In college football, the junior year of an athlete’s career can be the most important – it’s the year they become eligible for the NFL draft. However, only the best of the best typically leave after this point. More often than not, third year players are guys looking to take the leap from rotational backup to every week starter. For some, the pressures of the SEC are just too much – they crack. For others, their emergence can take the team to the next level. Here are three juniors for Auburn who can make the biggest impact in 2020.
1. Seth Williams – Wide Receiver:
Two years ago Williams was an All-SEC Freshman, leading the conference with a 20.5 yards per reception average. In 2019, he followed that up with a steller second season, earning All-SEC Third Team honors. He began the year with a game-winning 26-yard touchdown grab against Oregon, and finished with 59 receptions for 830 yards and eight scores. The 6-foot-3, 211-pound pass catcher can do it all. He will be looking to build on his numbers from last year and become the first wideout in the program to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving since Ronney Daniels in 1999. However, this may prove difficult with the SEC moving to a 10-game conference-only schedule. Regardless of what the season looks like, Williams is a bonafide star who could catch a baby falling out of a burning building with a blindfold on.
2. Roger McCreary – Defensive Back:
Of the guys on this list, McCreary’s emergence is the one that is most needed. Auburn lost two starting defensive backs in the draft and McCreary is next man up. The 6-foot, 188-pound defensive back was primarily used as a backup last year but has appeared in 21 games over his first two seasons. In 2019, he finished first on the team in solo tackles with 30, and first in pass breakups with 11. McCreary has already proven that, when called upon, he can step up. In the first start of his career last season against LSU, McCreary registered a career-best 10 tackles and caught his only interception of the season off of eventual Heisman winner and No.1 overall draft pick, Joe Burrow.
3. Nick Brahms – Center:
Last season, Brahms became the starter at center in week 10 against Ole Miss, replacing the now graduated Kaleb Kim. He is the only offensive lineman who returns in 2020 who started in 2019. This gives him a leg up on any of the guys trying to take his spot and thrust him into a leadership position. Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranked Auburn’s offensive line as the No. 28 best unit in the country last year. The Tigers did a good job in pass protection, only allowing 48 quarterback hurries all season, but they struggled mightily with the run. Auburn last reached the SEC Championship game in 2017, and 2013 before that. Those teams averaged 223 and 321 yards rushing per game, respectively. The Tigers averaged only 191.6 in 2019. Brahms can be the leading man who helps return Auburn to a dominant run-first offense.
1. Anthony Schwartz – Wide Receiver: Schwartz is nicknamed “The Flash.” Not because of his passion for photography, but because of his supernatural-like pace, the likes of which he so flamboyantly showed off against Texas A&M last year. Schwartz’s touchdown production regressed from seven in 2018 to just three in 2019. This was partially due to him being banged up all season. Tiger fans will be hoping for more big plays and Gus Malzahn will be looking for the track star to “put it all together” in 2020.
2. Christian Tutt, Smoke Monday and Jamien Sherwood – Secondary: Sherwood and Monday were both reserve safeties in 2019 who are slated to start for the Tigers in 2020. Both showed their ability to make an impact last season with Sherwood finishing eighth on the team in tackles and Monday’s notable pick-six in the Iron Bowl. Tutt does double duty for the Tigers, starting at nickel corner and returning punts at the rate of 13.2 yards per return – good enough for the fifth best average in the nation. All of these guys are seriously talented but ultimately share the load with one another. More pressure is on McCreary to step up and be the No. 1 lockdown corner.
3. A host of offensive linemen: Offensive line is the biggest question for the Tigers heading into 2020. They lost four starters from last year’s group. Brendan Coffey, Tashawn Manning, Brodarious Hamm, Alec Jackson, Austin Troxell, David Shannon, Brandon Council and Kilian Zierer are all junior linemen with a chance to start for Auburn this year. Whoever comes out of the bunch, Malzahn and the Tigers will be looking to improve on a rushing attack that averaged 4.7 yards per carry in 2019 – only good enough for eighth best in the SEC.
4. Anders Carlson – Kicker: Oops, there was a typo – it’s Anders Carl$$$on. Carlson went 4-for-4 on field goals in last year’s Iron Bowl epic. Auburn will hope he can carry that form into 2020 and become one of the best kickers in the nation.