As Auburn football continues to prepare for the uncertain 2020 season, it will have to transition over 20 freshmen from the high school ranks to SEC college football.
Under normal circumstances the transition is no piece of cake, but these are no ordinary circumstances, and these freshmen will have to get adjusted faster than any class has had to before, as many have missed out on the crucial development period offered during spring practice, which was canceled this year.
While it may take several years for the class of 2024 to become the prominent playmakers, there are five freshmen who, based on a combination natural skill and opportunity at their position, are poised to potentially make an impact as early as this season.
1) RB Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby
With last season’s leading rushers, Kam Martin and Boobie Whitlow, no longer with the program, the running back race has become wide open. While many predict D.J. Williams to take the starting spot, nobody on the roster has much true game time experience.
This creates an advantageous situation for Bigsby, a highly touted freshman out of Callaway High School in Georgia. The five-star prospect rushed for 1,636 yards and 27 touchdowns his senior year, and was ranked as one of the top 5 running backs in the nation. Bigsby will have to play catchup without a spring evaluation, but with his natural athleticism as well as the wide open position battle, he is someone to keep an eye on and expect to see make an impact early in his career.
2) DE/DT Jay Hardy
Now that both Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown have left, there are significant holes to fill on the defensive line. The good news for Auburn is that there are already experienced veterans who seem primed to step up to the challenge.
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner has done an exceptional job of recruiting Auburn’s defensive line, and they added onto that this season. One of the star recruits was Jay Hardy, the No. 1 prospect in Tennessee. Hardy will more than likely not compete for the starting job, but Garner loves to rotate his defensive line consistently, and this is where Hardy has the best chance to make a significant impact early on in his career.
He was recruited as a defensive end, but there is some talk of Hardy playing defensive tackle, the one position Auburn has a hole to fill with no clear next man up. He is highly touted as being strong and athletic, and if he can work his way into the rotation there will be nothing stopping Hardy his freshman year other than himself.
3) OL Tate Johnson
On the other side of the line from Hardy comes the next impact freshman. Tate Johnson is an offensive lineman from the same high school as Bigsby, and was ranked in the top 15 at his position nationally.
Johnson enters an offensive line picture with all five starters from the previous season gone, and the race is wide open. Nick Brahms is the only lineman returning who has had any previous starts. While Auburn has recruited several linemen from the JUCO ranks, it would not be unreasonable to think that the coaches want to develop some linemen who can be consistent for the long run, and Johnson has the ability and opportunity to be that long-term lineman.
4) OL Jeremiah Wright
Sticking with the offensive line, Auburn recruited another highly touted player in the signing class of 2020. Wright is an offensive lineman from Selma and was ranked No. 13 nationally at his position. He has good size for the line at 6-5, 340 pounds. Like Johnson, Wright’s opportunity to play early comes with the lack of experienced offensive linemen ahead of them. If Wright can get adjusted quickly, there is no reason why he shouldn’t compete for the opportunity to make an immediate splash in the offensive line picture.
5) DE Zykeivous Walker
Returning to the defensive side of the ball, Walker is a highly regarded defensive end. At 6-4, 267 pounds, Hardy certainty has the size to be competitive in college football. He was ranked No. 7 nationally at his position and, like Hardy, has a great opportunity to earn his way into the defensive line rotation.
These five freshman have both the talent as well as potential to make an impact in 2020. While Auburn is bringing in many highly touted players at a variety of positions, these five are in the best situations to allow them to compete for early play time.
However, this year will be a year unlike any other, and should one of these players under-develop while another rises to the occasion, this list might look different after the season. One thing is for sure, this season will be one unlike any other, and it will be largely up to the individual players' work ethic to determine their success this season.