Auburn produced two first-round picks a year ago in Greg Robinson and Dee Ford, but the Tigers got shut out of the first round (and the second) in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Despite not producing a top-64 pick, Auburn ended up having one Day 2 pick and four Day 3 picks.
Ultimately, the Tigers should have a better showing in 2016, when D’haquille Williams, Jonathan Jones, Kris Frost, Cassanova McKinzy and Carl Lawson should all enter the draft. For now, let’s take a look at Auburn’s 2015 NFL Draft class.
Sammie Coates, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (3rd round, 87th overall)
Not exactly known for churning out NFL receivers, Auburn finally produced a good one in Sammie Coates. The big-play threat actually became the first Auburn receiver to get drafted since Courtney Taylor went 197th overall to the Seattle Seahawks in 2007. Let’s just says Coates should have no problem besting Taylor’s 14 career catches.
A true physical freak, Coates checks in at 6’1”, 212 pounds with 33 3/8” arms and 4.43 speed. The combine star showed off his all-around athleticism by posting a 41” vertical, 10’11” broad jump, 4.06-second short shuttle and 23 reps on the bench. Coates’ raw tools rank among the best in this class, but he needs to improve his route-running and ball skills. Though he averaged 21.4 yards per catch in his three-year career, he dropped far too many catchable balls. Luckily, he won’t be forced to play right away in Pittsburgh.
Angelo Blackson, DT, Tennessee Titans (4th round, 100th overall)
Somewhat of a surprise as the first pick of Day 3, Angelo Blackson became the highest-drafted Auburn defensive lineman since Nick Fairley went 13th overall back in 2011. Unfortunately, Blackson isn’t nearly the same athlete or impactful player as Fairley was coming out of college.
Tipping the scales at 6’4”, 311 pounds with nearly 34” arms, Blackson has the look of a prototypical NFL defensive tackle. However, he’s just an average athlete, and he hoisted just 20 reps on the bench at the combine. As a pure run-stopper, he should fit in well in Tennesse’s 3-4 defense, but he has limited upside and can’t rush the passer.
Gabe Wright, DT, Detroit Lions (4th round, 113th overall)
Just 13 picks later, the Lions opted to replace Fairley with another Auburn defensive tackle in Gabe Wright. Slightly smaller than Blackson, the 6’3”, 300-pound Wright enters the NFL as a much more accomplished and higher-upside prospect.
Playing in all 52 games of his four-year career, the former high-school All-American flashed great explosive traits on film. In 2013, Wright looked like a possible top-60 pick after totaling 31 tackles (8.5 for loss) and three sacks as Auburn eventually lost to Florida State in the BCS National Championship. Though his production declined last fall, Wright definitely has the talent to grow into a disruptive player in Detroit where he’ll line up next to an all-time great in Haloti Ngata.
C.J. Uzomah, TE, Cincinnati Bengals (5th round, 157th overall)
Drafted earlier than expected, C.J. Uzomah didn’t exactly stuff the stat sheet in four years with the Tigers. He finished his college career with just 29 catches for 435 yards and seven touchdowns. Of course, he didn’t play in a pass-happy offense, so that production has to be taken with a grain of salt.
So what made the Bengals take the underutilized tight end in the fifth round? Athleticism is the name of Uzomah’s game, and clearly Cincinnati has a plan to deploy the 6’6”, 262-pounder in some sort of hybrid role. Uzomah ran a 4.62 at Auburn’s pro day while also hoisting 19 reps on the bench. Perhaps the Bengals will use him in an H-back role with Tyler Eifert as the in-line option.
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Carolina Panthers (5th round, 174th overall)
Somehow the SEC’s 2014 rushing champion fell all the way to the bottom of the fifth round. Ultimately, the Panthers may have gotten a steal with Cameron Artis-Payne, who should be a solid complement to Jonathan Stewart. The 5’10”, 212-pounder showed good athleticism at the combine, running a 4.53 40-yard dash, and that speed is evident on tape.
One concern about Artis-Payne’s NFL fit is the fact that he landed with a team with one of the worst offensive lines in the league. He benefitted from running behind a strong offensive line at Auburn, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can make yardarge on his own in Carolina. Still, he seems like a rare value pick for the Panthers.