The SEC's continued dominance in college football was further solidified as 10 players who are from schools that will be in the new 14-team SEC were picked in the first round of the NFL draft.
Third Pick, Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson (Alabama)
Arguably the best running back in the country following the Crimson Tide’s march to the 2012 BCS title, Richardson showcases what any coach wants in an every-down back.
Richardson is in a rare class of RBs who possess the ability to be called on for any down during a drive. He has the strength for an up-the-gut carry, the speed for a toss sweep on second down and the hands to catch on a third-and-long.
Mike Holmgren is running the show in Cleveland. The last time Holmgren drafted a RB was when he was coaching the Seahawks and took a gem by the name of Shaun Alexander. His last Alabama back treated his wallet nicely, and the same is expected from Richardson.
Playing in Cleveland is a dream for a RB. With cold weather, teams are forced to run the ball more. Richardson should get around 20-25 carries per game. Holmgren also drafted quarterback Brandon Weeden out of Oklahoma State, fueling a competition with the Browns' current starter, Colt McCoy. Things should get interesting in the AFC North. Step aside Ray Rice.
Sixth Pick, Dallas Cowboys: Morris Claiborne (LSU)
For the Cowboys’ first consensus draft pick since Terence Newman out of K-State, another CB mind you, Jerry Jones traded up to get the stud out of Baton Rouge.
Claiborne was a sensational WR until Les Miles noticed his ability to cover the ball the summer going into his freshman campaign. Claiborne is perfect for a Rob Ryan defense that loves to blitz.
What does this mean for Claiborne? On the ball coverage at all times. Run or pass, Claiborne can thrive. He’s only 5’11” and a buck-90, but he can hit and out-jump just about anybody. The Cowboys run a split-three secondary that shifts SS and FS into the LB slot. Claiborne will love the freedom in his new system. Great pick for Dallas.
Seventh Pick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mark Barron (Alabama)
Barron is the epitome of a what an NFL team needs in its system—players with a head on their shoulders. Coming out of the 2011 season, Barron was projected to be an early second-rounder.
He decided to come back to school, a rare choice among quality DBs. He’s thanking Nick Saban for talking him into that. The salesmanship of Saban is the reason he came back.
Barron is extremely disciplined and has quick burst speed. Tampa Bay ranked 31st last season in pass coverage. Barron should be called on from Day 1 to step in and man the oars. Don’t expect him to be a superstar, but he’ll be as a solid as a coach can hope for.
Eighth Pick, Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M)
Tannehill has the highest upside of any quarterback in the draft. At 6’4" with a 4.65 40-yard dash, Tannehill could be a tough matchup in a spread offense like Joe Philbin will surely install for the Dolphins.
Philbin installed the Packer offense that won them the 2011 Superbowl. He loves shooting the slot and letting his QB roam out of shotgun.
The Dolphins currently have the dismal Matt Moore penciled in as their starter going into training camp. Look for that to be a heated battle in the AFC South for the Dolphins starting-QB spot.
10th Pick, Buffalo Bills: Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina)
A quick and flashy playmaker, Gilmore was a rare freshman starter in the SEC. Like his CB counterpart Morris Claiborne, Gilmore is an all-around badass. Playing QB in high school, he was an All-American who graduated early and knocked off a junior starter to claim the starting role in his freshman campaign. Gilmore should start from Day 1 for Buffalo.
12th Pick, Philadelphia Eagles: Fletcher Cox (Mississippi State)
Cox comes from a defensive-minded team that had high hopes in 2011. Named an All-American by Pro Football Weekly, Cox has the agility to fit in perfectly with the 4-3 scheme on the Eagles. Much like Warren Sapp, Cox can step back and protect the pass if needed—a great addition for Philly.
14th Pick, St. Louis Rams: Michael Brockers (LSU)
Brockers stands at 6’6” and has a massive wingspan. Playing alongside the other young Rams D-linemen Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Kendall Langford should motivate him to show Jeff Fisher what he is capable of.
17th Pick, Cincinnati Bengals: Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama)
Cincinnati has had trouble finding a solid shutdown corner as of late. Paul Brown is hoping his 2012 first-rounder can change that. Kirkpatrick is a 6’2” corner who’s long and athletic. While he may be used to playing on a star-studded defense at Alabama, that will not be the case in Cincy. Lace 'em up, tiger, you have some work to do.
18th Pick, San Diego Chargers: Melvin Ingram (South Carolina)
The Jets took Quinton Coples at No. 16, shocking the Jet faithful by passing on Ingram. I believe Ingram will be getting the last laugh there, as he is headed to a player's paradise in San Diego. Norv Turner loves wide-open defense, and Ingram has the speed to play like DeMarcus Ware with the strength of Julius Peppers. That's a big upside for a late first-rounder.
25th Pick, New England Patriots: Dont’a Hightower (Alabama)
Belichick did it again! What a pickup for the savvy coach, who always steals players like Hightower. Hightower was a starter throughout his entire career at Alabama, playing alongside Rolando McClain in 2010 and anchoring the defense in 2011-12 on his way to All-American honors. Hightower should slide in next to former SEC foe Jerod Mayo and upgrade a veteran-laden Patriot defense with his youth and maturity.
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