Heading into the 2013 season, it seemed unlikely Auburn would produce any first-round picks.
But after its surprise run to the BCS National Championship Game, the Tigers had not one, but two first-round picks called out last Thursday night in New York City.
No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson and Senior Bowl MVP Dee Ford were joined by Tre Mason and Jay Prosch in the later rounds of the draft to complete the foursome of former Tigers chosen by NFL squads in the seven-round extravaganza.
In this day and age of 24/7/365 scouting for future NFL talent, there are already mocks and big boards out for next year's NFL draft—months before a single snap of the 2014 college season.
The rapidly rising draft stocks of Robinson and Ford show how players outside of the early projections can make big moves in the eyes of scouts and general managers.
Auburn has a wealth of playmakers who could make similar moves from off the boards to first-round recognition, from quarterback Nick Marshall to running back Corey Grant to wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams.
The top Tiger on many early draft boards right now is center Reese Dismukes, who will start for Auburn for his fourth consecutive season this fall.
Dismukes arrived on the Plains as one of the top offensive line recruits in the 2011 recruiting class. The Spanish Fort, Alabama, native was the nation's No. 1 center, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, and the No. 1 player in the state in the Top247 rankings.
The early enrollee immediately made an impact on the Auburn depth chart, winning the starting job for the defending national champions and later becoming a Freshman All-American.
Dismukes was suspended for Auburn's 2012 season opener because of a public intoxication arrest, but he has stayed out of trouble since the incident to become a leader on Auburn's squad.
In the Tigers' championship-winning 2013 season, Dismukes was referred to as a "second quarterback" for Auburn's offense by his coaches and teammates.
"He's the glue," Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes told AL.com's Joel Erickson after Auburn's SEC Championship win last season. "He holds it all together. [He is] the finest leader I've ever had, tough, smart, fast, quick, strong, balanced, just one of the best football players I've ever been around."
Dismukes applied for feedback from the NFL Draft Advisory Board toward the end of the 2013 season, but the third-team All-American decided to return for a heavily hyped senior season after Auburn's close loss to Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game.
"We've just got to get back to work and just keep getting better just like this season," Dismukes said in the Auburn locker room shortly after the loss. "We have the same motto, everybody will be together and the goal will be to get better each and every day. Come back even better next year."
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn gave the highest praise to his returning starter during a visit with fans last week:
Like Auburn's entire team, Dismukes will open the 2014 season near the top of the rankings.
The fourth-year senior is currently projected as the No. 2 center in the 2015 draft class by both B/R's Matt Miller and NFLDraftScout.com. Miller lists Dismukes as the best run-blocking interior lineman in the class.
No center was drafted before the second day of last weekend's draft, so Dismukes is not projected in any of the first-round mocks currently making the rounds on draft websites:
|Centers at the 2014 NFL Draft|
|2||11||43||Weston Richburg||Giants||Colorado State|
|4||5||105||Bryan Stork||Patriots||Florida State|
|4||11||111||Russell Bodine||Bengals||North Carolina|
|5||21||161||Corey Linsley||Packers||Ohio State|
|6||31||207||Matthew Paradis||Broncos||Boise State|
|7||35||250||Demetrius Rhaney||Rams||Tennessee State|
So when could Dismukes come off the board next May?
One could look toward another successful SEC center, Arkansas' Travis Swanson, who was drafted in the third round by the Detroit Lions. Like Dismukes, Swanson was a starter in the nation's toughest conference all four years of his college career and was a Rimington Award finalist in 2013.
However, a couple of disappointing performances at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine caused Swanson to fall to the third round, behind second-round center Weston Richburg and early third-round center Marcus Martin.
Dismukes will start the season on many All-SEC teams and award watch lists, and a fourth year of strong play as the bedrock of Auburn's veteran offensive line could see him shoot up mock drafts in a fashion similar to former teammate Robinson.
If Dismukes can continue to lead Auburn's high-powered offense to another successful season and then keep up his hard work in the offseason, he could continue an Auburn tradition of top NFL offensive linemen by breaking into the top two rounds of next year's draft festivities in New York.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.
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