Auburn Football: 10 Best Players in Tigers History

Justin Ferguson@@JFergusonBRCFB National AnalystJune 22, 2016

Auburn Football: 10 Best Players in Tigers History

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    Auburn's proud history in college football has produced some of the best athletes the sport has ever seen. There are the three Heisman Trophy winners who are forever linked to many of the program's best moments and then there are the legends who paved the way for success on other title-worthy squads.

    So, one can imagine how tough it is to try to condense all that history of individual greatness into just a top-10 list of players.

    Last summer, I posted my list of the top 10 players in Auburn Tigers football history. But after digging deeper into the record books, reading the firsthand accounts of the school's past greats and growing into an older and wiser college football analyst, I found myself questioning several of my selections. (OK, maybe that last part is a bit of a stretch.)

    Still, there aren't any right or wrong answers for the top 10 football players in Auburn history once you get past the top three—and even the order of that trio can be up for debate.

    With that being said, here's an updated countdown of the 10 best players to ever suit up for the Tigers, which was based on individual awards, All-American honors, school records held and number of team titles. As always, please feel free to list your own top 10 in the comments below.

Honorable Mentions

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    Cutting Auburn's history of great players down to just 10 men was incredibly tough, so here's a list of 15 other players who were considered for this year's countdown. They deserve honorable mention and so much more for their outstanding careers on the Plains.

    RB James Brooks

    LB Aundray Bruce

    QB Jason Campbell

    QB Dameyune Craig

    RB Joe Cribbs

    C Reese Dismukes

    OL Walter Gilbert

    OL Ed King

    QB Nick Marshall

    RB Tre Mason

    OT Marcus McNeill

    DE Jimmy Phillips

    OT Ken Rice

    LB Takeo Spikes

    QB Stan White

10. DT Nick Fairley

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    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Nick Fairley only played two seasons at Auburn after taking the JUCO route, but the unheralded recruit left the Plains as one of the most dominant defenders in school history and a key piece to a national championship team.

    After a strong debut season in 2009, Fairley was the star of Auburn's 2010 defense by relentlessly going after quarterbacks and firing up the entire team with his playmaking. While most of the nation focused on Cam Newton's exploits, Fairley racked up 24 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and 21 quarterback hurries.

    His game-changing ways on defense earned him consensus All-American honors and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award. He became the second player in Auburn history to win the Lombardi Award—the other being his defensive line coach at the time, Tracy Rocker—and he recorded three huge tackles for loss in the BCS National Championship Game win over Oregon.

    Fairley was the 13th overall pick of the 2011 draft and spent his first four seasons in the league with the Detroit Lions. After a quick stop in St. Louis last season with the Rams, Fairley signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints earlier this year.

9. DL Zeke Smith

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Auburn has produced several dominant defensive linemen over its long history, but the first of its major stars up front was perhaps its best. 

    Zeke Smith went from a small high school running back to unknown backup center at Auburn to a two-time All-SEC nose guard, starring in front of the Tigers' dominant defense from 1957-1959. After helping the Tigers win a national championship as a sophomore, Smith was a consensus All-American in 1958 and Auburn's first Outland Trophy winner as the sport's best interior lineman.

    "He was the ringleader of a Tiger defense that held Tennessee to minus-33 yards offense and no first downs. Smith was named All-SEC later that year," Smith's bio on reads. "Bobby Dodd, then Georgia head coach, called Smith and Kentucky lineman Lou Michaels 'the greatest lineman in the SEC in the past 10 years.'"

    The two-time All-American later played both offense and defense for the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants and the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos. Although injuries kept him from becoming an all-around great in the professional ranks, he was still one of the best linemen in Auburn history.

8. RB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams

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    When someone is better than the legendary Bo Jackson in an all-time career rushing record at Auburn, that someone deserves a high spot on a list like this. That someone, in this case, is Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who has the most rushing touchdowns in Tigers history with 45 in four seasons.

    Williams broke out as a freshman and became the starting tailback by the end of the season, but injuries kept him from finishing the campaign. He also missed a sizable portion of his sophomore campaign with a leg injury, which makes his spot atop the all-time touchdown charts even more impressive.

    Cadillac started 2003 sharing first-team rushing duties with Ronnie Brown, and both of their careers took off as running backs. Williams set a single-season touchdown record at Auburn that would later be broken by Tre Mason in 2013, with one of his most memorable scores that year coming on the first play of the Iron Bowl against Alabama.

    Williams was then selected fifth overall in the 2005 NFL draft after Auburn's undefeated 2004 run to the SEC title, and he won an offensive Rookie of the Year award with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played seven seasons in the NFL and came back to Auburn to finish his sociology degree in 2014.

7. FB/S Tucker Frederickson

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    Associated Press

    Back in the days when two-way players were the norm in college football, Tucker Frederickson was exceptional. His ability to impact the game on both offense and defense is unparalleled in Auburn history, and he racked up quite a few accomplishments along the way. 

    According to Phillip Marshall of 247Sports, who watched Frederickson play, the versatile Tiger was the best running back and the best safety in the SEC for the 1964 season. He took home consensus All-American honors that season and was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, which was remarkable considering Auburn had a subpar 6-4 season that year.

    Frederickson won the SEC's Jacobs Blocking Award twice in his career, and he led the league in interceptions in his senior season. Marshall described him as a "freak athlete before anyone had heard the term," as he was bigger, faster and stronger than almost everyone else on the field.

    Legendary Auburn head coach Shug Jordan is said to have called Frederickson "the most complete football player" he had ever seen. He was the No. 1 overall pick for the New York Giants in the 1965 NFL draft, and he played seven seasons before a knee injury forced his retirement. 

6. CB Carlos Rogers

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    One of Auburn's major award winners who have been honored with a giant banner on the outside of Jordan-Hare Stadium, Carlos Rogers was the premier player on the 2004 Tigers team that controversially missed out on playing for the BCS National Championship.

    Rogers was a lockdown corner who started all but five games in his four years at Auburn. He made a huge splash his freshman season with a dozen pass deflections. Over the next two years, only injury could keep him out of the starting lineup as he picked off passes and made sure tackles for one of the nation's stingiest defenses.

    The Georgia native decided to return to school for his senior year, and he made the most of his last lap around the Plains. Rogers won the Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation's top defensive back, and was a finalist for several national defensive player of the year honors.

    After Auburn's 13-0 campaign, Rogers headed to the NFL, where he was a top-10 pick by Washington. He later played in the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, and he retired in 2014 after 10 seasons in the league. 

5. WR Terry Beasley

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Terry Beasley is the best receiver in Auburn football by a considerable margin. He had more than 2,500 yards in three seasons, which is tops in Tigers history. He also had 29 touchdowns in that time span, which is 11 more than the No. 2 Tiger in that category, Ben Obomanu.

    Beasley was the go-to target for Heisman-winning quarterback Pat Sullivan, who appears a little later in this countdown. The fearless wide receiver helped make Sullivan an Auburn legend, and the program honored that by retiring his No. 88 with the No. 7 of Sullivan and the No. 34 of Bo Jackson.

    "A two-time all-conference selection, Beasley was the leading scorer and receiver in the SEC and tied the NCAA record for yards per catch with 20.2 in 1970," reads his bio after he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002. "He finished his career ranked third nationally in receiving touchdowns with 29 and eighth in receiving yards with 2,507."

    The 1971 consensus All-American became a first-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1972 NFL draft. Tragically, though, a long history of multiple concussions ended his career after four seasons and led to several major health issues in recent years. 

4. DT Tracy Rocker

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    Tracy Rocker racked up the awards and honors during his time at Auburn just like he did with tackles and sacks on the defensive line. There were a lot of them, and they never seemed to stop.

    In his four years at Auburn, Rocker was a three-time All-SEC selection, a two-time first-team All-American (including a unanimous nod in his senior season), an SEC Player of the Year, a two-time SEC champion, a Lombardi Award winner and an Outland Trophy winner. Few defensive players, if any, in the history of the SEC can match that kind of resume.

    Rocker ranks fourth all-time in Auburn history for career sacks and seventh in total tackles—quite impressive numbers, considering he played a defensive tackle position that usually doesn't get as many stat-padding chances as defensive ends and linebackers. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

    The Auburn great had a short-lived NFL career before becoming a coach, which has taken him from Auburn High School in the early 1990s to the Tennessee Titans of the NFL earlier this decade. Rocker is currently an associate head coach and defensive line coach at rival Georgia.

3. QB Pat Sullivan

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    Auburn's first Heisman Trophy winner, Pat Sullivan racked up plenty of yards and touchdowns well before modern offenses such as Gus Malzahn's invaded the Plains. Sullivan's 71 total touchdowns in just three seasons are best in Auburn history, and that number is 13 more than second-place holder Dameyune Craig.

    Sullivan won the 1971 Heisman Trophy after leading the nation in yards per play and total offense in 1970. He wasn't going to be shafted the second time around, though, as he tacked on a career-high 21 passing touchdowns for the Tigers. That year, Auburn won nine straight games and finished the season ranked No. 5 in the country under head coach Shug Jordan.

    "There is no way young Auburn fans could appreciate what Pat Sullivan meant to Auburn in the late '60s and early '70s. He brought about a rebirth of Auburn football," former Auburn AD David Housel told Charles Goldberg of "I think Pat Sullivan did for Auburn what Bo Jackson did for Auburn  he gave Auburn hope."

    The future TCU and Samford head coach is held in the highest regard around Auburn, as his No. 7 was retired shortly after his collegiate playing career was over. He has a trophy outside Jordan-Hare Stadium and next to the following two players on this countdown. He was Auburn's first true star quarterback and has several offensive school records that have stood the test of time.

2. QB Cam Newton

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    After going back and forth between Auburn's two Heisman-winning quarterbacks, the decision here is to put No. 2 at No. 2 on this countdown. Cam Newton had perhaps the best season in college football history in his one and only campaign at Auburn. If he would've played for the Tigers for at least one more year, the final numbers would've been staggering.

    Cam Newton ranks sixth all-time in Auburn history in career total touchdowns, eighth in career passing touchdowns and ninth in career total offense. Again, he did that in just one season. And what a season it was. Newton led an Auburn team that started the 2010 season outside of the Top 20 and finished it with a national championship—its first in 53 years.

    Entire books could be written on what Newton was able to do in 2010 with the Tigers. In Gus Malzahn's offense, he led four different comebacks from double-digit deficits. He made superhuman plays seem routine, including his touchdown sprint past future All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson against LSU and his acrobatic touchdown catch against Ole Miss.

    Newton later became the No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers, the 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year, a three-time Pro Bowler and, most recently, the NFL Most Valuable Player who led his team to the Super Bowl. His poise both on and off the field as well as his unreal athleticism make him the second-best football player in Auburn history, even though he only gave the Tigers a small sample size.

1. RB Bo Jackson

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    Associated Press

    Bo Jackson isn't just the best Auburn football player of all time. He isn't just the best Auburn athlete of all time, either. Jackson is arguably the best athlete of all time. Period.

    But even when one condenses Jackson's achievements just to what he did on the football field for the Tigers, it's clear he's the best. He rushed for 4,303 yards in his career, which is almost 500 more than the second-best running back on Auburn's all-time list. Four of the 10 best single-game rushing performances in Tigers history belong to Jackson.

    He was a consensus All-American in 1983 and a unanimous All-American in 1985, when he won the Heisman Trophy on an 8-4 team. That's how incredible Jackson's talent and knack for creating special moments were, including "Bo Over the Top" to knock off Alabama as a freshman in 1982 and "Bye Bye Bo" in 1983's Iron Bowl victory.

    Jackson went on to become an Pro Bowler in the NFL and an All-Star in MLB—the only athlete ever to do that—before suffering a freak, career-ending hip injury as a member of the Los Angeles Raiders. He is synonymous with Auburn football and some of the greatest moments in program history. There's zero debate here.

    Stats and records courtesy of the 2015 Auburn football media guide.

    Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.


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