The Auburn Tigers underwent a significant rebuild this offseason. Bryan Harsin’s first year on The Plains ended with NINETEEN players entering the transfer portal. That talent has been to some extent replaced, with ten transfers heading to Jordan-Hare Stadium. As Harsin looks to build a roster in his own image, here are five new additions that could make the biggest impact for The Tigers in 2022:
5: Jayson Jones, NT, Oregon
Auburn had the third best run defense last year, giving up just 3.55 yards per carry. With nose tackle Tony Fair graduating, The Tigers got a welcome Christmas present when Jayson Jones committed on December 24th. At 6’6” and 328lbs, Jones is a big kid who returns to his home state after two years in Eugene. Hailing from Calera, Jones had twelve offers (including one from Auburn) and was originally committed to Alabama. But a late charge by The Ducks saw a change of heart. Jones played in thirteen games for Oregon last season, recording 19 tackles and two sacks.
Jones has some positional versatility, being used in different alignments for The Ducks. But his size screams nose tackle. And with the inconsistent Marquis Burks his likeliest challenger the path to playing time is clearly defined. If Jones can make the job his own, he’ll be a key cog in Jeff Schmedding’s defense.
4: Eugene Asante, LB, North Carolina
Injury severely tested the depth of the Tigers’ linebacker room last season. In April, leading linebacker Zakoby McClain headed to the NFL, leaving Owen Pappoe as the veteran presence at the position. Junior Cam Riley looks set to take the next step and increase his snap count, but there is definitely the opportunity for UNC transfer Eugene Asante to make his mark on this unit.
Asante brings experience that Auburn lacks to the position, having played in twelve games in three years at Chapel Hill. Despite never ascending to a starting role for the Tar Heels, Asante logged 58 tackles in his UNC career. A former four-star prospect with 24 offers coming out of high school, a fresh start could be the chance for Samuel to realize his potential.
3: DJ James, CB, Oregon
With Roger McCreary’s departure to the NFL, Auburn has a hole to fill at the cornerback position. Nehemiah Pritchett was used primarily in the slot by Derek Mason in 2021 with excellent results – PFF recorded 269 snaps in press coverage, and Pritchett didn’t give up a single touchdown:
Most press coverage snaps played since 2020 without allowing a touchdown
🔒 Nehemiah Pritchett: 269
🔒 Trent McDuffie: 212 pic.twitter.com/I19S3qLPlE
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 6, 2022
With Schmedding taking over defensive duties, will Pritchett move outside or stay where he’s been very effective? If it’s the latter, then Oregon transfer DJ James has the opportunity to lock down the CB2 spot opposite Jaylin Simpson.
Originally from Spanish Fort, James ascended to a starting role on the Ducks defense in 2021, recording 46 tackles and four pass breakups. The 43rd ranked corner in the 2019 recruiting class, James received 18 scholarship offers, Auburn didn’t recruit him coming out of high school, but will be grateful to add the playmaker to their secondary ahead of a pivotal season.
2: Dazalin Worsham, WR, Miami
The need to add more playmakers to the Tigers offense has been spoken about ad nauseum this offseason. Harsin and his staff have done well to recruit the top running back and wide receiver in the state in the 2023 class, but this roster needs immediate help. It’s probably reasonable to presume the trio of Malcolm Johnson, Ja’Varrius Johnson and Sheldrick Jackson are starters. Yet they combined for just 883 yards and four touchdowns last year, with Jackson the biggest contributor. This offers an opportunity for a name down the depth chart to make a significant impact in 2022…
Choosing a transfer that has never recorded a catch for his previous school may seem ambitious, but Dazalin Worsham couldn’t ask for a better situation to stake a claim. The speedy receiver was pursued hard by both Alabama and Auburn before he committed to Miami. He returns to his home state two years later with a lot to prove, but the Hurricanes’ loss could be the Tigers’ gain.
1: QB Zach Calzada, Texas A&M
The sheer importance of the quarterback position meant the destination of this article was inevitable. With Bo Nix finishing his college career at Oregon, the Auburn passing game looks set to live and die by the arm of Zach Calzada. The former Texas A&M QB shot to fame after leading the Aggies to a shock win over Alabama last season, throwing for 285 yards and three touchdowns. He finished the season with 2,185 yards, 17 TD’s and nine interceptions.
Despite performing admirably stepping in for the injured Haynes King, Calzada concluded his route to game time was best served elsewhere. His transfer to Jordan-Hare sees him battling TJ Finley for the starting job, who himself was a transfer from LSU twelve months earlier. Finley has some experience when Bo Nix’ season ended with an ankle injury last year. But the buzz around Calzada suggests that even if Nix gets the nod to start the year, the new man on campus will eventually make the QB1 role his own.
A promising sophomore, the ceiling for Calzada – and Auburn – could be three years of high-level quarterback production. The floor? At worst, The Tigers are getting a seasoned SEC passer who has thrived under the brightest of lights. In a crucial season that will undoubtedly define the Harsin era on The Plains, luring Calzada could prove to be the difference.
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