These Auburn football signees could play immediately for Bryan Harsin in 2021
There is no question newcomers will make an immediate impact for Auburn football next season.
Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz jumped into the wide receiver rotation in 2018. Bo Nix and Owen Pappoe were thrust into starring roles immediately in 2019. Tank Bigsby was the team's best offensive weapon as a freshman in 2020, and J.J. Pegues, Ze'Vian Capers, Zykeivous Walker, Cam Riley and Ladarius Tennison also made their marks.
So which members of the Tigers' 30th-ranked 2021 signing class will do the same?
Here is a look at five possibilities:
NATIONAL SIGNING DAY:Meet the six players Auburn football signed on Wednesday
Edge rusher Eku Leota
OK, this one is easy. Leota signed Wednesday, but he's not an incoming high school senior or junior college product — he's a graduate transfer from Northwestern who played two seasons of Big Ten football in three years after redshirting in 2018. The former three-star commit from Asheville, North Carolina, has 6.5 career sacks. That's more than any of Auburn's defensive linemen have at the FBS level after Big Kat Bryant decided to transfer.
Leota will add depth and experience to a group of pass-rushers that also includes Hall, Colby Wooden, Caleb Johnson, Romello Height and fellow 2021 signee Tobechi Okoli.
Defensive tackle Lee Hunter
Auburn's highest-rated signee (Hunter is a four-star prospect, ranked No. 80 nationally) happens to play a position where the Tigers might not have much experience. Daquan Newkirk transferred to Florida. If senior Tyrone Truesdell does not return for an extra season, Auburn's defensive tackle rotation could be made up entirely of first- or second-year players (Walker, Jay Hardy, Dre Butler, Marquis Burks, Jeremiah Wright and2021 signees Marquis Robinson and Ian Mathews).
Hunter recorded 54 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a senior at Blount High in Eight Mile. The fact he already is enrolled and going through workouts puts him in position to earn a role this spring.
Safety Ahmari Harvey
The second-highest-rated commit in the class (Harvey ranks 211th nationally and 14th among safeties) also plays a position where Auburn needs depth. Jamien Sherwood and Jordyn Peters declared for the NFL Draft, leaving Smoke Monday as the only experienced returner. Four-star 2020 signees Chris Thompson Jr. and Eric Reed Jr. should be in the mix to start next to Monday, but neither has much experience (Thompson recorded eight tackles in six games, and Reed played in only one).
Harvey, who had 94 tackles, six interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), 10 pass breakups and four forced fumbles as a junior at Florida State University High School, should have a chance to make meaningful contributions as a freshman the same way Monday and Sherwood did three years ago, especially after enrolling early. The same could be said for three-stars Cayden Bridges and Juwon Gaston, who both signed with Auburn on Wednesday.
Wide receiver Tar'Varish Dawson
Competition at wide receiver appears wide open, and not just because there's a new coach, Cornelius Williams, overseeing the position. Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove have moved on, leaving the Tigers without three players who combined for 67.1% of their receptions, 72.2% of their receiving yards and 83.3% of their touchdowns last season. The team's returning receivers combined to catch just 23 passes for 311 yards in 2020.
There's an opportunity there for Dawson, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound athlete with elite speed and playmaking ability. He did a little bit of everything as a high school senior, totaling 970 yards on offense and scoring touchdowns as a rusher, receiver and punt returner. Auburn has plenty of big-bodied targets in Capers, Elijah Canion, Kobe Hudson and 2021 signee Hal Presley, but it could use someone with Dawson's skill set after losing Schwartz and Stove.
Quarterback Dematrius Davis
Nix is almost certainly still Auburn's starting quarterback. He hasn't lived up to his five-star billing quite yet, but he's still a player who has passed for nearly 5,000 yards, rushed for more than 700 yards and totaled 42 touchdowns across 24 career starts. The track record coach Bryan Harsin and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have with quarterbacks offers hope for significant improvement for Nix in his junior season.
But if Grant Loy doesn't take advantage of an extra year of eligibility – and Auburn doesn't add a QB transfer – there will be no experience on the depth chart behind Nix. Cord Sandberg entered the transfer portal in January, leaving Chayil Garnett, a three-star 2020 signee who didn't play a snap last season, as the only returning scholarship quarterback. That could open a door for Davis to push for the backup role, if not more. The four-star signee is the No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the class after a stellar career at Houston's North Shore High, where he produced 10,536 passing yards, 3,047 rushing yards, 171 touchdowns, 51 wins and two Class 6A state titles.