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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last in a seven-part series breaking down Auburn football’s 2021 roster.

No unit on Auburn’s roster was impacted more by the transfer portal than the secondary.

And almost entirely in a good way.

The Tigers did lose one 2021 signee (Kamal Hadden) to transfer on top of the three contributors — Jamien Sherwood, Jordyn Peters and Christian Tutt — who entered the NFL Draft, but thanks to some key offseason additions, they will enter the 2021 season significantly deeper than they were when the 2020 campaign ended. That gives defensive coordinator Derek Mason options.

Here’s what we know and don’t know about Auburn at defensive back:

The lineup

Cornerbacks: Malcolm Askew (Sr.), Roger McCreary (Sr.), Dreshun Miller (Sr.), Nehemiah Pritchett (Jr.), Eric Reed Jr. (So.), Jaylin Simpson (So.), Roterius Torrence (So.), A.D. Diamond (Fr.)

Safeties: Bydarrius Knighten (Sr.), Smoke Monday (Sr.), Trey Elston (Sr.), Zion Puckett (So.), Ladarius Tennison (So.), Donovan Kaufman (R-Fr.), Cayden Bridges (Fr.), Juwon Gaston (Fr.), Ahmari Harvey (Fr.)

What we know

What we know is that Auburn is absolutely loaded at cornerback. So loaded that a player who started 10 games last season (Pritchett) spent the spring playing nickel and that the reigning junior college defender of the year (Torrence) might end up being fifth on the depth chart.

The position was already in good hands with McCreary, Pritchett and Simpson, especially if the latter can stay healthy this season after being slowed by a hamstring problem last year. McCreary is the fifth-highest graded returning corner in the SEC this season, per Pro Football Focus. Pritchett broke up 10 passes and allowed just 2.9 yards per target last season, per CFB Film Room.

And then Auburn added Miller, who was the top cover cornerback on a West Virginia squad that led the FBS allowing just 159.6 passing yards per game last season. The 6-foot-1 native of Kennesaw, Ga., totaled 31 tackles, eight pass breakups and an interception.

“Dreshun is a big-time player that was one of the better corners in the country last year,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “He has great instincts and is tremendous in pass coverage. He will give us much-needed experience and depth in our secondary.”

What we don’t know

What we don’t know is exactly how Auburn will sort out playing time at the safety spot next to Monday and at nickel. Which is not because of a lack of depth, but rather a surplus of options.

That wasn’t the case when spring began. With Puckett sidelined with an injury, the Tigers slid Pritchett from corner to nickel and Tennison from nickel to safety. Elston, a walk-on, received a lot of reps. Depth deteriorated even further when sophomore Chris Thompson Jr. transferred to USC.

But the additions of Kaufman and Knighten via the transfer portal changed that. Kaufman was a true freshman starter for Mason at Vanderbilt last season. Knighten is a veteran who has experience playing both safety and nickel.

Mix them in with Pritchett, Tennison and a healthy Puckett, and Auburn has five defensive backs capable of playing multiple positions in the secondary with only two starting roles available for them. It’s a great problem to have.

Breakout candidate

Tennison. Two fill-in starts at nickel late last season started his rise to the forefront, and a spring playing first-team safety next to Monday certainly continued it. Coaches and teammates alike have praised his energy and ability. There may still be some question about which position (nickel or safety) he’ll spend the most time at this season, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him become an impact player at either.

They said it

“He (Mason) has freak athletes back there. And I think he's just doing the best that he can with us. I think y'all will see the results real soon.” — Jaylin Simpson

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