NFL Draft analyst John Vogel previews the Auburn Tigers ahead of the 2021 season. Predictions, pre-season grades, and more:
Ahhhh, my favorite conference in college football. Yes, I am a boy of the south. I love SEC football. When my family moved to southern Tennessee at age nine, we did many things with other families in Alabama. The first question I was asked: Auburn Tigers or Alabama Crimson Tide? I chose Tennessee (unfortunately), but the spirit of the SEC was born within me. There is no conference so fiercely competitive yet so united in all of college football.
Auburn saw a disappointing 2020 season that resulted in head coach Gus Malzahn being removed from his position. It was a little bit dramatic, and several players transferred out of the program. After a tumulus head coaching search, Auburn hired former Boise State head coach, Bryan Harsin, to take over the reins. Harsin was very successful at Boise State, winning big recruiting battles out west and developing the talent he had very well.
Auburn has a huge out of conference game in Penn State (Sept. 18th). They will play LSU (Oct. 2nd) and Texas A&M (Nov. 6th) on the road, and will take on Georgia (Oct. 9th) and Alabama (Nov. 27th) at home. It will be a challenging first season for the Tigers under Harsin.
Offseason hype building around Auburn Tigers QB Bo Nix (Jr)
#10 | HT: 6’2″ | WT: 210 | High School: Pinson Valley (Pinson, AL)
You can’t really talk about the Auburn Tigers right now without talking about their quarterback, Bo Nix. Nix took the starting job as a true freshman and appeared to be the perfect fit in Gus Malzahn’s offense. After his first couple of years, inconsistency is the key. He’s struggled to perform well throughout games, flashing ability at times but never putting everything together. His private quarterbacks’ coach, guru Jordan Palmer, said he would be the first overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Let’s pump the brakes on that right now. Bo Nix has some intriguing capabilities but isn’t anywhere near being the first overall pick in 2022. He’s an improv quarterback with a strong running style. I think he feels the pocket pretty well and has some velocity behind his throw. For the most part, his footwork is consistent and keeps him prepared to throw at all times.
His placement and accuracy, however, are terrible. Consistency has been a huge problem with his game, mostly because he looks to extend the play and prefers to work out of the play structure. His release is awkward and elongated and looks to be part of his problem with his accuracy. Decision-making hasn’t been good either, as Nix likes to attempt to be a hero on the field. There are many issues that Nix has to start cleaning up in 2020, or it’s going to be another long season for the Tigers.
Pre Season Grade: PDFA
C Nick Brahms (R-Sr)
#52 | HT: 6’3″ | WT: 295 | High School: Navarre (Navarre, FL)
Nick Brahms enters the season with 32 career starts – a substantial number for an SEC offensive lineman. Last season, he was named to the Rimington Trophy watchlist and started all 11 games at the center. He’s good and quick with his snap but doesn’t set as well as some centers, sometimes struggling to get a good initial push. He does, however, work well to recover and has a good bend to sustain some powerful defenders. He recognizes stunts and picks them up well.
Brahms still has room to fill out his frame. That’s usually not a problem in NFL weight rooms, but it is worth noting right now that he could be bigger. His strength is really average for the most part, but it’s well balanced through his body. Brahms looks like a solid depth blocker on an NFL roster that teams would hope to show more strength after getting in their weight rooms. Though depth is great to have, and I’m sure he will be off the board on day three.
Pre Season Grade: 5th/6th Round.
NT Tony Fair (7-Sr)
#? | HT: 6’2″ | WT: 320 | High School: Washington (South Bend, IN)
Tony Fair is a graduate transfer into the program from UAB, where he dominated the Conference-USA. It’s been a wild ride for Fair, who’s had his share of ups-and-downs. Fair was supposed to be a part of the class of 2014, but his mother was forced to move, and he had to change high schools. His previous High School, Bishop Luers, forced the Fairs to pay his first two years of tuition as a result. Because he and his mother couldn’t afford it, none of his school credits transferred. Fair spent his freshman year of college retaking the classes he took as a freshman in high school. His full story is here, as we covered on NFL Sapient.
Fair played mostly as a 0 or 1-tech in the UAB scheme and showed flashes of brilliance. At times, he dominated double teams through the A-gap to make big tackles. He’s big and moves surprisingly well for his size. I watched him contain quarterbacks rolling out to the edge a few times on tape. While this is all good stuff, he does need to work on refining his hand technique. He’s raw and doesn’t have much variety to his game, relying instead on his power and size. I’d like to see him win double teams more than he did, as there were times he was out-bruised and pushed back. There’s a lot of potential here and I think he fits in a rotational role within his first couple of years in the league.
Pre Season Grade: 5th/6th Round.
Auburn Tigers defense headed by OFF LB Owen Pappoe (Jr)
#0 | HT: 6’0″ | WT: 220 | High School: Grayson (Lawrenceville, GA)
Owen Pappoe is ridiculously smart – in fact, he’s studying in the College of Engineering while at Auburn. The true junior out of Lawrenceville, Georgia, has a lot of hype entering this season as one of the top off-ball linebackers in the country. In fact, Pappoe has been on every “way-too-early” top 50-100 board I have seen published by the media so far.
Don’t get me wrong; there is a lot to like with Pappoe. He is extremely athletic. That will catch evaluators’ eyes immediately on tape. He has outstanding speed and lateral quickness and has the makings of being a sideline-to-sideline defender. He’s explosive and instinctive, generally scanning the play and getting into position. He has the ability to play man coverage against running backs and make them a non-factor as receivers. All of this is good.
The problems with Pappoe are there, however. His size is concerning. Pappoe lacks length, and it becomes clear when he stands next to some of the defensive backs. He’s already small for the position, but lacking arm length with hurt him as an off-ball linebacker. While he has the athleticism you want to see, it doesn’t translate into pursuit. He oftentimes takes bad angles and doesn’t wrap up tackles well. With his lack of size, it doesn’t appear that you want to line him up against tight ends in coverage. There are some great linebackers in this class and defenders for that matter. It’s going to push him further down draft boards than most people in the media realize.
Pre Season Grade: 4th/5th Round.
CB Dreshun Miller (R-Sr)
#? | HT: 6’0″ | WT: 190 | High School: Sprayberry (Kennesaw, GA)
Dreshun Miller is another graduate transfer into the Auburn program from West Virginia, where he started in 2020. A transfer from Eastern Arizona CC in 2019, Miller was injured in the offseason that held his debut in the FBS by a year. Now, as a graduate transfer, he’s come to the SEC, where he hopes to prove himself ahead of his trial at the NFL.
The West Virginia scheme plays a good variety of man and zone coverages, giving a good sample size of what Miller can play in. Variety and versatility are exactly what the Auburn Tigers need. He’s physical in man coverage, sometimes too physical down the field, and doesn’t do a great job turning to locate the football. But he’s fast, and he’s long and has room to grow on his frame. In zone coverage, Miller is instinctive and smart. He picks up his assignments and sniffs out concepts well. I think the thing that will hold him back is his tackling ability, it’s not great, and he missed a bunch last year at West Virginia. The length and athletic ability will be intriguing at the NFL level.
Pre Season Grade: 4th/5th Round.
S Smoke Monday (Sr)
#21 | HT: 6’2″ | WT: 195 | High School: Carver (Atlanta, GA)
Smoke Monday was surprising to me on tape as a very fluid and reliable safety prospect for the next level. I had taken glances at Auburn in passing while studying for the 2021 NFL Draft, mostly in bad games for Auburn, and didn’t have many notes on Monday entering the season. What I saw going back to prepare for this article is Monday is a fierce safety prospect who probably could have gone pro last year. He enters his true junior season with instincts, ability in man coverage, and solid tackling skills.
Monday has the prototypical length that most NFL teams like to see out of their defensive backs. His instincts often lead him to make the tackle, and his pursuit angles are normally solid. He’s a solid tackler, especially in the open field. He plays through the receiver to the football and won’t often draw flags – even in man coverage. Plus, he’s fast. There wasn’t much to not like about Monday, so another good season should put him toward the top of the NFL Draft.
Pre Season Grade: 1st/2nd Round.