By the time Thursday evening comes to a close, two former Auburn Tigers could be members of NFL teams.
The first round of the NFL draft begins tonight at 7 p.m. CT. The ceremony takes place at New York City's famed Radio City Music Hall.
Two athletes that helped guide Auburn through its 2010 BCS National Championship season, quarterback Cameron Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, have been considered first-round caliber athletes in the months leading up to the draft. In fact, both have taken turns being draft analysts' first overall pick prediction.
The most recent mock drafts have Newton going to Carolina as the top pick and Fairley being selected eighth overall by Tennessee. Both athletes will be in attendance at tonight's event.
Newton, the recipient of the 2010 Heisman Trophy and practically every other individual offensive award available, broke a number of Southeastern Conference and Auburn University records in just one season as a Tiger.
Newton is not only the second player in NCAA history to total 20 rushing and 20 passing touchdowns in a single season, but he became the first player in SEC history and the eighth different player in NCAA history to reach totals of 2,000 yards passing (2,854 yards total) and 1,000 yards rushing in a single season. His total of 1,473 rushing yards is the SEC's single-season rushing record for a quarterback.
As for Auburn records, Newton holds the school's single-season record for touchdown responsibility with 51 (30 passed, 20 rushed and one received). Twenty of those scores were rushed, good for Auburn's all-time single-season high.
Despite his astounding success at the college level in arguably the toughest league in the nation, analysts have brought up concerns that question Newton's ability to succeed on the professional level.
According to CBSSports.com, "Newton wasn't asked to make complicated pre- and post-snap reads in (Gus) Malzahn's offense and hasn't demonstrated the consistent accuracy scouts would like."
Specifically regarding his accuracy, the Web site claims Newton "generally demonstrates good accuracy, though he is inconsistent in the all important intermediate areas. Good ball placement on underneath routes and when hitting the back on the swing pass when he sets his feet. Among his best attributes is his deep ball accuracy. Possesses very good touch and trajectory on the long ball, showing the ability to drop it in the bucket from 50 yards out. Shows the ability to step into his throws and fire the slant, post and deep out passes, though his accuracy drops when he's forced to move his feet. Doesn't always reset, making quick tosses that are primarily 'arm' throws."
In an effort to improve his draft stock, Newton has been working with Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon and quarterbacks coach George Whitfield Jr. since he declared himself eligible for the draft.
Regarding Newton's intangibles, a lot of controversy has stemmed from an incident that occurred in Newton's teen years and one that was proven to only involve his father.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, in 2008 Newton was arrested on felony charges of larceny and obstruction of justice for allegedly stealing a Dell laptop. Newton was subsequently suspended from the team. All charges were dropped after he completed a pre-trial diversion program. Newton told Auburn reporters in 2010 that he purchased the laptop, but it was later discovered that it was stolen property.
As for the most recent issue, an NCAA investigation determined Newton's father, Cecil, tried to sell his son's services to Mississippi State during his recruitment from Texas' Blinn Community College in 2009. However, the NCAA determined there was no proof that the younger Newton knew of the scheme and he was not punished.
Regardless, ESPN's Mel Kiper and several other respected analysts believe Newton is this year's top pick. According to Kiper, "if talent alone was all they were concerned with, Newton would be an easy choice. But this pick also requires a belief in his development and maturity. Certainly, however, Newton's potential is significant."
At the NFL Combine in February, Newton impressed scouts when he ran the 40 yard dash in 4.59 seconds, which tied Washington's Jake Locker for the third-fastest time among quarterbacks. He also tied for the best broad jump at 10 feet, 6 inches and had a 35-inch vertical jump.
Fairley, the 2010 Lombardi Award winner, BCS National Championship Defensive MVP and Associated Press SEC Defensive Player of the Year, was Kiper's top pick in his inaugural mock draft this year.
The Mobile, Ala., has since slid down the list to No. 8 in most draft predictions. If that proves to be true, Fairley would become a Tennessee Titan and again play under the direction of former Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker. Rocker and Fairley are Auburn's two Lombardi Award winners. Throughout the season, Fairley attributed his success to Rocker's coaching. Rocker accepted the defensive line coaching position at Tennessee shortly after the Tigers' 2010 season came to an end.
In his first full season as a starter in 2010, Fairley set Auburn's single-season record of 24 tackles for loss and 11.5 quarterback sacks.
According to CBS analyst Rob Rang, Fairley has an "explosive initial burst off the snap. Good flexibility and balance to 'get skinny' and penetrate gaps. Uses his hands well to slap away blockers' attempts to get their hands on him. Possesses a rare combination of long arms and quick feet, helping him avoid cut blocks. Good swim move. Locates the ball quickly and has the lateral agility to redirect. Good short-area closing burst. Good effort in pursuit. Surprising speed for a man of his size."
Regarding his tackling, Rang goes on to claim that Fairley "possesses a good closing burst and brings his hips to supply the big hit. Good strength for the drag tackle. Willing to lay out and has good hand-eye coordination to trip up the ballcarrier running away from him."
Both Newton and Fairley have fair shots to be the No. 1 overall pick tonight. If that is the case, Fairley or Newton will be the first Tiger to take the top spot since defensive end Aundray Bruce in 1988 by the Atlanta Falcons. Three years earlier, running back Bo Jackson was drafted No. 1 by the Tampa Bay Bucs. Before Jackson, it had been since the mid-60s that Auburn had player be selected first. In 1965 running back Tucker Frederickson went to the New York Giants, and in 1961, offensive lineman Ken Rice was the first pick in the AFL draft going to the Buffalo Bills.
The most highest pick from Auburn recently was running back Ronnie Brown, who was the No. 2 overall selection in the 2005 draft by the Miami Dolphins. Three picks later, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, went to the Bucs. Two other Tigers went in the first round that year and both went to the Washington Redskins: cornerback Carlos Rogers (ninth) and quarterback Jason Campbell (25th).
The Tigers have a number of other athletes that have hopes of being selected in the upcoming draft. However, it is likely that won't be selected until the second round at the earliest.
Newton and Fairley are already in New York City as they arrived in the Big Apple Wednesday. They joined a group of 25 top NFL prospects that participated in a youth football clinic, posed for pictures atop the world-famous Radio City Music Hall Marquee and closed the day's trading on the New York Stock Exchange by ringing the famed bell. Newton participated in an NFL Play 60 Youth Football Festival at Chelsea Waterside Park Wednesday morning.
Fairley said he and other top draft prospects planned to visit with pediatric patients at the Mount Sinai Medical Center Kravis Children's Hospital Thursday morning.
The draft will be televised live on ESPN and the NFL Network.