Film Room: Jalen McLeod is a fascinating new addition to Auburn's defense
With a small frame and big performances against talented opponents, the App State transfer is a unique fit at a position of need.
While Auburn’s quarterback situation has dominated the headlines this offseason, the state of the edge rusher position has been a much tougher one.
Hugh Freeze hasn’t exactly hidden Auburn’s willingness to add a quarterback transfer this offseason, and the Tigers hosted Casey Thompson on a visit this weekend — shortly before T.J. Finley made the expected announcement to leave the program. And Thompson isn’t the only two-year former Big Ten starter in the portal.
But edge rusher? The new Jack position in Ron Roberts’ defensive scheme? Freeze was very blunt about that in the spring.
“We need to recruit more,” Freeze said. “We're not where we need to be in rushing the passer. We certainly will improve our guys, but we've got to get better at that spot, for sure. … We're deficient in true pass rushers, currently.”
Auburn is completely turning over its pass rushers this offseason. The Tigers lost stars Derick Hall and Eku Leota to the NFL, along with the graduating Marcus Bragg. Joko Willis entered the portal shortly after the coaching change, and former top 2021 recruit Dylan Brooks joined in the final weekend of the spring window.
The new faces in for spring ball were Vanderbilt transfer Elijah McAllister, who was a much-needed piece yet hasn’t had a ton of pure statistical production in his college career. Keldric Faulk arrived as the highly touted top signee of the 2023 class, and local product Brenton Williams enrolled early as well.
Auburn lost 63 career tackles for loss and 41 sacks from its edge-rushing position this offseason. Now it has 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, all from McAllister. The need for new talent from the portal was massive.
And, during a busy weekend in which a large number of transfers visited the Plains, Auburn finally got a productive pass-rusher in Jalen McLeod from Appalachian State — who committed and signed Tuesday afternoon.
A D.C. native, McLeod signed with Appalachian State in the Class of 2020. Listed as an inside linebacker on 247Sports, McLeod had an offer from just one other FBS program (UMass). But App State — one of the best Group of Five programs in the country since its promotion from the FCS ranks — saw something in the low 3-star.
Even though McLeod is undersized for an edge rusher at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, App State immediately put him up front. He played in five games as a true freshman in 2020, then moved up to the Mountaineers’ No. 3 edge rusher in 2021.
In 2022, he formed a fearsome tandem with veteran Nick Hampton, who was taken in the fifth round by the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL Draft this past weekend.
McLeod finished the 2022 season with 8.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, which would be a welcome addition to any defense.
But what’s even more impressive is how efficient McLeod was with his opportunities —because he wasn’t playing every single down. He’s an edge rusher that makes the most of his chances, and he did that almost as well as anybody else in the country last season.