AUBURN — An alarming trend early in Auburn football’s offseason, at least on the surface, was the transfer exodus.
The Tigers lost 19 portal scholarship players, most of whom left before spring training. But the May 1 registration deadline passed with no last-second departures, a sign sophomore coach Bryan Harsin was proud of. The buy-in was increasing, he said.
The Tigers added 10 transfers for a net total of minus nine. But how accurate is that? When determining transfer value, it’s important to look at playing time, especially when considering who will play on a Harsin team. He often chooses to put experience into the field over freshman talent.
Here’s a breakdown of Auburn’s lost and gained playing time during a pressing offseason.
Quality over quantity in defense
With six newcomers in defence, the Tigers are adding half as many transfers as they are losing – but that’s where Harsin’s focus on experience shows. He and his team have pursued players that Auburn can feel comfortable plugging into plays immediately.
Those six inbound transfers more than tripled Auburn’s defensive playing time lost through the portal (796 snaps).
Last season, they combined 2,529 snaps. Four of the six come from Power Five schools, but none from the SEC. These four have started 16 games.
Cornerback DJ James (Oregon), safety Craig McDonald (Iowa State) and linebacker Eugene Asante (North Carolina) combined for 699 snaps played on coverage. That’s crucial because Auburn’s six outgoing transfers in the secondary combined for just 152 cover snaps. The Tigers also lost their top cornerback, safety and linebacker to the NFL, so even with a talented incoming class of freshman DBs, experience was needed to avoid over-reliance on youngsters.
On the defensive front, Auburn is already loaded with Derick Hall and Eku Leota on the edges, plus Colby Wooden leading from the inside. The three new transfers played 608 snaps in run defense last year and 603 in pass rush, adding useful depth – especially Western Kentucky’s Marcus Bragg on board, where Hall and Leota lacked saves .
Basically, if experience was what Harsin and defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding wanted, they struck gold. Appearances can be deceiving: Auburn found a significant net gain.
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The passing game works in the red
Of concern is Auburn’s offense, which has lost notable players including three-year-old starting quarterback Bo Nix (Oregon) and top receiver Kobe Hudson (UCF). Replacing their production is among the defining challenges of this season for Harsin and offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau.
Auburn has lost 1,661 2021 offensive snaps to the transfer gate and recovered less than half (781). Of the four newcomers, two have yet to appear in a college football game, excluding quarterback Robby Ashford and wide receiver Dazalin Worsham from the experience discussion. (Still, Auburn could bet on at least one of them in the search for a decent passing game.)
That leaves Texas A&M quarterback Zach Calzada and LSU wide receiver Koy Moore.
Auburn’s running game will be the foundation, with eight senior offensive linemen blocking for the likely NFL-bound Tank Bigsby. However, the old but true cliché is the importance of run-pass balance. Calzada needs to be given options to instill confidence in Auburn’s game and open up the rest of the offense.
Between the transfers of Hudson, Elijah Canion, Caylin Newton and running back Shaun Shivers, the Tigers lost 417 pass snaps from pass catchers. Fifty-five of Moore’s 92 LSU snaps last season were assists. It’s a significant net loss to receiver, arguably Auburn’s most fragile positional group. (Also subtract Demetris Robertson, who left for the NFL.)
What does that mean? The Tigers badly need more production from their comebacks, starting with Shedrick Jackson. Worsham and Moore add options, but they are not plug-and-play starters.
Calzada had 375 assists last season after returning to a starting job at the SEC. Nix played 369 passing snaps before a season-ending injury, but his experience dates back two years.
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And the special teams?
A side effect of Auburn’s exodus of mostly deep guys? They were all frequent special teams contributors. Auburn lost 740 special teams snaps to the gate and recovered 248.
Harsin values players who contribute to special teams, not just their side of the ball. Asante is the best option for special teams mileage: The UNC linebacker played 132 snaps, mostly in kick and punt coverage last season. Moore was often on the field for LSU punt returns, but no other Auburn inbound transfer has played more than 55 special teams snaps.