Auburn’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects headlined by Tank Bigsby

The PFN Draft Preview takes a deeper look into the potential 2023 NFL Draft prospects set to hit the field for Auburn this season

Following a somewhat disappointing class, can be Auburn Tigers rebound with multiple selections in the 2023 NFL Draft? Although we have an entire season of college football to play, early indications are that multiple potential players should hear their names called next April. Who are the top Auburn prospects to watch for in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle?

Auburn prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

At the end of a tumultuous first season in charge for Brian Harsin, there were more defeats and scandals than NFL draft picks. Roger McCreary was the team’s sole selection, ensuring that it was the worst Auburn draft class since 2013, when Corey Lemonier was the only Tiger to be picked. While it’s early in the process, Auburn’s potential in the 2023 NFL Draft class looks substantially more promising, with several players in line to hear their names called.

Tank Bigsby, RB

After a sensational freshman season, Auburn running back Tank Bigsby broke through the 1,000-yard mark last season. He also found the end zone 10 times. Following a flirtation with the transfer portal, his return sees him headline Auburn’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects.

By name, by nature, Bigsby is a powerful rusher who can bulldoze effortlessly through his opposition. However, he also offers some finesse with impressive vision. His ability to impact the game as a receiver will add value to his stock in April.

Nehemiah Pritchett, CB

In the interests of full transparency, I was higher on Nehemiah Pritchett in the previous cycle than McCreary. Although he’s slender in frame, his 6’1″ height is further bolstered by apparent functional length. These attributes, combined with his experience as a high school WR, make Pritchett a danger at the catch point.

With decent speed, fluidity, and route recognition, he can be a menace in coverage and shine on special teams. However, Pritchett needs to add weight to become a more imposing all-around threat.

Owen Pappoe, LB

At 6’1″ and 226 pounds, Owen Pappoe will almost certainly be considered undersized by the NFL. However, it’s not stopped him from amassing 165 career tackles with 12 tackles for loss, six sacks, and a forced fumble in the most physical conference of them all.

Injury halted his ascension in the last class. But a fully healthy Pappoe should attract significant 2023 NFL Draft attention. Elite athleticism, high-level intelligence, and the ability to impact the game in all phases are the hallmarks of an impressive linebacker prospect.

Colby Wooden, EDGE

Colby Wooden should be a significant cog in what is shaping up to be an impressive EDGE class in the 2023 NFL Draft. At 6’5″ and 278 pounds, he’s an imposing figure who can impact the game both around the outside track and from the interior.

The Auburn defensive line prospect plays the game with power in his body and violence in his hands. Furthermore, he already has a treasure trove of pass rush weapons at his disposal. Don’t discount his ability to impact the ground game, either. There is certainly a lot to admire about Wooden.

Derick Hall, EDGE

It’s not out of the question that Auburn could have two edge players selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. Outside linebacker Derick Hall had a breakout year with 12 ½ tackles for loss and nine sacks. As a result, he’s already beginning to attract significant preseason interest.

Hall is an impressive athlete with excellent straight-line speed who puts that to dangerous usage as an outside pass rusher. Meanwhile, he has the length and strength to win when his speed alone isn’t enough. Developing a pass-rush plan will be key to his ascension this fall.

Jaylin Simpson, CB

With McCreary departed to the NFL, there’s an opportunity for another cornerback to step up alongside Pritchett as Auburn looks to continue its streak of defensive back success in the NFL Draft. Having made several starts last fall, Jaylin Simpson is the natural successor to McCreary in the Auburn secondary.

While he’s still developing in coverage, Simpson made his first interception last season. Meanwhile, the 6’1″, 175-pound CB has demonstrated success in run support as a dependable tackler.

DJ James, CB

Amongst others challenging Simpson in the Auburn secondary will be Oregon transfer DJ James. Last fall, the senior cornerback had the most productive season of his college career, with two interceptions and four pass breakups. He’s slightly shorter than the projected CB starters but has more meat on the bones at 180 pounds.

James has showcased the fluidity in his backpedal, click-and-close ability, and catch-point ball skills that might attract attention in the 2023 NFL Draft if he establishes himself as a starter at the SEC level.

Oscar Chapman, P

Punters are prospects too! While we might not see the glitz and glamor of the 2022 cycle repeated in the 2023 NFL Draft, Auburn’s Oscar Chapman is certainly a name to keep on your radar. The Australian junior displayed significant development last season, and there’s no reason to doubt that he continues on an upward trajectory.

Chapman punted with consistency, power, and placement last year, making several key plays. A significant chunk of his punts traveled over 50 yards or inside the 20-yard line in the 2021 campaign. There’s a chance that Auburn has a pair of specialists in next year’s class if kicker Anders Carlson returns to his 2020 form.

Nick Brahms, C

Nick Brahms arrived at Auburn as a guard prospect in 2017 but has established himself as one of the most experienced centers in college football. In the last cycle, he was on both the Senior Bowl and NFLPA Bowl watchlist but opted to return for another season.

Brahms demonstrates excellent football IQ, is quick off the snap, and exhibits impressive recovery athleticism. At 6’4″ and 300 pounds, he could use a little extra muscle weight as he doesn’t always show much strength to dominate the point of attack.

Kilian Zierer, OT

This might be a shot in the dark, but it’s worth getting gargantuan German offensive tackle Kilian Zierer on the radar. He didn’t play football until he was 16, so he’s inexperienced. But at 6’7″ and 312 pounds, he has the size to be an impact-maker.

As you’d expect from a man of his size, he’s exceptionally strong. Although he’s seen limited SEC action, Zierer was the starting left tackle at the College of the Canyons prior to his arrival at Auburn in 2020.

Keiondre Jones, G

Another Auburn offensive lineman with potential in the 2023 NFL Draft is right guard Keiondre Jones. The 6’4″, 340-pound roadblock was the only Auburn offensive lineman to start every game last season.

Jones possesses a strong, thick lower body and does his best work in the ground game. He showcases powerful hands and uses his mauler mentality to drive his opponent to the ground. Although he’s not the most athletic lineman, his power alone might earn him some attention in the upcoming class.

John Samuel Shenker, TE

Aside from Bigsby, there aren’t likely to be many offensive playmakers featured in the 2023 NFL Draft. However, as the top returning pass catcher, John Samuel Shenker has the opportunity to put himself in contention.

He’ll be an older prospect, but he has decent size at 6’4″ and 250 pounds and displays good athletic ability. He’s a reliable pair of hands for either Zach Calzada or T.J. Finley.

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