Bryan Harsin wasn't named Auburn football coach until Dec. 22, nearly a week after the early signing period for recruits.
He didn't finish hiring his coaching staff until Jan. 27. By that time, only 19 of 359 blue-chip recruits in the 2021 class remained uncommitted.
Still, some criticized the new leader of the Tigers for signing only seven players the week of National Signing Day (all of them three-stars) to the 27th-ranked class in the country, even though that was impressive given the circumstances — Auburn ranked 48th nationally six days earlier.
That's why landing a commitment from Handley High School's Dylan Brooks on Saturday was a big win for Auburn, Harsin and his coaching staff, for more reasons than one.
First, the basics: Brooks is a four-star defensive end/outside linebacker prospect ranked No. 76 overall in the 2021 class. His addition to 18 other newcomers moves the Tigers' class up to 20th in the national rankings.
That's below where the program typically has been over the past decade, yes, but still a solid outcome after Gus Malzahn was fired just three days the early signing period began.
Malzahn's staff wanted Brooks, too. He starred at Handley High in Roanoke and ranked as the No. 6 overall recruit in the state. He's an Auburn legacy and grew up a fan. But the Tigers lost that battle to Tennessee — Brooks committed to the Vols on April 26.
That battle would have stayed lost had Tennessee not fired coach Jeremy Pruitt in January, prompting Brooks to ask for release from his National Letter of Intent. But regardless of the journey, this fact remains — Harsin, defensive coordinator Derek Mason, defensive line coach Nick Eason and outside linebackers coach Bert Watts secured a commitment from one of the top players in Alabama after less than two months on the job.
If Brooks signs, it will mark the first time since 2018 that the Tigers have gotten two of the top-six prospects in Alabama, with four-star defensive tackle Lee Hunter being the other.
And all of that is just optics. Brooks filled a huge need for Auburn not just in recruiting, but on defense, too. The Tigers don't have a ton of playmaking edge rushers, especially after losing Big Kat Bryant to the transfer portal – middle linebacker Owen Pappoe tied defensive end Colby Wooden for the team lead in sacks with just four last season.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Brooks certainly fits the mold.
Charles Power, a national analyst for 247Sports, described Brooks as "quick and explosive off the ball. Shows the ability to transition speed to power and overwhelm offensive linemen at the point of attack. Flexible off the edge, dipping with bend as he rounds the arc. Plays fast and tracks down plays in pursuit with impressive speed. Disengages from blocks and looks to embrace contact. Also shows his athleticism by dropping into space at linebacker.
"Projects as a multi-year starter at the Power Five level with the upside to be an early round NFL Draft pick."
That's the exact type of weapon Mason can use in a defense that is expected to be a little more multiple in formation than predecessor Kevin Steele's 4-2-5 front.
Brooks won't enroll until the summer, but given his talent, it might not be surprising to see him running alongside Woode, junior Derick Hall and transfer Eku Leota sooner rather than later.
That's a big win for Harsin and the Tigers.