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February 3, 2012

2012 class analysis

Overall analysis of the 2012 class

Auburn's signing class focused more on quality, than quantity, head coach Gene Chizik said as much during his signing day press conference. The Tigers signed 19 prospects, and including transfer Jay Prosch, are set to bring in at least 20 prospects in the spring. Five, including Prosch, are already on campus in Zeke Pike, Patrick Miller, Shane Callahan, and Javiere Mitchell.

Pike was a prime quarterback target from an early date and brings size and mobility to the position. Pike threw for over 5,100 yards and 48 touchdowns, and rushed for over 1,700 yards and 33 touchdowns in his career.

Offensively, the strength of the class centers around an offensive line class that ranks No. 6 nationally. Miller and Callahan are both four-star prospects and members of the Rivals250. Auburn also added Robert Leff, former Georgia Tech commit Will Adams, and Rivals100 tackle Avery Young on signing day.

All five linemen are 6-foot-6 or taller. Callahan has worked hard to prepare for Auburn and arrives ready to contribute, while Miller still needs to add some weight, but has the tools to be successful. Adams has the frame and aggressiveness to surprise some people, and Leff is a solid prospect. Young may be the gem of the class, as his coach praised his athletic ability and versatility.

With a revamped offense, Auburn has given themselves quite a few options along the line, to go with a pair of redshirt freshmen set to compete next season in Greg Robinson and Christian Westerman.

The Tigers also signed an extremely talented group of skill position players. They waned a big time runner, and they got it in Rivals250 back Jovon Robinson. Rivals100 receiver JaQuay Williams stuck with his initial commitment and signed with Auburn, Rivals250 receiver Ricardo Louis, after flipping from Auburn to Florida State, returned to the Tigers on signing day. Throw in Rivals250 tight end Ricky Parks and a unique specimen in Darrion Hutcherson, and Auburn has a blend of options for their developing quarterbacks that are intriguing and exciting.

Defensively, it was a balanced class with two defensive linemen, two linebackers, and three cornerbacks. For fans that love the big linebacker, Rivals250 four-star Cassanova McKinzy fits that mold. McKinzy has the size to play as a freshman and the athletic ability that allowed him to play offense and defense in high school. Four-star Javiere Mitchell may be the most athletic, highest ceiling player Auburn signed. Mitchell could develop into an all-conference outside linebacker, but it will take time after only playing three years of football in his life. Mitchell ran track and football in high school.

Defensive tackle Tyler Nero and defensive end Gimel President appear to be solid prospects with upside. Nero plays with incredible leverage, while President's productivity earned him Parade All-American honors. The two newcomers should add depth behind five juniors and three sophomores on the defensive line.

The Tigers' defensive back class adds three prospects with T.J. Davis, Jonathan Jones, and Rivals250 corner Joshua Holsey. Jones is an exceptional track athlete as a 110 meter hurdles national champion, and Holsey has recorded over 20 career interceptions. A year after Auburn signed a quartet of four-star defensive backs, and return a sophomore and a junior, the trio of signees have time to develop.

Signing Day Drama

Auburn knew signing day was going to be filled with some drama, as the Tigers entered the day waiting on the decision of seven prospects on signing day. Auburn missed on more than they landed, but did secure Louis and Young in the later parts of the day to end on a positive note. Auburn was battling the top programs in the nation and had positioned themselves in the top two for Rivals100 prospects Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby, and Leonard Williams, and also four-star Kwon Alexander. The Tigers took a risk, there's no question about it.

But Auburn also made a statement regionally and nationally in the last week, showing they aren't reluctant to chase the best prospects in the country. Some considered national signing day a disappointment, but landing Young was important, and Auburn showed the ability to appeal to prospects across the country like never before.

Biggest disappointment of the 2012 class?

Auburn fans may want to avert their eyes on this one. The loss of long time commit T.J. Yeldon late in the process was a big blow. The five-star running back committed to Auburn in the summer and expressed many times, including a week prior to his switch to Alabama, that he was looking forward to a future at Auburn. However, just hours before a dead period, Yeldon flipped to the Tigers' in-state rival.

The loss of Yeldon was disappointing not only because of how talented Yeldon is, not only because he flipped to a rival, but also because of the circumstances in which it occurred.

Yeldon made many, including the media and the Auburn staff, believe the rumors of a switch were false days before his announcement through a media release. The timing of the decision to leave Auburn's class left the Tigers with virtually no time to attempt to switch Yeldon back before he early enrolled in January. With only two months before signing day, Auburn made Robinson the feature back in the class. But any way you look at it, the saga that was Yeldon's recruitment was a disappointing one for Auburn.

What were the surprises of the 2012 class?

Two prospects come to mind, both on the offensive line. Miller and Young were top Auburn targets from early in the process, but both ended up signing under very different circumstances.

Miller favored Auburn and LSU in the fall, before committing to LSU after an official visit. Miller remained solid to LSU throughout and was set to enroll early in January. However, when Miller arrived in Baton Rouge, he was notified there wasn't room for him to enroll early. He was faced with the decision to wait and enroll later at LSU, or pursue another early enrollee avenue. Miller and his family decided LSU wasn't in their future, got in a car and drove to Auburn, and enrolled in classes days later.

Auburn received good vibes from Young all along, but so did Georgia and Florida. Young kept people guessing up until signing day, but the Tigers prevailed thanks to family ties. Young's cousin is Auburn tight end Brandon Fulse. Young is also friends with running back Tre Mason. The connection with the pair of Tigers, in addition to offensive line coach Jeff Grimes resulted in a pleasant, but not completely unexpected singing day surprise.

Who will make the earliest impact?

I'll go with two, Robinson and McKinzy. Auburn will be looking for a new starting tailback in 2012 with the departure of Mike Dyer. Senior Onterio McCalebb returns in his unique speed-back role, but Auburn needs a between the tackles runner and Robinson will have a chance to fill that role. Freshman Mike Blakely and sophomore Corey Grant will have leg up after practicing last year while sitting out, but Robinson's size, physical personality, and determination to make Auburn fans forget about Yeldon is an interesting dynamic.

McKinzy already looks like a college player at 6-foot-3, 233-pounds. He could play outside linebacker, middle linebacker, or even grow into defensive end if he was allowed to. His future at Auburn, however, will be in the middle. With Eltoro Freeman graduated, junior Jake Holland returns at middle linebacker, and McKinzy could contribute right away. Big, physical linebackers are a must in the SEC, and McKinzy brings 112 tackles and 21 tackles for loss as a senior into the picture.

Not done yet?

Signing day gives finality for most programs, as class rankings are dissected, winners and losers are named, and judgments are made. Those holding judgment on Auburn's class after Wednesday, however, might want to wait a few more days. Auburn is still in the mix for three top prospects, in four-star offensive linemen Alex Kozan and Jordan Diamond, and Rivals100 five-star Stefon Diggs.

Diamond is set to announce between Auburn, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arkansas on Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. CST. Kozan committed to Iowa last Sunday, but has yet to sign anywhere. Diggs is set to announce on Feb. 10. If Auburn lands any of the three, the Tigers are likely to jump ahead of SEC rival Georgia, thus improving their national and conference ranking.


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