Jeremy Johnson Named Auburn Starting QB, Has Skill Set to Be Heisman Contender

Monday, April 20, 2015

Jeremy Johnson Named Auburn Starting QB, Has Skill Set to Be Heisman Contender

Everything about Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson screams "Cam Newton 2.0."

Johnson chimes in at 6'5", 230 pounds, has the same size and arm strength of the former Auburn signal-caller who led the Tigers to the 2010 national title and has the same kind of tough running ability between the tackles. 

Even their separate paths to become Auburn's starting quarterback are similar.

Newton held off a "heated" spring competition in 2010 that included Barrett Trotter, Neil Caudle and Clint Moseley to earn the starting job a week after spring practice. In 2015, it took head coach Gus Malzahn—who was Newton's offensive coordinator on the Plains—only two days to hand Johnson the job over Sean White and Tyler Queen.

Can he follow in Newton's footsteps and take home the Heisman Trophy?

Yep, and here's why:


Passing Prowess

Unlike former quarterback Nick Marshall, Johnson will take the job on a full-time basis with the passing prowess of a seasoned veteran.

The world got a taste of Johnson during the season opener last season, when he lit up Arkansas' defense for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the first half in place of the suspended Marshall. It was more of the same during Auburn's spring game on Saturday, when he completed 14 of 22 for 252 passes and two touchdowns.

During that game, he showed off his accuracy deep on several tough passes, including a touchdown to star wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams and a fullback wheel route to Chandler Cox. He looked in command of the offense, comfortable with the timing routes (which was Marshall's biggest problem) and capable of putting up the 3,000 passing yards he set as a goal during the middle of spring practice while on the SEC Network.

"I'm very excited about this year, and I'm pretty sure the rest of the guys are, too," Johnson said after Saturday's A-Day Game, according to Charles Goldberg of "We're just coming on as a team and building team chemistry on and off the field."

Will that increased focus on the aerial attack change Auburn's offense?

Absolutely, but with veteran receivers such as Williams, Louis, Melvin Ray, Marcus Davis and fresh faces including spring star Myron Burton, there are plenty of options for Johnson—all of whom look capable of exploiting mismatches.

If he tops the 3,000-yard mark in Malzahn's run-based, power attack out of the spread, it will keep Auburn in the thick of the SEC West title race and sit well with Heisman voters who are seemingly always blinded by shiny passing statistics.



Speaking of Heisman voters being impressed with video game numbers, Auburn's system under Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is ready-made to send Johnson past that 3,000-yard passing mark and enter into uncharted passing waters in Auburn.

Malzahn was the first FBS coordinator in history to produce a 5,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season when he did it at Tulsa in 2007. 

Is that harder to do at Auburn? Of course. Players and coaches are better, and Malzahn certainly won't sneak up on other coaches now like he did in 2007—which was just his second season in the college ranks. 

But the system works regardless, and now that Johnson is officially the starter—which was the worst-kept secret in the SEC—he has an entire summer to continue developing that relationship with his receivers and the staff, which will only help him progress from the potential star we've seen in spot duty during his career.

Auburn isn't the most quarterback-friendly system in the country. It's close, though, despite the fact that Malzahn didn't show it over the last two seasons with Marshall at the helm.

When you combine the veteran skill players returning with Johnson's familiarity with the high-octane scheme that's in place, you have the recipe for Heisman success.



Newton was the kind of quarterback—similar to former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow—that made 3rd-and-short the football equivalent of a gimme in golf.

Johnson can replicate that in 2015. 

He set the goal of 1,000 rushing yards in that interview with SEC Network, and while that may be lofty, doing the dirty work inside is more than enough to keep Heisman voters happy and keep Auburn in the national picture.

He has the frame to take the punishment and, in the limited time we've seen him on the ground, always seems to fall forward—just like Newton.

He's more than just a bruiser, though. As you can see in the video above from his senior season at Carver High School in Montgomery, Alabama, Johnson (No. 6 in white) has breakaway speed and is much more elusive in space than you'd expect from a big guy.

That doesn't mean he's going to be a home run hitter, but he's capable of doing that at times, which will undoubtedly play well on his potential Heisman highlight reel.

Johnson allows Malzahn to replicate the same type of offensive scheme that won Newton the Heisman Trophy and Auburn the national title in 2010 more so than any other quarterback Malzahn has had since then.

If all goes according to plan, the script will lead Johnson to New York City in early December as a Heisman finalist.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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