For the first time since 2015, Auburn is going into a football season without Carlton Davis at cornerback. It’s a significant absence — the Miami native was capable of locking down an opponent’s top wide receiver, so much so that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made him a second-round NFL Draft pick after his junior season.
The Tigers return their primary starter opposite Davis, but their other top corner last season, Javaris Davis, is expected to take over as the team’s nickelback after Jeremiah Dinson moved to safety. That means there’s a good chance Auburn will start either a converted wide receiver or true freshman at cornerback Sept. 1 against Washington, which makes it a position of intrigue this fall.
Here’s a look at what we know and don’t know about the Tigers at cornerback:
Jamel Dean (Jr.), Javaris Davis (Jr.), John Broussard Jr. (Jr.), Noah Igbinoghene (So.), Traivon Leonard (So.), Jayvaughn Myers (R-Fr.), Malcolm Askew (R-Fr.), Christian Tutt (Fr.), Roger McCreary (Fr.)
WHAT WE KNOW
What we know is that Dean is set to assume the mantle of being Auburn’s No. 1 cornerback. He was a consummate No. 2 to Carlton Davis last season, starting the final 11 games of the season and finishing the year with 43 tackles, 2 ½ tackles for loss and eight passes defended.
It was quite the debut campaign for Dean, who played for the first time in his collegiate career last year despite graduating from Cocoa (Fla.) High School following the 2014 season. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound former four-star recruit redshirted in 2015 after transferring from Ohio State and missed the entire 2016 season after suffering a knee injury during fall camp.
Dean earned a spot on the Pro Football Focus All-SEC First-Team defense (with a player grade of 87.2) over his more highly touted teammate, and is in line to have an even bigger role on the back end of Auburn’s defense in his second year as a starter.
“I feel like we've got something we can build upon from last season,” he said.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
What we don’t know is how ready Igbinoghene and Tutt are for potential featured roles. Igbinoghene is a wide receiver by trade and didn’t move over to cornerback for the first time in his career, high school or college, until this spring. Tutt is much more familiar with the position, but he is also a true freshman heading into his debut season.
But when the spring came to an end, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele told reporters in Mobile that, with Javaris Davis likely to take over for Dinson at nickel, Igbinoghene was in the lead to start opposite Dean at corner. Tutt, a four-star 2018 signee out of Thompson, Ga., appeared to be right in line behind him.
Being in that position is an impressive feat for both players. At this time last year, Igbinoghene had never played defense, let alone started a game at cornerback. Auburn tried the four-star Hewitt-Trussville wide receiver and track star at corner this spring because it wanted to find a way to get him on the field more and had a crowded group of pass-catchers. The fact that he stayed on defense even after the injuries to Eli Stove and Will Hastings shows just how well and how quickly he took to the position.
“The thing that’s giving him an advantage is he’s got the skillset; that’s pretty obvious. But he has the toughness,” Steele said. “That’s something that sometimes you’re unsure about when you move a guy over. I don’t mean to say offense is different than defense, but tackling is different, and he’s been really good at that.”
THEY SAID IT
“It takes two corners, and if I’m playing and Carlton is playing the other, there’s a major issue. If you have one good player on one side and a really good player on the other, one may get more attention but, hey, who knows, that might be because they don’t want to throw at him.” — Kevin Steele
Javaris Davis certainly isn’t new to nickel, but him playing there primarily does create a lot more options in an already-flexible secondary. A look at what we know and don’t know about that position on Auburn’s defense.