Daniel Carlson (above) has made 22 field goals heading into Auburn's bowl game.
Auburn, Ala.--Jason Caldwell and Mark Murphy make their selections on who the top performers have been this season in five categories for the Auburn football team as the Tigers prepare to close the season vs. Memphis at the Birmingham Bowl.
Here are their Most Valuable Player picks:
Jason Caldwell’s Offensive MVP--This is a difficult choice because the Tigers struggled for much of the season to build any momentum when they had the football. I thought about a lineman like Braden Smith, but in the end it was tough to pick anyone other than sophomore running back Peyton Barber.
When the Tigers were at their worst, Barber was the guy carrying the load. Rushing for 976 yards and 13 touchdowns, Barber’s big games in the first half of the season are a major reason why Auburn is playing in a bowl game.
Peyton Barber runs the football in Auburn's road victory vs. Kentucky.
Mark Murphy’s Offensive MVP--Not a lot of things went as planned on this side of the line of scrimmage, but an exception to that was the move of sophomore Braden Smith from tackle to guard.
Smith has started 11 games at guard this season and one at tackle when Avery Young was out with an injury. By the second half of the schedule Smith had developed a higher comfort level playing inside and became a physical blocker the Tigers could rely on for running and passing plays.
Braden Smith was an All-SEC Freshman last year and is a second team all-league selection this season.
With exceptional strength and a desire to excel, Smith has a bright future in the coming seasons with the Tigers.
Jason Caldwell’s Defensive MVP--A player who has struggled with his consistency while playing for the Tigers, senior Cassanova McKinzy is finishing his time at Auburn on a high note with a move to a hybrid position, unlocking what could be his ticket to the NFL.
Finishing the regular season with 74 tackles plus a team-high five sacks and 10 tackles for losses, McKinzy has been the most consistent playmaker on defense this year. His 20 quarterback hurries are twice as many as the next player on the roster and account for more than 25 percent of the team’s total.
Cassanova McKinzy has 263 tackles during four seasons with the Tigers, more than any player on the team.
Mark Murphy’s Defensive MVP--Although Rudy Ford finished the regular season with an impressive total of 113 tackles while intercepting two passes, my pick is Cassanova McKinzy. Showing the versatility to move from linebacker to the “buck” position, he gave the Tigers much needed help as a pass rusher.
Going into the bowl game McKinzy has 10 tackles for lost yardage, more than twice as many as Dontavius Russell, who is No. 2 on the team in that category. McKinzy also has five of the Tigers’ 17 quarterback sacks.
McKinzy likely helped his stock with the pro scouts while earning respect from his teammates for contributing in a major way at a new position this season.
Jason Caldwell’s Most Improved Player--For me this is an easy one to pick. Although he has only 24 tackles as a sophomore, Stephen Roberts stepped up his play late in the season to earn a spot in the starting lineup at safety.
His development allowed Rudy Ford to move to the nickel position and strengthened the defense. With a fearless attitude and football smarts, Roberts may be hard to keep off the field the rest of his career.
Stephen Roberts defends a pass in the regular season finale.
Mark Murphy’s Most Improved Player--Stephen Roberts barely played early in the season and didn’t make his first tackle until the fifth game vs. San Jose State. Going into game nine he had just two tackles, but beginning with the Texas A&M?contest his playing time increased and he performed well enough to earn a starting assignment for the next three games at safety.
Making 19 tackles in his three starts and showing a willingness to play physical football, Roberts will have a chance to become an even bigger contributor as a junior, which is no surprise for a player who has the type of athletic ability to be a difference-maker in pass coverage.
Jason Caldwell’s Top Newcomer--This is the easiest call of all the categories because of the way freshman cornerback Carlton Davis played this fall. Finishing the regular season with 45 tackles, three interceptions and eight passes broken up, Davis transformed from youthful talent to one of the best corners to play for the Tigers in the last decade. If he continues to play at that level and improve the future is very bright.
Honorable mention goes to transfer Austin Golson, who broke into the starting lineup after making a move from tackle to center. The redshirt sophomore improved each week and should be a building block for Auburn’s offensive line next season.
Carlton Davis earned Freshman All-SEC honors this season.
Mark Murphy’s Top Newcomer--The Tigers needed immediate help in the secondary from the newcomers. Freshman Carlton Davis and senior Blake Countess were up for the challenge.
Going into the bowl, Davis has started seven consecutive games and looks like he will be a fixture in the lineup for years to come. He has the strength and quickness necessary to handle himself against the type of talented receivers he faces in the SEC. Combine that with a tenacious attitude and a physical style of play, and it is safe to predict that he will be a key player as the Tigers prepare for the 2016 season.
Davis is my 1A pick and graduate student transfer Countess is the 1B selection because of his versatility. A smart player who helped the Tigers at cornerback, nickel and safety, he started every game this season (42 for his college career) and his experience helped a defense short on numbers in the secondary, especially after injuries sidelined Josh Holsey and T.J. Davis.
Blake Countess made the move from Michigan to Auburn for the 2015 season.
Jason Caldwell’s Special Teams MVP--Having one of the best seasons ever for an Auburn kicker by connecting on 22-26 field goals and all 36 extra points, Daniel Carlson has also taken the pressure off the kickoff coverage team with 45 touchbacks on 63 attempts.
Mark Murphy’s Special Teams Most Valuable Player--Daniel Carlson was good last season as a redshirt freshman and has taken his performance to a higher level this year. With one game remaining he is tied with Scott Etheridge for the most field goals by an Auburn kicker in a single season.
Carlson, who was one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award which he could have easily won, has been perfect on extra points and outstanding on kickoffs.
Jason Caldwell’s 2015 Most Valuable Player--It shows how the season has gone that a kicker is the obvious choice. It’s good news for the Tigers that Daniel Carlson is just a redshirt sophomore.
Mark Murphy’s 2015 Most Valuable Player--On a team that has struggled to score touchdowns, Daniel Carlson’s accuracy on field goals is a big deal. He has also shown a strong leg with a 56-yarder, one of four field goals longer than 50 yards he has made this season. His accuracy has been good, too, with just four misses.
Carlson put together a streak of 16 consecutive field goals without a miss, which set an Auburn record. He also ranks fourth nationally in touchbacks (71.43 percent) and is on pace to set a career record for field goals made.