Auburn Tigers’ Top 10 Returning Players Include Payton Thorne, Jarquez Hunter

    The Auburn Tigers had a streaky 2023 season, but a platoon of returning seniors might add stability. Take a look at the top returning Tigers for 2024.

    Auburn Tigers head coach Hugh Freeze’s first season back in the SEC started 3-0 before the program dropped their opening four games in the conference. After winning the next three, the season was punctuated with three straight losses to New Mexico State, Alabama, and a Music City Bowl mishap against Maryland.

    A streaky 6-7 finish wasn’t what Freeze had envisioned for Auburn, but he has a foundation of solid seniors set to be back. Let’s look at the top returning players for the Tigers in 2024.

    Auburn Tigers’ Top 10 Returners 2024

    10) Caleb Burton III, WR

    Auburn’s pass offense left much to be desired last season, finishing dead-last in the SEC with 162.2 yards passing per game. Caleb Burton III only caught 16 passes for 226 yards in nine games, but he showed potential for improvement going into his sophomore year.

    After not playing as a true freshman at Ohio State, Burton transferred to Auburn before last season. With Ja’Varrius Johnson in the portal, he will have more opportunities to shine with the Tigers in the upcoming campaign.

    9) Brian Battie, RB/KR

    Brian Battie joined the Tigers last season after rushing for 1,842 yards in three seasons at USF. He came off the bench his first season at Auburn to rush for 227 yards and a touchdown while returning 28 kickoffs for 649 yards, finishing fourth in the conference at 23.0 yards per return.

    He hopped in the portal after the season but was convinced to return to Auburn. The Tigers had the fourth-best rush offense in the conference last year due to a platoon of rushers. Freeze will have most of them at his disposal next season, including Battie.

    8) Keionte Scott, CB/PR

    Keionte Scott is a reliable senior starter who is a primary player in two phases of the game for the Tigers, leading the SEC in punt return average (14.2) with 222 yards on 15 returns. He had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in Auburn’s 48-10 win over Arkansas.

    With 44 tackles on defense and five pass breakups, he’s also among the more productive returning defensive backs for the Tigers.

    7) Jalen McCloud, LB

    Another senior, Jalen McCloud, had the second-most tackles of any returning player in his first season at Auburn, after three years with Appalachian State. He played in all 13 games last season with 48 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, and 5.5 sacks.

    McCloud also had a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a defended pass. He can do it all on defense and will be much needed if the Tigers want to make a jump next season.

    6) Connor Lew, C

    Connor Lew is a true freshman who took over the starting duties at center halfway through the season and started the last six games. He was named to the All-SEC Freshman team, helping to pave the way for one of the top rushing attacks in the SEC.

    MORE: 2025 SEC Recruiting Rankings

    The 6’3″, 290-pounder from Kennesaw, Georgia is heading into his sophomore season with a wealth of unexpected experience under his belt. A young up-and-comer calling out protections from the middle of the line will be a nice luxury for Freeze.

    5) Rivaldo Fairweather, TE

    Rivaldo Fairweather grabbed 54 catches for 838 yards and five touchdowns in his first three seasons at FIU. The 6’4″, 250-pound pass catcher then transferred to Auburn before last season and set the program record for single-season receptions by a TE with 38.

    He added 394 yards receiving and six touchdown catches to earn Second-Team All-SEC honors. He was a bright spot in a dim passing offense, and the Tigers are happy to have a big red-zone target like Fairweather back in the fold for his senior season.

    4) Eugene Asante, LB

    After amassing 62 tackles in 37 games his first three seasons at North Carolina, and just one in 2022 his first season with Auburn, Eugene Asante eclipsed his career total in 2023 with a team-leading 86 tackles. He added 8.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks.

    Another sixth-year senior, Asante will be one of a handful of experienced elder statesmen returning to the Tigers for the 2024 season. He’ll look to improve an Auburn defense that finished eighth in the SEC in total defense last season.

    3) Dillon Wade, OL

    Dillion Wade started at left tackle in 12 of 13 games last season after starting 12 games for the Tulsa Golden Hurricane the year prior. Listed at 6’3″ and 304 pounds, the senior from Houston heads into the 2024 season as the leader on the Tigers’ offensive line.

    Auburn averaged 189.9 yards per game on the ground last season, fourth best in the SEC. Returners like Wade will help the Tigers keep that trend up in 2024 by paving the way for their returning rushers.

    2) Jarquez Hunter, RB

    In his first season as Auburn’s primary ball carrier, Jarquez Hunter led the Tigers in rushing with 909 yards (5.7 per carry) and seven touchdowns. One of eight seniors on this list, Hunter has spent his whole career with the Tigers, rushing for 2,170 yards (6.2 per carry) and 17 touchdowns in 37 games.

    The rushing offense propelled the Tigers to victory last year, with Hunter going over 100 yards in all three SEC wins. An All-SEC Third Team selection in 2023, Hunter is primed for another big year.

    1) Payton Thorne, QB

    Payton Thorne earned the Tigers’ starting job last year after three seasons with the Michigan State Spartans, where he started 26 games (16-10 record), passing for 6,501 yards, 49 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions.

    KEEP READING: 2024 SEC Power Rankings

    He had a drop-off statistically in 2023 at Auburn, 1,755 yards passing, 16 touchdowns, and 10 picks, but consistency under center is crucial enough to put him at the top of this list. He’s fully acclimated to his new surroundings and is due to make the most of it with one year left.

    Miss any action from the top college QB Rankings during the 2023 football season? Want to track all the movement with the college football transfer portal? College Football Network has you covered with that and more!

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