The obvious player in this class who should see the field early and make the biggest impact for Auburn in 2017 is quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Though he has yet to win the starting job, some believe he’s the guy who can get the Tigers over the hump and into the College Football Playoff.
But seeing as there will be another story out later this week talking about the importance of Stidham, I wanted to single out another newcomer -- ESPN 300 offensive tackle Calvin Ashley.
Technically, based on ESPN's grades, Ashley is the highest-ranked player in Auburn's class. He might not have the benefit of playing college football like Stidham did at Baylor -- and unlike Stidham, he won’t go through spring practice with the team -- but that shouldn’t stop him from getting on campus in May and competing for playing time as a true freshman.
"I look back at Greg Robinson, and Greg was in a similar situation," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "You think you do the right thing by redshirting, and he was here for two years and was the second pick in the draft. You look at each individual different, but Calvin right now has a very similar skill set and is in a very similar spot as big Greg was."
That doesn’t mean Ashley is going to follow the same path as Robinson and redshirt his first year. If anything, the 6-foot-7, 310-pound Ashley is bigger, stronger and more polished than Robinson was when he first arrived at Auburn.
"I think from a coaching standpoint, you learn through each process," added Malzahn. "My mindset is that [Ashley] is going to come in here and compete. We'll just see what happens. I think [playing early] is what he wants to do. Matter of fact, I know that's what he wants to do. He'll come in, and we'll let him compete, and we'll see that happens."
It certainly doesn’t hurt Ashley’s chances that the right tackle spot will be up for grabs in the fall with the loss of senior Robert Leff.
However, it’s been reported that Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand would prefer to keep Ashley at his natural left tackle position. If that’s the case, then you could see starting left tackle Darius James move to right tackle, clearing the path for Ashley. Or James could move inside to guard where he played some when he was at Texas before transferring to Auburn.
It’s also possible that James sticks at left tackle and Ashley serves as his back-up for one season before taking over in 2018. Either way, Ashley has the potential to anchor this offensive line for years to come.