Auburn Football Recruiting: 12 Top Targets to Watch at The Opening

Justin Ferguson@@JFergusonBRCFB National AnalystJune 11, 2014

Auburn Football Recruiting: 12 Top Targets to Watch at The Opening

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Auburn Tigers have already had an impressive start in building their 2015 recruiting class. The defending SEC champions are ranked No. 4 in 247Sports' rankings with a current total of 15 commitments, including one 5-star and nine 4-star recruits.

    But a quick glance at the roster for next month's The Opening, a national invitation-only showcase at Nike's World Headquarters in Oregon, shows the best days might be ahead for Auburn recruiting.

    While none of Auburn's current commitments were invited, a large number of Gus Malzahn and his staff's top targets will attend the showcase on July 5-10.

    With a few weeks until the start of Nike's event, here is a look at a dozen targets that Auburn fans should watch at The Opening.

    Recruits are listed by 247Sports' Composite Ranking.

Martez Ivey: 5-Star OT

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    Hometown and High School: Apopka, Florida (Apopka HS)

    Height and Weight: 6'6", 270 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. Florida is the current leader for the nation's No. 5 overall prospect, but Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina are close behind.

    Ivey, who plans to visit Auburn again this summer, is a close friend and teammate of new Auburn commitment Chandler Cox, the nation's No. 2 fullback. Cox told the Orlando Sentinel's Chris Hays that he is recruiting Ivey hard to get him to come to the Plains.

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For

    The No. 1 offensive tackle lived up to his high ranking at the Orlando Nike Football Training Camp (NFTC) by showcasing his elite run-blocking skill against several of Florida's top recruits.

    Ivey still needs to improve in pass protection at the next level, but his dominating physical gifts in a run-first high school offense make him a dream offensive line signing for Gus Malzahn and Auburn.

    The Florida standout already has the top position ranking in his class. If he can show improvement in the passing game at The Opening, Ivey could rise even higher in the overall rankings, as the nation's elite programs continue their battle for his services.

Torrance Gibson: 5-Star QB/ATH

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    Hometown and High School: Fort Lauderdale, Florida (American Heritage HS)

    Height and Weight: 6'4", 200 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. After visiting the Plains recently for Big Cat Weekend, Gibson said Auburn was his new leader, slightly ahead of Tennessee. His latest list of schools included LSU, Miami Oklahoma, Ohio State and UCF.

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For

    Gibson, currently rated as the nation's No. 1 overall athlete, received his invitation to The Opening after his performance at the Miami NFTC in March. After playing wide receiver several times in the offseason, he worked out as a quarterback in Miami and is now focused on the schools recruiting him to play that position.

    The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native and defending Florida Class 5A state champion has the size, arm strength and speed to become a dual-threat nightmare in an offensive system such as Malzahn's. 

    Some scouts and schools have hesitations about Gibson's potential as a college quarterback because of his accuracy issues. While his top destinations are continuing to recruit him as a signal-caller, Gibson needs to work on hitting his targets at The Opening.

Byron Cowart: 5-Star DE

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    Hometown and High School: Seffner, Florida (Armwood HS)

    Height and Weight: 6'4", 250 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. Florida and Oregon are the current neck-and-neck leaders for Cowart, followed by Alabama and Auburn.

    The Tigers were one of the first schools to offer Cowart a scholarship, and he made an unofficial visit during last year's Iron Bowl instant classic. Auburn has a lot of work to do, but Cowart told 247Sports' Keith Niebuhr (subscription required) he would like to visit this summer.

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For

    As the nation's No. 2 defensive end, Cowart got plenty of one-on-one competition with fellow Auburn target Martez Ivey at the Orlando NFTC. Cowart won the defensive line MVP award for that camp.

    Cowart is not one of the biggest defensive linemen in this year's crop of blue-chip recruits, but he makes up for it with his explosiveness and quick reactions.

    The Florida native is a borderline 5-star/4-star for several major recruiting services. He will have an opportunity at The Opening to prove he is one of the class' best defensive players when he goes up against talent from all over the country.

Daron Payne: 5-Star DT

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    Hometown and High School: Birmingham, Alabama (Shades Valley HS)

    Height and Weight: 6'2", 330 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. Alabama was originally said to be the overwhelming leader for the state's top recruit, but Payne told 247Sports' Kipp Adams he has "no order between Auburn and Alabama." Payne, who said he grew up a fan of the Tigers, visited Auburn during Big Cat Weekend.

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For 

    The one word that comes to mind when evaluating Payne's highlight films is strength—as evidenced by a recent video of Payne bench-pressing 460 pounds.

    The big defensive tackle's strength was highlighted at his hometown NFTC as he excelled against some of the best interior linemen in the country.

    But his game goes beyond his top-of-the-line strength. After scouting one of Payne's games last season in-person, 247Sports national scouting director JC Shurburtt praised his "ability to command double teams, superior strength and quickness and polish as a football player." Look for the recruit to put all of those talents on display on a national stage at The Opening.

Terry Godwin: 5-Star ATH

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    Hometown and High School: Hogansville, Georgia (Callaway HS)

    Height and Weight: 6'0", 168 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Committed to Georgia, but Godwin's recruitment could go the distance as he has made unofficial visits to Alabama and Auburn since his pledge to the Bulldogs on January 18.

    Godwin was on Auburn's campus for Big Cat Weekend, and he would be the top receiver on the board if the Tigers could flip him from Georgia.

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For

    Godwin was a standout at the Atlanta NFTC, earning the wide receiver MVP award for the March camp and an invitation to The Opening.

    "An incredibly smooth athlete, Godwin was impossible to defend," Adams said of his NFTC performance. "Off the ball, the Georgia commitment possesses incredible burst, and likewise he shines in short-area quickness, changing direction with no loss of speed whatsoever."

    Godwin, the No. 2 athlete in the class of 2015, is projected to be a wide receiver, but his ball skills could make him a solid cornerback in college. Keep an eye on him at The Opening as he tries to replicate his standout Atlanta performance against some of the nation's top defensive backs.

Christian Kirk: 4-Star WR

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    Hometown and High School: Scottsdale, Arizona (Saguaro HS)

    Height and Weight: 5'11", 195 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. Stanford, Auburn, Tennessee, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas A&M, Arizona State, USC and UCLA are, in no particular order, on Kirk's latest top-10 list. Although Kirk most recently visited Auburn, 247Sports still has Ohio State and Texas A&M leading the pack.

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For

    Kirk was a participant at The Opening last year, and his excellent test scores at the Los Angeles NFTC earned him a repeat visit to Nike's headquarters. According to Student Sports, he recorded a 4.54 40 time, 4.37 shuttle time and a 40.5" vertical leap in Los Angeles.

    The versatile player is also coming off an impressive junior season of 1,164 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns with 825 rushing yards and 17 additional TDs. With a list of schools from all over the country in the hunt for his commitment, Kirk would greatly benefit from a standout performance on a national stage at The Opening.  

Drew Richmond: 4-Star OT

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    Hometown and High School: Memphis, Tennessee (Memphis University School)

    Height and Weight: 6'5", 320 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. Richmond has a top-11 list of, in alphabetical order, Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, Memphis, North Carolina, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Tennessee and UCLA. Tennessee and Ohio State are leading for Richmond on 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions. 

    He made an unofficial visit to Auburn on March 29, the day before he attended the Birmingham NFTC.

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For 

    Although 247Sports' Barton Simmons said Richmond "struggled at times with small, quick linemen," the Nashville native impressed in Birmingham with his size and athleticism. Simmons said Richmond had the best offensive line body at the camp and could become "an elite left tackle with the right development."

    Richmond will face some of the country's quickest defensive linemen at The Opening, so he will need to take full advantage of those opportunities and continue to impress the elite programs that are fighting for his pledge.

Roquan Smith: 4-Star OLB

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    Hometown and High School: Montezuma, Georgia (Macon County HS)

    Height and Weight: 6'2", 205 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. Auburn, Florida and Georgia are currently in a three-way battle for Smith, who paid a visit to the Tigers in March. 

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For

    The athletic Smith was a standout performer at the Atlanta NFTC. He showed off his quickness and attack mentality against receivers and ball-carriers, which would make him the ideal linebacker for Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.

    Smith was a small-school standout in 2013, taking home the Georgia Class 2A Division Defensive Player of the Year award after a 100-tackle campaign. The Opening will give him a chance to show if he can keep up that high level of performance against bigger competition.

John Burt: 4-Star WR

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    Hometown and High School: Tallahassee, Florida (Lincoln HS)

    Height and Weight: 6'3", 180 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. Texas leads and is followed by Auburn and hometown school Florida State. Burt visited Auburn in February, but the Tigers reportedly have some catching up to do behind the Longhorns and the Seminoles.

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For

    Burt brings an excellent blend of size and speed to whichever school he chooses in the future. Standing at 6'3", the nation's No. 12 receiver clocked in a 4.59 40-yard dash at the Miami NFTC.

    The Tallahassee, Florida, native is not in the elite category of receivers in the class of 2015, but his physical skills could make him a star down the road. He could definitely use a standout, all-around performance at The Opening.

K.J. Hill: 4-Star WR

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    Hometown and High School: Bryant, Arkansas (North Little Rock HS)

    Height and Weight: 6'1", 175 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. Arkansas and Auburn are the early leaders for Hill. Auburn has deep ties to Hill's region, and Auburn assistants have made several trips to watch Arkansas' No. 3 overall recruit in action.

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For

    North Little Rock High School has had a consistent presence at The Opening, and Student Sports said Hill "might be the school's most dynamic athlete to date." Hill recorded more than 1,200 yards receiving last season and added four touchdowns as a returner.

    He is still flying under the radar on the national scene. The Opening will provide him the platform to jump up in recruiting rankings.

Darius Slayton: 4-Star WR/CB

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    Hometown and High School: Norcross, Georgia (Greater Atlanta Christian School)

    Height and Weight: 6'2", 182 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. Auburn, Georgia and Vanderbilt are said to be the leaders for Slayton, who has made three visits to the Plains this year.

    Auburn is the clear favorite on the 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictor, which has nine of nine analysts picking him to become a Tiger.

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For

    Slayton was an all-state receiver in Georgia, but he proved his worth as a tall, physical cornerback at the Atlanta NFTC.

    He runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and could also be a track athlete at the next level. At The Opening, the speedy Slayton needs to continue to show his improvement at the corner with his ball skills and defensive awareness.

Darryl Williams: 3-Star OC

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    Hometown and High School: Bessemer, Alabama (Bessemer City HS)

    Height and Weight: 6'4", 304 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted. Auburn leads with Arkansas and Mississippi State slightly behind. The center, who is starting to receive attention from Alabama and Florida State, visited the Plains for Big Cat Weekend.

    How He Got Here and What to Watch For

    Williams was the first center to be invited to The Opening after his work at the Birmingham NFTC. The nation's No. 3 center had an incredible junior season at Bessemer, only allowing one sack and grading out at 98 percent.

    He is another player who could improve his recruiting stock with a solid performance at The Opening. He is a borderline 4-star/3-star player who boasts a solid all-around game at an important position for some of the nation's top schools.

    Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.