With just over a month between the end of the dead period and national signing day, first-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn had a lot of work to do on the recruiting trail after finalizing his full staff.
He came through with flying colors.
Auburn closed strong, flipping 5-star defensive end Elijah Daniel from Ole Miss, keeping the commitment of 5-star defensive end Carl Lawson and winning the sweepstakes for 5-star defensive tackle Montravius Adams.
The impressive finish landed Auburn in the No. 11 spot in the 2013 247Sports.com team composite index—a ranking that could rise depending on the decision of a few unsigned prospects.
In a transition year with an entirely new coaching staff, that's remarkable.
A new staff means that every player on the roster has a fresh start, which bodes well for the incoming class. But which of the 2013 signees will contribute immediately?
Auburn's three junior college early enrollees are shoo-ins. Running back Cameron Artis-Payne, offensive guard Devonte Danzey and defensive tackle Ben Bradley all fill positions of need for Malzahn. Whether it's as a starter or as a reserve, they'll see the field.
Aside from the early enrollees, Lawson, Daniel and Adams should all join the defensive line rotation in 2013.
Lawson, a 5-star prospect from Milton, Ga., has one of the quickest first steps in high school football. The 6'3", 245-pound defensive end can be a force rushing the quarterback, particularly in third-down situations and late in games when he's still fresh.
Daniel, also a 5-star prospect, was a surprise signee on signing day morning. The 6'4", 250-pounder is also explosive off the ball, and certainly big enough to be a force against the run.
Adams has everything he needs to be an anchor in the middle of the Tiger offensive line. The 6'4", 310-pound 5-star prospect is light on his feet, quick off the ball and physical enough to make an impact in the interior.
Auburn finished last in the SEC in rush defense in 2012 (197.58 YPG), but it wasn't due to lack of talent. The addition of several contributors in 2013 will allow Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to rotate up front and keep the front four fresh for a full 60 minutes.
The quarterback of Auburn's future was in this class in 4-star, pro-style signal-caller Jeremy Johnson. But with a new system comes an open competition, and the 6'5", 215-pounder from Montgomery, Ala., could take advantage of the opportunity.
Johnson has a tremendous arm, is accurate when throwing deep and is mobile enough to make things happen with his legs when protection breaks down or to keep opposing defenses honest. Inconsistency has plagued the Tigers at quarterback ever since Cam Newton left after the 2010 season, which means the door is open for Johnson.
How many wins will Auburn have in 2013?
Don't be surprised if junior college transfer Nick Marshall comes away with the starting quarterback job either. Marshall, a former defensive back at Georgia, is a true dual-threat weapon and will probably see the field either as the starter or as a situational quarterback.
Auburn missed on 5-star inside linebacker Reuben Foster, but did land two 3-stars in Huntsville, Ala., native Cameron Toney and junior college transfer Kenny Flowers. Johnson is bringing his 4-2-5 scheme to the Plains, which means that versatility from linebackers to play Sam, Will or the hybrid safety/linebacker "star" position will be key in 2013.
There's really nowhere to go but up for Auburn, and considering Malzahn is familiar with the roster—which is talented, yet underachieving—the road back shouldn't be too long on the Plains.