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Keeping Up with the Joneses

By on May 9th, 2018 in Football, News 26 Comments »

The SEC Offensive Player of the Year Kerryon Johnson was drafted in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft

Like many schools across the nation, Auburn experienced the flight of many early departures to the NFL draft as well as seniors looking to make their mark on the next level. Unlike its rivals Georgia and Alabama, Auburn had no first round draft picks, despite being the only team in college football to beat both of those teams that would later play for a national championship.

The marquee player for Auburn was Kerryon Johnson, who decided to leave school a year early to pursue an NFL career. While he was typically rated as the fifth best back in a pretty deep class, it didn’t stop Johnson or slow him from making that decision. One can hardly blame the running back. The position is one that has a short lifespan and isn’t really as valued as it used to be.

Johnson fought injuries throughout his career at Auburn and faced another 12 or more games as a senior where one play could be the difference between making millions or joining the work force with a degree. For a successful running back, the faster one can get to the second contract, the better. So, for Johnson, it was worth going in the draft’s 2nd round and having that extra year to potentially make more money. That is, of course, if he can stay healthy and prove to be a special back. He will certainly be expected to prove his worth for Detroit, the team that finally drafted him with the 43rd pick of the second  round.

Although Kerryon  Johnson is a household name, he wasn’t expected to be the first player off the board. That looked to be either offensive lineman Braden Smith or cornerback Carlton Davis. Davis was a lockdown playmaker on the outside for Auburn and was viewed by multiple pundits as the fourth or fifth best cornerback in the class and a first-round pick. When Denzel Ward was selected by the Browns with the fourth overall pick, things looked up for Davis. It seemed with that kind of early demand, someone would snap up Davis. 

Braden Smith was a huge grab for Auburn and started as a freshman way back in 2014. He has been called by many superlatives due to his work ethic and mean streak. Even as a young freshman, the big man pushed people around. 

Yet, day one ended without an Auburn player selected in the first round. Truly, this wasn’t a great surprise. What may have been a surprise was the SEC, once again, set records with first round picks. Even more surprising would be Alabama and Georgia having over a quarter of those picks. It is truly astounding how much NFL talent resides on the rosters of Auburn’s two most hated rivals. There are several ways to view that, of course, and depending on one’s disposition regarding the current affairs of Auburn football, the opinion would vary widely.

One could say that, despite the lackluster years following the 2013 season, that Auburn’s coaching staff is still one of the best. After all, how would a team with such a disparity in NFL talent be able to beat Alabama and Georgia in the same year in, essentially, back-to-back weeks? Only a good coaching staff can coach up players to that level and put together a game plan to win. This past season wasn’t about miracle plays to beat the two rivals as was the case in 2013.

Gus Malzahn’s offense clicked just right and Kevin Steele’s defense was nothing short of amazing. The score wasn’t close in either game. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that only half of Auburn’s staff was up to the challenge in the rematch of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry the following week, and neither side was prepared for UCF for whatever reason.

One could also say that Auburn is recruiting at the same level of the two rivals, so why the disparity?

This isn’t a new topic. Truly, before Steele showed up on the Plains, Auburn was not performing at a top recruiting level, specifically on offense. The offensive wizard had quarterbacks that couldn’t throw and receivers that couldn’t catch. The only coach that seemed to be able to take recruiting to on field production to NFL player was running backs coach Tim Horton.

Despite continuing to recruit the tight end and receiver positions as well or better than anyone in college football, receivers continue to be a mystery for Gus Malzahn. Meanwhile, schools like LSU and Alabama that don’t throw the ball near the level Gus does are putting wideouts in the NFL. 

Many readers will nitpick this article. To some extent, they are right in that what happens in the NFL has nothing to do with what Auburn accomplishes on the field on Saturdays. However, potential players, who will be on the field for the fans on those Saturdays, don’t share that view.

Nick Saban sells Alabama and the legacy he has built in Tuscaloosa. While he has an embarrassment of riches and should never lose a game with the talent he brings in and develops, players still show up in droves. Playing college football in the SEC for a scholarship isn’t what brings in four- and five-star players. Dollar signs get those guys on campus. The near assurance that his recruits will get a chance to play in the NFL is what Saban calls “The Process.”

What started in 2007 as almost a joke has become the benchmark of college football and is something that Auburn is missing. Meanwhile, The Process has spread to Georgia and many other SEC schools due to former Bama assistant coaches getting marquee jobs. 

On the other hand, it could be said that Gus Malzahn has his own process, which largely involves hiring assistants from within his own “family tree,” instead of branching out as Saban has begun to do with coaches like Lane Kiffin and Butch Jones, both of whom will eventually be mentioned right beside Kirby Smart.

As mentioned earlier, getting talent on campus hasn’t been an issue for Auburn. Coaching those players beyond their abilities is something that Malzahn has been unable to do, which is precisely why Auburn can’t maintain the winning level it should. It’s a savage cycle, to be sure, and Malzahn’s gameday coaching ability is the only reason he has two ten-win seasons in his first five years, something that hasn’t been done before at Auburn. But to keep up with the Joneses, he is going to have to develop his players and get them in the NFL, preferably in the first round. After all, five-star guys don’t come just for the free education just as they don’t go to Alabama to be a third-day draft pick. 

26 Comments

  1. spanky says:

    I think the passing thing can be summed up by the passing scheme auburn uses. The NFL doesn’t have a need for WR screens as much as Auburn relies on them. When AU WRs have problems catching is when they run traditional NFL routes.

    • Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

      Honestly, I think you would be surprised about how wrong this statement is. While not every team does it, some teams rely almost completely on the short to intermediate passing game. The Dolphins in 2016 come to mind.

      • AUtiger821 says:

        Why do you insist on being so condescending to fellow fans? When is the statement “I think you’d be surprised at how wrong you are” ever received well? Maybe you could try writing positive things about this team you claim to “love”

        • Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

          That’s not my intention at all. Everyone sees the highlight reel plays. People don’t see the 8 yard per attempt average a lot of NFL QBs have.

  2. …..I have to observe that Auburn’s receivers improved greatly over the course of the season. There were dropped balls and miscues aplenty. By the time Amen Corner rolled around, Darius Slayton WAS running NFL-worth routes, and was getting deep on SEC secondaries. Ryan Davis broke the single season receptions record. Had Hastings and Stove doing damage, too.

    ……I loved seeing the wide receiver screens, last year. Auburn, for so many years has been nickeled and dimed to death with those. I really enjoyed seeing Auburn pick up easy yardage that way, last season.

  3. hello2196 says:

    I don’t profess to know as much as Zach about player development but the passing game looked pretty good to me last season. I thought that Chip Lindsey made a big impact in the passing game.

  4. dyingculture dyingculture says:

    I also agree that the comments about receivers isnt fair… first of all, how many receivers *has* Auburn put in the NFL in the past 40 years? Not many, right? Truth is, Auburn never has been a destination for receivers.

    I think it was only recently that Auburn has tried to change that. Coates and Louis were superior athletes who were raw, and both never quite developed as expected. They were always developmental projects, and never quite made it to the next level of development. But: both made it to the NFL and have had surpisingly long careers in the NFL. Hell, Alexander Wright in the late 80s was a developmental project in the same way.

    Only in the past few years has Auburn made a serious effort to go after the elite receivers on the recruiting trail, while before they would always try to recruit a developmental project. Auburn really is taking it to the next level on recruiting receivers. Malzahn and Co have been doing the best job in recruiting receivers in Auburn history.

  5. dyingculture dyingculture says:

    … the thing I think is going on about the “family tree” thing is I think family tree of coaches is probably actually a selling point on the recruiting trail as well. Look at all of the coaches who were former Auburn players. It’s another career path for the college athlete. Plus, it all fits with the “Auburn family” theme. It’s a unique thing going on with Auburn football … Duke basketball is actually doing the same thing with the alumni to coaching career path, and very successfully.

  6. spanky says:

    On a side note, I think there website may be hacked. Google has an alert on it and any link I click spams other websites.

    • spanky says:

      This

    • administrator says:

      Very sorry about that Spanky. We are working on resolving the issue.

      • AUsomeAU AUsomeAU says:

        Hey Admin,
        Any chance you guys recently decided to start carrying chartboost ads? I had a similar experience when I used them — thought the pop ups were malware, but really they were just standard operating procedure for that ad agency — panic induced clicks are still clicks, apparently. I deleted their ads and the problem went away, fwiw.

      • spanky says:

        Admin, FYI the issue is still persistent. Keeps sending me to love2.com or some nonsense

    • AUglenn says:

      I’ve not had any problem but hope problem will be solved for those that do.

    • administrator says:

      Spanky & AUsomeAU,

      Thank's for your patience! Everything was cleared up on June 6th.
      But it was difficult to eradicate. Everytime we thought we had it licked, it would come back. Our I.T. guy hired outside help and the site has been cleared. Thank's for hanging in there with us!

  7. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    We are getting wrapped up in WRs. The point I am trying to make is that Auburn has gotten just as many four and five star WRs on campus as almost any school in the country and can’t get them in the NFL. The same could be said with virtually ANY position at Auburn OTHER than RB.

  8. elcarg says:

    Looking at data, I think Auburn does a better job of getting players on NFL rosters, maybe if it isn’t always through first round draft picks.

    I’ll give you we haven’t had as many guys drafted in the first round, but we’re not that far off of guys on NFL rosters. This article — https://www.ncaa.com/news/football/article/2017-09-07/colleges-most-represented-2017-nfl-opening-day-rosters — cites number on rosters at beginning of 2017:
    Alabama 44
    Georgia 38
    Auburn 34
    If you watch AL.com articles on numbers of Auburn and Alabama players that dressed, we were pretty damn close to their numbers each week.

    Now looking at how many five and four star signed over the past five years (http://gridironnow.com/recruiting-rankings-sec-schools-five-years/)
    Alabama: 101 four- and five-star recruits, including 27 five-star prospects.
    Georgia: 73 four- and five-star recruits, including 11 five-star prospects.
    Auburn: 68 4- and 5-star signees, including 8 five-star prospects.

    * not nearly as many and our players are making the pros at a better rate

    Drafted in the last 10 years
    Alabama 65
    Georgia 31
    Auburn 31

    * finally, we’ve got more people playing than drafted in the past 10 years, while they have less.

    I attribute Phil Savage helping Bama get players drafted and Nick Saban coaching them up, but ultimately causing them to peak to early.

    Our coaches are doing a great job, and if our fans continue to support the team, we’ll continue to see a program we are proud of.

  9. dyingculture dyingculture says:

    Using 247 sports as a guide, here are the top 20 HS WR recruits since 2000 – and excluding the Malzahn era. The names are: Obobmanu, Anthony Mix, Aromashodu, Tim Hawthorne, and Antonio Goodwin. 15 of the top 20 WR recruits since 2000 have come during the Malzahn era.

    And it’s only been the past 3 years when WR recruiting really has taken off. Auburn has never been a team to recruit the very top receivers before. I believe the jury is still out as to whether or not team Malzahn can turn a top 100 receiver into an NFL talent.

  10. elcarg says:

    I sent an extensive comment yesterday, but it still awaiting approval. What's the issue with it?

    • administrator says:

      Sorry about that elcarg.
      We’ve had some problems with spammers and the site is suppose to block what it may think could be spam. Your URL links triggered an automatic hold on your comments. We didn’t see the “hold” but we’ve approved them now and they have been added to the comments above.

  11. neonbets says:

    The lack of WR development is a broad phenomenon not limited to Auburn. Here’s an article from SI leading up to the draft where coaches and GMs lament the state of this position. They even call it a ‘crisis’. It’s not fair to single out Auburn. Yes, Alabama does a great job, but past that there’s no longer of University of Miami from the 90s that can lay claim to being ‘Receiver U’.

    https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/04/10/draft-wide-receiver-wr-first-round-busts-kyle-lauletta-jimmy-garoppolo-chad-kanoff-princeton

  12. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    Again guys…..this is about not getting first round players. It’s not locked into a discussion at WR. We just have a lot of numbers to look at, there.