Last season was a bit of a mixed bag in terms of Auburn’s special teams play. On one hand, the Tigers had an excellent punter and fielded a solid return game. On the other hand, inconsistencies in the kicking game prevented the Tigers from reaching their full potential.
It’s safe to say that Anders Carlson failed to live up to expectations in his first year as starter in 2018. Maybe it was because Auburn has been spoiled with great kickers for the last decade (including Anders’ older brother Daniel), but many fans expected the younger Carlson to be the immediate impact player that his brother was.
It’s probably unfair to put those kinds of expectations on a redshirt freshman kicker no matter how highly touted he was coming out of high school and no matter what his family tree might look like.
Carlson went a perfect 44-44 on his extra point attempts in 2018 but was an uninspiring 15-25 in his field goal attempts. However, Carlson was an impressive 13-16 on attempts inside 50 yards but struggled mightily in the 50-plus yard attempts that his brother was famous for.
On the bright side, Carlson’s 73 percent touchback rate on kickoffs ranked third in the SEC, leaving Auburn’s opponents without much chance to capitalize in the return game.
Carlson will almost certainly be Auburn’s starting kicker heading into 2019, and while his freshman season struggles are a definite cause for concern, the sophomore is far too talented to struggle indefinitely.
Much of kicking is a mental game. Carlson has been seen hitting field goals of over 60 yards — the talent is definitely there. Another season under the big lights should benefit Carlson in his attempt to fulfill his potential.
While Carlson struggled in 2018, the same cannot be said for Siposs. A highly ranked punting prospect out of Australia, Siposs, a 26-year-old sophomore, started the season behind Aidan Marshall before quickly earning the starting job.
Siposs took that job and never looked back, giving life to an Auburn punting game that sorely needed it. On the season, the Aussie punted the ball 56 times for an average of 44.2 yards, which ranked in the top 20 nationally. The freshman also downed 17 punts inside the 20 yard line.
Siposs projects to be one of the better punters in the country again in 2019 and was named to Athlon Sports’ All-SEC preseason second team.
A senior out of Auburn High, Ledbetter has served as the backup kicker for all three of his years on The Plains. That trend should continue as Ledbetter will be there in case anything happens to Carlson.
Ledbetter owns the record for longest field goal in Alabama high school history (61 yards), so while he may not have much experience, Ledbetter is a talented placekicker behind Carlson.
Ledbetter will also likely serve as the team’s starting holder on field goals just as he did in 2018.
Taylor came to Auburn in 2017 as one of the best long snapper prospects in the nation. After serving as the backup in 2017, Taylor started all 13 games for the Tigers in 2018.
The redshirt sophomore should be the starting long snapper for the Tigers for the foreseeable future.
Noah Igbinoghene should remain the Tigers’ top option in the kick return game. Last year the wide receiver turned cornerback had 11 returns for 311 yards and one return touchdown.
Igbinoghene’s 28.3 yards per return was one of the best in the SEC and his track-level speed and agility makes the junior one of the top return men in the country.
Igbinoghene was named to Athlon Sports’ All-SEC preseason third team as a kick returner.
Besides Igbinoghene, running back Boobee Whitlow, who had three kick returns for 80 yards in 2018, could be the second option. However, someone like Shaun Shivers, an electric runner with home-run ability could become that second option if Whitlow becomes more of a workhorse back.
Auburn relied heavily on shifty wide receiver Ryan Davis for punt return duties in 2018. Now that Davis is off to the NFL, someone will have to replace him. Perhaps the top option is cornerback Javaris Davis, who has reportedly been clocked at a 4.24 40-yard dash.
Other than Davis, sophomore corner Christian Tutt is another speedy defensive back who can replace last year’s starter. Tutt had five punt returns for 65 yards (13 yards per return), which, even though limited in attempts, was better than Ryan Davis.
A third intriguing option for return man is wide receiver Eli Stove. Despite sitting out the majority of 2018 rehabbing an ACL injury, Stove has shown impressive breakaway speed and elusiveness.
It might take a while to fully recover from his injury, but Stove, when healthy, can provide a spark for the Tigers.
If Carlson makes the necessary improvements, Auburn should go back to having one of the best special teams units in the country — a sight fans have seen many times in recent years.
Siposs figures to be a top-tier punter, and Auburn has elite speed at various positions, giving the Tigers multiple options within the return game.