Where all 36 Auburn defensive scholarship players stand after spring practices
Here's the second half of our annual player-by-player breakdown of what we learned about the Tigers during spring ball.
DT Jeffrey M’ba (Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
While Auburn’s offense has major questions to answer at quarterback and wide receiver this offseason, it already looks like the pieces are there for the Tigers to have a strong defense in 2023.
Auburn has a mix of established experience — both from players who developed on the Plains and from the transfer portal — and younger playmakers eager to break out at all three levels of its defense.
While the defense has its own share of question marks, mainly when it comes to the pass rush, there’s stability and potential at virtually every spot on the field. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, but it’s not hard to find a brighter outlook for the Tigers on this side of the ball.
In the second half of what is now an annual tradition here at The Auburn Observer, let’s put a cap on the spring and look ahead to the busy summer with a player-by-player breakdown of what we saw and heard during practices.
As usual, players who will arrive later this year are not included. Click the button below for the same breakdown on the offensive side of the ball, which ran in Tuesday’s newsletter.
Consider these post-spring scouting reports for each individual player, listed in alphabetical order by last name. If you were to ask “What’s going on with [Player X] right now?,” here’s our answer.
DT Justin Rogers (Declan Greene/Auburn Athletics)
Wilky Denaud: According to defensive line coach Jeremy Garrett, this spring was mostly for his two true freshmen to get head starts on the college game and be ready to roll in the fall. Denaud, a former 4-star prospect, projects out as a defensive end in this system. There were a number of occasions in practice where Denaud stood out for someone his age — repping as the third end toward the end of spring ball feels pretty noteworthy. Keep him in mind moving forward.
Marcus Harris: Harris enters his third season at Auburn as the clear-cut leader up front. With the departures to the NFL the Tigers had this offseason, Harris tops all Auburn returning defensive linemen in snaps, tackles and quarterback pressures. The Ron Roberts system should put him up front with more big guys this season, which will give him more room to operate as a power rusher. The new staff is very high on him, and it’s easy to see why.
Jayson Jones: After debuting last season as a transfer from Oregon, Jones looks more settled into his role at Auburn. He’s pretty much exclusively working at nose tackle, which should be expected for a guy who is now listed at 6-foot-6 and 339 pounds. Jones had a “good spring,” according to Garrett, and Freeze praised him for his leadership on the defensive side of the ball. After recording just 28 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss in 12 games last season, one could expect Jones to make more of an impact in his second year on the Plains.
Lawrence Johnson: Standing at 6-foot-2 but weighing nearly 300 pounds, Johnson is cross-training at both nose and defensive tackle after making his transfer from Purdue. Johnson looks like he could be a veteran rotational piece down the middle of the defense — he didn’t have huge numbers with the Boilermakers, but he’s played a lot of football. He should be a member of the two-deep depth chart when things get more organized in the fall.
Stephen Johnson: The other half of Auburn’s true freshman duo on the defensive line this spring, Johnson is another massive body who the Tigers will train up to be a future gap-plugger down the middle. The Georgia native was listed at 6-foot-3 and 341 pounds this spring, and a college strength and conditioning program should be huge for his development. Of note: Johnson got on the field and came up with a late run stuff of Sean Jackson in the spring game, which fired up some of the older linemen.
Jeffrey M’ba: If you’re looking for a potential breakout pick on the defensive line, M’ba is the move. After not playing a ton last season, the former No. 1 overall JUCO recruit seems to be heading in the right direction under the new staff. M’ba is exclusively training at defensive end, a move that Garrett made to concentrate the Frenchman’s development. There’s a really good chance that M’ba is one of Auburn’s most-played defensive linemen this fall, and he’s got all the physical tools to create plenty of havoc behind the line of scrimmage.
Mosiah Nasili-Kite: Freeze called MNK “the most improved” defensive lineman from the beginning of spring to the final week, and several of his teammates spoke highly of all the plays he made in practices. The former Maryland Terrapin should provide some additional burst off the edge for the linemen, as he registered nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss over the last three seasons. A regular on the second-team defense during spring ball, MNK feels like a strong bet to be a key member of the two-deep in the fall.
Tobechi Okoli: Entering his third season at Auburn, Okoli is still being talked about as a potential diamond in the rough for the Tigers up front. At 6-foot-5 and 274 pounds while boasting great speed, Okoli was with the third-team defense in the spring game and is among the candidates vying for playing time at end. With so many new faces on the defensive line after the coaching change, it will be interesting to see where Okoli stands as we get closer to the fall.
Justin Rogers: As you might expect from a former high 4-star prospect who has played a ton in the SEC already, Rogers was a major topic of discussion during spring football. The massive 340-pounder is cross-training at both tackle and nose, a move that would theoretically allow the Tigers to play him and Jones at the same time. He stood out to new teammates on both sides of the ball throughout practices, and Freeze said the plan is for Auburn to depend on him in 2023. The Tigers have to replace a ton up front, but Rogers should help that transition in a big way.
Enyce Sledge: The Louisiana native redshirted as a freshman last season after appearing in the Western Kentucky game last November. Sledge, who is currently listed at 6-foot-2 and 304 pounds, repped at nose tackle during spring ball and will be in the mix with other young players like Johnson. Garrett said Sledge has made some real improvement since he first arrived at Auburn, and the Tigers will hope that progression will carry into the fall.
Zykevious Walker: After seeing his playing time decrease under the previous staff, Walker dealt with a knee injury in 2022 and entered the transfer portal in October. After the new staff arrived, Walker pulled out of the portal and decided to come back to Auburn. Now repping a new No. 91 jersey, Walker looks like he could crack the two-deep this season at defensive tackle. He had a pair of tackles in the spring game and just needs to stay healthy in order to make an impact again.
JACK Elijah McAllister (Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)