The Auburn Tigers are two years removed from the start of their magical National Championship Campaign. 2010 hero Cam Newton is on his way to NFL stardom, and Offensive Coordinator/Mastermind Gus Malzahn has moved on to run the program at Arkansas State. This year’s team is also minus running back Michael Dyer, who will sit out this season after following Malzahn out of town. Despite all of the departures, the cupboard is not bare. Below are some of the draft eligible Tigers who NFL teams will be watching this season. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Philip Lutzenkirchen TE 6’4 250 – Lutzenkirchen is a talented player who, like Ohio State’s Jake Stoneburner, makes the most of his limited touches. During Auburn’s national title run, five of the big tight end’s 15 receptions went for scores. During a two week stretch of SEC play he caught three passes for three touchdowns, including a critical score in a comeback win over Alabama. Last season, Lutzenkirchen upped his catch total to 24 and found the end zone seven more times. He’s not a game breaking tight end with the athleticism of guys like Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, but Lutzenkirchen runs well enough to get open, he has soft hands, and he’s an excellent blocker. He’s about an inch shorter, but his ability as a blocker and receiver bring to mind Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller. This year Lutzenkirchen should see his touches increase while remaining a consistent red zone threat.
Emory Blake WR 6’2 197 – Blake is the son of former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake. Last season he was a victim of the Tigers’ uneven passing game, but he led the team with 36 receptions and 613 yards despite playing in just eight games. Blake also found the end zone five times. The year before Blake totaled 33 catches for 554 yards and eight touchdowns. This year he figures to once again be quarterback Clint Moseley’s primary target and Auburn’s main threat to stretch the field. Blake is a glider when he gets down the field, but in short spaces he is a little bit herky-jerkey, lacks top-end speed, and is not particularly elusive. He’s a half step slow getting off the line of scrimmage at times as well. But when he gets open Blake has strong hands and can get the ball at its highest point. In addition to his receiving skills, Blake has good size and strength and is a willing blocker who can help in the run game. At this point he appears to be a solid mid round prospect.
Corey Lemonier* DE 6’4 240 – As a sophomore in 2010, Lemonier tallied 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, putting him squarely in the sights of pass-rush hungry NFL scouts. His production was to be expected. Lemonier was the nation’s third rated defensive end coming out of high school, and the fourth rated prospect in the entire, talent-rich state of Florida. However, he lacks the preferred size of a 4-3 defensive end, so it’s almost a guarantee that more than a few teams will evaluate him as a potential NFL linebacker. That could be a tricky task as Lemonier is never asked to play pass coverage, and looks as though he may be too stiff for it. Because he’s much smaller than many of the tackles he faces, he’s able to use his speed to get around them on occasion, but he lacks the strength to get free once he’s blocked. Lemonier moves well along the line of scrimmage, and has a knack for forcing the ball loose, but he’s half a beat slow getting off the ball the majority of the time. In some circles he’s being projected as a first round pick, but Lemonier is still a raw prospect with questions about his best fit at the next level.
Onterio McCalebb RB 5’11 174 – McCalebb can flat out fly on the field and is a big play threat in Auburn’s offense. As a sophomore he rushed for 810 yards and nine touchdowns and averaged 8.5 yards per carry. Last season his rushing yards dipped to 641 yards, but added 32 receptions for 344 yards. He scored eight total TDs, including a kick return touchdown against 2011 National Champs, Alabama. McCalebb has averaged nearly 28 yards per return in his college career. The Tigers use McCalebb in a similar manner to how West Virginia uses Tavon Austin. They run plays to get McCalebb the ball in space where he can use his speed to break big gainers. He’ll often be given the ball on an end around, a bubble screen, or a swing pass out of the backfield. His thin build will preclude him from being an effective NFL running back, but his speed is impossible to overlook. McCalebb will need to develop route running skills, but he may be best served to move to receiver at the next level. His special teams ability is certainly an added bonus. McCalebb’s draft value will vary depending on how teams envision utilizing his playmaking ability.
Also keep an eye on: John Sullen G 6’5 336, T’Sharvan Bell CB 6’0 185, Daren Bates OLB/SS 5’11 205, DeAngelo Benton WR 6’2 203, Travonte Stallworth WR 5’9 188