Much like Justin Ferguson does on the Auburn team side, recruiting reporter Benjamin Wolk will answer the Recruiting Question of the Day. You can ask him questions on Twitter or Facebook. Look for our Question of the Day each weekday. Go here to see our previous answers.
Relative to star rating, which Abbie recruit has provided the most value to the program since 2010 https://t.co/oGnRmpB4vY
— Roger Kuznia (@RogerKuznia) February 21, 2018
I’ve taken the liberty of setting the starting point for this question with the Class of 2013. That’s the first class Gus Malzahn signed at Auburn, so it makes sense to start there. I’ve decided to answer this question by looking back at the 2013-17 recruiting classes to find the best-value signees at each position, plus runners-up. This metric is based on how players performed compared to rankings and expectations.
Here are the best-value recruits for Auburn under Malzahn.
Quarterback: Nick Marshall, 3 stars (2013)
Ranking: No. 3 JUCO quarterback, No. 27 overall JUCO
Does this really need any further explanation?
Nick Marshall came from junior college and it wasn’t completely known that he’d have a future at quarterback. He didn’t just have a future as a signal caller; he had a future as an Auburn legend. Marshall led Auburn to back-to-back winning seasons, including the iconic 2013 national-title run.
Marshall finished his Auburn career with 4,508 yards passing, 1,866 yards rushing and 57 total touchdowns. Even Malzahn couldn’t have guess he’d get that level of quarterback production from a junior-college prospect who played defensive back at his previous stop.
Runner up: Malik Willis, 3 stars (2017)
Running back: Cameron Artis-Payne, 3 stars (2013)
Ranking: No. 3 JUCO running back, No. 60 overall JUCO
There were several players who could’ve made this list as the best-value running back, or the runner-up. Peyton Barber was one. Despite being a top-50 player, Kerryon Johnson also was considered based on his high level of production that was a great value despite high expectations coming in.
With that said, the best-value pick went to the lowest-rated running back in Malzahn’s inaugural recruiting class as Auburn coach.
Cameron Artis-Payne was a low-rated junior-college prospect when he signed with the Tigers. He was ranked below Barber in Malzahn’s first class at Auburn. That low profile didn’t stop Artis-Payne from making an immediate and unforgettable impact.
Artis-Payne rushed for 2,218 yards and 19 touchdowns during his time with the Tigers. He has transitioned into a nice NFL player.
Runner up: Kamryn Pettway, 3 stars (2014)
Tight end: Jalen Harris, 3 stars (2015)
Ranking: No. 19 tight end, No. 617 overall
This paints the perfect picture for the “Auburn doesn’t have the tight end personnel it wants” narrative.
Jalen Harris hasn’t been a star at Auburn, though he contributes more — sometimes not on the stat sheet — than people realize. Statistically speaking, Harris has caught only 3 passes in his Auburn career, but that includes 2 touchdowns.
Despite the lack of numerical production, Harris’ role in offensive sets grew substantially in the 2017 season and likely will again in 2018 based on Chip Lindsey’s offensive preferences.
Runner up: John Samuel Shenker, 3 stars (2017)
Wide receiver: Ryan Davis, 4 stars (2015)
Ranking: No. 21 wide receiver, No. 178 overall
The wide receiver position has had a lot of recruiting star power over the last five years. A handful of prospects ranked in the top 200, so the “value” definition here is slightly different than it may be at other positions.
Ryan Davis ranked outside the top 20 among wide receivers in the 2015 class, which included receivers such as Calvin Ridley, Deon Cain and Christian Kirk. Productivity wise, after his standout 2017 season, Davis is getting in the conversation with those prospects even though his eventual NFL stock won’t be as high.
Davis has hauled in 109 catches for 1,009 yards and 6 touchdowns in his Auburn career, and his best work may still be ahead of him in the 2018 season.
Runner up: Noah Igbinoghene, 4 stars (2017)
Offensive line: Mike Horton, 3 stars (2015)
Ranking: No. 70 tackle, No. 634 overall
When a prospect ranks outside the top 600 nationally, it’s never an expectation for them to become a regular contributor at an SEC program.
If it happens, that’s the epitome of high-value recruiting.
Mike Horton came to Auburn as the fifth-highest-ranked offensive lineman in the Tigers’ 2015 class. He has seen more time than Kaleb Kim, Bailey Sharp, Tyler Carr and Marquel Harrell, who were ranked ahead of him. Horton has participated in 25 games the last two seasons, including seven starts during the 2017 campaign.
As the offensive line shakes itself out in 2018, it appears that Horton is one of the few guarantees to crack the starting rotation at guard.
Runner up: Grad transfer Casey Dunn (2017)
Defensive line: Nick Coe, 4 stars (2016)
Ranking: No. 13 strongside defensive end, No. 283 overall
The 2016 defensive line class consisted of Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, Antwuan Jackson Prince Sammons (an end at the time). Who would’ve guess we’d talk about Nick Coe as much as we have? Especially this early?
Coe’s athleticim and versatility made it impossible for coaches to ignore him. After a redshirt season, Coe saw the field plenty as a redshirt freshman in 2017. He compiled 29 tackles, 2 sacks for 14 yards, 4 1/2 tackles for loss, and 1 pass deflection. That pales in comparison to the expectations upcoming for Coe.
There are many in the Auburn program who believe this former sub-250 prospect will be a first-round draft pick after 2018 or 2019, depending when Coe decides to leave.
Runner up: Alec Jackson, 3 stars (2017)
Linebacker: Deshaun Davis, 3 stars (2014)
Ranking: No. 21 inside linebacker, No. 479 overall
This was, without a doubt, the easiest position to pinpoint for this question.
Deshaun Davis came to Auburn as an underrated prospect, thanks to his short frame. It wasn’t the first time his height was called into question, and it wouldn’t be the last. Those are the types of things that turned Davis into a star linebacker.
It took Davis a few years to crack the rotation, but once he did there has been no looking back.
He has played in 39 games the last three season, including starting every game in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Davis has accumulated 150 career tackles, 3 1/2 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 4 pass deflections and 2 fumble recoveries.
I’d say that’s more than enough for a prospect barely inside the top 500 prospects in the country in the Class of 2015. And he’s not done.
Runner up: Montavius Atkinson, 4 stars (2015)
Defensive back: Carlton Davis, 4 stars (2015)
Ranking: No. 32 cornerback, No. 340 overall
The prognosticators believed there were 31 cornerbacks and 339 players “better” than Davis when he was a high school prospect. Now prognosticators see Davis as a potential first-round NFL draft pick.
Davis wasn’t the highest-ranked defensive back in Auburn’s 2015 class. Safety prospect Jordan Colbert earned that distinction by nearly 200 spots. It quickly became clear that those rankings were off.
Davis went on to become one of the Tigers’ best cover corners in recent memory. He started 32 of 38 games in as a three-year contributor for Auburn. Davis totaled 138 tackles, 4 1/2 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 29 pass deflections and 4 interceptions during his career.
Runner up: Jordyn Peters, 3 stars (2017)
To see all the answers to prior Auburn questions, click here.
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