As football season approaches, teams are hard at work improving on skills and deciding which players will be the starters in week one. The Auburn Tigers lost many big pieces from last year’s SEC West champions to the NFL and graduation, but those departures allow for new players to earn playing time and experience. Between 2018 commits that are new to campus and more experienced players that are ready to take the next step on the field, there are several Auburn players that can contribute in big ways this year that have not in the past.
We will discuss three of these players that, in particular, have the opportunity to step up for the team and increase their production in 2018. In the spirit of covering the entire team, one player each from the projected 2018 offense, defense, and special teams will be looked at.
Last year, Auburn’s rushing attack was as strong as it has been in the last 10 seasons, led by second-round NFL Draft pick Kerryon Johnson. Along with Johnson, Kamryn Pettway added to the attack before he was injured against Arkansas and struggled the rest of the season. Both players are now at NFL training camps, but Auburn has no time to focus on the past. Junior RB Kam Martin is the presumed starter for the upcoming season after taking over as the backup after Pettway was injured. Martin rushed for 453 yards last season, and he showed the potential to break runs open as his longest rush was 61 yards. With the addition of 4-star RB Asa Martin, Kam Martin will have the ability to prove himself as the first option and be complemented by other strong backs to slow down opposing defenses.
Auburn’s defense was very strong last year, being a major factor in holding two number one teams to a total of 31 points. This season, it is expected to be even stronger, possibly the top defense in the conference. With so many good players already proving valuable to this defense, there are only a few new additions to the squad. One newcomer to the defense is Michael Harris, a 4-star linebacker from the Tigers’ 2018 recruiting class. Harris is a very dynamic player who could end up playing LB or Safety for Auburn, but he is a prominent recruit who is expected to be the linebacker of the future to replace Tre’ Williams. Harris is expected to be an immediate factor in the Auburn defense, yet his role is not quite set in stone. The Tigers have a deep LB corps and could use him in different ways to figure out his best qualities. No matter where he is placed, he should be a strong defender and help Auburn seek another SEC West title.
Auburn has had a very prolific placekicking game for the last four years, and that is due to the strong leg and accuracy of Daniel Carlson. He has moved on to the NFL, having been drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, and will be a quick producer in the NFC North. However, he has left the Auburn kicking game in seemingly great hands. His younger brother, Anders, redshirted last season to save a year of eligibility and learn under arguably Auburn’s best kicker of all time. There are very high expectations for the younger Carlson, and he will have big shoes to fill. Daniel is the SEC all-time leading scorer, and Anders has clearly had a year to learn under the best. If he can provide 80% of the production that his brother did over four years, then the Auburn kicking game will be prolific for the foreseeable future.