Destiny Awaits: Slew of Tigers expected to be picked in NFL Draft

1st round of the Draft starts tonight 8:00 pm ET on ESPN

Cam Newton, according to some reports, is egotistical, can’t command a locker room and lacks the throwing accuracy and playcalling acumen to be an elite NFL quarterback.

Nick Fairley, according to some reports, is a flake who was late to meetings with some NFL executives, blew off meetings with others and is nothing but a one-year wonder on the college level.

Executives, scouts, media members and many other sorts of authoritative voices have had the past three months to pick apart every aspect of the two stars from Auburn’s national championship run, going through their on-field and off-field strengths and weaknesses with a fine-toothed comb before the NFL Draft.

And, if the mock drafts are to be believed, they’ve to the same conclusion basically anybody could have come to just watching the two play last year.

Newton and Fairley are two of the best players in the draft, two of the record 25 prospects scheduled to attend the draft, and will be among the first to have their names called when it kicks off tonight at 7 p.m.

Newton is nearly unanimously projected to go No. 1 to the Carolina Panthers, which would make him the fourth former Tiger ever to go first in the draft, after Tucker Frederickson (1965), Bo Jackson (1986) and Aundray Bruce (1988).

Most estimates have Fairley going anywhere from No. 4 – to the Cincinnati Bengals – to No. 12 – to the Minnesota Vikings.

A number of mock drafts have Fairley going eighth to the Tennessee Titans, where he would be reunited with former Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, who helped coax a Lombardi Award winning season out of the junior last year.

In any case – and if all goes as planned tonight – Auburn will claim its first opening-round pick since Ben Grubbs in 2007 and have its most successful and profile-raising draft since Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Carlos Rogers and Jason Campbell all went in the first round in 2005.

“It’s kind of like a proud papa,” Tigers head coach Gene Chizik said on the Atlanta-based Barnhart and Durham radio show Wednesday morning. “You’re around these guys. They put it on the line for you every day. It’s just really neat when you get kids who are drafted high, when you get to see them and their families really accomplish a dream. That’s really satisfying for a coach, any coach, or at least it should be. ”

Chizik’s also been having to work overtime in the offseason defending Newton and Fairley from character barbs thrown their way throughout the draft process .

The head coach, along with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ted Roof, have come down strongly in the corner of their former players .

The criticism has hindered Fairley’s stock a bit, dropping him from a chic pick to be the first selection to the second choice among defensive tackles behind Alabama’s Marcell Dareus .

“If I would really pay attention to it, it would be a very stressful deal for me,” Fairley told the Associated Press last week. “I really just try not to pay attention to it, to just let things flow out. ”

A number of other former Tigers, ones who haven’t had a high wattage bulb focused on them since February, are also hoping to hear their names called sometime over the next three days .

While the draft’s second day – which starts Friday at 5 p.m. and encompasses the second and third rounds – probably won’t hold any former Auburn draftees, the final day – starting Saturday at 11 a.m. – could contain a number of them .

Tackle Lee Ziemba is widely projected to go in the fourth or fifth round, and players such as wide receiver Darvin Adams, running back Mario Fannin, linebacker Josh Bynes and defensive tackle Zach Clayton have been mentioned as possible picks in the sixth or seventh rounds .

For the borderline draft picks, ones who may be counting on making a team as an undrafted free agent, the future is not so certain .

If the current lockout — which has been temporarily lifted but is still pending an appeal from the league — continues after the draft, teams won’t be able to sign players, and the ones who weren’t assigned to a team in the draft could experience some anxious weeks .

Safety Zac Etheridge, who has met with numerous teams between training sessions in Atlanta, Auburn and his hometown of Troy, said the waiting game is tough to handle .

“It only takes one team to like you, but it’s hard to get that feel for which one team really, really wants you,” Etheridge said. “It’s been nerve-wracking, not knowing as much with the lockout.

“Once you get drafted, you’re part of the team. The only thing I’m scared of, or any guy who might not get drafted, is you can’t sign free agents, so you don’t really know what’s next. ”

Guard Mike Berry, who had a workout with the New England Patriots and has visited with the Titans, said the labor situation is out of his hands .

He’s just trying to put himself in the best possible position if a team should come calling .

“It’s just enjoy the process,” Berry said. “It’s something you’ve worked hard for all your life, and now it’s here. You’ve got to try to enjoy it. ”

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