AUBURN — Broderick Jones has been the big name atop Auburn’s recruiting board since the early signing period came and went in mid-December.
The five-star offensive tackle out of Lithonia, Georgia, has been committed to the in-state Bulldogs since April 2018, but he didn’t sign early. His would-be position coach in Athens, Sam Pittman, left to become the head coach at Arkansas. Jones had a good relationship with Auburn assistant Larry Porter. He had an official visit scheduled. He went as far as to say that it was a “50-50” battle between the Deep South’s Oldest Rivals.
But Jones never made it to campus this past weekend, the final one before Wednesday’s National Signing Day. He visited Athens the weekend before and, after leaving campus, tweeted that he was still committed. Georgia assistants Matt Luke and Dell McGee reportedly visited Jones again on Friday, and by the time their meeting was over, Jones had decided not to make the trip to Auburn.
Nothing is final in recruiting until pen hits paper, but the Tigers not getting Jones to campus probably doesn’t bode well for their chances of landing him. It would be a heck of a flip if they could somehow still pull it off — Jones, the No. 2 tackle and No. 11 overall player in the class of 2020, would be the highest-rated offensive line signee in program history.
Even without him, though, Auburn has put together a very strong 2020 class. It is potentially the most complete one of coach Gus Malzahn’s eight-year tenure.
As of Sunday, the 25-man class ranks seventh nationally, according to 247Sports. That would be the program’s best mark since it ranked sixth in 2014. The average player rating of .9103 sits just barely behind last year’s mark of .9116, which is the program’s best under Malzahn.
Twenty-two of those players signed on Dec. 18. Four-star defensive tackle Jay Hardy did, too, though Auburn didn’t announce it until Jan. 18 — the Chattanooga, Tennessee, native reportedly wanted to keep it quiet so he could take part in a ceremony with friends and teammates on Wednesday.
Ten players are already enrolled — quarterback Chayil Garnett; running back Tank Bigsby; wide receiver Kobe Hudson; offensive linemen Avery Jernigan, Tate Johnson and Kilian Zierer; defensive linemen Romello Height and Zykeivous Walker; and defensive backs Ladarius Tennison and Chris Thompson Jr. were introduced during Saturday's Kentucky game..
Two more players are set to sign Wednesday — four-star Independence Community College defensive end Deandre Butler, who committed Jan. 26 as the No. 4-ranked JUCO prospect in the class; and four-star McKinney, Texas, tight end Brandon Frazier, who committed Thursday as the ninth-ranked player at his position.
Those additions would bring Auburn to the 25-man limit in the 2020 class, but some could be back-counted to previous classes. It appears the team would still be one player shy of reaching the 85-man limit on the roster. Three-star Iowa Central Community College defensive tackle Marquis Burks and three-star Butler Community College cornerback Alfahiym Walcott appear to be the top two targets not named Jones — both visited campus last month.
Either one would put the finishing touch on a class that has every position covered. In fact, the Tigers could put together a full lineup on both offense and defense made up of just newcomers.
Garnett, a three-star dual-threat prospect who will compete immediately with Cord Sandberg to back up sophomore starter Bo Nix. Bigsby is the third-highest rated running back signee in program history behind only Michael Dyer, coach Cadillac Williams and Roc Thomas.
Hudson, Ze’Vian Capers, J.J. Evans and Elijah Canion are four wide receivers Malzahn believes will make Auburn “taller and bigger and longer” at that position. The 6-foot-7 Frazier and 6-foot-2, 298-pound JJ Pegues are two athletic tight ends who have the potential to be weapons in the passing game, especially given that first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris features that position more in the passing game.
Auburn also signed five offensive linemen — Zierer and Brenden Coffey, who are the first- and third-ranked JUCO tackles in the class; guards Johnson and Jeremiah Wright; and center Jernigan — who will create depth at a thin position.
On defense, the Tigers added five linemen — Height, who is a buck; Walker and Daniel Foster-Allen, who are defensive ends; and Butler and Hardy, who are tackles — to help the defense transition to life without standouts Derrick Brown, Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson, and could add another in Burks. They added three four-star linebackers Cam Riley, Wesley Steiner and Desmond Tisdol at a position that returns its top four players from last season.
Thompson, Ladarius Tennison, Marco Domio and Eric Reed give Auburn two safeties and two cornerbacks, respectively. Domio, who comes to the Plains from Blinn Junior College in Texas, could challenge immediately for the starting job opposite rising junior Roger McCreary now that Javaris Davis and Noah Igbinoghene have moved on.
“I think it says a lot about, you know, where we’re getting as a program. I think that is a good thing moving forward,” Malzahn said in December. “We’ll see at the end of the day how everything works out with that, but we identified the guys we want. We were able to get the majority of them, and I think that’s always important.”
Auburn might not get Jones, but it is in position to add at least two more pieces to an already strong class.