Auburn is losing top pass-rusher Corey Lemonier to the NFL draft.
Coming off a 3-9 season and with top pass-rusher Corey Lemonier on his way to the NFL, the Auburn Tigers can't afford to lose top recruit Carl Lawson.
The No. 1 weak-side defensive end in the country is by far the highest-rated recruit of Auburn's 21st-ranked recruiting class, making him a critical building block for a rebuilding program.
Besides Lawson, the Tigers have commitments from several other top defenders, including two top-10 defensive linemen.
With so many holes on both sides of the ball, let's take a look at nine commits the Tigers can't afford to lose if they hope to turn things around in 2013.
Player: Kamryn Melton
Height/Weight/40 time: 5'11", 175 pounds, 4.45
Rating: 3 stars, No. 52 CB (247Sports)
This season the Auburn Tigers had one of the worst pass defenses in the country, surrendering 20 touchdowns while picking off a mere two passes.
Opposing quarterbacks had a field day throwing against the Auburn Tigers in 2012, completing over 65 percent of their passes for a total of 2,675 yards.
Possessing a solid frame and good speed, Auburn's only cornerback commit, Kamryn Melton, would provide a nice boost to a struggling secondary. He's a player who doesn't lack confidence and could certainly grow into a starter once he gets in the weight room and continues to refine his craft.
Player: Cameron Toney
Positon: Inside Linebacker
Height/Weight/40 time: 6'2", 230 pounds, 4.80
Rating: 4 stars, No. 20 overall ILB (247Sports)
Defense was an all-around issue for the Tigers this season, so securing the services of one the nation's better inside linebackers is crucial to upgrading a run defense that surrendered 197 yards per game.
Cameron Toney brings solid size and a physicality from his middle linebacker spot, and Auburn could certainly use his talent in their linebacker corps.
Jake Holland is entering his final year at middle linebacker, so Toney could be groomed as his possible successor.
Player: Jason Smith
Height/Weight/40 time: 6'1", 180 pounds, 4.47
Rating: 4 stars, No. 13 ATH (247Sports)
A do-it-all type of player, 4-star athlete Jason Smith could play a number of positions for the Tigers.
As a junior, the McGill-Toolen High star threw for over 1,300 yards and rushed for 740 more. That versatility and his solid height-weight-speed package makes him a highly coveted recruit.
For an offense in need of playmakers, Smith could fill many roles and would be a threat every time he touches the ball.
Player: Earnest Robinson
Position: Wide Receiver
Height/Weight/40 time: 6'1", 192 pounds, 4.60
Rating: 4 stars, No. 42 WR (247Sports)
The insconsisteny at quarterback certainly didn't help, but the Tigers' passing attack was abysmal in 2012. Only one wide receiver—senior Emory Blake—posted more than 14 catches.
In the SEC, that's just not going to cut it.
While 4-star wideout Earnest Robinson doesn't bring elite speed, he has great size for the position, which has earned him offers from top programs like Alabama, Florida State and LSU.
With Blake exhausting his eligibility, Auburn desperately needs Robinson in the lineup next season.
Player: Jordan Wilkins
Height/Weight/40 time: 6'1", 212 pounds, 4.41
Rating: 4 stars, No. 7 all-purpose RB (247Sports)
At first glance, this might seem a bit low for one of the most impressive running backs in the country. However, because sophomore Tre Mason (1,002 rushing yards, eight touchdowns) displayed the ability to be the guy for the Tigers, Jordan Wilkins checks in at No. 5 on this list.
Besides Mason, the Tigers also boast a talented youngster in Mike Blakely, who was 247Sports.com's No. 10 running back of the 2011 recruiting class.
Luckily running back isn't one of the Tigers' top needs, although bringing in a back with the physical tools that Wilkins has would be a big coup for an offense in need of more explosive playmakers.
With his size-speed package, Wilkins would be yet another threat out of the backfield for Auburn.
Player: Jeremy Johnson
Height/Weight/40 time: 6'5", 215 pounds, 40-time unavailable
Rating: 4 stars, No. 15 pro-style QB (247Sports)
Auburns fans would probably like to forget the quarterback play in 2012. Both Kiehl Frazier and Clint Mosely struggled mightily, combining for just three touchdowns and a whopping 11 interceptions.
Freshman Jonathan Wallace was slightly better, posting an efficiency rating of 139.60. However, landing 4-star QB Jeremy Johnson would add a legitimate pro-style prospect to the fold.
Although he has a quirky delivery, Johnson has an ideal frame, good mobility and a big arm and would be a big-time pickup for a program that lacks consistent play at the quarterback position.
Player: Tashawn Bower
Position: Strong-side defensive end
Height/Weight/40 time: 6'5", 241 pounds, 4.80
Rating: 4 stars, No. 9 SDE (247Sports)
One of the best pass-rushers in his class, 6'5" defensive end Tashawn Bower has all the physical tools to become one of the better defenders in the SEC.
As a senior, the New Jersey native totaled 95 tackles (16 for loss) and 11 sacks.
Bower committed to the Tigers back in June and could challenge for immediate playing time because of his ability to get after the quarterback.
In a piece for ESPN.com, Dave Hooker reported on Dec. 4 that Bower is still considering other schools such as LSU, Florida and Georgia after the firing of Gene Chizik. Auburn's new staff must retain his services; otherwise the Tigers will be haunted for years by the talented pass-rusher.
Player: Dee Liner
Position: Defensive Tackle
Height/Weight/40 time: 6'3", 277 pounds, 4.86
Rating: 4 stars, No. 4 DT (247Sports)
Auburn may be young at defensive tackle, but the Tigers can't afford to lose an elite prospect like Dee Liner.
After starters Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright combined for just two sacks and nine quarterback hurries, the Tigers need an infusion of pass rush from the interior.
That's where Liner fits in.
Possessing excellent quickness and explosion to go along with a solid frame, Liner wreaks havoc from his defensive tackle spot. As a junior, the Alabama native racked up an incredible 17 sacks and 83 total tackles. Adding an elite talent like Liner would help fix a lot of problems up front for the Tigers' putrid defense.
Player: Carl Lawson
Position: Weak-side defensive end
Height/Weight/40 time: 6'3", 245 pounds, 4.70
Rating: 5 stars, No. 1 WDE (247Sports)
With the news that star defensive end Corey Lemonier is declaring for the NFL draft, the No. 1 weak-side defensive end in high school football, Carl Lawson, checks in as the No. 1 commit the Tigers can't afford to lose.
Built almost exactly like Lemonier, Lawson has an ideal frame for a pass-rusher with room to add even more muscle. His explosion and non-stop motor make him a nightmare to block.
Between his junior and senior seasons, the 6'3", 245-pounder racked up an eye-popping 41.5 sacks.
Now that Lemonier is taking his talents—and his team-leading 17 career sacks—to the NFL, the Tigers need to retain Lawson more than ever.