AUBURN, Ala. — In terms of volume, Auburn football’s 2018 NFL Draft class didn’t live up to high expectations. The Tigers only saw four of their players come off the board during the draft, while prospects such as Jeff Holland and Tray Matthews didn’t hear their names called in the seven-round process.
Still, the 2018 draft class of four — offensive guard Braden Smith, running back Kerryon Johnson, cornerback Carlton Davis and kicker Daniel Carlson — maintained the average of draftees in Gus Malzahn’s tenure.
That average of four is higher than any other Auburn coach in the modern draft era.
|NFL DRAFTEES BY AUBURN HEAD COACH|
|2018: 4||2013: 1||2009: 3||1999: 2|
|2017: 4||2012: 1||2008: 5||1998: 4|
|2016: 3||2011: 4||2007: 5||1997: 1|
|2015: 5||2010: 2||2006: 4||1996: 3|
|2014: 4||2005: 5||1995: 3|
|2004: 4||1994: 3|
|4 per year||2 per year||3.6 per year||2.67 per year|
The number of NFL draft selections is the easiest and most common baseline to measure pro production for a school. But as a reader reminded me earlier this year, that number doesn’t always tell the whole story. Sometimes NFL-quality players don’t get taken in the seven-round draft and still prove themselves to be roster-worthy.
Several Malzahn products have gone undrafted — much like Holland and Matthews — and turned into solid NFL players. Peyton Barber has started NFL games as a running back. Corey Grant, DaVonte Lambert and Quan Bray have carved out roles in the league. Jonathan Jones and Brandon King have Super Bowl rings.
Auburn’s NFL production was in a sharp decline toward the end of the Tommy Tuberville era and through the Gene Chizik tenure.
Under Malzahn, though, that has changed. Auburn’s 2015 outgoing class produced almost as many NFL players (14) as the Tigers totaled in all four classes under Chizik combined (15).
Here’s a snapshot of Auburn’s NFL classes since 2000 — the first one under Tuberville. By adding the number of NFL draft picks for each year by the number of undrafted players who played in at least one NFL regular-season game, we can get a look at the total pro production for Auburn’s last three coaches. (Lists of undrafted free agent signings are difficult to find pre-2000.)
Gus Malzahn: 36* NFL players in 5 years (7.2* per year)
*Total is number of NFL players from 2014-17 draft cycles, plus 2018 draftees (undrafted players currently on NFL rosters are listed with 2018 class in parentheses)
2018 (4*): RB Kerryon Johnson, CB Carlton Davis, OG Braden Smith, K Daniel Carlson (DB Tray Matthews, DE Jeff Holland, OT Darius James, OL Austin Golson, DB Stephen Roberts, OC Casey Dunn) (RB Kamryn Pettway and LB Tre’ Williams signed deals but aren’t currently on rosters)
2017 (5): DT Montravius Adams, DE Carl Lawson, DB Rudy Ford, DB Josh Holsey, DT Devaroe Lawrence
2016 (7): OT Shon Coleman, WR Ricardo Louis, DB Blake Countess, RB Peyton Barber, OT Avery Young, DB Jonathan Jones, DT DaVonte Lambert
2015 (14): WR Sammie Coates, DT Angelo Blackson, DT Gabe Wright, TE C.J. Uzomah, RB Cameron Artis-Payne, DB Nick Marshall, RB Corey Grant, WR Quan Bray, DB Trovon Reed, OG Chad Slade, DB Robenson Therezie, DB Brandon King, DB Jermaine Whitehead, DB Jonathon Mincy
2014 (6): OT Greg Robinson, DE Dee Ford, RB Tre Mason, FB Jay Prosch, DB Chris Davis, K Cody Parkey
Gene Chizik: 15 NFL players in 4 years (3.75 per year)
2013 (3): DE Corey Lemonier, LB Daren Bates, RB Onterio McCalebb
2012 (3): OT Brandon Mosley, LS Josh Harris, DB Neiko Thorpe
2011 (6): QB Cam Newton, DT Nick Fairley, DT Zach Clayton, OT Lee Ziemba, WR Darvin Adams, LB Josh Bynes
2010 (3): RB Ben Tate, DB Walter McFadden, DE Antonio Coleman
Tommy Tuberville: 52 NFL players in 10 years (5.2 per year)
2009 (3): DT Sen’Derrick Marks, DB Jerraud Powers, OG Tyronne Green
2008 (6): DE Quentin Groves, DB Pat Lee, DT Pat Sims, DB Jonathan Wilhite, OT King Dunlap, DB Eric Brock
2007 (8): OG Ben Grubbs, RB Kenny Irons, LB Will Herring, DB David Irons, WR Courtney Taylor, OG Tim Duckworth, OL Jonathan Palmer, DE Marquies Gunn
2006 (9): OT Marcus McNeill, WR Devin Aromashadou, DE Stanley McClover, WR Ben Obomanu, DT T.J. Jackson, LB Travis Williams, TE Cooper Wallace, CB Kevin Hobbs, WR Anthony Mix
2005 (5): RB Ronnie Brown, RB Carnell Williams, DB Carlos Rogers, QB Jason Campbell, DE Jay Ratliff
2004 (5): LB Karlos Dansby, LB Dontarrious Thomas, DE Reggie Torbor, WR Jeris McIntyre, DT Spencer Johnson
2003 (5): TE Robert Johnson, K Damon Duval, LB Mark Brown, DB Roderick Hood, DB Travaris Robinson
2002 (4): OG Kendall Simmons, WR Tim Carter, OG Mike Pucillo, DE Javor Mills
2001 (3): FB Heath Evans, RB Rudi Johnson, LB Alex Lincoln
2000 (4): DE Marcus Washington, DE Leonardo Carson, DE Quinton Reese, OG Jeno James
The Tuberville years had great development with less success in recruiting. The Chizik years brought better recruiting but less success in development. Auburn is starting to find a sweet spot in both areas with Malzahn.
Under Malzahn, Auburn football is recruiting well and sending more players into the NFL than it did under its last two coaches. The number of draft picks are up and so are the amount of fringe prospects who have made it as undrafted roster players. That number could grow with the success of a large 2018 UFA class.
That number should only grow, with Auburn continuing to recruit among the top dozen programs in the country and priming what should be a big 2019 NFL class. While the 2018 class fell short of the program draft-pick record, that mark is in serious jeopardy for 2019 with the likes of Jarrett Stidham and a star-studded defensive line.
It’s a sign of a program heading in the right direction, even though the end to 2018 left a bad taste in the fan base’s collective mouth.
Malzahn ultimately will be judged on wins and losses, like any other college football coach. But Auburn’s improving pro production — while not at the elite levels of SEC West rivals Alabama or LSU — is a great pitch to sell for a staff that has plenty of contract security and is gaining momentum on the recruiting trail.