Except for tight end there are minimal prospects on the offensive side of the ball. Tight end number one would be Robert Johnson, an over-aged former semi-pro baseball player and a terrific athlete that looks like a man amongst boys on the field. He is big, powerful, dominant blocking at the line or overpowering when tossed the ball with defenders are draped on him. Johnson is not fast but sneaks it down field in occasion and plays with solid fundamentals in every facet of his game. In many ways he reminds us of Rufus French, though he is head-and-shoulders a better blocker than the former ‘Ole Miss star, and would be a top 60 selection if he left for the draft next April. Johnson shares the starting spot with another accomplished player, Lorenzo Diamond, an athletic and quick tight end solid in all aspects of his game but when compared to Johnson, not as prominent a prospect at the next level. Ben Nowland is a hard working center that efficiently quarterbacks the offensive line and looks to help out line-mates. A nice college pivot man, Nowland does not project well at the next level and is unlikely to be even a late round pick. Lastly Brandon Johnson looks dominant at times as a lead fullback and quickly adjusts as a pass catcher when the quarterback's in trouble but like Nowland, is a limited athlete that will be given only free agent consideration.
The defensive talent offered by Auburn can be characterized as potentially explosive. There are no less then three Tigers on this side of the ball that could break into the draft's first round over the next two years with a fourth knocking on the door. All are underclassmen. Last season we said defensive tackle DeMarco McNeil reminded us of Gerard Warren and was a star in the making, something we stick by. Explosive off the ball with the ability to clog the middle, McNeil dominates stuffing the run or rushing the passer and makes plays in either a straight line or laterally. He suffered through last season with a banged up knee which set him back, but at full speed he'll be one of the better defensive tackles heading into the draft should he declare his eligibility. Auburn has a pair of sensational outside linebackers in Dontarrious Thomas and Karlos Dansby; both playmakers that force the action in every area of the field. Thomas is big, athletic and displays great force, brute strength and adequate speed. Easily holding his ground against blocks, he brushes blockers aside on his way to the ball carrier. To his credit Thomas plays a disciplined brand of football and not one that simply lines up in the box and takes off up the field. He still has a little hesitation to his game and arrives a half-step late to the scene when the ball is in the air. If he irons that facet of his game out and produces the athletic numbers he's capable of Thomas is a first round choice. Teammate Dansby may not have the size or strength of Thomas but is more explosive, just as fast and does a much better job reading or anticipating the action. Dansby goes sideline-to-sideline defending either the pass or run and his ability to quickly alter his angle of attack and get to the ball carrier is eye opening. He also carries a first round grade when he enters the draft. Sophomore cornerback Carlos Rogers looks big, plays big and is a very tough defensive back. Still developing his already solid cover skills, he has a great upside for the future. Finally, many feel Spencer Johnson (yet another underclassmen) was Auburn's best defensive lineman last season and like line-mate McNeil is quick off the ball with a great first step and makes plays in all directions of the field but has size and strength limitations as of now. Johnson seems like an adequate one-gap player.
Johnson seems like an adequate one-gap player. Rarely do we ever mention kickers/punters in pre-season stories but this is an exception as Damon Duval could be one of the best dual role legs in a long while if not ever. His punts are accurate and long, his kick-off leg is huge and he can also make the clutch field goal. Duval could jump into the drafts first day next year should he show well at the Senior Bowl in January.