NFL Preseason 2012: Is Cam Newton the Best Former Tiger in the NFL?
Many college programs are known for producing playmakers at one or two positions—USC’s strong-armed quarterbacks, Ohio State’s hard-hitting linebackers and LSU’s ball-hawking defensive backs—they prove this year in and year out.
Since the mid-90s, Auburn has regularly sent talented running backs and defensive tackles to the NFL. But the Tigers are represented by far more than just these two positions every Sunday.
This list will count down the top five present-day NFL players who were once Auburn Tigers.
Though entire careers were taken into consideration, the purpose of this list is to rank each athlete’s current talent level and potential, so some veterans were left off due to a recent decline in production.
5. RB Ben Tate (Auburn 2009)
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Ben Tate's 1,040 total yards, four touchdowns and a 5.4 ypc average isn’t bad for a second-year player who spent his entire rookie season on the injured reserve.
It also isn’t bad for a player who did not even start!
The Texans’ combination of Ben Tate and Arian Foster rushed for the second most yards in the NFL and are considered by many to be the best running back duo in the league.
Head Coach Gary Kubiak cautions critics to be careful classifying Tate's first successful season a "fluke."
When asked about the young ball-carrier, Kubiak said, “Ben may be one of the guys who has probably made the most progress as a pro from last year to this year, so that’s good for our team.”
With exceptional praise like this coming from Tate’s Head Coach, fans should not expect to see any kind of drop off on the speedster’s success next season.
4. Ben Grubbs (Auburn 2006)
Ben Grubbs (courtesy of AuburnTigers.com)
6'3" 310 pound Ben Grubbs is more than just a mammoth offensive guard, he is also a steady, reliable option who had not missed a game in his career prior to last season.
After missing the first six games of the 2011 season due to injury, the then-Raven’s lineman finished the season well enough to warrant a trip to the 2011 Pro Bowl.
Since entering the league in 2007, the heady offensive guard has been praised for his football IQ. This on-field awareness has allowed the recent New Orleans acquisition to already make a splash at Saints camp.
Interim Head Coach Joe Vitt says Grubbs is a “very, very smart, very detailed player” and adds “He is probably a little better communicator on the offensive line than [pro bowler and ex-Saint] Carl Nicks was.”
At only 28 years old, Grubbs’ potential is through the roof. With his combination of size and football smarts, Grubbs can become a regular on Pro Bowl rosters, and soon be considered one of the best guards in the NFL.
3. Carlos Rogers (Auburn 2004)
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At 6'0" and just over 190 pounds, Carlos Rogers is one of the most physically imposing corners in the NFL. But it is his coverage ability—not size—that intimidates most opponents.
After spending the first six seasons of his career in Washington, the playmaking corner spent the 2011 season with the San Francisco 49ers, and had his most productive year as a pro.
Rogers totaled 43 tackles, 18 pass breakups, and 6 interceptions—which he returned for 106 yards and one touchdown.
Rogers’ impressive stats, on the league’s second best defense, earned the seven-year veteran a trip to the 2011 Pro Bowl and a spot on the NFL All-Pro team.
Possibly the most surprising award for Rogers came when he was named to the 2012 preseason NFL top 100 players list.
This list, based on player voting, predicts Rogers to be the No. 69 player in the league this season—above Lance Briggs, Jonathan Joseph, Nnamdi Asomugha, Dwight Freeney, Cortland Finnegan and even Rogers’ teammate NaVorro Bowman.
While these awards and acknowledgements alone do not prove Rogers’ worth, they do show that the former first-round draft pick is finally starting to live up to his potential.
2. Jay Ratliff (Auburn 2004)
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The Cowboys’ inability to win playoff games, coupled with the lack of attention given to defensive tackles, has kept many football fans from knowing exactly who Jay Ratliff is.
The 6'4" 290 pound defender hit the scene in 2005 when he was drafted in the seventh round by the Dallas Cowboys.
Since then, Ratliff has been a regular in opponents’ backfields—finishing in the top five on the Cowboys sack list, six years running. Ratliff saw a peak in his sack numbers in 2008 and 2009, when he totaled 7.5 and 6 sacks respectively.
When asked about Ratliff earlier this month, Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett said “He’s a relentless player. He loves to play. He loves to work at it.”
This work ethic and relentlessness have not gone unnoticed, as the defensive lineman has been named to the Pro Bowl each year since 2008, and was an NFL All-Pro in 2009.
Though Jay Ratliff is not the most well-known Tiger in the NFL, fans and opponents will agree that the Cowboys’ big man is one of the best.
1. Cam Newton (Auburn 2010)
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The most prolific rookie passer in NFL history tops this list.
Cam Newton—the soon to be second-year Carolina Panthers quarterback—wasted little time proving critics wrong in his rookie campaign.
Newton passed for 4,051 yards, 21 TDs along with 706 rushing yards and 14 TDs (an NFL record for a quarterback) in his first professional football season.
Predictably after the 2011 season, No. 1 was presented the AP NFL rookie of the year award—which was only one of such rookie awards that the young dual-threat passer received after the 2011 season.
Newton’s 4.4 speed, powerful right arm, 6’5" 250 pound frame and ability to grasp the playbook has Panthers fans very excited for the future of the franchise.
Who Just Missed It?
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Nick Fairley (Auburn 2010): The young Lions’ defensive tackle has talent to spare, but injuries and off-field issues have kept the 6'4" 290 pound player from being able to truly showcase his skills.
Karlos Dansby (Auburn 2003): The self-described best linebacker in the NFL does not lack confidence. What he does lack are the consistent results that would warrant him a spot on this list. Though he has been considered a somewhat reliable option at linebacker, he has yet to post numbers or receive the accolades that separate him as one of the best the league has to offer.
Takeo Spikes (Auburn 1997): The 6'2" 242 pound former Tiger is surely one of the most intimidating linebackers in the league, and with over 1,300 career tackles he is one of the most accomplished former Auburn players ever. The problem comes with Spikes’ age. At 35, and a few years removed from a torn Achilles tendon and nagging hamstring issues, Spikes has lost a step or two, and has seen some decline in his production since his Pro Bowl seasons of 2003 and 2004.