Re-Evaluating Auburn's 2011 Recruiting Class
After winning the BCS National Championship in 2010, the Auburn Tigers turned the momentum from a storybook season into one of the program's highest-ranked recruiting classes.
The nation's No. 5 class signed the second-most 4-star recruits in the country and finished second in the SEC behind in-state rival Alabama.
The members of Auburn's 2011 class had wild starts to their Auburn careers, as the Tigers followed up a national title with an 8-5 season in 2011 and a historically bad 3-9 campaign in 2012. Their head coach was fired and replaced with the offensive coordinator from their first season on campus.
Auburn was able to rebound under Gus Malzahn in 2013 with an unforeseen 12-2 run to a SEC title and the final BCS National Championship Game, but how many of the 2011 signees played a role in the reversal?
The Tigers' top four recruits from the class of 2011 did not pan out at Auburn, but several other 4-stars played major roles in resurrecting the program last season.
Two of them became two of the nation's best players in 2013. Several others are still on the Plains, ready to finish their Auburn careers as full-time starters or important contributors.
Here is a look back at the booms and busts of Auburn's highly touted 2011 recruiting class.
Following Cam Newton's national title-winning Heisman campaign in 2010, his only season at Auburn, the Tigers were looking for the quarterback of the future for Gus Malzahn's high-caliber offense.
Malzahn went back to one of his former employers, Shiloh Christian School in Springdale, Arkansas, and signed 4-star quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who was the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the country and USA Today's National Offensive Player of the Year.
Three years later, Frazier is heading into his senior season as a new quarterback for Ouachita Baptist University, a Division II school back in his home state.
It is safe to say he never lived up to his high expectations at Auburn. He was used mainly as a runner in Wildcat sets in his true freshman season, finishing third on the team with 327 rushing yards. After winning the starting quarterback job in 2012 in Scot Loeffler's first and only season as Auburn offensive coordinator, Frazier was benched five games into the season with 753 passing yards, two touchdowns and eight interceptions.
In Malzahn's return to Auburn as a head coach, Frazier was given a chance to compete for the starting quarterback job. He volunteered to move to defensive back after being cut from the race last fall and later moved to backup offensive duty as a Wildcat quarterback and a wide receiver.
Four days after Auburn's BCS National Championship Game loss to Florida State, Frazier announced he would transfer to Ouachita.
Tre Mason entered Auburn as a borderline 3-star/4-star speed back, but he left the Plains with the best statistical season in "Running Back U's" proud history.
Mason made an impact in his true freshman season as a kick returner, leading the SEC with an average of 26.4 yards per return. In his first game as a Tiger, he returned a kick 97 yards for a touchdown in what would turn out to be a wild season-opening win against Utah State. Mason got his first real chance at running back in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl victory against Virginia, where his hard-nosed running style was on display in a 64-yard, one-touchdown performance.
Although Auburn's offense struggled mightily in Loeffler's pro-style system, Mason was the lone bright spot in the Tigers' dreadful 2012 season. He became the starting running back for the final six games of the season, rushing for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns.
Back in Malzahn's offense—one with a greater focus on the read-option game—Mason rewrote the Auburn record books in 2013. He ran for a school-record 1,816 rushing yards to go along with his 23 rushing touchdowns, a mark that tied the all-time SEC mark. The Heisman Trophy finalist ran for 304 yards and four touchdowns against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game, which was the second-best individual rushing game in school history.
After leading the way for the nation's No. 1 rushing offense, he opted to enter the NFL draft a season early. He was selected in the third round by the St. Louis Rams, a franchise with a strong Auburn connection.
Auburn's class of 2011 featured a highly coveted 4-star and two under-the-radar 3-star wide receivers. The 4-star has yet to make his mark out wide, but one of the 3-stars has become an important member of the Tigers offense.
Quan Bray arrived on Auburn's campus with a lot of hype as a top athlete, but his biggest contributions to the team came as a return man in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, Bray lost his job as the starting punt returner to Iron Bowl hero Chris Davis and was the secondary kick returner beside Mason. His 195 yards and three receiving touchdowns last season were both career highs, and he will look to capitalize on a breakout A-Day Game performance heading into his senior campaign.
After redshirting the 2011 season with an injury suffered in practice, Sammie Coates grabbed a pair of touchdowns in 2012 as a member of Auburn's receiver rotation. He played a major role in one of Auburn's few wins of the season with a 33-yard Hail Mary grab to end the first half against Louisiana-Monroe.
Like Auburn's entire offense, Coates' production exploded in 2013. The redshirt sophomore from Leroy, Alabama, finished third in the country with 21.5 yards per catch as first-year quarterback Nick Marshall's preferred deep-ball target.
With top-level physical skills and a spot alongside another big-play receiver in D'haquille Williams, Coates is expected to be the go-to guy again for Auburn in 2014.
Jaylon Denson, on the other hand, made a name for himself early in his Auburn career with his unselfish play in blocking and special teams. In his true junior season, Denson's preseason consistency earned him a spot in the rotation until the LSU game, when he suffered a season-ending injury and was medically redshirted.
Denson sat out this past spring, still recovering from the injury, but he is expected to be healthy this fall.
Auburn signed a pair of versatile tight ends in 2011, and in their senior seasons, they are still looking to make an impact at several spots for Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense.
Brandon Fulse was the No. 7 tight end in the country when he signed with the Tigers, and he started a couple of games at tight end in his true freshman season for the team. The Florida native moved to a backup role behind established starter Philip Lutzenkirchen in 2012, playing in several offensive and special teams packages.
Fulse became more of a blocker for the Tigers in 2013, recording only one catch for five yards in Auburn's run to the BCS National Championship Game. He will look to use that experience in 2014 as the starting H-back, replacing veteran Jay Prosch as a lead-blocking master in the Tigers' high-powered rushing attack.
C.J. Uzomah was a 4-star athlete out of North Gwinnett HS in Suwanee, Georgia, with experience as a tight end, wide receiver and quarterback. He even threw a touchdown pass to Lutzenkirchen on a trick play in his true freshman season, one that saw Uzomah mainly lining up in special teams.
He would later get opportunities to start at tight end in 2012, splitting time with Fulse after Lutzenkirchen went down with a season-ending injury. Uzomah emerged as a starter in 2013 and grabbed a game-winning touchdown to end Auburn's long SEC losing streak at the beginning of the season.
Although he was used sporadically in the Tigers' run-heavy offense last season, Uzomah looks to be a bigger weapon for Auburn in 2014 with a more experienced Marshall at quarterback.
Auburn had one of the best offensive line recruiting classes of all time back in 2011, picking up a 5-star and a trio of 4-star players. The career results for the four blue-chip recruits have been feast or famine for the Tigers—while two developed into outstanding pro prospects, the other two transferred early into their time on the Plains.
The Tigers struck gold with Reese Dismukes, the nation's No. 1 center who will be a four-year starter heading into the 2014 season. Dismukes was a first-team All-SEC selection, a Rimington Award finalist and a game captain in 2013 for Auburn after an up-and-down start to his collegiate career. The Spanish Fort, Alabama, native is the No. 2 center prospect for the 2015 NFL draft, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (h/t Joel. A Erickson of AL.com).
Dismukes will hope to follow in the footsteps of fellow 2011 signee Greg Robinson, who went from the nation's No. 12 high school prospect at offensive tackle to the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Robinson started as a redshirt freshman in 2012, but his stock exploded in Auburn's 2013 championship season. His run-blocking prowess and elite physical tools landed him a high draft spot with St. Louis, where he will reunite with Mason.
Christian Westerman was a 5-star offensive tackle from Arizona who was the No. 10 overall recruit when he joined Auburn. After redshirting in 2011, the versatile offensive lineman appeared in only three games in 2012 while dealing with an ankle injury. Westerman transferred to Arizona State in December 2012 and sat out the 2013 season for his home-state Sun Devils.
Auburn's lone guard signing of the 2011 class, Thomas O'Reilly, came to Auburn with a preexisting injury that led to a redshirt. O'Reilly transferred to Georgia Tech in the spring of 2012 and appeared in six games for the Yellow Jackets in 2013.
The Tigers signed five defensive linemen in 2011, with two of them becoming four-year contributors along the interior.
Gabe Wright, the defensive star of this class, picked Auburn on national signing day in 2011 and immediately made his presence felt in the SEC. He played in all 13 of Auburn's 2011 games as a true freshman, started the final five in 2012 and became a regular starter in 2013 with 8.5 tackles for loss for the SEC champions. Wright is expected to be a starter again in 2014 for Auburn's talented front four.
Auburn got a surprising commitment in the summer of 2010 from Delaware native Angelo Blackson, who stayed solid with the team through the rest of the cycle. Like Wright, Blackson appeared in all 13 games of his true freshman season and had chances to start in 2012. The bigger Blackson was featured in the Tigers' rotation in 2013 and will be a source of experience and strength for the unit in 2014.
JaBrian Niles and Keymiya Harrell were both 3-star in-state defensive ends who redshirted in 2011 and have seen limited snaps for the Tigers the last two seasons. With blue-chip prospects such as Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel emerging as early contributors for Auburn's defense, Niles and Harrell have been relegated to backup duty.
Another 3-star in-state signee, defensive tackle Devaunte Sigler, made his way into the rotation as a true freshman in 2011 but only recorded two tackles as a sophomore in 2012. Sigler was dismissed from the team in March 2013 for a violation of team rules.
The Tigers signed three linebackers in 2011, and each one has gone on to take a different career path at Auburn—a multiyear backup with a chance to start as a junior, a versatile contributor trying to overcome tough injury luck, and a transfer after two seasons.
Kris Frost arrived at Auburn as the No. 6 outside linebacker in the country but failed to crack the starting rotation after being redshirted in 2011. He backed up Daren Bates at weak-side linebacker in 2012 and then moved to middle linebacker behind senior Jake Holland in 2013.
But he made the most of his time at middle linebacker last season, finishing with more tackles and coming up with a memorable tackle of Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel on the final drive of Auburn's season-changing upset in College Station. The rangy Frost has moved back to outside linebacker in Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 system this season, flipping positions with returning leader in tackles Cassanova McKinzy.
Justin Garrett was not redshirted in his freshman season, as he contributed as a backup at strong-side linebacker in both 2011 and 2012. A 3-star outside linebacker from Georgia, Garrett was poised to break out as the "Star" safety in Johnson's new system on the Plains after a strong spring.
However, recurring foot injuries kept him off the field for most of the season, and now he will try to get back into the two-deep for the Auburn defense in 2014.
Another 3-star signee, Chris Landrum, played at small-school powerhouse Sweet Water HS in southwest Alabama. He failed to get in Auburn's rotation at inside linebacker or fullback, and he is now at in-state FCS school Jacksonville State.
The top two defensive backs in Auburn's 2011 recruiting class did not last long on the Plains, but the Tigers signed a pair of future starters who played important roles in the 2013 season.
Erique Florence was the No. 3 safety in the country after a standout high school career at nearby Valley, Alabama. He appeared to be off to a fast start at Auburn after a 23-tackle true freshman campaign in 2011, but he slid down the depth chart in 2012 and left the team due to personal issues in the spring of 2013. Florence landed at nearby Troy several months later as a transfer, but he is not listed on the Trojans' 2014 roster.
In-state cornerback Jonathan Rose was a top-10 player nationally at his position but only lasted one season at Auburn. Rose was given his release from the Tigers in the summer of 2012 for personal reasons, and he transferred to Nebraska, where he contributed as a reserve cornerback in 2013.
Auburn found more success down the road with 4-star safety Robenson Therezie, who contributed early and often as a defensive back and special teams player. Therezie got his first starting job as Auburn's "Star" in 2013 and led the team in interceptions with four, twice as many as the entire defense had in 2012. The Miami native was named Auburn's defensive MVP for the 2013 season and is garnering some preseason attention from several media outlets for his work as the Tigers' versatile hybrid safety.
Jermaine Whitehead was a 4-star cornerback out of high school but has made his mark as a starting safety for Auburn. Whitehead played in all 13 games of his true freshman season and dented the stat sheets with 31 tackles and a pick six. He was Auburn's full-time starter at strong safety in 2012 and field safety in 2013, where he finished fourth on the team with 65 tackles.
Finally, Anthony Swain was recruited as a defensive back for Auburn—he was the nation's No. 22-rated safety—but he has found a spot at linebacker in the 4-2-5 defense. Swain bulked up to 249 pounds and saw action at both linebacker spots in 2013 after redshirting in 2011 and seeing special teams action in 2012. He missed this past spring with some off-field issues but has recently been reinstated to the team.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats taken from CFBStats.com. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.