

Auburn didn’t announce a two-deep depth chart during spring camp, but offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee came close to confirming what his starting line would look like in the fall. The biggest move the Tigers made was sliding last year’s starting center Austin Golson over to left tackle and inserting Xavier Dampeer into a starting spot. Alex Kozan (LG) and Braden Smith (RG) are back at their same position with Robert Leff the likely starter at right tackle.

What they’ll lose: Leff and Kozan graduate and strong season from Golson could make the lineman a candidate for early entry into the draft.

2017 reinforcements: Five-star offensive lineman Calvin Ashley (First Academy, Orlando, Fla.; Austin Troxell (Madison Academy, Madison Ala.)

Outlook: Auburn is off to a strong start at the position with its first 2017 verbal commit coming back in May 2015 from 6-foot-6, 310-pound Calvin Ashley. The 5-star recruit is one of the top overall recruits in the country. Ashley and Troxell make for talented combo, but the Tigers still need bodies at the position with its two signees last year looking like longer term projects. Navarre lineman Nick Brahms, 4-stars, out of Florida is a name to watch.

Running backs

Jovon Robinson is almost the last man standing at the position. Former Auburn running back Peyton Barber surprised coaches by entering the NFL Draft while Roc Thomas transferred to Jacksonville State. Robinson showed glimpses he can successfully carry the offense last season, but expect sophomore back Kerryon Johnson to provide meaningful contributions in the backfield this fall.

What they’ll lose: Robinson, who transferred to Auburn from Georgia Military College, graduates.

2017 reinforcements: Four-star athlete Alaric Williams (Southside, Gadsden, Ala.; Octavius Matthews (Itawamba Community College, Fulton, Ms.)

Outlook: The unexpected turnover at running back has created a greater need at the position for 2017. Matthews, the top junior college running back, is a big-time get, but Auburn will need to add at least one more back for 2017. The Tigers are in the top 10 that Tampa Catholic running back Devan Barrett announced in June. He could want to pair up again with his former teammate Nate Craig-Myers, who arrived on the Plains in May.

Tight ends/ wide receivers

Auburn’s high-profile quarterback battle wasn’t coach Malzahn’s only concern. The position wasn’t one of the Tigers strengths last year and they don’t have the luxury of a clear-cut top guy like it had to fill Ricardo Louis’ shoes. Malzahn needs Craig-Myers or fellow freshman Kyle Davis to step up this fall.

What they’ll lose: Davis and Tony Stevens graduate.

2017 reinforcements: None so far

Outlook: Auburn might not be in the market for as many receiver as the five it signed last year, but that isn’t stopping the Tigers from making their pitch to a number of high-profile targets with 4-star receivers Jeremiah Holloman, Jeff Thomas and Tray Bishop all showing heavy interest.

Quarterback

A three-way battle between John Franklin III, Jeremy Johnson and Sean White continues next month. Malzahn doesn’t want to wait until the end of camp to name a starter, but all three players have a ways to go in proving they are ready to step under center on Sept. 3 against Clemson. Fans are clamoring for the junior college transfer Franklin, but White was the steadiest player for the Tigers’ offense in spring.

What they’ll lose: Johnson’s eventful tenure on the Plains comes to a close.

2017 reinforcements: None so far

Outlook: Auburn missed out on former Baylor verbal commit Kellen Mond. Mond picked Texas A&M last week. Malzahn has a verbal commit from one of 2018’s top dual threat quarterbacks Joey Gatewood, but the coach will add at least one quarterback to throw into the competition before Gatewood steps on campus.

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