Auburn's instant-impact recruits: Defense

AUBURN, Ala. -- On Monday, we gave you a look at the instant-impact recruits on offense, but if Auburn wants to return to the BCS title game, it starts with improving a defense that lost five starters, including defensive end Dee Ford and cornerback Chris Davis.

That’s the primary reason why 13 of the Tigers’ 23 signees project to the defensive side of the ball, and there will be plenty of opportunity for the newcomers to come in and play early.

LB Tre' Williams

Mobile, Ala./St. Paul’s Episcopal School

Synopsis: With Cassanova McKinzy coming back and Kris Frost in line to start next season, it looks as though the two linebacker spots are filled on paper. However, Williams might very well be the most talented linebacker on the roster, and he’s not even on campus yet. The in-state product, ranked No. 69 nationally, will be given every opportunity to win a starting job or at the very least, split time with Frost at the inside linebacker position. He finished with 119 tackles as a senior at St. Paul’s Episcopal, and AU defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson hopes he can make a tackle or two for the Tigers next season. Williams knows he won’t be handed anything when he arrives in May, but expect him to work hard and earn his chance.

Gus Malzahn’s take: “He’s really one of the keys to this class. We really felt like he was the top linebacker in the class. He’s a guy [who] has been with us, committed to us, had opportunities to go anywhere he wanted, and he chose to stay loyal. He was really a big key to this signing class. He’s just a great person. He’s got great potential, and he’ll make an immediate impact.”

CB Nicholas Ruffin

Atlanta/St. Pius X

Synopsis: Auburn was so thin at cornerback last season, it moved Johnathan Ford from running back to cornerback prior to the 2013 season opener. The staff addressed the need on the recruiting trail, and if they hope to move Ford back to his natural position, they need a 2014 recruit or two to step up in the secondary. Kalvaraz Bessent might be the most talented of the bunch, but his recent arrest leaves questions as to what his future holds. Next up is Ruffin, a fellow Peach State prospect who committed to the Tigers early in the process. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, he has the size to come in and play on the outside right away if needed, but he’s also the type of player who will make the most of whatever role he’s given.

Malzahn’s take: “One of the top corners on our board early on. Coach [Melvin] Smith and Coach Dameyune Craig did a great job recruiting him. He is long. He is athletic. He’s got very good ball skills and high character. We’re very excited about Nick.”

LB Derrick Moncrief

Prattville, Ala./Miss. Gulf Coast CC

Synopsis: The prospect who got all the attention from Mississippi Gulf Coast was wide receiver D'haquille Williams, the No. 1 junior college player in the country, but Moncrief could make a similar impact in his first year at Auburn. For those who think the Tigers signed Moncrief as a way to lure Williams, think again -- the Alabama native is very talented in his own right. Although he’s ranked as the No. 1 outside linebacker in the ESPN JC 50, Malzahn and the other coaches like him more as a safety. His size (6-3, 226) makes him a perfect fit for Auburn’s Star position, but that would mean a possible change of position for Robenson Therezie, the team’s leader in interceptions. Either way, it’s worth keeping an eye on Moncrief this spring.

Malzahn’s take: “We needed some safety help. He’s a big, rangy guy. Very good ball skills, very good tackler. We think he can be an impact player.”