Auburn Tigers: Andrew Williams

Who’s next? That’s the question asked by fan bases across the SEC. They all want to know which top recruit is most likely to come in and play right away. Who are the newcomers who are going to see the field early this fall?

In January, we broke down the top early enrollees once they arrived on campus. Now, as the late enrollees continue to trickle in around the conference, we take a look at a handful of four- and five-star guys who could impact the league in their first year.

Below are 10 late enrollees from the SEC West to keep an eye on. They're listed alphabetically. Check back later today for the top late enrollees from the SEC East.

Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU: Losing both Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry was a huge blow for LSU after last season, but some of that pain went away when Dupre signed with the Tigers. He’s not as experienced as fellow wide receiver Travin Dural, but he’s every bit as talented. Don’t be surprised if Dupre becomes the go-to guy for LSU this season.

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: There’s not a more highly anticipated freshman in the country. As the nation’s No. 1 recruit, that comes with the territory, but the expectations for Fournette this season range from ridiculous to absurd. The scary part is that he has the talent and opportunity to make good on them and be one of the top running backs in the SEC.

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: He’s not Jadeveon Clowney, but Garrett might be the closest thing since Clowney came out in 2011. At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, he’s a physical freak, and looks like he could step right on the field. The Aggies return all of their defensive ends, but that doesn’t mean Garrett won’t crack the rotation at some point.


Da’Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama: Finding pass rushers was a priority for Nick Saban and his staff in 2014, and they landed one of the nation’s best in Hand. The 6-foot-4, 262-pound prospect, ranked No. 6 overall, can play both with his hand down on the line or in space as a rush linebacker. Regardless of where he ends up, he’ll make an immediate impact.

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: Between Humphrey and five-star Tony Brown, Alabama should be set at cornerback for the foreseeable future. The question is which one is more likely to play early this season? Brown has a leg up after arriving early, but Humphrey has the size and technical ability to come in and contribute right away.

Bijhon Jackson, DT, Arkansas: Bret Bielema’s goal is to build Arkansas from the inside out, and Jackson is the perfect piece to serve as the cornerstone of the defensive line for years to come. He’s already big enough (6-2, 330) and strong enough to play as a freshman and should make a good unit even better for the Hogs this fall.

Rod Taylor, OG, Ole Miss: Austin Golson’s transfer this spring left Ole Miss thin along the offensive line, but Taylor, the Rebels’ top-ranked signee in 2014, could be just the man to fill the void. Year-after-year, he drew rave reviews from SEC coaches at various camps, and now he has an opportunity to fulfill the potential that everybody saw in him.

Racean Thomas, RB, Auburn: The Tigers have three capable running backs already on campus, but the coaches still believe that Thomas will be a factor this season. They’re even giving him a chance to compete for the starting job in fall camp. Although it’s unlikely he wins the job, Thomas will play and play often for Auburn this fall.

Aeris Williams, RB, Mississippi State: Mr. Football in the state of Mississippi didn’t go to Taylor, the state’s top recruit. It didn’t go to Markell Pack or C.J. Hampton. It went to Williams, a four-star running back who had 2,821 all-purpose yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior. He’s now expected to carry that over to his freshman year at Mississippi State.

Andrew Williams, DE, Auburn: With the loss of Dee Ford and the uncertainty surrounding the health of Carl Lawson and LaDarius Owens, defensive end went from a position of strength to a position of need for Auburn. The good news is that Williams arrived last month and is plenty capable of filling in and contributing early if needed.

Other late enrollees to watch include S Jamal Adams (LSU), LB Rashaan Evans (Alabama), CB Nick Harvey (Texas A&M), CB Tee Shepard (Ole Miss) and LB Tre Williams (Auburn).
This is Part II of a weeklong series predicting what changes are ahead for Auburn this spring.

AUBURN, Ala. -- There have been plenty of questions surrounding Auburn’s defensive line this offseason. How do you replace a guy like Dee Ford? Who will be the leaders now that Ford and Nosa Eguae are both gone? What should be expected of the rising sophomores? Will any of the newcomers make an impact?

Here’s a bold prediction for the spring: The defensive line will be better in 2014 than it was in 2013.

How can that be when Auburn is losing a combined 20 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks from Eguae and Ford? Three reasons -- star power, experience and depth. The line was the strength of the defense a year ago, and it’s expected be the strength again this season.

The key will be that trio of rising sophomores -- Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson -- who should evolve from promising young rookies to the dominant defensive linemen that Auburn fans have grown accustomed to seeing over the years.

[+] EnlargeCarl Lawson
AP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstCarl Lawson showed he could be Auburn's next defensive star after a solid freshman season.
All three came to Auburn as highly ranked recruits, and though they had their moments last fall, it was clear they were still raw. As spring practice approaches, they have had a chance to play in the SEC, and they’ve been able to work out in a major college weight room. They’re ready, both physically and mentally, to take the next step.

Lawson, in particular, could be in line for a huge spring as he looks to replace Ford at one of the defensive end spots.

“That guy is going to be a mammoth player by the time he leaves here,” Eguae said of Lawson, a former five-star recruit.

The talent and star power might be in the sophomore class, but experience cannot be taught, and Auburn has plenty of it. With defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker expected to return for a fifth season, the Tigers will feature five scholarship seniors on their defensive line.

It’s a group that includes LaDarius Owens and Gabe Wright, two starters from the BCS title game. They might not be as good as Eguae and Ford just yet, but the duo still combined for 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last season. Former junior college transfer Ben Bradley is another senior to watch. He played well early in the season but faded late.

Auburn also signed six defensive linemen in 2014 to add even more depth to an already deep unit. The three most likely to contribute next year are juco teammates DaVonte Lambert and Devaroe Lawrence and ESPN 300 defensive end Andrew Williams, who waited until signing day before choosing the Tigers.

“That was a strength of ours last year,” head coach Gus Malzahn said of the defensive line. “We lost some seniors, but we really feel like we filled our needs there. We got some outstanding impact players that coach [Rodney] Garner is very excited about.”

All four starting spots on the defensive line will be up for grabs, but Garner proved last season that just because a player isn’t in the starting lineup doesn’t mean he’s not going to play. Early in the year, Auburn was rotating eight or nine bodies up front. Garner and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will have plenty of options to choose from as they put together the rotation for the season opener. It’s a pool of players that’s talented, experienced and deep.

Room to improve: Defensive line

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
10:00
AM ET
Editor’s note: This is Part III in a week-long series looking at Auburn’s top five position groups with room to improve.

AUBURN, Ala. -- The defensive line wasn’t bad in 2013. In fact, it was quite the contrary. The line was considered the strength of the defense, and the rotation of players up front was one of the reasons Auburn won 12 games and made the run it did. However, when you lose two starters and arguably the two most consistent players on the line, there’s still plenty of room to improve.

It starts with defensive end Dee Ford. How do you replace a player who led the team in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (14.5)? The Tigers were without him the first two games this past season, and although they won, there was a noticeable difference when Ford returned to the lineup against Mississippi State.

Carl Lawson, Gabe Wright
Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsGabe Wright (90) and Carl Lawson (55) figure to be major cogs in the defensive line rotation in 2014.
The other loss up front, Nosa Eguae, isn’t as talented as Ford, but he was just as valuable in his own way. He started the season at defensive end but moved to tackle midway through the season to help the team. Eguae might not get drafted, but the intangibles and the leadership qualities he provided will be difficult to replace.

The good thing is that defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will have plenty of options to choose from. Auburn’s defensive line is as deep, if not deeper than any other position on the field. But can they sustain success, and more importantly, can they improve on last year?

Battling for No. 1: Seniors to be Gabe Wright and LaDarius Owens were both listed as starters on the depth chart for the VIZIO BCS National Championship game, so they’re obviously the favorites to crack the starting rotation in 2014. Wright led all Auburn defensive linemen with 31 tackles in the 2013 season, and Owens was right behind him with 30. Defensive tackle Angelo Blackson started 10 games as a sophomore in 2012 but lost his job this past season when Eguae moved inside. He’ll be given every opportunity to win it back this spring. Beyond that, it’s a pair of former ESPN 300 prospects who are next in line. Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams just wrapped up their freshman seasons, and they both hope to take the next step in their second seasons. Lawson, who was second on the team with four sacks, has the makings of a star.

Strength in numbers: This is where Auburn thrived last season. The coaches were able to rotate close to seven or eight players up front each game, and the line didn’t miss a beat. That not only provided valuable game experience, but it also kept the starters fresh for the fourth quarter. Junior college transfer Ben Bradley and freshman Elijah Daniel were both thrown in the mix as soon as they arrived on campus, and both responded well. Bradley, who enrolled last January, started in three games in his first season. In reality, they both belong in the above group, as they will both compete with the first group this spring. But regardless of whether or not they start, they will be counted on for depth. There’s not much depth after that. The next-most experienced player, JaBrian Niles, has played in just seven games over the last two seasons.

New on the scene: Auburn put together one of the top defensive line classes in the country a year ago. This year’s class might not rival that, but it’s still a promising group. The two most likely to compete for early playing time are junior college transfers DaVonte Lambert and Devaroe Lawrence. Unlike Bradley, they weren’t able to enroll early, so they won’t go through spring ball, but they should still be ahead of the other signees physically. Lambert, in particular, has a real chance to make an early impact. He was the top-rated defensive tackle in ESPN Junior College 50 rankings. The Tigers also signed three ESPN 300 defensive linemen, headlined by defensive end Andrew Williams, who committed to Auburn on national signing day. The line should continue to be the strength of Auburn’s defense for years to come.
AUBURN, Ala. -- The ink is dry, and Rashaan Evans is headed to Alabama. It was the surprise of signing day. The local product left his hometown to play for the enemy, and the people of Auburn were stunned to say the least. It’s a rivalry centered around momentum, and the Crimson Tide stole it back on Wednesday.

But just how close did Evans come to signing with the Tigers?

[+] EnlargeRashaan Evans
AP Photo/Butch DillAuburn feels good about its recruiting class even with Rashaan Evans headed to Alabama.
“When I was up there at the podium, I was thinking ‘Man, maybe I should go to Auburn,’ but then I really thought about it and Alabama was the best place for me,” he said.

Apparently, Evans wasn’t the only one who thought he should go to Auburn or who thought he had already signed with the Tigers. The school’s athletic department put his bio on the website along with the other recruits who had signed that day. An embarrassing blunder no doubt, but it just goes to show how tight this battle really was.

Auburn signees Jakell Mitchell and Stephen Roberts made the short drive from their ceremony at Opelika (Ala.) High School to be at Evans’ announcement. Roberts said he knew the outcome already, but Mitchell was just as surprised as everybody else, surprised and disappointed.

“I was looking forward to getting him in the Auburn family,” Mitchell said. “But he made the best decision for him and his family. I hope he does great.”

No hard feelings.

It wasn’t easy for Evans’ parents either. Both went to Auburn for a period of time, and both still live in Auburn. His father, Alan Evans, says he will still root for the Tigers in every game except the Iron Bowl. That doesn’t change what happened, though. He still has to go around town with everybody fully aware that his son is playing for the school across the state.

“I know the Auburn people,” he said. “They’re the type of people that are going to take this with a grain of salt. They’ll move on, and there will be another Rashaan Evans. I think Rashaan has to move on, and I think Auburn has to move on. I think they’ll be OK.”

The folks in town probably haven’t moved on just yet, but the same can’t be said for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. According to Evans, Malzahn wasn’t aware of the decision until the Alabama hat came out of the bag, but he didn’t dwell on it. He and his staff had work to do.

“You recruit guys year-round, but we’re very excited about the guys we have,” Malzahn said, when asked about Evans. “We couldn’t be happier. We’ve got some outstanding guys that are going to help us win a whole lot of games, and the future is very bright.

“We focus on the guys that are here. We’ve got one of the best classes in college football, not only talent-wise but everything else that goes with it.”

Who can argue with that? When the smoke finally cleared, Auburn had signed 23 players including five early enrollees and finished with the No. 8 class on ESPN. It’s a class that included 17 four-stars and 12 recruits ranked in the ESPN 300, and it’s a class that features the No. 1 junior college player, the No. 2 pocket passer, and the No. 5 running back.

The loss of Evans might have left a sour taste on signing day if not for both Braden Smith and Andrew Williams, a pair of ESPN 300 prospects, choosing to sign with the Tigers.

“Sometimes you don’t get a guy that maybe you thought you were going to get or maybe felt like you were going to get, but then you get two that you got in on late,” athletic director Jay Jacobs said. “You just wish people well and know that we’re real excited about what we’ve got going on here.”

Sooner or later, that’s what Malzahn and the people of Auburn will do with Evans. They’ll wish him well until next November when he’s on the opposing sideline.

Being the leadoff visit isn’t always a good thing in recruiting. A school and coaching staff can make a good first impression, but those do not last long when a recruit lines up more visits just days before signing day.

But Gus Malzahn and Auburn made a big enough impression on ESPN 300 defensive end Andrew Williams (McDonough, Ga./Eagles Christian Landing) the weekend of Jan. 17, and the Tigers staved off late pushes from Clemson and Georgia to land Williams' signature. Williams is No. 174 in the ESPN 300.

Overall, it was an up-and-down signing day for the Tigers, who signed Williams and Braden Smith, but missed on local talent and No. 2 outside linebacker Rashaan Evans.

Bold predictions: SEC 

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
10:30
AM ET

With less than 24 hours remaining until the craziness that is national signing day, most recruiting classes are already filled up. There are, however, some key questions that need to be answered. Here’s a look at five bold predictions heading into national signing day.

1. Alabama will lose a commit

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

As Auburn prepares for national signing day, the program is in a very different place than it was a year ago. Gus Malzahn has been there a full year, and the Tigers are coming off a loss in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Still, signing day is as important as ever, and Auburn is hoping to carry its momentum from the season to the recruiting trail.

Here are four uncommitted prospects to keep an eye on the next two days:


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SEC class rankings analysis 

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
2:00
PM ET

With one week left until national signing day, 13 of the 14 schools in the SEC have spots in the ESPN class rankings. As expected, Alabama continues to have a stranglehold on the top spot with Texas A&M sitting at No. 2. All told, the conference has four schools ranked in the top five, seven in the top 10 and nine in the top 20.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Most important targets: SEC 

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
8:00
AM ET
video
The Southeastern Conference already has commitments from six of the top 10 players in the country and has a real possibility of landing two more before signing day. With several key targets still remaining, here’s a look at the top remaining targets in the SEC.

Alabama
CB Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover)
6-foot-0, 180 pounds
ESPN 300 rank: 15


Humphrey is a big, athletic cornerback with great size and would be a natural fit in Nick Saban's system. FSU is also very much in the picture for the five-star defensive back, but with the Seminoles losing defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to Georgia, the Crimson Tide might have a slight advantage. Alabama will have to fight to keep this dynamic defensive back from leaving the state. With his skill set, Humphrey has a chance to play early in his college career.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Auburn to-do list: Finish strong

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
3:30
PM ET
Editor's note: This is Part I in a weeklong series looking at the five most pressing concerns Auburn faces this offseason.

AUBURN, Ala. -- It was a season to remember for Auburn. The Tigers were left out of the postseason a year ago, but under the direction of first-year coach Gus Malzahn, they went 12-1 -- winning nine straight at one point -- and made it all the way to Pasadena, Calif., for the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game.

That’s where the dream ended, though. In similar fashion to how Auburn had won so many of its games, No. 1 Florida State scored a touchdown with just 13 seconds left to knock off the Tigers and close the book on the "team of destiny."

As disappointing as the loss was, it didn’t deter Malzahn and his coaching staff.

“The next day, I got up the same time, got in the office the same time,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got recruiting. We’ve got to move on. We’ve got to keep this thing going -- not a lot of time to rest.”

The focus turned toward Auburn’s recruiting class, currently ranked No. 9 in ESPN’s class rankings. The Tigers have 21 commitments, including five prospects that have already signed and enrolled for the spring semester. But the Tigers want to use the momentum from their championship run to finish strong in the weeks leading up signing day.

So what’s the strategy?

“Just filling overall needs,” Malzahn said. “There’s not really one area that stands out. Just more of the big picture and getting the right people in here.”

Over the weekend, Auburn played host to a handful of official visitors including ESPN 300 offensive tackle Braden Smith (Olathe, Kan./Olathe South) and four-star defensive ends Andrew Williams (McDonough, Ga./Eagles Landing Christian) and Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine), an LSU commitment. Auburn is thought to be the favorite for Williams, who tweeted a photo with Malzahn on Saturday.



The current class was also well-represented this weekend with the majority of Auburn’s commitments making the trip to the Plains, including in-state running back Racean Thomas (Oxford, Ala./Oxford) and rising quarterback Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova South).

Next weekend will be more of the same as ESPN 300 linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) is expected to be on campus. It won’t be much of a drive for the hometown prospect, but it could be a crucial visit if the Tigers want to fend off in-state rival Alabama for his services. Evans took his official visit to Tuscaloosa this past weekend.

At this time a year ago, Auburn closed as strong as anybody and finished with the No. 11 class despite coming off a tumultuous 3-9 season. Nick Marshall, Marcus Davis, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel were among those who committed to the Tigers in the final month before signing day. All four made significant contributions this season.

Before the coaches can begin searching for a replacement at left tackle or retool a defense that lost five starters, they must focus on recruiting and finishing strong. The solution might still be out there, waiting to be had.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
8:00
AM ET

The dead period is over, and this was the first of three official visit weekends remaining before national signing day on Feb. 5. Several top prospects visited SEC schools, there were some commits, and there will be a few announcements this week. Here’s a closer look at the latest recruiting news from around the SEC:

Biggest commits: Georgia is already feeling the effects of new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt on the recruiting trail. The Bulldogs were able to land two ESPN Junior 300 commitments, Rico McGraw (Nashville, Tenn./The Ensworth School) and Terry Godwin (Hogansville, Ga./Callaway), over the weekend.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SEC class rankings analysis 

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
2:00
PM ET

Another week of the RecruitingNation class rankings, another week with SEC schools dominating the rankings. Thirteen of 14 SEC programs claim spots in the top 40, with only Vanderbilt having slipped out this week following James Franklin leaving the Commodores for Penn State. As has been the case most of this cycle, Alabama is holding down the No. 1 spot nationally. The SEC also has four of the top five classes nationally and seven in the top 10.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Most important targets: SEC 

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
9:30
AM ET
The Southeastern Conference already has commitments from five of the top 10 players in the country and a real possibility of landing two more before signing day. With several key targets still remaining, here’s a look at the top remaining targets in the SEC.

Alabama
CB Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover)
6-foot, 180 pounds
ESPN 300 rank: 9

Humphrey is a big, athletic cornerback with great size. He would be a natural fit in Nick Saban's system. Florida State is also very much in the picture for the five-star defensive back, and with a national championship in hand, the Seminoles might have the upper hand at the moment. Alabama will have to fight to keep this dynamic defensive back from leaving the state. With his skill set, Humphrey would have a chance to play early on in his career.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Recruits watching: Missouri-Auburn 

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
9:00
AM ET
All eyes around the college football world will be watching the Auburn-Missouri SEC championship game on Saturday afternoon. There are some recruits, however, who will be paying a little bit closer attention than everyone else. Here’s a look at 10 recruits who have a vested interest in the game this weekend.

DE Dante Sawyer (Suwannee, Ga./North Gwinnett): Missouri, Auburn, Tennessee and South Carolina are schools near the top of Sawyer’s list. Sawyer, No. 91 in the ESPN 300, will be paying close attention to Missouri’s sack leader Michael Sam along with Auburn’s talented freshmen defensive end Carl Lawson. Both schools are looking to make a positive impression on the ninth-ranked defensive end in the country.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
8:00
AM ET

As usual, there was a lot of recruiting news around the SEC over the weekend. There were a few commitments and Auburn hosted several visitors for its last-second win over Georgia. Here’s a closer look at some of the top SEC storylines.


Biggest commitment: Mississippi State may have suffered a hard-fought loss to Alabama on Saturday night, but the Bulldogs did get some good news on the recruiting front. ESPN Junior 300 linebacker Tim Washington (Yazoo City, Miss./Yazoo City) verbally committed to Mississippi State late on Saturday night.

Washington is ranked as the 247th-best player in the ESPN Junior 300 and the No. 5-ranked player in the state of Mississippi for the 2015 recruiting cycle.

The Bulldogs were also close to landing their second ESPN Junior 300 member on Saturday. The No. 27 prospect in the country in the Class of 2015, T.D. Moton (Baton Rouge, La./Woodlawn), according to multiple reports, gave a verbal commitment to Mississippi State. However, Moton said Sunday he had not gave his pledge to the Bulldogs.

"I have to weigh my options," Moton said in a text message. "I haven't seen Alabama, Ole Miss or Florida State, so I'm taking my time. I haven't talked to coach [Dan] Mullen yet, either. But Mississippi State is one of my favorites."

Moton also holds offers from LSU, Georgia, Florida State, Notre Dame and many other schools. He is the sixth-rated defensive tackle in the 2015 class and the No. 2 prospect in Louisiana next year.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Drive Through: Is The Big 12 Underrated?
After playing three top five teams close, Heather Dinich and Cary Chow look at whether or not the Big 12 conference is getting enough respect.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Saturday, 9/20