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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #6 Auburn

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 19, 2014

#6 Auburn Tigers

 

2013 Recap:

Auburn knocked off Alabama and had a shot at the National Championship before losing a competitive 34-31 game to Florida State, one in which they had the lead with under two minutes remaining. The Auburn-Missouri SEC title game was one of the most unpredictable title games we have seen in years for the SEC or any other conference for that matter. Auburn emerged victorious 59-42.

 

Coaching:

Gus Malzahn starts his Auburn career with a 12-2 mark, and couldn’t do much better. This feat is even more impressive when you factor in that this team was not ranked when the preseason began. We will have to see if the NFL comes calling if another double digit win season follows.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Nick Marshall is not your typical quarterback but the junior signal caller got things done last season. Marshall wound up with 1,068 yards on the ground with 12 rushing touchdowns to go along with very respectible passing numbers of 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns to only 6 interceptions. Marshall looks very frail and does not have the prototypical quarterback frame but he does a good job of getting down and sliding when he needs to in the open field and avoiding the big hit. Marshall has enough targets to be effective and as long as Auburn continues to have a great stable of runners to take pressure off Marshall, this offense will succeed. The big challenge will be the first game against Arkansas where Marshall will be punished by not starting for a marijuana citation in the offseason.

Auburn and the running game is in great shape even after losing Tre Mason and tackle Greg Robinson. Cameron Artis-Payne is listed as the starter with Corey Grant as the backup but this is more like a 1A and 1B option with Grant actually being the better pro prospect at this point. Auburn had the #1 rushing offense with 328 yards a game and a whopping 4,596 total yards just running the football last season. Sporting a 12-2 mark is easy when you double your opponents ground output for the season. The passing game is better than the #106 ranking from last season. Auburn ran the ball so effectively they didn’t need to pass. Even with Tre Mason and Nick Marshall going over 1,000 yards last season Artis-Payne and Grant both had over 600. Between them they had 1,257 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns so you can see the production will still be there.

Best Draft Prospect: Corey Grant RB 4th Round 2015.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Though Auburn is not known as a passing football team there are weapons to be found, especially Sammie Coates. Coates is a junior that currently has a 2nd round grade and it is possible he could declare after this season. Coates managed 902 yards on only 42 catches for a whopping 21.5 YPC, so he is clearly a big play machine. Some of that is a bit deceiving as play action has something to do with those numbers, since defenses were sucked in by the threat on the run. Coates has still shown tremendous athletic ability though and his ability catching the football has noticeably improved. Quan Bray has been utilized more in the short passing game and his presence blocking in the spread formation has been helpful and really stands out on film. D’haquille Williams comes via the JUCO route and looks to provide a little more punch for the passing game, while tight end C.J. Uzomah will look to be more involved. Uzomah looks like a later round pro prospect who is well rounded and has shown the ability to make big plays in traffic when called upon. The receivers are underrated due to the fact that they are noticeably less involved than the running attack, but big play ability lurks in the passing game.

Best Draft Prospect: Sammie Coates WR 2nd Round 2016 (May declare for 2015).

 

Offensive Line:

Four starters are back along the line with Robinson being the only starter not returning and he left two years early for the NFL as a draft eligible sophomore and was taken second overall as the first lineman off the board. The only real question the line faces will be the replacement for Robinson since everyone else is intact. With center Reese Dismukes and sophomore guard Alex Kozan you are looking at a pair of likely All-SEC selections along the line. Shon Coleman was a former five-star recruit before falling ill with leukemia. Coleman is now the starter and is ready to get the most out of his three years of eligibility remaining. Patrick Miller is ready and can back up at both tackle positions. Miller actually started five games last season so it’s not like he is a stranger to big game situations. The right side with Avery Young and Chris Slade is built for the run and both players look to have NFL futures as they are later round prospects. The other four returning starters from last season all have NFL futures ahead of them and all will likely be drafted when their time arrives.

Best Draft Prospect: Alex Kozan OG 2nd Round 2017 (May declare for 2016).

 

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

How does Auburn get back to the SEC Champiosnhip game and beyond, with a defense that was 86th in the nation overall and 9th in the SEC in points allowed at just under 25? Auburn has to find a way to replace the departed Dee Ford and get consistent pressure on the quarterback. It looks like Auburn will get more consistent pressure up the middle where a pair of very good prospects reside in senior Gabe Wright and sophomore Montravius Adams. The duo combined for 10 tackles for a loss and 4 sacks, so stopping the run is something that they, along with the entire Auburn defense, should do a a better job of. LaDarius Owens will pair with new starter Carl Lawson along the outside at the defensive end position. Lawson had 4 sacks as a freshman and looks like he has the ability to generate consistent pressure. The bench is thin along the line, so Auburn needs to stay healthy and overachieve to have a chance.

Best Draft Prospect: Montravius Adams DT 3rd Round 2017.

 

Linebackers:

The linebackers are a group that we would rank as being in the middle of the road for the SEC. Kris Frost seems to currently flash the most pro potential after 59 stops and 6 coming for loss a season ago. Cassanova McKinzy will man the outside and he is back after a 75 tackle season, which led the Tigers in stops. McKinzy does not flash the same amount of natural ability and have the pro prospects of a player like Frost though, who we have ranked as a 4th round prospect for 2016. Robenson Therezie will man the Star position, or a floating rover type between the linebacker and the secondary areas of the defense. Therezie has a natural knack for punching the ball loose or causing a turnover. Robenson doesn't have a true place where he fits in from a prospect perspective and we suspect it may be as a safety, but he is still a prospect and his instincts are well beyond what is needed for the next level. Look for youngster Cameron Toney to get a chance and maybe even crack the starting lineup for a few games as he gets his audition at linebacker.

Best Draft Prospect: Kris Frost LB 4th Round 2016.

 

Secondary:

This is an active bunch that covered a lot of ground a season ago. The Auburn secondary is sometimes viewed as chaotic but they are a physical group not afraid to bump at the line of scrimmage or play an aggressive style of man coverage. The loss of Chris Davis will be felt as he was the emotional leader for the defense and made big plays at crucial moments during the game. The defense didn't have to be spectacular as Auburn just ate up time and could control the football at will with their running game. Jonathon Mincy will be counted on to be the cornerback who provides leadership this season. His 56 tackles and 14 pass breakups seem to suggest that he is a player familiar with being busy and in the middle of a play. Joshua Holsey gets the task to replace Davis but he has been spotty in the past and has bitten on a number of fakes. Yet he has good aerial skills and can play man or zone with ease. Jermaine Whitehead is currently listed as a 5th round prospect and someone who has the ability to really help their draft stock this season.

Best Draft Prospect: Jermaine Whitehead S 5th Round 2015.

 

Special Teams:

Corey Grant, Robenson Therezie, and Tony Stevens seem to be the return specialists for this season with Grant getting the bulk of the opportunities, which is another reason why Cameron Artis-Payne is listed as the running back starter. Auburn won a total of six games last year that were decided by 8 points or less so the field goal kicker will be an important role and it is one with a new face for 2014. Daniel Carlsson gets the call at the key position and he is joined by a new punter, Jimmy Hutchinson. Auburn has a couple of big games out of the gate, so these new players have to adapt quickly.

Best Draft Prospect: Corey Grant RB/KR  4th Round 2015.

 

Schedule:

October is brutal with LSU and South Carolina at home and Mississippi State on the road. If October looks tough then November isn't much easier with Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Georgia, before the annual grudge match with the Crimson Tide of Alabama.

 

Draft Outlook:

Auburn may not have as many big names available this season but there are big players lined up for years to come. Sammie Coates could play a big role here if he declares this season as he has a chance to be a prominent figure at the wide receiver spot. The offensive line continues to be an area of great strength and a position where the NFL will benefit in the future.

 

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