The Auburn Tigers had a wretched 2012 season, going 3-9 (wins vs LA-Monroe, New Mexico State and Alabama A&M) while being outscored 150-21 in their final three defeats. It was ugly.
It’s easy to forget they started the year with some close defeats — 26-19 against Clemson, 12-10 versus LSU. Within that not-too-horrendous start, Corey Lemonier made an impression. He stood out and was universally ranked among the top 2012 draft prospects. As Auburn’s season imploded, so did Lemonier’s stock. It was quite dramatic. Suddenly, nobody was talking about him any more. He had five sacks in his first four games, then 0.5 sacks in the final eight. I watched his team get taken apart by Georgia (38-0) and Alabama (49-0). Unsurprisingly, he was anonymous in both games.
When you’re getting your ass kicked by the best the SEC has to offer, you can’t expect a pure pass rusher to be churning out production.
I’ll admit that I got a little sidetracked. Like everyone else, I lost interest. This guy wasn’t getting it done. Where was the fire and brimstone from earlier in the season? With hindsight I needed to appreciate just how bad things had become at Auburn. They’d lost their heart, their hope. The atmosphere wasn’t ripe for a productive speed rusher. I started to think of him as a middle round prospect, as did many others. I think that was a mistake.
A good performance at the combine has helped to put his name back out there. He ran a 1.57 ten-yard split and a 4.60 forty (unofficially he was originally credited with a 4.53). This despite the fact he gained 10lbs for the combine to get up to 255lbs. None of it was fat or excess, he looked compact and muscular (see the image above). He had 27 reps on the bench press — only three less than Jesse Williams.
Pat Kirwan wrote a review of his time at the combine for CBS and quoted an unnamed defensive coordinator in the piece: “We’re all looking for the Bruce Irvin in this draft.”
Well, Corey Lemonier is the closest thing to Bruce Irvin this year.
Considering 2012 was so bad for Auburn in general, I wanted to go back to 2011 and get a look at Lemonier playing for a competitive outfit. He had 9.5 sacks that year. So I searched out the tape and realised just how effective he can be.
Here’s what I like about him. For an undersized player, it was refreshing to see how many snaps he took as a pure edge rusher. Bruce Irvin was used creatively by West Virginia but made most of his round one money on third downs. Lemonier might be a more natural LEO ‘starter’, in that he often engages blockers at the line of scrimmage and is able to set an edge against the run. He’s stronger than you think in the upper body despite his size — and I guess that’s emphasised by his bench press tally. You can be as explosive as you like as a speed rusher, but to start in a four man front you can’t afford to be hopeless against the run. My biggest concern with Irvin is whether he can cope in a role that asks him to do more than pin his ears back, which kind of limits his ability to be anything more than a specialist.
Chris Clemons isn’t an amazing run stopper, but he kind of holds his own. Irvin struggles to get off even a tight end to make a play against the run. Lemonier plays with great pad level, he can disengage and break on the ball. I love his hand use. The guy can play above his size. There are times when he puts his hands on a blocker and drives them into the backfield. I love to see that from a player who featured at just over 240lbs in college.
He also has that relentless motor you crave from an edge rusher, with a real edge to his play. He’s driven in the way Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo clearly aren’t at LSU. He’s got the speed to beat his man on the edge and I like the way he sets blockers up over time. Aside from a naturally quick burst off the snap, he also flashes a decent repertoire (spin move is evident, rip move is effective too). Quite often he turns a sack into a sack-fumble, something that’ll go down well in Seattle’s front office. He had five forced fumbles in 2011 alone.
One thing that the Irvin and Russell Wilson picks from last year taught me was to keep your options open. Don’t write guys off. I wrote an article twelve months before the 2012 draft saying Bruce Irvin was set to gate crash the top of round one. Had I stuck by that initial assessment, I’d look pretty smart right now. Then he got bogged down in West Virginia’s odd 3-5 scheme and I let it impact my opinion too much.
I feel like history is repeating itself here. Hey, maybe Lemonier doesn’t go in round one? But Auburn’s implosion shouldn’t impact his stock too much. He could go in round one. Technically he’s up their with Bjoern Werner as one of the better edge rushers in this class. Unlike Dion Jordan and Ziggy Ansah, he’s shown a degree of technical quality and readiness. Unlike Damontre Moore and Tank Carradine, he doesn’t look cumbersome getting off the snap. There aren’t any long term injury concerns like we see with Jarvis Jones. And unlike Mingo and Montgomery, he doesn’t take whole games off.
It won’t just be the teams looking for the ‘next Bruce Irvin’ that consider Lemonier. The 3-4 teams could show interest in moving him to outside linebacker. He has to be an option for New Orleans to improve their impotent pass rush. Pittsburgh at #17 need another edge rusher. What about Minnesota at #23? People will ultimately say this is too early, or too reactionary to the combine. They also would’ve said the same about Bruce Irvin a year ago.
“We’re all looking for the Bruce Irvin in this draft.”
Hey, I’m not saying this will definitely happen. Lemonier didn’t run a 4.4 after all. The one team who definitely will be using the LEO pass rusher in 2013 is Jacksonville and they’re not likely to take him with the #2 pick. Seattle already has Irvin. And if the 3-4 teams don’t bite after all, he could still last into the second round. I think that’s his floor though — round two.
I wouldn’t rule him out at #25. Not at all. Pete Carroll will probably take the best pass rusher in round one, whether that’s a tackle or a LEO. I think they’d rather bring in an interior rusher than another LEO, unless they have really serious reservations over Chris Clemons. You’d have to be pretty convinced about a particular prospect to take back-to-back first round LEO’s. What if neither player can act as a full time rusher? You’ve drafted two undersized defensive ends who can’t start. Even so, they might feel that the best value at #25 is to grab another LEO. And that could put Lemonier on the radar if he’s still on the board.
Keep an eye on his stock over the next few weeks. He could be one to watch. The Auburn pro-day takes place on Tuesday.
2011 tape vs Florida, Arkansas and Georgia:
2012 tape vs Clemson & LSU: