AUBURN, Ala. — At some point over the next four days, five former Auburn players will take part in the most important job interviews of their lives.
These meetings will take place at none other than the NFL combine, the annual showcase in Indianapolis that has college players perform various physical drills and mental tests for NFL coaches, scouts and general managers. The Tigers’ representatives — offensive tackle Greg Robinson, defensive end Dee Ford, running back Tre Mason, cornerback Chris Davis and punter Steven Clark — comprise a miniscule portion of the 330 college prospects invited to this year’s combine.
None have more to gain than Robinson. With a stellar showing at the combine, he could distance himself from his main competition at tackle — Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan. And there’s an outside chance Robinson could go to the Houston Texas with the No. 1 overall pick.
Regardless of where Robinson ends up, Gus Malzahn is confident his former player will shine in the coming days.
“When we recruited Greg we felt like he was a big-time athlete, really liked his potential,” the coach said. “ I think you'll see, once the combine hits, his stock will even go up higher. He's going to really do some amazing things at the combine that will separate himself.”
On Thursday, he measured in at 6-foot-5 and 332 pounds, 12 pounds heavier than he was listed on Auburn’s official roster. He then impressed scouts on Friday by doing 32 reps on the bench press.
Should he fall out of the top five, many projections have the Atlanta Falcons — sorely in need of pass protectors after allowing quarterback Matt Ryan to get sacked 44 times last season — snapping him up at No. 6.
Robinson knows that’s far from a certainty, though.
“I'm not banking on that because I don't know where I'm going to end up," Robinson told AL.com on Friday. "I'm not going to have anything in my head to where I want to go because I can't choose so it's whoever choose me."
The next Auburn player off the board will likely be Ford. Though undersized for an defensive end at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, his peerless first step and explosiveness have shot him up draft boards since end of the BCS championship game. Ford's stock rose dramatically after thanks to his play in the Senior Bowl, which saw him notch two sacks, a pass deflection and numerous quarterback hurries. That performance helped him capture the game’s MVP award.
Once pegged as a third rounder, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ford selected late in the first round.
“Dee (was) one of our hardest workers and he came so far in a year,” Malzahn said. “He's playing with a lot of confidence. He earns everything he gets, he has that blue collar mentality . Very proud of him and he'll make somebody a very good, reliable football player that can rush the passer.”
As integral as Ford was to Auburn’s defense, he found his counterpart on offense in Mason. The Florida native rushed for a school record 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns en route to earning an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. His short stature has long been a target of criticism, however, and he did himself no favors Friday; Auburn listed him at 5-foot-10, while he officially measured in at a shade over 5-foot-8 at the combine.
The oft-repeated knock on his size is something Mason addressed when he declared for the draft last month.
“I guess that's why they've got to watch tape,” he said. “I'm not afraid to put my head and nose in there and get dirty. I feel like I can run between the tackles and also outside the tackles. I just try to be very dynamic and run the ball different ways.”
Given the NFL’s increased emphasis on the passing game, it would cause few ripples if no running backs are taken in the first round. Still, Mason is in the running to be the first one off the board, battling LSU’s Jeremy Hill and Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey for the pole position.
Clark is also viewed as arguably the top prospect available at punter. Still, he’s under no assumptions that a team will spend a pick on him. He’s not bothered by it, though.
As it is, he’s thankful for everything he’s been able to accomplish to this point.
“I thought I’d be playing two positions and punting in college for a D-II school or something like that,” he told AL.com on Thursday “It just worked out where I got to go to Auburn and have a great career and I’ve loved every minute of it so far.”
Davis, who will be forever remembered for his game-winning field goal return in the Iron Bowl, is projected to be taken somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft. To improve his stock, he’ll need to show off his speed in the 40-yard dash that teams covet in corners — and as with every seemingly every other player, his height (Auburn’s roster pegged him at 5-foot-10) will be viewed with a keen eye.
While teams will have a chance how Davis measures up in the height and weight departments, he won’t actually take part in defensive back positional drills until the final day of the combine on Tuesday.
Whatever the future holds for each player, Malzahn was particularly thankful for the contributions of seniors like Ford, Davis and Clark last year.
“That's a group that will be remembered,” he said last month, just four days after their loss in the BCS title game. “There's a lot of great memories that now that the season is over with that you can kind of look back (on), and there were a couple of wild moments. But it all started with those seniors keeping this team together, keeping this team believing. They represented Auburn very well. They represented their families. It was a fun group to be a part of.”