Image default

Auburn’s 2024 NFL Draft Prospects

We’re just days away from football’s last big hoorah until August, the 2024 NFL Draft. I circle Draft Day on my calendar every year, as it is the last football satiating day of the season, and it is one of the more fascinating parts in all of sports to me. 

I have always enjoyed the prospect assessment and collecting side of sports. Growing up most kids wish to be and envision themselves stars of their respective sports fields or courts. Not this guy. I pictured myself pulling the strings in the war rooms in late April. I used to simulate full seasons of Madden franchises just to get to the Draft.

It’s a beautiful thing. For the teams, it’s the official start to the 2024 season. A clean slate. The only reminder of the previous season is your draft position. The pastures appear so much greener this time of year. For teams and their fanbases. Because this is the time of year where everybody knows that this year’s class will be that class that pushes a team over the hump. This will be the class that gets our young quarterback the protection or dynamic weapon he needs to really turn the page in his development (looking at you here, Carolina), or this is the class that will bring that pass rusher or lockdown corner that’ll push or solidify the defense into that elite class. And with this class, 2024 will certainly be our year.

Hope. The Draft is hope. Hope for the teams and their fans, and hope for these kids. These kids who have worked their entire lives to reach this point and to have this opportunity. It is obviously a beautiful thing to see the top picks get selected, and hold their families tight. To watch the smiles as they strut across the stage on their way to shake hands with or hug NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. But watch the reactions from the guys getting the call in the later rounds. The rounds where you are getting to that will they/won’t they time. The players that are sitting in their living rooms with all of their closest surrounding them, nervously passing their phones from hand to hand, or squeezing the hands of their girlfriends or mothers, and praying that all their hard work has paid off, and all their goals will come to fruition in this three day span. When they do get that call, and the room erupts, it’s one of the best parts about watching the Draft.

The emotional side of it all is a major reason to watch. In fact, it is right up there with having one last football related reason to commandeer the biggest T.V. in the house, and throw back too many beers and hot wings with your buddies. But the best part of the Draft is watching for all of your favorite college players, specifically those from your favorite college team. 

I have been fortunate as an Auburn fan to have at least a few quality names to be on the lookout for each year. And this year’s class is no different. Let’s take a look at some of the draft eligible Auburn Tigers.

Per usual, it will be Auburn’s defense, and specifically the secondary, that will present the bulk of the Tigers’ offerings come April 25-27. Auburn has a pretty good tradition of supplying the NFL with talent in the defensive backfield. Names like Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, and Roger McCreary lead a solid list of names that are either starters or major contributors for their respective teams. The Tigers should add to that list, as they are losing four starters to the NFL this year. D.J. James, Nehemiah Pritchett, Jaylin Simpson, and Zion Puckett leave Auburn after the group totaled 454 tackles, 79 pass deflections, and 15 interceptions.

D.J. James – Cornerback

The lasting memory of D.J. James that may be burned into a lot of the Auburn Family’s brains may be him as the victim of the 4th and 31 pass at the end of the 2023 Iron Bowl. But being on the wrong end of one of the most improbable plays in college football history shouldn’t cloud the fact that James was one of college football’s more consistent cornerbacks, and specifically during his time at Auburn.

James recorded 70 tackles, 2 picks, and 6 pass deflections in his three years at Oregon before transferring to The Plains. He earned a starting role for the Tigers heading into the 2022 season, and responded by earning 2nd team All-SEC honors. He returned to his starting role in 2023, and contributed 38 tackles, 2 picks, and 10 pass deflections to a stout Auburn secondary. He finishes his Auburn career with 75 tackles, 3 picks, and 21 pass deflections.

James is a lengthy corner at 6 ‘0 tall, who is comfortable playing in both man and zone schemes. He is confident in press coverage, using his length to disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage. He’s fast enough to recover when beaten, and able to quickly close gaps. And if there had been any concerns about his speed, they were squashed when he recorded a 4.42 forty yard dash at the NFL Combine.

James weighed 175 lbs at the combine, not an ideal weight for dealing with some of the bigger and stronger wideouts at the next level, but he has the frame that he could hang another ten to fifteen pounds on. And despite his size, he has never lacked the aggression and confidence to tangle with the bigger opponents or the willingness to contribute in stopping the run. 

Depending on what website or talking head you listen to, D.J. is projected as anywhere from the 8th to the 11th best at his position, and we should look to hear his name called anywhere from the 3rd to the 5th rounds. But after names like Terrion Arnold, Kool-Aid McKinstry, Nate Wiggins, and Cooper DeJean (also projected at safety) come off the board, I don’t see a huge gap between James and the rest of the corners. I expect to see James go off the board in the 3rd, and no later than the 4th round.

Jaylin Simpson – Safety

Jaylin Simpson is actually one of my favorite players in this entire draft. A 4 star recruit in 2019, Simpson played in four games as a freshman, and played a rotational role the next three years. He showed an early knack for finding the football with three picks over that span. In 2023, Simpson started at safety for the Tigers, and had four interceptions.  

Simpson is rangy, athletic, and instinctual. If you have watched Auburn football during his tenure, you know 36 is going to be around the football. He has suburb read and react ability, and is able to transition fluently out of his backpedal to break on routes. He plays bigger than his 6’0 179 lb frame, as he is very physical at the point of contact, and shows high aggression and willingness to meet larger ball carriers in the box. He’s also proficient at separating the ball from the receiver with highly accurate punches at the catch point. 

Simpson flashes plenty of athleticism on tape, and solidified that fact with his numbers at the combine and Auburn’s pro day with a 4.45 forty, and a 40 inch vertical jump, but it is his versatility that is the most alluring trait for NFL GMs. He spent time at corner earlier in his career at Auburn (some project him at corner at the next level), and is able to play as the deep safety or roll down into slot coverage. His ability to play all over the field and his nose for the football remind me of Tyrann Mathieu.

ESPN’s Matt Miller projects Simpson going in the 6th round. And that would absolutely blow my mind. The dude could contribute immediately on defense, and maybe eventually grow into a starting role if he adds some weight. I think that he’d be a steal if he is taken any later than the late second round. But for the sake of including the expert’s opinion, let’s call it looking for Jaylin’s name from the 3rd to the 6th rounds, but I would be shocked if he makes it to the 5th. 

Nehemiah Pritchett – Cornerback

If nothing else, Nehemiah Pritchett carries one of the coolest names into Draft weekend. Pritchett is another guy who has a lot of snaps under his belt, starting at corner for Auburn since 2021. He possesses many traits that NFL GMs covet on the perimeter of their defenses. In fact, he may be the most prototypical player for his position that Auburn has to offer this year. He boasts a favorable size in his 6’1 190lb frame, has exceptional speed (4.36 forty at the combine), and fluid athleticism. He has the ability to play in press or off coverage. He has long arms and quick hands that allow him to be disruptive at the line of scrimmage and at the catch point. My only issue with Pritchett is that he let the Vandy quarterback tackle him on his only pick of the 2023 season, and prevent what would have been a pick six. 

As I mentioned with James, after the big names at corner come off the board Pritchett should be right around that next group. I have seen him projected between the 3rd and 5th rounds, but I think it’s fair to start looking for Nehemiah’s cool ass name on day two of the Draft (rounds 2 and 3). 

Zion Puckett – Safety

The fourth member of Auburn’s vaunted secondary, and a very cool name in his own right, Zion Puckett is also a versatile defender with plenty of snaps and production (148 tackles, 2 interceptions). Puckett played the Star position in 2020 before moving to a traditional safety role the next season. Puckett carries a thumper’s frame, and has the ability to punish receivers over the middle. A sturdy build at almost 6’0 and 213 lbs, and fast enough (clocked a 4.5 forty at Auburn’s pro day), Puckett hasn’t garnered the attention that his secondary mates have. However, he did recently participate in the Atlanta Falcons local pro day according to Daniel Flick of Sports Illustrated’s Falcon Report, and has the type of athletic ability and experience that could potentially intrigue GMs. Hopefully he can sneak into the later rounds, but if not, look for Puckett to land in a camp as an undrafted free agent.

Defensive line is another position Auburn is good about sending to the next level, and while this class may not come with the star power of a player such as Derrick Brown, it does provide a couple of intriguing value options. 

Marcus Harris – Defensive Line

Marcus Harris is another guy I believe will end up being a steal for the team that takes him. Harris transferred to the Plains from Kansas in 2021, and was an immediate impact player. He is undersized for an interior player at the next level (6’2 286 lbs), but makes up for his lack of size with an explosive first step, and a powerful upper body (34 reps of 225 at Auburn’s pro day). He has the strength to keep larger players off of him and is able to move the line of scrimmage. His burst, athleticism, and high motor (his best quality) keeps him involved in most plays, and gives him exceptional gap penetration ability. NFL teams covet an ability to rush the passer from the interior of the line, and Harris has that ability in spades. He totaled 11 sacks in three years at Auburn, seven of which came in 2023 where he earned All-SEC honors. 

The talking heads have him projected between the 4th and 6th rounds, which is probably about right simply because his size will scare some teams away from taking him earlier. My hope is that he lands closer to the 4th round end of that range. Regardless of where he is taken, that team will be getting immense value for their pick. At his worst Harris will be a rotational contributor, but his ceiling is ridiculously high. Think slightly taller, less athletic Aaron Donald. Yeah. I said it. 

Justin Rogers – Defensive Line

Justin Rogers transferred in from Kentucky, and immediately started plugging holes from his nose tackle spot.’s Lance Zierlein called Rogers a “drain clogging nose”, and clog drains he does. He takes up a lot of space at the line of scrimmage with his 6’2 ½ 330 lb frame, and he has enough strength to hold his ground. Rogers’ ability to plug holes makes it easier for his teammates to make plays, of course, but Rogers is relatively mobile for his size, and has the ability to pursue ball carriers in short distances. He’s also a sure and ferocious tackler with the ability to deliver a pop on the ball carriers at the line. 

Rogers is viewed as a late round pick, and we should expect to see him come off the board sometime during or after the 5th round to a team in need of run stopping department.

A couple of other names to watch for in the later rounds or post draft are LB/Edge Elijah McAllister and Center Avery Jones. McAllister is the 6’6 271 lbs transfer from Vanderbilt who earned team captain status in his first season on the Plains. His size, intelligence, and leadership are qualities that could land him a camp opportunity. Jones is a three year starter at center (1 at Auburn, 2 at ECU), and has played guard in his career. His size, athleticism, and versatility could land him in the last couple of rounds, or earn him a contract after the draft.

The 2024 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday, April 25 at 7:00 P.M. Central.

Related posts

Leave a Reply