Aubserver Mailbag 75: Who will be the top Auburn names in future NFL Drafts?
This week: Tank Bigsby, linebackers and edge rushers, Chance Westry, Auburn's backcourt depth and Painter's campaign for NCAA president
RB Tank Bigsby (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
It’s hard to believe that this is NFL Draft week. This seems like the most unplugged I’ve been when it comes to a draft in years, and it’s not just because Auburn had a small class of guys going into it. The class as a whole just feels… underwhelming?
I’m expecting that to be just a one-off, though. Auburn is well-positioned to make more noise in 2023 and beyond, and I think the star power will be higher for the entire class moving forward. (That bodes well for a fun 2022 college football season, too.)
Several NFL Draft questions headline this week’s mailbag before a transition into an Auburn basketball roster that is looking to lock down the frontcourt while returning some serious firepower in the backcourt.
We take a look at all those topics, plus a few more fun ones, including a pair of Painter questions about his new career goal.
What current Auburn football players who are retuning this fall will be the highest-rated draft prospects in whatever year they are eligible?
Who do you think on our current roster goes highest in the NFL draft when they are eligible?
Although everyone is, obviously, in 2022 NFL Draft mode right now, the Internet is still plenty big enough for people to take advantage of 2023 interest right now. I did some poking around at 2023 big boards and positional rankings to see what I could find. They’re just shots in the dark, but it’s the best early guide you’re going to get.
The two players I saw getting some potential first-round buzz were Tank Bigsby and Derick Hall. Bigsby isn’t much of a surprise, considering his stock as one of college football’s top running backs over the last two seasons.
I think an offense built around getting Bigsby downhill will be great for his numbers, provided Auburn blocks well in front, but the bigger story might be how the Tigers use him as a weapon in the passing game. Showcase growth in that area, and he’d be a complete prospect. At that point, the only question will be how early is too early for a running back, given the NFL’s view of that position.
Hall was a little bit more eye-opening to me. It’s not that I don’t think Hall is a great edge rusher. (The numbers speak for themselves.) But I would’ve picked Colby Wooden to have more early draft buzz. Instead, it’s the more valuable edge rusher position, where Hall has proven to be more of a pro-style outside linebacker in this new system, that gets the love. If Hall cracks double-digit sacks in 2022, I could see him shooting up draft boards.
I’ll still hold out, personally, for Wooden to make a run with his draft stock. I think he can be similar to what Marlon Davidson, a second-round pick, was as a prospect. He might not have elite traits, but the dude just makes plays on a consistent basis in both pass-rushing and run-stopping. While he’s a tweener, he could fit in any defense.
Nehemiah Pritchett is the other big name to watch for the 2023 draft class, especially given Auburn’s track record at cornerback in recent cycles. Owen Pappoe will have to prove he can bring it at a high level again after his injuries, but he’ll blow testing out of the water if he can. Keiondre Jones also makes sense as an NFLer on the interior line.
Auburn has real talent on its roster in 2022, especially at the top of the depth chart. It’s a matter of getting things to fall into place in the passing game and on the offensive line, which both are big question marks. If the Tigers can do that, there’s enough quality on this roster to make some noise in the SEC.
Auburn seems to be on a run of great LBs/Bucks to go undrafted or fall down way below projections. Is there someone on the roster that can change that? Guys like Jeff Holland, Deshaun Davis, KJ Britt, even Carl Lawson qualifies. I thought Zakoby could be a 3rd RD but I was dead wrong.