2012 NFL Draft: 3 Big-Name Prospects from the SEC That Could Fall on Draft Day
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It happens every year.
Just as surely as there will be busts in the 2012 NFL draft, there will be buried treasures whose collegiate careers were played in relative obscurity but who will soon become household names.
And despite the countless hours, days and weeks spent by the big networks' and this site's NFL draft experts analyzing each potential specimen and determining his slot in the most anticipated, debated and watched American lottery, they will not get it completely right.
While there is virtually no doubt that the quarterback from Stanford, Mr. Andrew Luck, will be the No. 1 overall selection taken by the Indianapolis Colts on April 26, 2012, the rest of the draft is up for debate.
There is a lot of great talent that could move up or down the draft ladder in the next couple of months, including players like 2011 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Baylor's Robert Griffin III; Oklahoma State's record-setting wideout Justin Blackmon; and LSU's indomitable cornerback Morris Claiborne, who could shuttle up and down among the top-five selections.
There is also a great deal of talent at the skill positions and on the offensive and defensive lines deep into the middle rounds of the 2012 NFL draft pool, which is among the deepest in years.
As I set out to write this article profiling several of the nation's top NFL prospects who could find themselves falling precipitously on Draft Day, à la Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 NFL draft, I did not intend to focus all of my efforts on SEC players.
However, I kept coming back to the same three players at the top of my list: Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick and Trent Richardson and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery.
Though the SEC has the most and the best first-round NFL talent in the 2012 NFL draft, there are other players I considered, including UNC's Quinton Coples, Baylor's RG3 and another Alabama player, Dont'a Hightower.
You may recall that Rodgers was projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 before falling all the way to the Green Bay Packers with the 24th selection and he has since gone on to be named MVP of both the Super Bowl and regular season in 2011.
No. 1: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick (21) makes a tackle in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game vs. LSU.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick is the No. 2-ranked cornerback on most 2012 NFL draft boards, behind LSU's Morris Claiborne.
Kirkpatrick has the size (6'2", 192 lbs.) and speed (sub-4.5 40) to be a top-10 pick in a draft that's deep at the cornerback position.
The Washington Redskins (No. 6 overall pick) and the Carolina Panthers (No. 8 or No. 9 overall pick) both have pressing needs in the secondary, which Kirkpatrick can immediately address, though concerns about his recently dropped marijuana possession charge could impact how early he is selected.
Carolina desperately needs another cover corner to replace Captain Munnerlyn and complement Chris Gamble, but I do not expect Panthers GM Marty Hurney to pull the trigger on Dr. Dre, a.k.a., "The Chronic," with the team's first pick.
Kirkpatrick is too talented to fall out of the first round, but teams with a top 10-15 pick have to be concerned with a prospect's maturity and seriousness about football when he is caught cavorting with pals on a pot run on the eve of his big pay day.
Projected Fall: Bottom half of the first round
No. 2: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Trent Richardson (3) runs for paydirt in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game vs. LSU.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Move over, 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
Richardson is fast, he's powerful, and he can stop-and-go or cut on a dime like a big Barry Sanders.
If this were the '80s or the '90s, or even the early 2000s, Richardson would clearly be a top-three overall pick, but the modern NFL has become a pass-first, pass-second, run-by-committee-third league.
NFL back are as good as ever and more average 5.0 yards per carry, which seems to be the new 4.0 YPC, but rushing backs are not the vital cog in most offenses like they used to be.
Hell, the New York Giants just won the 2012 Super Bowl behind a dominant defensive line, clutch quarterbacking and the NFL's worst regular-season rushing attack.
Unfortunately for Richardson, he is coming out in a year in which the demand for linemen, defensive backs and quarterbacks is high and the supply is rich.
While Richardson will likely be taken somewhere in the first 15 picks, his overall draft position is likely to fall relative to his talent and likely future NFL greatness.
The Kansas City Chiefs, with the No. 11/12 pick, are the first team with a run-oriented offense and a potential need at the position after Jamaal Charles tore his ACL in 2011.
A healthy Charles-Richardson one-two punch could spell trouble for the rest of the AFC West.
Predicted Fall: No. 12-18 overall
No. 3: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Gamecocks receiver Alshon Jeffery (1).
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Alshon Jeffery (6'4", 229 lbs.) is a big dude with big-play potential to match his size.
After being named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award after his sophomore season in 2010, Jeffery appeared a bit bloated on the NCAA football preseason cover of Sports Illustrated.
Whether his waistline expanded in the offseason or if he experienced the dreaded S.I. cover jinx, Jeffery had a subpar 2011 in which his receiving numbers were cut nearly in half from the previous season.
Much of Jeffery's junior season decline can be attributed to the tumultuous quarterback situation at South Carolina that saw head ball coach Steve Spurrier playing musical chairs with Connor Shaw and Stephen Garcia for the first few months of the season before finally kicking Garcia off the team.
Jeffery has never had a prototypical wideout's body type and he is a phenomenal athlete with tremendous hands, body control and YAC ability; however, the one-time All-American's 2012 NFL draft stock may have shrunk while his waistline expanded.
Jeffery is a hard-working, high-first-round talent, a heck of a football player and, I believe, a future Pro Bowler, though his soft middle could scare off some coaches and GM's and push him all the way into the second round.
However, I truly believe that any team selecting Jeffery with the 20th pick or later is getting a steal.
Predicted Fall: Late first round to overall No. 50 pick
Looking Ahead to the Draft
No. 1 draft pick, Cam Newton (1).
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
The great thing about my 2012 NFL draft coverage is that you, the reader, have a voice.
As I continue to research and prepare for more in-depth pre-draft coverage and analysis, I welcome your comments and suggestions for your can't-miss prospects, big-time busts, small and mid-level sleepers, and players who will move up and down the draft boards.
I can't wait for the NFL combine to begin and my television will be locked in to the NFL Network.
Stay tuned for more 2012 NFL draft coverage and be sure to follow me on Twitter @imapone24.