Auburn Football: Ranking the Tigers' Top 10 Recruiting Targets for 2015
Auburn's success under Gus Malzahn in 2013 had a sizable impact on the tail end of the 2014 recruiting cycle, but it's expected to have even more influence on the class of 2015.
With another good season in 2014—which there is every reason to expect—the Tigers will have been a quality side for all of these players' junior and senior years, helping to wash the ugly stench of 2012's 3-9 campaign off their breath.
Because of that success, Auburn has earned mutual interest from some of its most important targets, many of whom are 5-star or high 4-star prospects. The Tigers are not just eager to recruit these players; these players are eager to be recruited.
Even though Auburn is after the top two players on the 247Sports composite—defensive tackle Trent Thompson and cornerback Kelvin Toliver II—the program appears to be a heavy underdog in both cases, and even though that could obviously change next season, players like them have been omitted from this list.
The following are 10 players whom Auburn has a great chance of landing; whose commitments would make this a successful recruiting cycle.
Signing day is, after all, just 11 months away.
10. RB Eric Swinney (Tyrone, Ga.)
Composite Rank: 88 (4-star)
Highest Rank: 65 (Rivals)
Eric Swinney is a Georgia native whose 247Sports crystal-ball predictions include three out-of-state SEC schools over the Bulldogs.
Auburn leads the pack with a 75 percent prediction rate, but Ole Miss and Tennessee are lurking. He visited Auburn on Feb. 1 but has since received offers from Notre Dame, Miami, Alabama and Ohio State, so his recruitment is far from over.
The No. 9 running back on the 247Sports composite, Swinney is a slashing runner with one-cut-and-go vision and speed that should translate to the next level—not entirely unlike Tre Mason.
He would be a great fit in Gus Malzahn's offense.
9. WR John Burt (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Composite Rank: 79 (4-star)
Highest Rank: 55 (Rivals)
John Burt's rankings are all over the map, ranging from No. 55 overall at Rivals to No. 123 overall at ESPN—the widest range on this list.
His skill might be up for debate, but no one can deny his size. At 6'3'' and with broad shoulders, he has an excellent frame to play on the outside and high-point the football. His lower-body strength and burst still need work.
Though widely considered a favorite to play at Florida State, his hometown school, Burt took a visit to Auburn on Feb. 28 and said he wants to move it more "towards the top," per Justin Hokanson of Rivals (subscription required).
8. OLB Roquan Smith (Montezuma, Ga.)
Composite Rank: 72 (4-star)
Highest Rank: 39 (ESPN)
Roquan Smith is keeping his recruitment under wraps, showing interest in numerous schools but refusing to name an explicit favorite (though in-state Georgia is assumed to be the current No. 1).
At 6'2'', he is a physical, aggressive linebacker who likes to make big plays, whether with turnovers or in the backfield. He'll need to learn some discipline to succeed at the next level, but so is the case with almost every high school prospect.
Physical tools like his cannot be taught.
Smith has visited Auburn four times and enjoyed his trips to the Plains. "It's a nice place," he said, according to Wesley Sinor of AL.com. "The football team really makes the town go."
7. DE Natrez Patrick (Atlanta, Ga.)
Composite Rank: 49 (4-star)
Highest Rank: 44 (Scout)
Natrez Patrick is on the cusp of being a 5-star player and might become one with a strong senior season at Mays High School.
At 6'3'', 226 pounds, he projects now as a weak-side defensive end but could see some time standing up at outside linebacker in a 'tweener-type role. He has the size, mobility and toughness to play either position well, provided he adds some weight to his frame.
Georgia is the tentative favorite to land him, but according to Austin W. Penny of 247Sports (subscription required), Patrick moved Auburn into his top three after attending junior day on Feb. 22.
6. ATH Kerryon Johnson (Madison, Ala.)
Composite Ranking: 37 (5-star)
Highest Ranking: 26 (ESPN)
Kerryon Johnson is the No. 3 athlete in America and No. 2 player in the state of Alabama, per the 247Sports composite.
Though he's capable of playing running back, he projects best as a cornerback or safety at the next level. He's 6'0'', which is decent enough height at either position, and he has evolved-beyond-his-age skills in man-to-man coverage.
Currently, Johnson's predictions on the 247Sports crystal ball are split between Auburn, Alabama and Florida State, which check in at 38, 38 and 25 percent, respectively.
Welp. At least he has good taste.
5. OLB Jeffery Holland (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Composite Rank: 34 (5-star)
Highest Rank: 8 (ESPN)
Jeffery Holland is another divisive prospect, ranking No. 8 overall on the ESPN rankings but outside the top 50—and as only a 4-star player—according to 247Sports.
The upside, however, is not hard to see.
He's one of the fastest linebackers in the 2014 class, capable of tracking a ball-carrier to the sideline and covering some tight ends down the field. With a little added bulk, he could become a valuable SEC defender.
The disparate direction of the Tigers and Gators last season might have much to do with his recruitment.
4. ATH Terry Godwin (Hogansville, Ga.)
Composite Rank: 19 (5-star)
Highest Rank: 15 (ESPN)
Of the last three activities on Terry Godwin's 247Sports timeline, two are unofficial visits to Auburn.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that, in between those two visits, he also made a verbal commitment to play for Georgia. According to Allie Davison of Rivals, though, he admitted after his second visit to Auburn on March 8 that he is keeping his options open, which keeps the Tigers in the mix for him.
Listed as an athlete, Godwin has a smooth but lean frame that projects best as a receiver at the next level—and a good one at that. He would help Gus Malzahn build his passing game.
3. QB Torrance Gibson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Composite Rank: 14 (5-star)
Highest Rank: 11 (ESPN)
Torrance Gibson is the top-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 class, and the thought of him in Gus Malzahn's offense makes Tigers fans salivate (and fans of other SEC teams cringe).
Basically a bigger (6'4''), stronger, more natural-quarterback version of Nick Marshall, Gibson compared himself to a mix of Michael Vick and Cam Newton, according to Zach Gilliland of Prep Force. Watching the video above, it is easy to agree.
In that same Prep Force interview, Gibson said he thinks he fits best in a spread-style offense. Of the teams most likely to land him, that news is best received by just Auburn and Ohio State.
LSU and Miami, which run pro-style offenses, are also in the mix.
2. DT Daron Payne (Birmingham, Ala.)
Composite Rank: 10 (5-star)
Highest Rank: 7 (Rivals)
Daron Payne is the top-ranked player in the state of Alabama and No. 2 defensive tackle prospect in the country, according to the 247Sports composite.
Like most in that position, he is choosing primarily between Iron Bowl rivals Auburn and Alabama. Though the Tide are considered an early favorite, his recruitment still has a long way to go.
At 6'2'', 316 pounds, he has the size and frame to grow into a legitimate nose tackle at the next level. He has the toughness, too.
For Auburn, landing Payne might actually be less important than keeping him away from Alabama. Trying to run against him in the 2015-18 Iron Bowls would be a chore.
1. OT Martez Ivey (Apopka, Fla.)
Composite Rank: 4 (5-star)
Highest Rank: 1 (Scout)
Martez Ivey has the length, feet and motor to become one of the better tackles in college football—a new-breed type of blocker in the mold of Greg Robinson or Lane Johnson.
All he needs is some bulk.
He has played guard in high school and checks in at just 6'6'', 280 pounds. If he can pack some muscle onto that wiry, long-armed frame, he'll have every tool needed to become a dream spread-offense tackle.
As one would expect, he is being pursued by almost every major college program. Florida—his childhood favorite team—and Alabama are the slight favorites, but he took a trip to Auburn in March and thoroughly enjoyed it, per Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel.
If Robinson is a top-three selection in the upcoming NFL draft, the Tigers might be able to spin that in their favor.