2012 NFL Draft: Predicting Landing Spots for the Top SEC Stars
Along with dominating the BCS, the SEC is ruling the NFL draft. In each of the last three drafts, the SEC led all other conferences with the most players selected, and a total of 124 have been taken by an NFL team over the last three years.
This year should be no different, unless there are even more SEC players taken. The BCS Championship Game even featured two SEC teams for the first time, and there's plenty of talent on Alabama and LSU alone to keep scouts interested in the conference.
There is first-round talent coming out of the SEC from more than just the two schools aforementioned, and this is where I think they will land in the NFL.
Morris Claiborne, CB (LSU)
Morris Claiborne is widely recognized as the best cornerback prospect in this years' draft. He had a stellar junior season with six interceptions and went on to win the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best corner.
Claiborne has the size and ability to start for a team from Day 1, which means his name should be called pretty early on in the draft.
The Cleveland Browns have the No. 4 pick in the draft and could consider taking Claiborne with that pick. However, the Browns might be too enticed by another SEC stud to make Claiborne their guy.
If the Browns pass on him, Claiborne will most likely get taken with the next pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs have had to deal with Aqib Talib's constant off-the-field issues, and bringing in Claiborne will give them the ability to part ways with Talib.
Trent Richardson, RB (Alabama)
Alabama running back Trent Richardson will be Claiborne's biggest competition for being the first SEC player selected. There will be some draft experts out there who will tell you that getting a running back this early in the first round would be outrageous, but Richardson is worth the high pick.
Richardson lost just one fumble in his 614 career touches at Alabama, and that consistency helped his Crimson Tide to two championships in the three years he was there. This past season, he averaged 5.9 yards per rush and totaled 1,679 yards on the ground, scoring 21 touchdowns.
Richardson will prove to be a great pick, but the question now becomes, where will he land?
I say the Browns won't be able to resist taking Richardson, especially now that Peyton Hillis has left town. If Cleveland passes on Richardson for perhaps Morris Claiborne, the Bucs would definitely be happy with landing the work-horse runner.
Michael Brockers, DT (LSU)
While Michael Brockers has the potential to be a Top 10 draft choice, there is too much uncertainty surrounding him. Brockers decided to part ways with LSU after just one season of playing time as a redshirt sophomore.
His physical tools are there, and his 6'6", 306-pound frame should be big enough to fit in with the other men of the NFL. Brockers should intrigue a wealth of NFL teams who could potentially use him in a 3-4 as an end or 4-3 as a tackle.
The earliest he will get taken would be by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 9 overall pick. The Panthers could use a run-stopper in the middle, but if they pass on him, look for Brockers to fall to the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 15. Both teams need help against the run, and Brockers will bring that.
Melvin Ingram, OLB/DE (South Carolina)
No matter where Ingram lands, he will be a pass-rusher because that's what he will be able to give to a team—his ability to put pressure on the quarterback.
Ingram is extremely athletic and played all along the defensive line in college, as well as some linebacker for the Gamecocks. With 19 sacks over the past two seasons, there will be teams picking in the first round who would be very interested in Ingram.
I think that Ingram will drop out of the Top 10 and will be picked by the Chicago Bears at No. 19. The Bears have made additions to the offensive side of the ball by adding Brandon Marshall and Michael Bush. They will likely focus on defense with their first pick, and Ingram would make a great tandem with Julius Peppers.
Fletcher Cox, DT (Mississippi State)
Fletcher Cox was a big contributor to the Mississippi State defense from the moment he first stepped on the field as a true freshman. In 36 career games in three seasons, Cox tallied 24.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.
I believe Cox has the ability to start in the NFL, but he could use some grooming and will eventually be a much better player than he is today.
If the Panthers take him at No. 9, I would not be surprised, but I'm expecting some teams to pass on Cox in favor of other prospects. I believe he will fall to the Tennessee Titans at No. 20, and the Titans will be thankful those other teams didn't take him.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Alabama)
Dre Kirkpatrick was the best corner on the nation's best passing defense last for Alabama last season.
Kirkpatrick didn't make any interceptions last season, but he makes up for it with his coverage. At times, his coverage was so tight the ball would either not go to his man or it would be a throwaway to avoid a costly interception.
I think he will land at No. 14 with the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys let Terence Newman go after a nice career in Dallas, and they are ready to bring in a new No. 1 corner to their defense.
Courtney Upshaw, OLB/DE (Alabama)
Courtney Upshaw is another defensive star entering the NFL after Alabama had one of the best defensive seasons in NCAA history.
Upshaw has a great knack for getting to the quarterback and then bringing him down. He had 9.5 sacks his senior year, including one in the National Championship Game where he helped Alabama shut out LSU.
With plenty of talent at the position, I see Upshaw sliding to the Texans at No. 26. Houston traded DeMeco Ryans and let Mario Williams go in free agency, so it definitely needs to add a linebacker to the defense.