Gene Chizik has lifted Auburn into the national spotlight in the past three years with a national championship season and three consecutive years of top-notch recruiting.
The 2012 class represented one of the best talent pulls yet in the Chizik era, and there are a number of players that will likely make waves beyond college, taking their talents into the NFL.
Auburn fans will see some of these names making moves this fall, while others may take time to move into major impact roles.
There are always players that fail to live up to potential, but for love of the game—and of course for fun—here is a look at the five most likely NFL stars that will come from the Tigers' 2012 class.
Ricardo Louis was an athlete signee that could have played defense and offense for the Tigers when he arrived on the Plains. Currently, Louis is taking reps at the wide receiver position, and is looking to earn playing time this fall.
The Tigers recently announced the suspension of DeAngelo Benton, opening up the road for another young receiver to see the field—it could be Louis this season.
Louis is a big body on the outside—he is 6’2”, 210 pounds—and has shown proficiency through the first few weeks of fall camp at his new position.
In high school Louis played quarterback and safety for his team, filling voids where his team needed his playmaking ability the most.
Not having played the receiver position in high school raised a few flags as to whether he could come in and produce at the position right away, but his athleticism has shown through and he will likely make the field this fall.
By the time Louis concludes his career at Auburn, he will be one of the best options the Tigers have had snagging passes if he continues on his current path of projection. Louis is a special talent that will produce special results.
When Alex Kozan signed with the Tigers a few weeks after signing day, he looked to be a nice addition to an already solid class, but no one expected him to land in the starting offensive line rotation for the 2012 season.
At this point, it would be a bit of a surprise if he didn't take the field against Clemson in week one. Kozan brings a unique blend of size, quickness and intelligence to the position—all traits that have lifted his playing status exponentially.
The Tigers are working to solidify their starting line in the next week, and Kozan is looking to be a starter at right guard.
The last offensive lineman to play his career from day one at Auburn as a freshman was Lee Ziemba—he is currently on the Carolina Panthers roster.
There is a lot of work to do for Kozan to go from starting freshman to impact pro, but he is proving that he has the ability to get there in the future.
Auburn was in dire need of linebackers in the 2012 class and the Tigers landed a major game-changer when Cassanova McKinzy chose to sign. McKinzy is good enough that he has made waves this fall and will see time in a reserve role for Auburn this season.
One of the big changes that will come with the new Brian VanGorder-led Auburn defense is linebacker size.
The Tigers have had smaller bodies filling the middle of the defense in the past few seasons, but McKinzy represents the new breed of linebacker that will come to the Plains—McKinzy is 6’3”, 243 pounds.
Auburn had a lot of struggles at middle linebacker last year, but those problems will soon be a thing of the past. McKinzy is playing behind rising junior Jake Holland—Holland has also added weight, now playing at 6’1”, 241 pounds—so his time will be limited, but he will develop into a very good middle linebacker for the Tigers.
McKinzy will be a big impact player for the Tigers in the coming years.
Avery Young was a national signing day addition to the Tigers' signing class, and he was a huge pickup for the Tigers. Young is a lot like Alex Kozan—athletic, big and full of nasty streak.
Young is the most athletic lineman currently found on the Tigers roster. He has earned a lot of respect this fall during camp and will see playing time this fall along the line. Like Kozan, Young may be a starter along the line to start the season.
Having Young starting on the line will not be an issue for the Tigers. He has the talent to make more of a positive impact than a negative one and—if he continues to grow into the position—he will be one of the best linemen to have taken the field for Auburn in recent memory.
Look for Young to be a big-time addition to an NFL roster in the coming years. Auburn has cranked out a lot of talented linemen to the pros in the past and under Jeff Grimes leadership Young is another up-and-comer for the Tigers along the line.
The Tigers are stacked in the defensive backfield heading into the 2012 season, but one freshman that could make waves on special teams and in a reserve role is Josh Holsey.
Holsey was a big piece of the Tigers' recruiting class in 2012 and reminds me a lot of Jerraud Powers—currently a cornerback with the Indianapolis Colts. Holsey is similar to Powers in size and plays with the same tenacity that makes Powers a dangerous defender in the NFL.
Both players are listed below ideal size—they stand at 5’9”—but they outplay their height with the fierce striking ability and the closing ability that is witnessed on the field.
Holsey has elite athleticism and is very fluid with his hips. Holsey sticks to his receiver and is never afraid to sell his body to make a play.
All the intangibles are there for Holsey to come on strong for the Tigers and be a major role player in the future, landing him in the NFL at the end of his time on the Plains.