Auburn, Ala.--Every football season there are normally players who step up to make a big impact for the Auburn Tigers. Whether it was Travis Williams moving to the forefront of the defense in 2003 or Rod Smith going from walk-on to Auburn’s leading receiver in two years, the history of guys taking their games to the next level is a long one.
With that in mind we look at eight players who could become well known names this fall on the Plains for Coach Gus Malzahn’s Tigers.
A linebacker who was buried on the depth chart under former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, DeShaun Davis got a new life when Travis Williams was hired to coach linebackers at Auburn. Not the biggest or the fastest linebacker on the roster, Davis is a player who will hit you and when he gets his hands on you he doesn’t miss. With good instincts and a nose for the football, he is a guy who should fit well behind Tre Williams in the middle for the Tigers.
DeShaun Davis loves to play football.
If there is a player with more upside on the entire roster than Devaroe Lawrence you couldn’t convince his teammates of that. A powerful defensive tackle with the quickness to be a terror up front, Lawrence is now over 300 pounds and with two years of SEC experience under his belt he’s primed for a breakthrough performance. If he can put it all together Lawrence would definitely be a player NFL teams take a real close look at in next year’s draft.
A player who showed his value as a true freshman both running the football and catching it out of the backfield, sophomore Kerryon Johnson is poised for a big season with the Tigers. Now up to 211 pounds, he now looks like a physical running back prospect, but still has the feet and athleticism to make people miss in the open field. With Jovon Robinson dismissed from the team, Johnson steps into the role of an every-down back for the Auburn offense and based on his history of producing the Tigers should be in good shape.
Kerryon Johnson goes for six against Kentucky.
Since he got an offer from Auburn after a dominating performance late in his senior season at Fairhope, Robert Leff has worked for the moment when he got his shot to be a starter. Filling in admirably last season when Shon Coleman was injured, Leff showed that he could more his assignments on the offensive line. Projected to start at right tackle, Leff will give everything he’s got to help the Tigers win.
Leff was also the number one option last season at tight end when the Tigers needed a strong blocker at that position.
Robert Leff has gained 20 pounds since arriving at Auburn.
A running back in high school at Prattville, Kamryn Pettway didn’t move to fullback until late in his freshman season while redshirting at Auburn. Even though his body looks more like a blocker, Pettway still has the skills to tote the rock and he will get a chance to do that this season in a bigger way with the dismissal of Robinson.
That was going to be the case anyway after the way he played in the spring, but now you can expect the sophomore to be a focal point in the running game along with Kerryon Johnson.
Kamryn Pettway is an imposing figure in the backfield.
Still adjusting to his role as a full-time wide receiver last season, Jason Smith made several big plays late in the year and has carried that over into preseason practice. With Auburn's need for explosive plays a must in this offense, Smith is a player who should get plenty of opportunities to do just that this season. Now bigger and stronger, Smith's ball skills are perhaps the best on the team and combine that with the ability to make people miss in the open field and he should be the perfect fit for what Auburn wants to do on offense.
Maybe the most physically gifted receiver on the roster in terms of size and speed among the veterans, Tony Stevens has every opportunity to be one of Auburn’s big-play threats this year. Since the end of last season he’s worked extremely hard to take his game to another level and this year he finally has the chance to shine as a senior.
Tony Stevens is shown putting in work while wearing special goggles that act as blinders similar to what are used on horses during a race. They are designed to make the player focus on just the football and nothing else.
Although he’s just a true sophomore, Darrell Williams is a linebacker who has the tools to be a big time performer on defense for years to come. Even though graduate student T.J. Neal transferring in will likely limit his snaps even if Williams is the starter, he’s a playmaker who should make Auburn’s defense better the minute he steps on the field. Coming out of a system at Hoover High that had him prepared to play at the college level, Williams' versatility makes him a player capable of playing in the box or in coverage.