In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 15
2012 NFL Draft picks: One – OT Brandon Mosley (4th Round, No. 131 overall).
Those who argued that Auburn's magical run to the 2010 BCS title was largely based on the stellar play of superstars Cam Newton and Nick Fairley have received plenty of ammunition over the past year to support the claim.
Newton, who, of course, won the Heisman Trophy along the way, was Carolina's choice as the top overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft. Fairley followed fairly close behind; selected by Detroit at No. 13. Only two other Tigers from their championship team were selected in the 2011 draft (DT Zach Clayton, OT Lee Ziemba) -- and they each had to wait until the final round.
With Newton and Fairley in the NFL, Auburn struggled a season ago in the national title defense. While the team finished a respectable 8-5 and beat Virginia in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Auburn was trounced by LSU (45-10), Georgia (45-7) and Alabama (42-14). The team saw creative offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn leave to take over as head coach at Arkansas State and elected to move without one of their most talented young players -- running back Michael Dyer. Only one Tiger was selected in the 2012 NFL draft.
Head coach Gene Chizik may have his work cut out for him to calm fans worried that the 2010 season wasn't just a flash in the pan. His 2012 team does possess some legitimate NFL talent -- including a potential high round pass rusher in junior Corey Lemonier -- but this is a noticeably less skilled roster than the first two programs previewed as part of the SEC West (Alabama, Arkansas) and, unless there is significant improvement from several prospects, Draft Day 2013 may not be much more exciting for Auburn fans than it was last year.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. DE/OLB Corey Lemonier (6-3, 242)*
Blessed with an explosive first step and a high-revving motor, Lemonier (pronounced Lemon-eer) ranks as one of the more intriguing of a talented crop of pass rushers throughout the country. A true junior, Lemonier (pictured above) exploded last season to post 47 tackles, including a team-leading 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks (which also led the team), helping him to rack up First Team All-SEC honors from league coaches. He flashed playmaking ability as a true freshman, earning a spot on the all-conference freshman team with 17 tackles, including five tackles for loss and two sacks. Lemonier plays defensive end for Auburn and has the size potential and upper body strength to remain at this position in the NFL. However, most will view him as an outside linebacker conversion to the traditional 3-4 scheme. He's able to beat tackles with his speed upfield and has a nice spin move back inside. He exhibits good straight-line speed in pursuit, as well as the good vision and agility to weave through the trash. Lemonier delivers a strong blow to the ball-carrier and attempts to strip the ball. While possessing some exciting traits, Lemonier has some flaws, however. He's stiff in his upper body, not showing the flexibility to dip under the reach of offensive tackles and doesn't show the functional strength or lateral agility to beat blockers once engaged. Put simply, if Lemonier's first move isn't effective, he generally struggles to separate from the blocker. Too often tight ends and running backs, as well as offensive linemen, are able to effectively block him… He does play hard, however, showing excellent effort in pursuit. Some of his most impressive tackles, in fact, come five or more yards downfield… Lemonier is currently graded as a defensive end and ranks No. 11 on NFLDraftScout.com's list of pass rushers potentially available in the 2013 NFL draft.
2. TE Philip Lutzenkirchen (6-4, 250)
Besides having the longest combined first and last name in the history of Auburn football, Lutzenkirchen's greatest claim to fame for the Tigers is his ability to catch touchdowns. Entering his senior campaign, he's also snared 14 of them, which may not sound like that much in today's era pass-happy offenses but consider that Lutzenkirchen only has 44 career receptions total. That's efficiency! Lutzenkirchen finished third on the team a season ago with a career-high 24 receptions and led the team with seven, breaking the school single-season record for tight end touchdown grabs. Despite his great deal of statistical success, Lutzenkirchen is far from a clean NFL prospect. In his favor is his size, the burst he shows in gaining separation as a route-runner and his soft hands. He aggressively attacks blocks but lacks the strength to sustain them at this point and has been aided by lining up on the wing in an H-back role more than as a typical in-line blocker throughout most of his career. In earning second team all-conference accolades, Lutzenkirchen has momentum in his favor heading into his senior campaign. Historically speaking, he'll need it if he is to buck a nearly 20 year trend of futility at tight end for the Tigers -- at least when it comes to earning strong consideration from pro scouts. The last Auburn tight end selected in the NFL draft was Fred Baxter, whom the New York Jets selected in the fifth round back in 1993.
3. OG John Sullen (6-4, 332)
Sullen certainly hasn't received the national attention of some of his teammates but he may be the Tigers' best shot at getting a senior drafted into the NFL due to his combination of size and strength. Sullen appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman and even earned the starting nod against Ball State. He once again saw action in every game of Auburn's national title run in 2010 but wasn't able to crack the starting lineup until this past season in which he was on the field for the opening whistle on 11 of 13 games. Each of his starts have come at right guard, where he projects best in the NFL. Sullen is a beat slow off the snap but demonstrates at least adequate quickness in pass protection and when blocking on the move. He has great size and shows good balance. He's able to hand the bull rush by keeping his knees bent and shows the potential to control his opponent easily if he learned to use his hands more efficiently. Too often he allows them to slip outside or keeps them bent, allowing defensive tackles to use their own hands to rip away at his. Sullen was often asked to pull as part of Malzahn's offense. He has the quickness to get out but loses steam quickly and struggles to re-direct. He did improve as the season went on and has the size and level of competition scouts are looking for in a developmental project. He'll need to show continued improvement in 2012 to guarantee a draft selection, however.
4. DT Jeffrey Whitaker (6-3, 302)*
Perhaps only quarterback and defensive end rank ahead of defensive tackles as a position in which a player can enjoy a breakout campaign and zoom into strong NFL draft consideration. The Auburn Tigers are hopeful that just such a breakout could be coming from true junior defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker, who flashed last season in starting all 13 games. While his statline is less than eye-popping (25 tackles, two tackles for loss, 3 QB hurries, one forced and one recovery fumble), it was Whitaker who typically absorbed the double-team blocks that helped allow Lemonier to rank among SEC leaders with 9.5 sacks. Whitaker is a naturally large man with plenty of room for additional mass. He has long arms and keeps them active, though he needs to use them with more effectiveness in separating from blocks. Still growing, he struggled a bit when run at but gained confidence in handling double-teams as the season went on. He's more quick than fast, struggling to make plays in lateral pursuit at this point but locates the ball and gives effort to help his teammates downfield. With Lemonier and a potential young standout emerging in sophomore Gabe Wright, Whitaker could enjoy a quick rise up draft boards. At this early point, the junior is ranked as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 10 defensive tackle prospect for the 2014 draft. It would take massive gains this season for Whitaker to want to consider leaving school early for the NFL as the player I saw on tape isn't ready for that kind of jump. He does have many of the tools, however, to keep an eye on for the future.
5. WR Emory Blake (6-1, 197)
As Newton's favorite target in 2010, Blake has made quite a name for himself over his Auburn career. He led the team in touchdown receptions (eight) during the Tigers' national championship season despite finishing third on the team in both receptions (33) and receiving yards (554). Most memorable was that Blake seemed capable of making the big plays when Auburn needed them most, including the first touchdown in their monumental comeback victory over Alabama, as well as touchdowns against South Carolina in the SEC championship and Oregon in the BCS title game. In all, Blake caught touchdowns in seven consecutive games over the course of the 2010-11 seasons and proved last year in hauling in 36 passes for 613 yards (both career-highs that led the team) and five touchdowns that he didn't need Newton to be successful. Unfortunately, for all of Blake's collegiate success he lacks the elite combination of size and speed to get scouts excited about his NFL future. Blake may have caught the longest scoring pass in Auburn history (94 yards vs. Louisiana-Monroe) but he's a long-strider who builds up speed rather than accelerating instantly. He relies on shoulder fakes and body positioning rather than true explosiveness as a route-runner, as well. The one thing that Blake does well -- and this will give him a shot in the NFL -- is that he adjusts to the ball nicely, showing good body control, leaping ability and soft, reliable hands to pull in passes. Blake will be looked upon to enjoy career-highs again in 2012 and his success against SEC competition shouldn't be ignored. However, he's more of a day three (rounds 4-7) prospect than his hype might lead one to believe.
DE/OLB Nosa Eguae (6-2, 258)*,
RB Onterio McCalebb (5-10, 176)
CB T'Sharvan Bell (6-0, 185)
OLB/S Daren Bates (5-11, 205)
WR Travante Stallworth (5-09, 188)
For all of NFLDraftScout.com's team-by-team previews of the top prospects to watch in the 2012 season in preparation for the 2013 NFL draft, click here.
Photo credit: US Presswire