It’s no secret that the SEC produces the most NFL-ready talent in the country, and Thursday’s draft will introduce the latest wave into the league.
LSU was the conference’s crown jewel this past season, putting together one of the greatest overall seasons in the sport’s history. The Tigers finished 15-0, blowing out Oklahoma and Clemson in their playoff games.
» MORE: Changes to expect this NFL draft
The league also included Alabama, which quite possibly would’ve been a playoff team again if not for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s injury. Georgia was again a force, undone by an upset against South Carolina and a blowout versus LSU in the conference title game. Florida went 11-2, its losses to LSU and Georgia, and is trending upward. Auburn defeated Alabama and Oregon while giving LSU possibly its best game.
Those specific schools were mentioned because they have players featured in the below rankings: The SEC’s best non-quarterback prospects. By now, you’ve seen, heard and read all you can about Burrow and Tagovailoa, so we’ll spare further dialogue on them.
RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia
Swift has a chance to crack the first round and might be the best back in the class. He’s a well-rounded runner who’s shown the ability to be a factor in the passing game. He played behind a powerful offensive line, but also wore down the most athletic defenses in the country. He’s quick to hit a hole and makes smooth cuts.
But running backs simply aren’t valued as highly in the league. The first back came off the board 24th overall last year in Alabama’s Josh Jacobs, to whom Swift has been loosely compared. Miami at 26 starts Swift watch.
EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU
History sides against pass rushers who accumulated single-digit career sacks in college. Chaisson might be an exception. He’s a tremendous athlete who is sculpted just how you want an edge rusher. His game is definitely more finesse than strength, but the right coaching staff could mold his base, speed and bend into a premier pass rusher.
Chaisson has an injury history, tearing his ACL in the first game of the 2018 season and suffering an ankle injury last season. He’s also largely a projection – many teams will opt for a more known quantity.
The league’s highest regarded non-QB prospects:
CB C.J. Henderson, Florida
Henderson has “won” the draft process, it appears, after a stellar combine. He’s worked his way into the top half of the first round, and some teams reportedly even view him higher than generally regarded CB No. 1 Jeff Okudah. The Falcons are among the teams keen on Henderson.
Henderson is more equipped to succeed than any Florida cornerback between him and Joe Haden (2010). He’s 6-foot-1, 204 pounds and runs a 4.39. He’s shown ball skills that should translate with his measurables.
He’s a poor tackler, but teams will be willing to look past that if they buy his coverage ability. His pedigree, in theory, makes him a defensive back coach’s dream.
DT Derrick Brown, Auburn; DT Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
Brown and Kinlaw are the consensus top-two defensive tackles, with each offering something different. Brown is a space-eater who can wreck the interior offensive line. The Sugar Hill native is far more athletic than any 6-foot-5, 326-pound human should be.
It’s likely Brown can anchor a defensive line from Day 1. Players of his ilk usually have impact extending beyond their numbers. His size and strength will account for double teams, freeing other players on the line. Brown could go as early as third overall but shouldn’t slip into the second half of the first round.
Kinlaw also possesses a high-end physical profile, though he wasn’t as consistently dominant as Brown. As former NFL defensive lineman Stephen White pointed out, Kinlaw is built differently, as his upper body looks more like a linebacker than lineman.
It’s argued Kinlaw has better upside because he exhibits explosion, hands and lateral quickness that Brown does not. Like Henderson, he has the traits that coaches love to mold.
Kinlaw or Brown could wind up as Falcons – it’s noteworthy that coach Dan Quinn recently mentioned it’s harder to find interior presences than edge rushers. Pairing Kinlaw or Brown with Grady Jarrett would be an apt counter to the offense-heavy NFC South.
WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama; WR Henry Ruggs, Alabama
Two of the class’s top three receivers played in Tuscaloosa. Jeudy was a technician, a refined route runner who’s as NFL-ready as they come. Ruggs is the fastest player in the draft, no doubt tantalizing for 32 offensive coordinators.
Jeudy, who runs a 4.45, flashes shades of former Crimson Tide receiver Amari Cooper. His speed-route running combo sets a high floor. A recent report suggested Jeudy has lingering knee issues – he had meniscus surgery in 2018 – and could slide down the board (Jeudy’s agent has refuted those claims). If that’s the case, and he proves healthy in the long run, some team will have stolen a top-notch talent.
Ruggs might be the best receiver in the draft. His size (5-11, 188) is good for a player who runs a 4.27. In fact, when he ran that 4.27 at the combine, it inexplicably felt a tad underwhelming. As Tyreek Hill has shown in the Chiefs’ offense, rare speed can completely change a game. Ruggs can shift field position as a returner, as well.
Alabama didn’t ask Ruggs to run an extensive route tree, so questions there might be more about not seeing it than knowing it’s a weaker point in his repertoire. Ruggs needs refinement, but his natural ability is immense.
OT Jedrick Wills, Alabama; OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
Alongside Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Wills and Thomas comprise the top tier of the tackle class. You’ll see these players arranged in every order because there doesn’t seem to be a consensus, but Wills is most commonly placed at the top.
Wills isn’t a monstrous physical presence, but he wins with quickness and technique. His footwork is impeccable. His hands generate power that’s more-than-expected because of his slighter frame.
Wills just knows how to play the position. He’s a fluid mover and plus-athlete who’s garnered ample experience against speed and power rushers. He was a right tackle at Alabama, but could shift to left in the pros, depending on where he lands. He even comes with a mean streak coaches and teammates love.
If Thomas is the first tackle off the board, it’s because he’s such a polished product. His theoretical peak isn’t Wills’, but even his worst-case seems to be a steady tackle who can hold down one side of the line for 10 years. That’s well worth a premium pick.
Thomas is punishing in the run game, where he obviously had plenty of reps in Athens. He’s a three-year starter who played both sides of the offensive line. There’s nothing flashy to his game – it’s just clean and reliable. He missed one game in college because of injury.
Wills and Thomas should be early selections, possibly in trade-ups. The highest a tackle is projected is usually fourth, where the Giants are desperate for help, while it’s expected that the top four blockers will be gone (at the latest) after pick 14, where the Bucs are eyeing protection for Tom Brady.
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