The Auburn Tigers hit rock bottom last year. Not even two years removed from a National Championship-winning season, the Tigers finished 3-9 on the season and an unbelievable 0-8 in SEC play. Needless to say, the lack of production on the field helped translate into an atypical draft year for the Tigers, with only one of their own getting drafted in the 2013 NFL Draft – defensive end/outside linebacker Corey Lemonier by the San Francisco 49ers (third round).
Unfortunately some of the monster recruits that just signed with the Tigers last February (particularly defensive tackle Montravious Adams and end Carl Lawson) still have three seasons to go until they’re eligible for the Draft. But a few of the JUCO signings (like defensive tackle Ben Bradley or tailback Cameron Artis-Payne), if they have big opening campaigns on the plains (a la Cam Newton or Nick Fairley), they could help an otherwise second consecutive down year for the Tigers in terms of draft-eligible pro prospects.
Outside linebacker Dee Ford is the Tigers’ top prospect at this very early stage in the game. Ford is undersized for defensive end at the next level (6-foot-2, 240-pounds) making him an odds on favorite to switch to outside linebacker in a 3-4, or even strong side in a 4-3 (reminiscent of Von Miller in 2011, though not nearly the caliber of prospect).
After leading the Tigers with 6.5 sacks last year and with Lemonier off to the pros, much is expected of Ford this fall leading the Tigers’ defense. Unfortunately due to a ligament injury in a scrimmage not long ago (surgery isn’t required), Ford is on the shelf, at least for the time being. Still, providing Ford can come back healthy as expected, he’s looking like an early third rounder, similarly to Lemonier.
Running back Tre Mason, though an underclassmen, is the next highest ranked prospect for the Tigers. Mason was one of the few guys that was actually productive on offense last year, averaging 5.9 yards-per-carry while just crossing the 1,000 yard threshold. He, combined with one of the top draft-eligible fullbacks this fall in Jay Prosch, will once again give the Tigers a strong ground-attack. Mason has good hands (even though he’s rarely been used in the passing offense) and has impressive strength considering his size (5-foot-9, 196-pounds). Another strong season could push him into 3rd or 4th round status.
After those two it gets murkier. As mentioned earlier, fullback Prosch is arguably the third best pro-prospect on the Tigers, and that should give you a lot of indication of where the Tigers program is at. Punter Steven Clark has good leg strength and touch, but he’s a punter. No SEC team should list a punter as one of their top pro prospects (even if you’re one of the acclaimed Colquitts at Tennessee). Defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker and defensive backs Chris Davis and Justin Garrett will also be fighting to improve their draft stock this fall.
The Tigers’ potential draft class in 2014 is better than it was in 2013, which isn’t saying much. But the bulk of the talent on this team isn’t draft eligible yet. Just give coach Gus Malzahn time to continue recruiting and developing. In another 2-3 years the Tigers may not be rivaling Alabama for number of 1st rounders selected, but they’ll be in much better position than they are now.