Top Ten Players out of the SEC Conference
It is no secret that the Southeastern Conference is the preeminent conference in college football. Recent years have seen six BCS National Championships and three Heisman Trophy winners emerge from the conference.
That dominance has also translated into the NFL. Five of the last six top overall picks were from SEC schools. Many SEC players have found sustained success in the pros as well.
With possibly a dozen SEC players going in the first round of this year’s draft, this top ten list is filled from top to bottom with talent.
10. Dont’a Hightower (LB- Alabama)
Dont’a Hightower may signal the next era of great inside linebackers coming out of Alabama. He may be a late first round steal for whoever drafts him. Like Courtney Upshaw, he is a big linebacker with tremendous lower body strength. He also has great technique, and wastes few movements.
With his size, he is expected to translate as a 3-4 inside linebacker in the pros. He excels at shedding blocks and is a reliable tackler. His one drawback, however, will be his pass coverage, with questions lingering about his speed in covering NFL receivers. Look for Hightower to be chosen in the second half of the first round.
9. Alshon Jeffery (WR- South Carolina)
At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Jeffery has the size to be a top receiver in the NFL. He also knows how to use his size, boxing out defenders and getting the ball at its highest point. Combined with his long arms and big hands, Jeffery will be an elite receiver in the red zone.
The major concern with Jeffery is speed. He lacks the speed to be a number one receiver, but many scouts believe that he can make up for this with improved route running.
Another concern that has come up recently is work ethic. In 2011, Jeffery lost speed while adding a notable amount of weight. Some teams may want to try him at the tight end position, where he would have to develop his blocking skills. It is expected that Jeffery will go late in the first round or early in the second round.
8. Courtney Upshaw (LB- Alabama)
Upshaw is a tremendously talented linebacker. Great with his hands, he sheds blockers easily and is a force in run defense. He also sets the edge well, jamming tight ends and wide receivers. His lower body strength also aids him when he is able to get low on opponents.
One downside of his lower body strength is a lack of fluid movement in his hips. His speed in the middle of the field is a concern for teams interested in him. He is expected to go somewhere in the middle of the first round.
7. Mark Barron (S- Alabama)
Barron is the top safety on the board and is as complete as they come at the position. He has great footwork, reads and covers routes well and has great hands in pass coverage. He is also a talented run stopper and a sure tackler, with great athleticism that will allow him to play free or strong safety in the NFL. The only flaw he has is an occasionally lazy backpedal. College receivers were rarely able to take advantage of it, but in the NFL it could be exposed.
Barron is considered a sure thing and may still be the most underrated defensive player in the draft. Teams in the middle of the first round are expected to go for Barron, and some may even trade up to grab this top safety.
6. Michael Brockers (DT- LSU)
Brockers lights up on tape as a run stopper. He has tremendous technique, the strength to blow offensive linemen off of the ball and the ability to disengage blocks.
There are concerns about his ability on the pass rush, however. He struggled to disengage run blocks and often plays too high when coming off the line. His stats in a top five defense left something to be desired. Still, Brockers is considered a middle first round pick by most observers.
5. Melvin Ingram (DE- South Carolina)
This highly regarded pass rusher may be the best all around defensive lineman in the draft. Ingram's combination of pass rush moves, athleticism and instincts lead him to almost always be involved with plays on the ball. He looks like he will fit the mold of a pass rusher in a 4-3 defensive scheme.
Some scouts view Ingram as a "tweener," who does not have the exact skills for one particular position. He is not as fast as the top defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers, but not as big as defensive tackles. Still, Ingram has tremendous talent and will help any team looking for help on the defensive line in the first round.
4. Fletcher Cox (DT- Mississippi State)
Cox has emerged as the top defensive tackle on the draft board. At 6-foot-4 and 298 pounds, Cox has good size and tremendous athleticism. He is considered a raw talent with a rare burst for a sizable lineman.
Scouts worry that he relies too much on his athleticism and not enough on his technique. While he got away with being a freak athlete in college, his raw talent may not be enough in the pros, and he will have to develop more moves when disengaging blocks. He seems to be a likely top ten pick in this draft with his tremendous athletic ability.
3. Dre Kirkpatrick (CB- Alabama)
Kirkpatrick's stock has been falling in recent weeks. Some analysts have moved South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore ahead of him in ranking cornerbacks in this draft. But Kirkpatrick is still a great cornerback who will succeed in the pros.
Standing at 6-foot-1, he is tall for a cornerback. Despite his size, he is agile, plays low and has great fluidity in his hips and footwork. His length and quickness are undeniable and make him a great pass defender.
Scouts remain concerned about his strength, and question his tackling ability because of it. He will need to add bulk when he arrives in the NFL to avoid being outmuscled in press coverage. There are also questions about whether he is fast enough to cover deep balls against the fastest receivers in the league. Still, he will be a first round pick and will help whatever secondary he ends up on.
2. Trent Richardson (RB-Alabama)
Recent drafts have made NFL teams wary of picking running backs in the top five. Running backs like Cedric Benson and Reggie Bush have been busts, while undrafted free agents like Arain Foster have flourished. The growing sentiment that running backs are no longer worth top picks has hurt the draft stock of many running backs coming out of college. But Richardson is an exception to the movement. He is the top running back on every draft board, and may be the surest thing to emerge from the college ranks since Adrian Peterson in 2007.
Richardson is a running back with incredible strength. At times, he seems impossible to tackle. He is adept at staying low, embracing contact and shedding tacklers with striking ease. He is also considered a high character player who has great work ethic and will maintain and improve his strength as he develops.
Richardson combines that power with an elusive running style. He change directions very well, and has breakaway speed, running a 4.45-second 40-yard dash. He shows great patience, waiting for holes to develop and attacking them with a burst.
The only knock against Richardson is an underdeveloped game catching passes out of the backfield, but as a pure runner, Richardson is as good as it gets. He is a certain top ten pick who could very well be taken in the top five.
1. Morris Claiborne (CB- LSU)
Claiborne cannot escape comparisons to the last cornerback to emerge from LSU, Patrick Peterson. The problem is that they are two completel different players. Peterson is a return game phenomenon, but Claiborne will not make an impact there.
Rather, Claiborne will be a tremendous pro cornerback. At 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, Claiborne has decent size. He has long arms and knows how to throw receivers off of their routes early in bump-and-run coverage. He also has the best footwork of any corner in the draft. Claiborne shadows receivers very well and always has a feel for where the ball is, even with his back to the play. He almost always makes a play on the ball before the receiver does.
He is also very good in zone coverage and on run plays. He is known as a hard hitter with great instincts and an anticipation of where the play is moving. Claiborne has a great first step and always knows when to leave his assignment to make a play.
The only concerns about Claiborne are about his pure speed, a typical concern for NFL teams evaluating corners. Still, he remains a very safe pick who will likely be taken in the top ten. In an impressive conference of talent, Claiborne may just be the most impressive of them all.
Phil Constantino is a freshman majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Junior / Broadcast Journalism
Phil Constantino is a junior from Farmingdale, NY majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in political science. Phil is also the website and social media director at ComRadio, and one of the station’s feature broadcasters.