The Auburn Tigers had as many NFL draft picks in the 2013 NFL draft as another school in the state in Alabama.
Nope, it's not as many as its hated rival, the University of Alabama, who had nine players drafted. It's as many as FCS member Samford—whose campus is in Birmingham. The Bulldogs had one. In the SEC, Auburn's one draft pick tied Kentucky for 12th in the SEC. Only Ole Miss had fewer with—you guessed it—zero.
Among the leaders of the SEC in terms of draft picks in the 2013 NFL draft are Alabama, LSU and Georgia. Alabama and LSU had nine draftees while Georgia had eight. Sixty-three players from the SEC were drafted.
For a school that has been called behind the names of its players 250-plus times (per Charles Goldberg, auburntigers.com) in the NFL draft, that's a hard pill to swallow. The lack of Auburn draftees in the 2013 NFL draft is the latest indictment against former head coach Gene Chizik and his coaching staff. Overall, seven players who played under Chizik as head coach heard their names called in the NFL draft in his four years as Auburn's head coach.
Why couldn't Chizik's staff—one that was hailed as a top-notch staff when hired—get players to the NFL?
There are numerous hypotheses regarding the lack of pro prospects from Auburn in recent years. Guesses revolve around the staff incorrectly identifying talent, scheme or development of players.
Was the coaching staff under Chizik recruiting the wrong guys?
Jay Tate of AuburnSports.com raised an interesting possibility (subscription required) about Auburn's non-presence in the draft in recent years. Tate proposed that the staff could have fallen victim to "reputational recruiting," where the staff focused on winning national signing day than the traditional style of recruiting.
After all, It was former Auburn recruiting coordinator and RB coach Curtis Luper who said in reference to recruiting, "If they're keeping score, we want to win" (per Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)
Traditionally, coaching staffs don't pay attention to the stars beside a recruit's name, but recruits players to fit the system, without concern if those players are 2-stars or 5-stars.
While this scenario is possible, it just can't be the case. Coming out of high school, the prospects that flourished in college and were drafted last weekend from Alabama, LSU and Georgia were not all that different from the prospects that went to Auburn. Some were recruited by all four schools, but ultimately chose Auburn. Many of the top schools in the country were going after most of Auburn's signees under Chizik.
Could all of the sharp football minds that evaluated those players be that wrong? Doubtful.
The draftees in the 2013 NFL draft were mainly from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes.
In 2008, Tommy Tuberville's final year as head coach, Auburn finished No. 20, while the Crimson Tide, Tigers and Bulldogs finished with the No. 1, No. 11 and No. 7 classes, respectively. In 2009, Chizik had a little over a month to haul in the nation's No. 19 class, according to Rivals. Alabama, LSU and Georgia were all ranked in the top 6.
The difference in being No. 19 or No. 1 is not all that vast. In 2009, for example, there was only a .39 point difference in average star rating between top-ranked Auburn and Alabama.
In 2010, however, Auburn's No. 4 class topped Alabama, LSU and Georgia's recruiting class.
As for scheme, Malzahn's offense has been incorrectly labeled as an offense that will not get players "NFL ready." Heisman winner and former Auburn QB Cam Newton has something to say about that. He won the NFL rookie of the year for the Carolina Panthers after his 2011 season.
Malzahn's offense is physical and is run-based. Just like most offenses in the NFL.
What Auburn's draft problem comes down to is development and retention.
The big difference between the top schools on draft day is what happened in between the time those recruits signed with their school and when they decided to take their talents to the NFL. The top talent the coaches brought in at Alabama, LSU and Georgia was developed and retained.
At Auburn, the opposite happened under Chizik.
The majority of the top players in those recruiting classes never reached their potential or didn't finish out their careers. Former WR DeAnglelo Benton and former 5-star RB Michael Dyer come to mind. Benton—a 4-star receiver from the 2009 class—received rave reviews in practice, but finished his career at Auburn with only 17 receptions, one touchdown and 323 yards in 43 games.
Dyer is a familiar story, after helping lead Auburn to the BCS national championship in 2010 and a second consecutive 1,000-plus yard rushing season in 2011, he was suspended before the bowl game and is currently at Arkansas Baptist College in an effort to get back on his feet.
Dyer, along with 11 other players from Auburn's highly touted 2010 recruiting class are no longer associated with the program.
Next year's NFL draft does not look much more promising for Auburn. The most draft eligible players at this time look to be DE Dee Ford or CB Chris Davis. Someone else could certainly come out of nowhere.
Chances are that Auburn will have better success in the draft three or four years from now. New Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has hired a group of coaches who have a reputation for developing talent. Ten players that played under Auburn's current crop of coaches were drafted last weekend, according to Phillip Marshall of Auburn Undercover.
For Auburn to not fall further behind in the SEC and the NFL draft, Malzahn must learn from Chizik's mistakes and develop as well as retain the talent that he brings to the Plains.
No program in the SEC is slowing down to let the Tigers catch up.