Editor's Note: These lists feature our thoughts on the most players for Auburn heading into the 2016 football season. We are counting down 16 key Tigers for the offense and 16 more for the defense as Coach Gus Malzahn's team prepares to face Clemson in the season opener.
Auburn, Ala.--When you look at the 2015 Auburn football Tigers one thing that obviously comes to mind is the struggles on offense, but just as apparent was the need for another pass rusher other than Carl Lawson to step up for Coach Rodney Garner on the defensive line.
A player who looks like he should be able to help in that role this season is junior college transfer Paul James.
Starting his career at Illinois in the Big 10, the Miami native redshirted his first season and played in just four games in 2014 before deciding to transfer to Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College to get more playing time and find a new home. Copiah-Lincoln is where he was finally able to showcase his skills, finishing fifth in the country with 14 sacks and adding 22 tackles for losses.
That set him up for another chance to be a recruit and Auburn was a place that felt like home for him. With former high school teammate Carlton Davis and several more friends already on campus, James enrolled in January and went through spring practice after missing the first five days because of surgery to repair a minor stress fracture.
Now healthy and ready to go at a bigger and stronger 6-4, 265 pounds, James has the skills and experience to be a real threat for the Tigers off the edge as a pass rusher playing with freshman Marlon Davidson on the opposite side of Lawson. With his athleticism he could also work as a stand-up player at times, giving the Tigers some versatility up front.
Best Case Scenario: James is able to deliver what he showed last season in junior college and gives Auburn another true pass rushing threat at end. If teams are forced to play the Tigers straight up instead of double-teaming Carl Lawson it could be a huge year for Auburn’s defense.
Worst Case Scenario: The question mark is how quickly can James adjust to life in the SEC. Time and time again junior college players come in and it takes them a full year to figure out how to be successful on this level. For the Tigers they need James to come in ready to go and with his experience in the Big 10 to draw from that should have him better prepared for what he’ll face.
Paul James enrolled at Auburn in January.
Career Comparison: Denico Autry is a junior college defensive end who signed with Mississippi State out of juco and started 23 games for the Bulldogs in two seasons. A solid player, Autry finished his two seasons with just six sacks, but had more than 70 tackles and showed a physical presence off the edge for the Bulldogs.
James At His Best: That’s what Co-Lin opponents saw all of last season. A physical player with the speed to create problems for offensive tackles, James had eight tackles, three sacks and five tackles for losses against Jones County last year.
Quote: “He's competing,” Carl Lawson said of James. “He's had a pretty big transition coming off an injury. My transition wasn't easy. He looks good.”