Aubserver Mailbag 119: Does AU have a potential first-rounder on the roster?
This week: The portal, QBs and expectations, the pass rush, coaches as wrestlers, Spencer Strider, the NBA playoffs and Mario Kart
(Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
When I first started covering the Auburn beat, NFL Draft weekend was a good mile marker for the offseason.
It provided something to write about during a really dead time of the year, and I would churn out stuff about any former Tiger who was picked — as well as keeping track of the undrafted free agent frenzy on Saturday afternoon.
Well, times change. I am very grateful that I only write a few times per week instead of a few times per day, and I don’t have to rely on click numbers or ad sales to do my job. Instead, I can rely on the infinitely more reliable and infinitely more rewarding support of subscribers like you. And I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.
Also: This part of the offseason really isn’t quiet anymore, thanks to our good friend the transfer portal.
On a weekend in which former Tigers will be heading to the next level, we’re keeping track of anyone who might join the program from another school. Oh, and that includes basketball — a sport that was rarely, if ever, written about during the offseason. Now, it’s a year-round focus here, like football. (That’s another perk of running your own independent newsletter.)
With the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft rolling later tonight, I’ll be very interested to see where the likes of Derick Hall, Colby Wooden, Tank Bigsby and Owen Pappoe land. It will forever be awesome to see guys you covered for several years accomplish their lifelong dreams by going pro.
But I do find it pretty funny that, on a weekend that celebrates the best of the best who are leaving college football, the transfer portal window is coming to a close. While transfers don’t have to have final destinations picked by the time the calendar flips to May, they need to be in the portal — unless they’re graduating soon.
This week’s mailbag looks ahead to future NFL Drafts and what could come out of the transfer portal for Auburn football, along with a breakdown of where basketball stands right now in a roster overhaul. There’s also plenty of fun topics this week, like the Braves, the NBA playoffs, theme parks, African food and the return of the coveted Employee of the Month award.
Based on the current roster, who do you think has the potential to be a future NFL first-round draft pick?
This is a fun thought experiment around this time each year. The chances are that the Tigers don’t have a first-rounder — they’ve only had four in the past decade, and they happened in just two drafts (Greg Robinson and Dee Ford in 2014, then Derrick Brown and Noah Igbinoghene in 2020).
Historically, Auburn just isn’t a high-volume pro producer. Under Gus Malzahn, the Tigers had their highest number of average draft picks per season during the seven-round era. Then his successor only had one NFL draft pick last season (Roger McCreary), and he didn’t even finish up a second full season with what should be a decent-sized 2023 draft class.
But the good news is that producing first-rounders isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be ultra-successful as a team. If that was the case, Iowa would be a juggernaut with four first-rounders across the last four drafts, and Florida and Florida State — a combined 23 first-rounders in the last 10 years — wouldn’t have had their recent down periods.
Due to the downturn in recruiting and development, along with back-to-back losing seasons, it’s hard to look at Auburn’s roster right now and see an obvious first-rounder. Jarquez Hunter could exceed Tank Bigsby’s production, and the league still would undervalue him because he’s a running back. The Tigers’ recent NFL run at defensive back provides some promise, yet there isn’t an elite athlete like Igbinoghene or an All-American caliber talent like McCreary back there right now. Auburn is also in the midst of big rebuilds along the line of scrimmage and in the passing game.
It’s completely unfair to do this before the young man has played even a single snap of college football yet, but your best bet for Auburn producing a first-rounder on the current roster might just be Keldric Faulk. He was an elite prospect in high school, getting up to 5-stars by Rivals, and he’s well ahead of the curve when it comes to his size and power. He also plays the premium position of edge rusher, which usually generates more interest for teams looking to spend their best picks.
If Faulk develops like a borderline 5-star can in the SEC at a position that should give him opportunities early, he could turn into Auburn’s best pass-rushing product in a while. Of course, he’ll have to stay healthy — former 5-star Carl Lawson was only a fourth-rounder because of past injuries — but he also doesn’t have to be a household name from Year 1. Get multiple seasons of terrorizing quarterbacks in the best conference in football, and you’ll naturally grab the attention of scouts. Remember, Derick Hall was talked about as a potential first-rounder at one point in this cycle.
If it’s not Faulk, it’s going to be someone who pops out of nowhere with a phenomenal season (or seasons, plural) and then tears up the combine. Auburn has some young athletes who could develop into great talents, but, like with Faulk, a lot has to go the right way for them.
For now, the Tigers will look to gradually build back up to a program that can rival some of the best talent factories in the league, and that starts on the recruiting trail.
For football or basketball, how binding is a transfer portal commitment compared to when someone commits out of high school? For example, if Auburn got “transfer point guard A” who expected to start, but then also got “transfer point guard B” who is even better, would the first player be able to back out and transfer to a different team?
I believe the football coaching staff when they say they would pick up a QB if they found the right guy, and the pickings have been slim. But do you think in some ways it takes the pressure off of this staff to only have returning QBs in year 1? That way if they’re still bad, the coaches can just say they were dealt a bad hand. Whereas if they get a transfer QB who is bad, they get blamed more for not finding the right guy.
Not a question, just observing that Ronald Acuna Jr. is on pace to steal 78 bases this season. (he’s actually on pace to steal 84 if you go with a full 162 games, but I was looking at 150 to give him some days off. Who cares. Vroom vroom)