For the past several seasons the strength of Auburn has been its defense and despite a new coaching staff and scheme that should still be the case in 2021.
New defensive coordinator Derek Mason will have a talented group that is also returning a ton of production. The Tigers will have five of their top seven tacklers from a season ago have returned and the top six in tackles for loss and four in sacks are also back.
While Mason will have limited time with the players and the defense will look quite different, the level of production should not take a step back from the Kevin Steele defenses that were a staple of Auburn over the past several years.
Here is a look at the top five players on the defensive side of the ball ahead of the 2021 season.
1. Roger McCreary, CB
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McCreary proved last year that he can be a team’s top corner and now he just needs to solidify himself as an early round draft pick, continuing the trend of Auburn producing NFL cornerbacks at a high rate. He impressed the new staff in spring practice and will have a chance to be one of the top corners in the SEC in 2021.
2. Zakoby McClain, LB
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McClain led the SEC with 113 tackles last year and is primed for another big year in Mason’s defense, which relies on the linebackers to do a little bit of everything. McClain and his fellow inside linebacker Owen Pappoe both have the skillset to thrive in that role. While McClain shines against the run, his most notable play is his 100-yard pick-six in Auburn’s 2019 Iron Bowl win over Alabama.
3. Owen Pappoe, LB
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Pappoe is nothing short of an athletic freak and there are few players who fit better in a Mason defense. He has the speed to stick with anyone in coverage but can still stuff a running back at the line of scrimmage. It will be his third year as a starter and while he did well under Steele, the sky’s the limit for the versatile Pappoe in the Tigers’ new defense.
4. Colby Wooden, DE
Another player who appears perfectly suited for the Tigers new defense is Colby Wooden. He started all but one game for Auburn and led the team with 9.5 tackles for loss last season. He will still be used all across the defensive front but is expected to play end on early downs and move inside on third down.
5. Smoke Monday, S
Monday is entering his second year as Auburn’s starting safety and is looking to emerge as an NFL draft prospect with a strong 2021 season. Expect a significant step forward from him as Mason will coordinate the defense and coach safeties. With the Tigers having to break in a new starter opposite Monday, he will also have more responsibilities as a leader.