Auburn Football: Who Is Replacing Every Former Tiger Taken in 2014 NFL Draft
The chaos of the 2014 NFL draft and the undrafted free-agent signing period has officially come and gone, giving 13 former Auburn Tigers the starts to what they hope will be long and fruitful professional careers.
Four of the former Tigers now making their way to NFL rosters were selected in the three-day draft, including Auburn's first pair of first-round picks since Cam Newton and Nick Fairley in 2011.
With only two of these Tigers leaving a year early for the bright lights of the pros, Auburn's depth chart was more than prepared to replace the outgoing playmakers from its 2013 SEC championship squad.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's first full recruiting class to the Plains brought a new amount of depth with a veteran cast of stars returning for the 2013 season.
Let's take a look at the crop of 2014 Tigers who will help replace their four drafted teammates and the five spots on this season's depth chart they once held.
OT Shon Coleman (Replacing Greg Robinson)
The player who will most likely replace No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson as Auburn's starting left tackle this season already has experience walking on stage at the NFL draft.
The NFL invited Shon Coleman, who battled leukemia in his four-year journey from blue-chip recruit to potential starter, to announce the No. 14 pick last Thursday for the St. Louis Rams, the team that chose Robinson earlier in the evening.
Coleman emerged as the first-team replacement for Robinson by the end of Auburn's spring practices and started at the position for the annual A-Day Game. Teammates raved about the third-year sophomore being stronger than Robinson, who blew scouts away with his physical gifts at the combine earlier this year.
But Coleman's spot as starting left tackle is not official yet, according to Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes. The competition for the starting job between Coleman and former starting right tackle Patrick Miller will continue this fall.
"I think it’s still a battle," Grimes told AL.com's Brandon Marcello. "I think it's one of those that going into camp we've got a great situation there. A lot of people across the country would love to have that situation, where's there's good competition, and I feel good about that."
Grimes said the "long, athletic" Coleman was impressive this spring in his first position battle after backing up Robinson all last season. With Coleman getting the nod at A-Day and having more experience on the left side, he will be the favorite to become Auburn's lone new starter on the offensive line this season.
DE Carl Lawson (Replacing Dee Ford)
Dee Ford's impressive Senior Bowl MVP performance and solid senior season earned him a first-round selection last Thursday. The former defensive end projects to be a pass-rushing specialist at outside linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, who chose Ford with the No. 23 overall pick.
Auburn returns senior LaDarius Owens at right end, but the Tigers will need to replace the physical Ford at left end for the upcoming season.
Enter Carl Lawson, who rotated in at defensive end with fellow freshman phenom Elijah Daniel last season. Now a sophomore with SEC experience, the former 5-star Lawson is poised to become the newest pass-rushing menace for Auburn's improving defense in 2014.
One of his teammates on the defensive line says Lawson could be even better than the Kansas City-bound Ford, who registered 10.5 sacks last season.
"Carl's definitely showing some traits on that left side, looking almost as good or better than Dee," senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright told the Opelika-Auburn News' Alex Byington. "He brings a different level, just like all the rest of us do."
Lawson missed the A-Day Game with a nagging injury, but Malzahn said the defensive end and the rest of his Tigers will be healthy by the start of fall camp. Compared to Daniel, Lawson is more developed and has a better resume, so look for him to get the nod this fall.
RB Cameron Artis-Payne (Replacing Tre Mason)
Former Heisman finalist Tre Mason is also headed to St. Louis after the Rams drafted him with a third-round pick, and the hard-nosed running back will look to replicate his college success behind Robinson in the pros.
Mason broke several school records with his all-around style of tough running that became dangerous to tacklers in the open field. While the Tigers started the season with a running back-by-committee model, Mason got the hot hand midway through the season and became the first choice for Auburn's high-powered rushing attack.
With Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant, Peyton Barber and incoming freshman Racean "Roc" Thomas all projecting to play a part in Auburn's offense this season, the committee method will most likely make a return in the fall.
But if there is one candidate who can become the man to get the tough yards up the middle and become the primary running back, it would most likely be the powerful Artis-Payne.
"We all had carries last year," Artis-Payne said at A-Day. "There's always going to be that one guy that takes off and takes the lead."
Grant will most likely get a fair share of carries in 2014, but "CAP" seems to be the more direct replacement for Mason. If someone "takes off" this fall, expect it to be Artis-Payne, who showcased more agility with his power-back nature this spring.
RB Corey Grant (Replacing Tre Mason)
Corey Grant, on the other hand, looks like he could replace Mason as well—as the Tigers' primary kick returner.
Grant had a few opportunities to show off his speed in the special teams game last season, even returning a kickoff for a touchdown against Tennessee, but Mason got the majority of the returns for Auburn last season.
The running back known as "Tail Lights" definitely has the potential to turn any return into a game-changing play. Shortly after the conclusion of Auburn's fall practices, Grant ran a blazing unofficial time of 4.18 in the 40-yard dash.
Grant is already focused on being Auburn's top kick returner, telling the Montgomery Advertiser's Will Gaines (subscription required) early in the spring he is looking for "whoever is going to block for him" as the team's secondary returner.
While Grant will have a chance to become Auburn's leading rusher in 2014, he has a greater chance of becoming a definite starter in special teams.
If he gets more opportunities to show off his elite speed, Grant could find his way onto some All-SEC and perhaps some All-American teams by season's end.
H-Back Brandon Fulse (Replacing Jay Prosch)
The fullback position might not be what it once was in the NFL, but former Tigers star Jay Prosch was picked up by the Houston Texans as a fullback in the sixth round last Saturday.
Prosch started his career as a traditional fullback at Illinois, but the Alabama native returned to his home state and became a H-back/3-back in Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense.
Prosch was a dominant lead blocker for Auburn's top-ranked rushing attack in 2014, and now the Tigers will try to replace him at the position that sometimes gets overlooked by fans.
Auburn tight ends coach Scott Fountain told the Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea last month that senior Brandon Fulse was "a little bit ahead of everybody at the [H-back] position," making him the favorite to replace Prosch in 2014.
Fulse, who has also played at tight end in his Auburn career, has experience as both an in-line blocker and a downfield receiving threat. Prosch had five catches for 95 yards and a touchdown last season, but he was relatively inexperienced as a receiver, so the Tigers' run-heavy offense looked elsewhere for targets.
As the Tigers look to balance their offense more in 2014, Fulse could provide the physical blocking presence they had in Prosch while becoming more of a weapon in the passing game.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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