AUBURN — If someone had told you in August that the 2019 season would be Nick Coe’s last at Auburn, you probably wouldn’t have been surprised.
The defensive lineman from Asheboro, N.C., had two seasons of eligibility remaining after redshirting his first year in 2016, but he wasn’t expected to need both to prove himself to NFL talent evaluators.
Coe stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 295 pounds. He totaled 27 tackles, led the Tigers with seven sacks and ranked second with 13 1/2 tackles for loss, and forced two fumbles as the starter at the Buck position in 2018. But he had the size and ability to play all four positions across the defensive line, including end and tackle. Auburn planned to take advantage of that in his redshirt junior season.
But it never came to fruition. Coe didn’t build on his breakout 2018 campaign, but rather played well beneath that level, totaling only 15 tackles, three tackles for loss and zero sacks.
On Friday, he announced on Instagram that he would forgo his remaining college eligibility, including next month’s Outback Bowl against Minnesota, “for reasons that are personal to me.” A source close to Coe said he is not looking to transfer and will focus solely on the NFL Draft, as many probably would have expected before the start of the season.
Just not many expected it to happen this way.
“I cannot begin to express how much I appreciate the opportunity that Auburn University has given me these last four years,” Coe wrote. “My entire life has been a journey of ups and downs, and my time at Auburn was no different. However, because of my coaches, my teammates and the Auburn Family, I am a better man and football player than I was when I came to Auburn.”
Going into the 2019 season, the conversation on the defensive line was about Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe. It wasn’t just the two players who went on to win seven SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors — they were a trio. All could have entered the NFL Draft after last season. All decided to come back and play together.
Coe was supposed to be a lethal weapon on that defensive line. His wrestling background (one state championship and three national championships in high school) made him a hard man to block. Auburn gave him reps at all four spots along the defensive line during fall camp. He gained nine pounds during the offseason so he could help fill the void at defensive tackle left by the departure of four-year starter Dontavius Russell.
When the Tigers released their official depth chart during the week leading up to the opener against Oregon, Coe was listed as the backup at defensive end and both tackle spots, as well as the starter at an outside linebacker position the team created just for him.
“It’s kind of rare, but I think it’s a good rare,” head coach Gus Malzahn said at the time. “Nick is going to move around. Nick is a starter. With different personnel groupings they give us, he’ll move around. He gives us a lot of flexibility. He can play outside, he can play inside, he can play off the ball. He’s a very versatile player that gives our defense a lot of flexibility.”
But Coe didn’t produce at anywhere near the level he did last season. He totaled eight tackles and three tackles for loss through the first four weeks of the season, then only seven and one, respectively, over Auburn’s final eight games.
Big Kat Bryant and Tyrone Truesdell emerged as the go-to options next to Brown and Davidson on the defensive line. The Tigers also have rotational players T.D. Moultry, Derick Hall and Jared Handy at the pass-rushing positions, Colby Wooden coming off a redshirt season, and just signed a trio of newcomers in Daniel Foster-Allen, Zykeivous Walker and Romello Height.
On Oct. 19, Coe was a healthy scratch against Arkansas, dressing and warming up but never getting on the field. Afterward, Malzahn said that was because he “did not meet our standard in practice this week.”
“It’s hard for me because that’s my brother. I want to see my brother do well. It’s hard for him, too, taking that role,” Davidson said the following week. “But at the end of the day you’ve got to wake up.”
Coe finishes his Auburn career with 71 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, nine sacks, a pass breakup and two forced fumbles in 36 games over three seasons. He said in his announcement that “I realize I am not a finished product.”
Still, it seems likely that he will get at least a shot to play in the NFL. There was a thought going into the season that he might be able to play his way into being a high-round pick, and maybe even a late first-rounder. That probably won’t be the case now, but the ability is still there. With his athleticism, he will probably test incredibly well during the pre-draft process.
But his Auburn career is over.
“Hopefully, my time at Auburn will be a foundation for success in pursuing my long standing dream of playing in the NFL,” Coe said. “I will continue working towards becoming an ‘Auburn Man’ and I will always take Auburn with me no matter where my path leads me.”