When your team has only signed two offensive linemen in two years, it's safe to say that those linemen carry a lot of hopes on those broad shoulders of theirs. Andre Harris got his Google surveying out of the way back at the tail end of last summer, so it's high time we looked at the other lonely lineman of Auburn's 2009 class, John Sullen.
Basics: Sullen will have the chance to be that most beloved of college sports archetypes, the Hometown Hero, after graduating from Auburn High as an 6A All-State lineman. Auburn's Signing Day rundown lists him at 6-5 and 325 ... which is, obviously, massive, but also a little bit down from the weight of 338 (or more) he was listed at when he first got his Auburn offer and committed. Auburn calls him an "OL," Rivals ranked him as a guard, ESPN and Scout as a tackle, so there's still some uncertainty about which position he'll play--though his size and the agreement between ESPN and Scout would seem to suggest tackle.
If Sullen doesn't make it, it won't be for lack of brains: he made a 28 on the ACT and carried a 3.5 GPA at AHS.
Recruitnik hoo-ha: Suffice it to say that Sullen was not a particular favorite of the gurus, and Harris (despite ESPN's surprising hatred of him) is probably overall the higher rated of the two. To Rivals Sullen is a mid-range three-star and the No. 35 guard, to Scout he's the No. 103 tackle and a two-star, and to ESPN he's the No. 55 tackle and grades out at a low-end three-star 76. They do, however, see some potential in him:
He has great size and could actually improve mobility if he dropped a few pounds. Possesses both strength and quickness for such a large player ... Large wing span helps in pass protection and uses his hands to stop and to control the pass rusher. Should excel at pass pro especially from a two point stance ... He gives great effort and has the tools to be a very special offensive lineman.Sullen doesn't get a ton of help from his offer sheet: Memphis, Southern Miss, Duke, UAB. Without another SEC offer and without any of the three services seeing him as even an above-average three-star, Auburn fans pretty much just have to hope the gurus are flat wrong on Sullen ...
Links of Potential Interest: ... with the exception of Rivals' Barry Every, who named Sullen one of five "Super Sleepers", kids who graded out at 5.6 or less but who Every still thinks have a chance to develop into solid players. He writes of Sullen:
This huge offensive lineman may lack good overall speed, but he makes up for it with sheer determination, toughness and football smarts ... He has the smarts to quickly acclimate to college life and learn the new Auburn offensive playbook, so look for him to work his way into the two-deep chart as a freshman.Every's obviously in the minority here, but, hey, good to hear.
Every mentions that Sullen earned a starting spot in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game; looking at the roster, apparently he only had to beat out a couple of guys for the honor, but it's still a lot better than a) not going to the game b) not beating out those couple of guys.
As a Hometown Hero, Sullen was--unsurprisingly--pretty happy to be catching an Auburn offer:
Sullen, who was dominant as a big offensive lineman at Auburn High, said Sunday he was committed to Auburn University.That link also includes a completely awesome picture of Sullen waving a giant AHS flag with the sort of expresssion usually reserved for children who've just received a new video game system for Christmas. Click it.
Actually, he just said “War Eagle,” but “Big John’s” message was clear.
He couldn’t turn down a “no-brainer” of an offer.
“They said I can come in and compete early,” Sullen said. “I was planning on competing anyway, so it’s great to have a chance to play early as a starter in the SEC.
“You really can’t beat it.“
Speaking of pictures from the OA-News, there's the one of Sullen playing basketball for AHS that led this post off, because everyone loves watching gigantic dudes play hoops. Just a couple weeks ago Andrew Gribble got new colleague David Morrison to offer up an interesting little scouting report regarding Sullen's hardwood prowess and his conditioning level as he preps for Auburn:
He did look a little ... well ... big. Especially with stringbean basketball players to compare him to. He didn’t do much running during the game because he really didn’t have to. On offense, he planted himself just outside the paint and if the Bulldogs ever got on the break, there was a good chance they’d have at least a 5-on-4 advantage. He was very spry in the pre-game introductions.Suppsoe so. The better news is that he's playing basketball at all--if he's agile enough to make any kind of difference on the court at his current weight, things'll only get better for him once Yoxall has him shed some of those excess pounds. That said, from Morrison's account, it seems like those pounds are going to have to be shed awful quickly to play in Malzahn's no-huddle as a freshman.
It might take a good couple of months for him to get up to game speed, especially for the SEC. But he craved contact out on the hardwood. There wasn’t a possession that went by that he wasn’t jostling with someone, usually with him coming out the victor. That’s a good sign for the trenches, isn’t it?
Lastly, Andrew Bone rated him the No. 41 prospect in Alabama and takes the potential-down-the-road approach; he was also named a "Reebok Alabama Football Phenom" by alabamafb.com. That link offers up Sullen's senior stats: he "graded out at 86 percent in 2008 and made 55 pancake blocks," for whatever that's worth.
What conclusions we can draw, if any: While I appreciate the "Super Sleeper" optimism, it seems, um, exceedingly hopeful to expect a prospect with Sullen's ratings and poor physical fit with Malzahn's offense to contribute this year. I suppose it's not impossible--particularly as thin as Auburn's two deep is going to be--but the real question is what happens after his redshirt.
Here is where I think there's real reason to hope. Sullen's clearly got a good head on his shoulders, a stable and positive family environment just a few blocks down the road, and by all accounts a tremendous work ethic. Combine those positives with the fact that offensive linemen are usually cited as one of the most difficult positions for gurus to get a good read on, and I think there's good odds that if Sullen can keep in weight in check, he'll outperform his rating. As late in the o-line recruiting game as Chizik found himself, he had to find guys that offered genuine upside. Sullen would seem to have it.