Ranking Auburn’s most valuable players: No. 25

We’re in the heart of the college football offseason, with more than two months since the end of spring ball, still a month until media days, and another month until the start of preseason practices.

So what better time to crank up the rankings?

Auburn Undercover is counting down the top 25 most valuable players for the Tigers’ 2022 season. Bryan Harsin had hoped to complete his roster by the of May or start of June, and with nine transfer additions on board, it appears he may have done so ahead of Year 2. Summer workouts began the first week of June.

A few notes to set the table: These rankings are based on a player’s previous contributions to the team, as well as his assumed impact in 2022 — how important he is expected to be to Auburn’s success in both production and the win-loss column. It is not simply Auburn’s best players in descending order. If a freshman is included on the list, his positioning is obviously a projection of his talent and significance to his respective position group.

First up in our countdown is no. 25: Iowa State transfer safety Craig McDonald.

AS A RECRUIT

hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Class: 2020

Ranking nationally: No. 66S, no. 9 players in Minnesota

247 scouting report: “Ideal frame and length for the position. Taller with long arms and fairly filled in going into college. Has played in a variety of spots including cornerback, safety, wide receiver, running back and even some wildcat quarterback and returned punts. Runs track and Plays basketball. Fluid athlete. Shows instincts and ability to break on balls. Has very good ball skills and makes the interception when the play is there to be made. Smart kid (3.3 GPA) who was a team captain. Only some footage of run Support available, but what it shows is a technically sound tackler with the size to get the job done in that department Solid track results, but must continue to get faster and more explosive Likely a free safety in college, but he has the man “To man skills to move down and man up on a slot or tight end. Has the growth potential to possibly outgrow that position also. Should be a good starter with the upside to be more than that.”

247 player comparison: Morgan Burnett

AS A PLAYER

(Iowa State Athletics)

After appearing in only four games as a true freshman, McDonald, with plenty of size for a safety at 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds, settled into a rotational spot in the Cyclones’ secondary.

He contributed in all 13 games last season, and despite only starting three games, he finished tied for the team lead in interceptions with two, plus three pass breakups and 41 tackles, good for the ninth-most on Iowa State’s defense.

In Iowa State spring practice, McDonald had solidified himself as a starting safety but opted to transfer out at the end of April. Auburn picked him up May 14.

2022 OUTLOOK

McDonald made the most of his snaps as a redshirt freshman, finishing No. 7 among Iowa State defenders in terms of overall Pro Football Focus grade for the season; his mark of 71.3 would also have landed him in Auburn’s top 10.

He brings athleticism and linebacker-like size to the back end of the secondary, where there will be competition in preseason camp for the starting safety spot opposite Zion Puckett. In spring ball, true freshman Caleb Wooden was a consistent playmaker, while redshirt freshman Cayden Bridges received first-team reps while Puckett healed from injury.

Auburn’s staff is high on McDonald as perhaps the best suited incoming transfer, besides quarterbacks, to make an immediate impact. assumption Donovan Kaufman is at nickel full time, McDonald is the most experienced safety on the roster besides Puckett.

If Wooden’s ball-hawking skills carry over to preseason camp and continue to be a highlight of the entire defensive unit, he’ll create a role for himself in 2022. But right now, McDonald looks like a safer bet — though there will be plenty of snaps to go around for a handful of contributors in the secondary, seeing as both Smoke Monday other Bydarrius Knightenwho combined for 109 tackles, three picks and nine pass breakups last season, are both in the NFL now.

WHAT THEY SAID

“This is the same game you played since you were kids. It’s just a kid’s game with a man’s attitude. So when you think about it like that, that’s really all it is. Everybody’s here for a reason. So it’s just the same thing you’ve been doing since you were a kid.” — McDonald’s last season

WHAT SAY YOU?

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