Perhaps the biggest wildcard among Auburn position groups in 2019 is what the Tigers will do at linebacker. The Tigers face the daunting task of replacing three veteran starters from last year’s linebacker corps in seniors Deshaun Davis, Montavious Atkinson and Darrell Williams.
The trio were integral to Auburn’s defense in 2018 but will all three no longer on The Plains, linebacker coach Travis Williams will look to retool and find a new set of impact linebackers.
Britt is the most experienced linebacker on Auburn’s roster. The 6-foot, 236-pound junior has appeared in all 27 combined games in the past two seasons and despite being listed as second on the depth chart last year, recorded 23 total tackles and two tackles for a loss in 2018.
The Oxford native has played a vital role as a backup in his career so far. However, coming into his junior season, Britt is ready and expected to take the next step.
“KJ’s a dog, man. That’s always been KJ. KJ is great. I don’t even know how to explain it, he’s like another version of Deshaun,” said junior defensive lineman Big Kat Bryant earlier this spring. “He’s another leader. He’s always behind me so I’m always hearing him, so I believe he’s another Deshaun (Davis).”
Just like Davis, Britt is slightly undersized for the linebacker position. Regardless, Davis was a three-year starter for Auburn and an All-SEC-caliber talent — exactly what the Tigers need from Britt in order to have success in 2019.
Like Britt, Wooten is a junior who has given the Tigers considerable impact as a backup linebacker in his first two years.
The 6-foot-2, 228-pound middle linebacker registered 10 total tackles in eight games in 2018 and despite suffering a minor knee injury during the Tigers’ spring game, confidence in the former Under Armour All-American is high.
“This is year three, and a lot of times year three is when that light bulb just clicks,” linebackers coach Travis Williams told The Montgomery Advertiser in May. “Just his whole mindset and going about his business is just — he just flipped a switch. Now the whole game is slowing down for him. I’m very, very pleased with his progress.”
Wooten is a long, athletic defender and seeing as he is back from his A-Day injury, Wooten has the skills to become the Tigers’ No. 1 linebacker.
With three seniors at linebacker last year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see McClain, as a true freshman, struggle to get playing time.
However, despite the wealth of talent at the position, McClain appeared in all 13 of the Tigers’ games. While he didn’t quite get a significant number of snaps, the Valdosta, Georgia native recorded four total tackles on the season.
Fast forward to 2019 and McClain has the chance to be Auburn’s starting outside linebacker. Fast, tough and aggressive, McClain has received praise for his grit and ball-hawking skills throughout the spring.
Although the 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore is a bit undersized, players like Deshaun Davis have proved that size is not nearly as Important as heart and toughness — two things McClain has an abundance of.
Probably the most exciting player on this list, Pappoe, a true freshman from Lawrenceville, Georgia, was the crown jewel of Auburn’s 2019 recruiting class.
Pappoe was a top-10 recruit in the nation and No. 1 linebacker in the country according to ESPN. With the 6-foot-1, 219-pound freshman being the highest rated recruit to sign with Auburn since 2015 — expectations are obviously high
An explosive athlete with tremendous closing speed and a 40-inch vertical, Pappoe arrived on The Plains at the perfect time to contribute right away.
Pappoe registered a QB hurry and three total tackles in Auburn’s spring game which led all linebackers.
Despite being a true freshman, the former five-star recruit is already showing that he can make an impact from day one. And while there are more veteran players on the roster at his position, Pappoe may have the most potential out of every player on the defensive side of the ball.
"He’s learning, he’s really learning. He’s really picking it up faster than I did when I was a freshman,” Britt said. “Everybody knows he has the athletic ability — he can run, he can jump, all that stuff. But, just learning how to play in the box, from day one you can see the progression. He’s really getting better. I can’t wait to watch him.”
Redshirt freshman Michael Harris has bulked up from the 213 pounds he was listed at in his last year at Tucker High School in Tucker, Georgia.
Now listed at 6-foot-3 and a monstrous 240 pounds, Harris is the biggest linebacker on the Tigers’ roster.
After redshirting in 2018, Harris should be able to secure a solid spot in the linebacker rotation as a backup at inside linebacker using his size to stuff gaps and hammer running backs in the backfield.
Not heavily recruited out of high school, Marsh, the former No. 1201 recruit in the class of 2018, may be in line for some playing time this upcoming season.
After redshirting in 2018, Marsh, a 6-foot-2, 218-pound outside linebacker from Decatur, Alabama, has played well throughout the spring.
Marsh recorded two tackles during the Tigers’ spring game and although there are likely more talented linebackers on the roster, don’t be surprised to see the redshirt freshman appear in a few games in 2019.
Other than Pappoe, Auburn received commitments from two other linebackers in the class of 2019.
Octavious Brothers, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound freshman from Titusville, Florida has the size to be a force on Auburn’s future front seven but will likely redshirt in 2019.
Auburn was the only Power-5 school to offer three-star linebacker Kameron Brown. Brown, the younger brother of Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, will also likely redshirt in 2019.
After losing three seniors at linebacker from last year, the Tigers have a big void to fill in 2019. Despite that, the linebackers the Tigers have on the roster are infinitely talented and in the case of Britt, McClain and Wooten — fairly experienced.
The Tigers also boast a five-star freshman linebacker in Pappoe who has all the makings of a future star in the SEC.
Linebacker is probably the biggest question mark on the Auburn defense and even though the Tigers may not have the size at linebacker that many other top programs have, undersized, fast and athletic linebackers are often those who flourish under coach Williams.