Six years ago, Auburn people thought they were witnessing a once in a lifetime event. When three Tigers were chosen among the first nine picks of the 2005 NFL Draft, most fans thought that was as good as it gets on draft day.
Fast forward to this Spring and suddenly Auburn has an opportunity to do something that’s never been done in the modern era of the NFL – have two players from the same college program taken number one and two on draft day.
It appears to most draft experts that former Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley has solidified his hold on the top spot in April’s draft. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. says Fairley is the safe pick.
“(Fairley is) a safe pick in a draft position that will be hard to move from,” says Kiper. “And as I’ve said, a slight mean streak in a defensive tackle isn’t the worst trait. Ask the Lions about Ndamukong Suh.”
The Carolina Panthers hold the top pick in this year’s draft; but unlike years past, getting a true grasp of where players may end up is being complicated by the current labor talks between team owners and players.
“The draft, could be impacted,” says Kiper. “If the NFL Players Association and the owners don’t agree to a deal, it will put a stop to draft-pick deals that involve players already in the league. Last year, pre-draft deals involving names like Brandon Marshall and Donovan McNabb shifted the board.”
Even with the unrest, Kiper likes the upside Fairley brings to the draft.
“This is a defensive lineman with small weaknesses, such as leverage and composure, but he masks those as a dominant presence against the run, a remarkably instinctive pass-rusher who can overwhelm the opposition with speed, power or hand skills and explosiveness that would impress the late Reggie White,” says Kiper.
Where Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton fits into the equation is the talk of the draft. Earlier this year, Newton was widely believed to go somewhere around the tenth pick, perhaps to the Washington Redskins.
A recent workout for NFL scouts in San Diego has suddenly driven his stock skyward. Still, there remains lingering doubts about Newton’s character; a charge that’s unfortunate considering there remains no proof of impropriety on his part in relation to his recruitment from Blinn Community College.
ESPN Draft analyst Todd McShay says this is an issue NFL personnel continue to debate.
“That’s the biggest question and issue in the draft right now,” McShay said. “I don’t think anyone knows. It’s a matter of diving deeper into his background.
“One GM I talked to recently said, “Our team is not in the quarterback hunt right now, but if we were I’d be in this kid’s hip pocket every day between now and the end of the draft.”
Kiper currently has Newton sitting in the third spot in his mock draft, going to the Buffalo Bills. The Denver Broncos hold the second pick and is expected to pick defensive lineman Da’Quan Bowers from Clemson.
So how does Auburn get itself in position to have two players taken at the top of the NFL draft? Amazingly, it’s doable and realistic.
The Panthers have made no secret they are in the market for a quarterback. Should Newton’s stock continue to rise after his appearance at the upcoming NFL Combine, the Panthers may take a second look at Newton.
Should Newton go first, that makes Fairley available to the Broncos. Then the question for Denver becomes whether it wants Bowers or Fairley. Most NFL Scouts rate Fairley slightly ahead of Bowers.
All this talk is nothing more than speculation at this point. There are so many variables that it’s impossible to reasonably forecast where these two guys end up.
Regardless of what happens, this year’s NFL Draft promises to be every bit as exciting for Auburn fans as the one six years ago.
Be sure to Watch the NFL Scouting Combine February 24 – March 1.