AUBURN, Ala. -- When Gus Malzahn returned to the Plains in December 2012, he assembled a top-15 recruiting class in less than two months. It was a class that was impressive given Auburn’s record the year before, but it also featured a number of impact players who contributed to the Tigers’ BCS title run this past season.
“That's the way we recruit,” Malzahn said recently. “Nowadays you're going to recruit guys you think can come in and make an impact right off the bat.”
It’s no surprise that Auburn’s 2014 class, which signed last week, was also full of instant-impact type players. The emphasis might have been on the defensive side, but there are plenty of playmakers who could help the offense early on.
Laplace, La./Miss. Gulf Coast CC
Synopsis: There’s not a player in the class with higher expectations than Williams. He comes in as the No. 1 junior college player in the country. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he looks SEC ready, and he plays a position that should get him on the field early. Sammie Coates enjoyed a breakout year for Auburn this past season, but Coates is better suited as a deep threat. Williams, on the other hand, can be more of a possession wide receiver, and if all goes well, he could be the one who emerges as the go-to guy for Nick Marshall. It doesn’t hurt that he enrolled in January and will participate in spring practice. The expectations are high, but Williams is the type of player who could thrive in the right offense and with the right team.
Malzahn’s take: “He’s the No. 1 rated junior college player in the country. He’s got unbelievable skills. I got a chance to get to know him back in his high school days and really think he’ll have a chance to be an impact player right off the bat.”
Oxford (Ala.) High School
Synopsis: There were rumblings that Alabama passed on Thomas as a part of its effort to land top recruit Leonard Fournette. If that’s the case, the Crimson Tide might be kicking themselves for years to come. Thomas was easily one of the top players in the state, and the No. 5 running back nationally. He comes to Auburn as a perfect fit for Malzahn’s offense and as a guy who should get a look this fall. When Tre Mason left early for the NFL, it created an opportunity at running back, and though there might be more experienced candidates ahead of him, Thomas has the talent and ability to move up quickly on the depth chart. He wants to play early, and he’ll do everything in his power to make it happen.
Malzahn’s take: “He was the top running back on our board. Our offensive staff identified him early. They recruited him extremely hard. He’s a kid in this class who was very loyal to us. He could’ve went anywhere and chose not to. He stayed with us. We really feel like he’s got the ability to come in immediately and make a huge impact.”
OG Braden Smith
Olathe (Kan.) South High School
Synopsis: Auburn took a hit when starting left tackle Greg Robinson declared early for the NFL draft, but had he not done that, there’s a strong possibility Smith would have not been a part of the this class. Malzahn admitted that he and his staff started recruiting ESPN 300 offensive lineman late, but they did just enough to lure him to the Southeast. It won’t be easy for Smith to crack the starting rotation with four of the five starters returning for Auburn, but he has the versatility to make an impact somewhere this fall. He’s listed as a guard and could become the top backup at both guard spots, but he can also move over and play tackle, which automatically makes him a candidate to replace Robinson at left tackle.
Malzahn’s take: “I think he gives us some flexibility -- at tackle, or he can move to guard. He can really run, and he’s stronger than your average freshman coming in. He’s very serious. The way you all see him on TV, that’s the way he is. He doesn’t say a whole lot. He’s football. He’s working out. He’s our type of guy.”