Gus Malzahn has a tough task ahead of him to repeat Auburn's success of 2013, but looking at the players coming back and the recruits he's bringing in, the Tigers may not see a major drop in their fortunes.
The 2014 recruiting class is headlined by Roc Thomas, Tre' Williams, Derrick Moncrief and D'haquille Williams, all of whom are 4-star prospects or better in the 247Sports composite rankings.
More often than not, though, it's the recruits lower down the pecking order who bring everything together and help turn a great team into a national championship team. It's the depth they provide that makes the difference.
Looking at Auburn's 2014 class, the following three players stand out as the kind of players who aren't highly regarded at the moment but could turn into reliable starters in the future.
Chris Laye, TE
The thing about Chris Laye is that you know exactly what you're going to get with him. This isn't a tight end in the Rob Gronkowski, Julius Thomas and Jimmy Graham mold. Laye will primarily be a red-zone target who can also help when you need a couple of yards for a first down.
Laye has a somewhat limited skill set, but he does what he does well. He's destined to be an All-American, but he'll play a defined role on the team and has plenty of value in the right circumstances.
What's also nice about Laye is that he should turn into a reliable run-blocker. He still needs a bit of work, but he'll be constantly drilled on how to open holes for his running back in Auburn's offense.
Laye's already enrolled, so he'll have that much more experience with the playbook, which will pay big dividends down the road.
Kamryn Pettway, RB
Coming out of college, Tre Mason wasn't thought of as a blue-chip prospect. He was the 21st-best running back in the country, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Of course, Mason would go on to become one of the driving forces behind Auburn's national title run this past year.
Much like Mason, Kamryn Pettway is on the fringe of what you'd consider elite for high school recruits. He's only a 3-star prospect and the 27th-best running back in the country.
It's not fair to say Pettway is a clone of Mason or will reach the same level of success, but their styles are a bit similar.
Pettway is a very patient runner who can wait for the holes to open up. Of course, when the situation calls for it, he's not afraid to run right at the defense and truck a couple of players en route to the end zone.
Here's what Andrew Kulha wrote about Pettway back in March for Bleacher Report:
He has tremendous size 6'0'', 224 pounds, and he has all the makings of a true power back. He'll be very tough to take down because of his size alone, but he combines that with good agility, vision and footwork.
Pettway is very much so a momentum runner, meaning that once he hits the hole and picks up a head of steam, he'll be tough to tackle, even at the SEC level. He has the ability to lower his shoulder, drive his feet and pick up extra yards, and he should be a go-to runner in the red zone or in short-yardage situations.
If you're wondering about his strength, the Prattville star can squat 605 pounds.
As you'd expect, Pettway can't wait to become a Tiger, telling AL.com's Joel A. Erickson, "It's very exciting to watch the offense, knowing you're going to be in those running backs' shoes in a few years."
He should thrive at Auburn.
Myron Burton, ATH
Since Myron Burton is listed as an athlete, you don't know for sure yet where he will fit in at Auburn. He played wide receiver in high school but could also occupy a safety position if he doesn't become a better route-runner.
Between the two, wideout looks like the better bet.
Burton is a good athlete, but he's not the kind of player who's going to blow you away with his speed. As a result, his potential is stunted a bit.
But that's not to say he can't become a dependable option in the Tigers passing attack.
Burton has great size, and he's quick enough to become a solid possession receiver. In addition, he has above-average hands, and he knows how to snatch the ball out of the air.
Over time and with the right coaching, Burton can turn into something special.
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