Riley hasn’t made his final decision about where he’ll head, but his name is still in the transfer portal and Auburn is almost certain to lose the 6-foot-5 junior inside linebacker. Riley finished the season with 34 tackles, a steep decline from his 61 in 2022, but did add 2.5 sacks.
At that size, Riley is a thumper who only missed two tackles across his 311 snaps which primarily came on run downs.
Payton Thorne beat out Ashford for the job and with Thorne coming back it was clearly time for the rising junior quarterback to move on. He landed somewhere he can compete for the job and the move will elevate some pressure from Thorne, so it could be a win-win.
That is, until Thorne gets banged up and the primary backup is four-star freshman Walker White. White is very talented and Freeze expects him to be the future at the most important position, but an early debut could stunt his growth. Ashford was good insurance and the Tigers just lost their policy.
Like Riley, Kaufman hasn’t decided where he’ll end up, but if he doesn’t change his mind and head back, then it’ll be a substantial loss. Kaufman is a different type of safety than Jerrin Thompson is, so it’s not a one-to-one comparison with Thompson in and Kaufman out.
Thompson is a true centerfielder, but Kaufman thrives down near the line of scrimmage despite his size at 5-foot-10 200 pounds. He lined up in the slot for 210 of his 395 snaps and despite rushing the passer just 29 times, got pressure on seven and managed a sack.
Kaufman struggled in coverage, allowing 17 catches when the ball was only thrown in his direction 23 times, but the extra body near the line of scrimmage to get after the quarterback or play the run will be missed.
With concurrent losses of Riley and Kaufman, Auburn’s run defense could be an even bigger issue next year than it was this season.