Shon Coleman (above) started at left offensive tackle for the Tigers the past two seasons.
Auburn, Ala.--This year's National Football League Draft is expected to have a decidedly SEC flavor with many of the top players certain to come from the league, but for Gus Malzhan’s Auburn Tigers the draft will be one of hope for many of the players leaving the program.
With offensive tackle Shon Coleman the only sure-fire draft pick from the program, Friday and Saturday will be a time of anxiety for many Tigers. The only anxiety for Coleman will be which team drafts him and how high.
Always considered a solid pro prospect, Coleman had a good 2015 season for the Tigers and that had him perhaps projecting as a first round pick before a knee injury late in the year forced him to have surgery in January. That has put questions into the minds of NFL scouts and could drop Coleman into the second round or lower, but with his talent and character it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some team take him late on Thursday night if there is an early run on offensive tackles in round one.
“It’s definitely exciting," Coleman said of the draft, something he was previously involved in as he represented St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis when he announced a draft pick at the 2014 event in New York City. "I’m just taking in the whole process, meeting a lot of people and learning new things." St. Jude treated Coleman for leukemia when he was diagnosed with the disease in 2010. He was cleared to return to practice on a limited basis in 2012 and in 2013 was a backup to current NFL tackle Greg Robinson for Auburn's SEC championship squad.
Perhaps the next player to come off the board for the Tigers will be speedy cornerback Jonathan Jones. Very productive last season in the run game despite most teams throwing away from him, Jones finished the season with 69 tackles and one interception even though he was less than full speed for part of the year. As a junior Jones had his best season with six interceptions, showing his ability to play the ball. With strong performances in the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, the speedy defensive back is a player who could become a good value pick in the middle rounds for some team.
A thicker Jonathan Jones had a strong Pro Day workout.
With two brothers who played in the NFL, Avery Young is one of the most versatile offensive linemen in the draft this year and that could be his ticket to being selected. Playing mostly tackle during his time at Auburn, Young is probably best suited to line up at guard on the next level. A powerful run blocker, he could be a good fit in the later rounds for a team that prides itself on running the football such as Denver or Kansas City. Young also practiced at center during his time at Auburn.
One of the better athletes in the draft, wide receiver Ricardo Louis has the talent to be a steal for some team in the later rounds on Saturday. Still developing as a receiver after playing quarterback in high school, Louis caught 46 passes for 716 yards and three touchdowns in 2015. Finishing his career 11th in school history with 98 receptions, Louis could be a solid value pick late in the draft because of his upside and ability to play special teams.
A big play threat, Louis could be the ideal third receiver for a team looking for speed.
Leaving school following his redshirt sophomore season after rushing for 1,017 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago, Peyton Barber could be another value pick late in the draft because he is one of the freshest of the backs in this year’s class. Redshirting his first season and carrying the ball just 10 times in 2014, Barber should have a lot of miles left on his legs and that could be an important plus for him where NFL teams are concerned.
With the need for pass rushers and versatility in today’s football, Cassanova McKinzy is a player who could be an intriguing late pick. While he is likely to go undrafted after suffering a knee injury in Auburn’s bowl game and then struggling with a hamstring issue on pro day, McKinzy has shown he can be physical and has the athleticism to bring something to a team. Last season he was third on the AU squad with 74 tackles and led the team with five sacks, 10 tackles for losses and 20 quarterback hurries. That’s his value for some team on the next level.
Cassanova McKinzy could be a player to watch in the later rounds of the draft.
Other possibilities from Auburn include defensive back Blake Countess, linebackers Kris Frost and Justin Garrett, offensive lineman Devonte Danzey and defensive lineman Davonte Lambert. Of that group Countess may have the best shot of being drafted because of his versatility and experience playing both safety and cornerback. Something else that should help him is his willingness to play special teams.
Rounding out the group of former Auburn players in this year’s draft is wide receiver Duke Williams. Considered one of the top wide receivers in his class as he headed into his senior season, Williams damaged his stock when he was dismissed from the team after just five games. There’s no doubting Williams’ ability to catch the ball and his skills at the position, which could lead a team to take a chance on him late in the draft.