Identifying strengths, needs of Auburn football’s projected 2021 depth chart on offense

Josh Vitale
Montgomery Advertiser

Auburn’s 2021 roster is not yet complete. There is room to sign double-digit players on National Signing Day next month. Transfers are still possible, both incoming and outgoing – especially if the NCAA gets around to passing one-time transfer legislation.

But after a flurry of declarations and decisions over the first few weeks of January, we have a pretty good idea of the base of returning talent new coach Bryan Harsin and his now-finalized offensive staff – coordinator Mike Bobo, running backs coach Cadillac Williams, wide receivers coach Cornelius Williams, tight ends coach Brad Bedell and offensive line coach Will Friend – will be working with.

Auburn football offseason tracker:Who's leaving, returning, joining for 2021?

Here is an early projection of the Tigers’ offensive depth chart and a look at the strengths and needs at each position as preparations for the 2021 season begin in earnest:

QUARTERBACK

  1. Bo Nix (Jr.)
  2. Dematrius Davis (Fr.)
  3. Chayil Garnett (R-Fr.)

Strength: Nix’s experience – he has started each of the Tigers’ 24 games over the past two seasons.

Need: Significant improvement from Nix, who did not take the leap forward many expected during a sophomore campaign when he ranked 10th in the SEC in completion percentage (59.9%) and seventh in passing yards per game (219.5) while throwing more interceptions (seven) and fewer touchdowns (12) than he did as a freshman.

More:What new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo brings to Auburn

Maybe Harsin and Bobo, who have long track records of success working with quarterbacks such as Kellen Moore and Aaron Murray, are the coaches that can help Nix take a step forward as a junior. If not, he may get a push from the four-star freshman Davis, who won back-to-back Class 6A championships in Texas.

RUNNING BACK

  1. Tank Bigsby (So.)
  2. Shaun Shivers (Sr.)

Strength:Bigsby’s presence. He rushed for more yards as a freshman (834) than Bo Jackson did 38 years ago, and that was in just 10 games, four of which he had single-digit carries – two to open the season and another two late because of injury.

Need: Depth, after losing Harold Joiner (Michigan State), D.J. Williams (Florida State) and Mark-Antony Richards (undecided) to transfer. Shivers is a solid, experienced piece, but he can’t be the only one behind Bigsby. And he won’t be – expect the Tigers to be busy recruiting uncommitted 2021 prospects (such as three-star Jarquez Hunter or four-star Byron Cardwell) and transfers (such as former Texas Longhorn Keaontay Ingram).

WIDE RECEIVER

Auburn wide receiver Kobe Hudson (5) catches a pass against Georgia at Sanford Stadium on Oct. 3, 2020.

Split end

  1. Elijah Canion (R-Fr.)
  2. J.J. Evans (R-Fr.)
  3. Hal Presley (Fr.)

Flanker

  1. Kobe Hudson (So.)
  2. Malcolm Johnson Jr. (R-Fr.)
  3. Ja’Varrius Johnson (So.)

Slot

  1. Ze’Vian Capers (So.) OR Shedrick Jackson (Sr.)
  2. Caylin Newton (Sr.)

Strength: Potential. Five of those nine players are former blue-chip recruits. Four are listed as being 6-foot-3 or taller. Capers made a few nice catches during his debut season, and Canion broke out with three catches for 80 yards (including a 57-yard score) during the Citrus Bowl.

Need: Experience. That group has almost none of it. Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove, all of whom departed for the NFL Draft, combined to total 67.1%, 72.2% and 83.3% of the offense’s catches, receiving yards and touchdowns last season, respectively. The nine players returning combined to catch just 23 passes for 311 yards in 2020. An offseason in a new offensive scheme, under a new position coach in Cornelius Williams, will be crucial.

TIGHT END

Auburn tight end J.J. Pegues (89) hurdles a defender at Jordan Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Auburn leads Arkansas 20-12 at halftime.
  1. John Samuel Shenker (Sr.)
  2. Luke Deal (So.) OR Brandon Frazier (So.) OR J.J. Pegues (So.)
  3. Tyler Fromm (So.)
  4. Landen King (Fr.)

Strength: Depth and versatility. Harsin, Bobo and Bedell will benefit by the work done by Chad Morris and Larry Porter to overhaul this position in recent seasons. Frazier and Pegues are four-star talents with very different skill-sets – the former a 6-foot-7 receiving weapon, the latter a 6-foot-2, 300-pound bulldozer capable of making plays in multiple ways.

Need: More involvement. It was discussed under Morris, and those players did get used more than they probably would have in previous seasons, but it didn’t come all the way to fruition. Shenker set career-highs with nine catches for 97 yards, but Frazier caught only two passes in five games and Pegues recorded only one touch over the final four.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Auburn's offensive line in front of quarterback Bo Nix during the Citrus Bowl against Northwestern on Jan. 1, 2021.

Left tackle

  1. Alec Jackson (Sr.) OR Austin Troxell (Sr.) OR Kilian Zierer (Jr.)

Left guard

  1. Tashawn Manning (Sr.) OR Brandon Council (Sr.)
  2. Kamaar Bell (So.)
  3. Garner Langlo (Fr.)

Center

  1. Nick Brahms (Sr.)
  2. Jalil Irvin (Jr.)
  3. Avery Jernigan (R-Fr.)

Right guard

  1. Keiondre Jones (So.)
  2. Tate Johnson (R-Fr.)
  3. Kameron Stutts (So.)

Right tackle

  1. Brodarious Hamm (Sr.)
  2. Brenden Coffey (Sr.)

Strength: Hopefully, continuity. Injuries derailed Auburn at the end of the season, but this group did show some signs of improvement during the middle part of the season once a first-team group emerged and started building a little chemistry. A clean bill of health and an offseason less interrupted by COVID-19 would help significantly.

Need: More talent. Only three of those 15 players – Troxell, Brahms and Jones – are former blue-chip recruits. The rest are a mix of three-star prospects, converted defensive linemen and transfers. Auburn desperately needs to start rebuilding the future of this unit from the ground up, rather than making patchwork fixes year after year. The addition of Friend should help – he’s credited as being the primary or secondary recruiter for five blue-chip offensive linemen over four cycles at Tennessee.

Josh Vitale is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshVitale. To reach him by email, click here.