Auburn was smack dab in the middle of the SEC in passing yards allowed in 2018 with a per game average of 219.5 and at the bottom in the conference in long passing plays (20+ yards) allowed.
However, the Tigers were top five in passes defended and actually had a total of 14 interceptions on the season, which was second best in the SEC.
Overall, it was an up-and-down season for the Auburn defensive backs. There were moments where the group looked lost and there were times where it looked like the group could be among the best in the conference.
Auburn only has to deal with one departure among defensive backs. Jamel Dean, who was one of the Tigers’ best cornerbacks in 2018, was selected in the third round of the NFL draft.
Dean was Auburn’s tallest (and possibly fastest) cornerback in 2018 and while the loss of the former Ohio State transfer hurts, returning defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff has more than enough talent on the roster to turn this group into an elite one.
Javaris Davis: Likely Auburn’s top corner for 2019, Davis, a redshirt senior, has the chance to develop into one of the SEC’s best defensive backs in his fifth season on The Plains.
The former freshman All-American enters 2019 with high expectations — expectations that are not without merit.
In 2017, Davis allowed the fewest yards after the catch among SEC cornerbacks and has been clocked in with an blazing 4.24 forty-yard dash.
He recorded 41 total tackles to go along with eight pass breakups, two interceptions, three tackles for a loss and one sack.
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, Davis isn’t the biggest corner on the field. However, the veteran defensive back is one of the fastest players in the country and has long arms for his size.
He could have been a mid-round NFL draft pick if he wanted to forgo his senior season. Instead, Davis returns to The Plains and has a chance to lead the Tigers’ defensive backs.
Noah Igbinoghene: The former wide receiver played fairly well in his first season since switching over to defense. With Igbinoghene being the child of two Olympic track athletes and Noah being a track star himself, the junior cornerback's strength is obvious: speed.
Igbinoghene led all Auburn CBs in tackles in 2018 with 50 while also adding 1.5 TFLs, an INT and a team-leading 11 passes deflected.
“It’s so much (about) confidence. I think playing corner is one of the hardest positions on the field because you’re just by yourself. I’m getting way more confident, I’m getting way more feel for the game,” the junior cornerback said in April.
With another year of perfecting his craft as a defender, Igbinoghene could evolve into a dangerous defensive weapon for the Tigers. Standing at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds with blazing speed, the Trussville native will develop more and more as he piles up experience.
Christian Tutt: Tutt had an impressive 2018 campaign as a true freshman, as the former four-star recruit registered 25 tackles, a sack and an interception in 11 games.
Going into his second year, Tutt has a chance to become a full-time starter as a nickel cornerback. He is a tough, quick cornerback that will only get better with another year under his belt.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound corner might not have the experience that other Auburn defensive backs but, if his solid freshman campaign was any indication, Tutt can be an impact player for the Tigers in 2019 and beyond.
Daniel Thomas: Thomas didn’t disappoint in his first year as a full-time starter. Playing in all 13 games as the starting strong safety, the 5-foot-11, 209-pound Montgomery native registered 74 tackles, which ranked second on the team, to go along with two TFLs, two forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions.
Despite being ranked outside of the top 1500 of his recruiting class, Thomas has been a solid contributor for the Tigers since he arrived in 2016.
Now a senior, Thomas enters 2019 with high expectations. He was a big reason why the Tigers finished 31st nationally in pass efficiency defense, earning him Athlon Sports’ All-SEC second team honors in May.
Jeremiah Dinson: The Tigers’ veteran starter at free safety, Dinson, a former nickelback, could be one of the defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's most important defenders in 2019.
Dinson had the opportunity to forgo his senior season and enter the NFl but instead decided to return to The Plains and bolster a strong group of Auburn safeties that was a possible cause for concern merely a year and a half ago.
In his first year at safety, Dinson registered 64 total tackles, four TFLs, two picks and five pass deflections.
The senior duo of Thomas and Dinson should be a strength for the Tigers in 2019.
Jordyn Peters: If it weren’t for a foot injury that has kept Peters out for most of the spring, the junior corner/safety hybrid might have been in line for a starting job in 2019. If Peters can recover in time, that starting job (most likely at the nickel) is definitely still up for grabs.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Muscle Shoals native was a special teams all-star in 2019. Peters' three blocked punts led the SEC and ranked second in the nation. Additionally, Peters racked up 24 tackles and 3.5 TFLs as a rotational safety.
Malcolm Askew: Due to various injuries throughout the spring, Askew, a redshirt sophomore safety, has been given the chance to prove himself and has reportedly done pretty well in doing so.
Askew came to The Plains as ESPN’s No. 3 player in the state of Alabama in the class of 2017 but has unfortunately not had much of an impact in his first two seasons.
After redshirting as a freshman, Askew only appeared in two games in 2018, recording no stats.
Perhaps it has been because of the veterans that have been ahead of him on the depth chart since he arrived, but 2019 will be a big year for the talented and versatile safety. Expect a larger role for the former four-star recruit.
Smoke Monday: The reason Askew has been able to get more reps during the spring is mainly because talented sophomore Smoke Monday has been sidelined with a shoulder injury.
The 6-foot-2-inch, long, rangy safety impressed in 2018, appearing in all 13 games and recording 15 tackles, two sacks and an INT.
If he’s healthy, Monday’s skill and size will put him in a situation to succeed as the top safety behind the two senior starters.
Roger McCreary: Playing in seven games as a three-star true freshman at a major program is impressive. However, McCreary, a sophomore cornerback out of Mobile, is not satisfied with just being a reserve.
McCreary frequently lined up with the first-team defense during spring practice and has often caught the eye of head coach Gus Malzahn.
"Roger’s another one of those freshman (from last year) that looks completely different,” Malzahn said. “You can tell he’s more confident. He’s off to a really good start. I’ve been with the offense mainly the whole time, but when a guy flashes and stands out, that means he’s doing a really good job.”
If McCreary continues to stand out, the sophomore could become one of the Tigers’ most important rotational defensive backs.
Jamien Sherwood: Another young defensive back who had a solid freshman campaign, Sherwood, a 6-foot-2, 204-pound safety out of Jenson Beach, Florida, could be yet another breakout candidate for the Tigers in 2019.
After recording 23 tackles, 1.5 TFLs and an interception last season, Sherwood has put his best foot forward coming into 2019.
During Auburn's spring game, Sherwood recorded seven total tackles, three more than any other player. While he may have to fight the two starters as well as Monday and Askew for playing time, Sherwood has the size and talent to excel in Kevin Steele’s defensive system.
Devan Barrett is a former running back turned corner who has the athletic ability to make an impact.
Travion Leonard is a 6-foot, 198-pound junior cornerback who appeared in two games for the Tigers in 2018.
Zion Puckett is a talented four-star athlete out of Georgia that will provide solid depth for the Tigers at the cornerback position.
Both Cam’ron Kelly and Neremiah Pritchett are big, skilled defensive backs that were part of the Tigers’ 2019 recruiting class. It wouldn’t be surprising to see either or in 2019 despite their talents.
Devin Guice is an undersized, walk-on corner who has played in a few games in the past two seasons and played well at A-Day.
Defensive backs haven’t been a strength for Auburn in the last few years. And while I wouldn’t expect the Auburn defensive backs to be at the top of the SEC, the Tigers certainly have a nice mixture of veteran and young talent at both corner and safety to where it wouldn’t be out of the question to see the Tigers in the top five in the conference in most major statistics.
The senior trio of Davis, Dinson and Thomas should help lead the back half of the Tigers' defense and the return of coach McGriff should bring a boost to the position group.