Breaking Down the Top 2013 NFL Draft Prospect for Each SEC Team
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The SEC’s reputation as the premier conference in college football was strengthened after nine former SEC stars were selected in the first round of April’s NFL draft—including eight of the first 18 picks.
Judging by some of the 2013 mock drafts floating around, do not expect that trend to slow down anytime soon.
With the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri this season, the SEC’s domination of the draft could grow.
A loaded group of draft-eligible juniors headline the next wave of future NFL stars to come from the SEC.
Several schools have multiple players with a chance to hear their names called early next April, but who are the main prospects to keep an eye on this fall?
Find out as I break down the top NFL prospect for every SEC school heading into the 2012 season.
Alabama: OT D.J. Fluker
Fluker (#76) is one of three potential first-round picks on the Crimson Tide OL.
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Alabama has dominated the draft recently with four picks in the first round in consecutive years.
This year, their offensive line will have NFL scouts drooling with the likes of Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker all possessing the ability to become first-round picks.
Jones may be the safest pick out of the group, but the mammoth 6’6”, 335-pound Fluker has the most upside at the next level.
Fluker was a candidate to jump to the NFL last season, but instead, he will return as a fourth-year junior with a chance to elevate his stock after a dominant 2011 season.
Arkansas: QB Tyler Wilson
Wilson is the SEC's top quarterback, and could be in the mix to be the first pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.
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Wilson appears to be neck-and-neck with USC’s Matt Barkley in the race to be the top quarterback in the 2013 draft class.
The reigning first-team All-SEC selection passed for a league-best 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns last season.
Considering that he operates out of a pro-style offense at Arkansas, plus his success in a league full of elite defenses, Wilson looks to be one of the safer bets to come off the board within the first 10 picks next April.
Auburn: DE Corey Lemonier
Lemonier may be one of the nation's best pure pass-rushers, which will help his stock if he chooses to enter the NFL draft next year.
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After seeing Cam Newton be the top overall player chosen in the 2011 NFL draft, the Tigers only sent one player last season (offensive lineman Brandon Mosley was chosen in the sixth round by the New York Giants) to the next level.
Tigers junior defensive end Corey Lemonier enters 2012 as one of the nation’s top pass-rushers, which could make him a tempting prospect for NFL clubs if he chooses to forgo his senior season.
Lemonier tallied nine-and-a-half sacks last season, which means only Georgia’s Jarvis Jones (more on him later) got to the quarterback more often amongst returning players this season.
The 6’4”, 240-pounder also recorded 13.5 tackles for loss, and his ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage could help him raise his stock enough for him to consider making the jump.
LSU: DE Sam Montgomery
Montgomery is the headliner of an absolutely loaded draft-eligible class of Tigers.
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The rising junior class for Les Miles features an absurd amount of talent that has NFL personnel foaming at the mouth.
Leading the embarrassment of riches stockpiled in Baton Rouge is defensive end Sam Montgomery—a 6’4”, 245-pound edge rusher that recorded nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss for the defending SEC champs.
While Montgomery is projected as a first-round pick heading into 2012, several teammates—including fellow defensive end Barkevious Mingo, safety Eric Reid, corner Tyrann Mathieu and offensive tackle Chris Faulk—could occupy the title of being LSU’s best prospect.
Mississippi State: CB Johnthan Banks
Banks has the size and ball-hawking skills that NFL clubs usually covet when selecting corners early in the draft.
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Banks is a big, physical corner with ball-hawking ability in coverage—which is the recent phenomenon the NFL has fallen in love with in terms of drafting corners.
The 6’2”, 185-pound senior has compiled an impressive resume in his three seasons in Starkville (12 career interceptions—three of them returned for touchdowns).
Banks will likely battle N.C. State’s David Amerson for the right to be the first corner taken in the 2013 NFL draft.
Ole Miss: LB Mike Marry
Marry is one of the better under-the-radar linebackers in the SEC.
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The Rebels had a dismal year in 2011, ending with a 2-10 record and the dismissal of head coach Houston Nutt.
New coach Hugh Freeze will have to undergo a roster makeover, but he has a pillar to build on his defense in linebacker Mike Marry—who finished with 81 tackles , five tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble in his sophomore season.
The rising junior is not currently projected as a high draft choice, so chances are, he will stick around for his senior season in Oxford.
Texas A&M: OT Luke Joeckel
Joeckel could be the top left tackle prospect in the 2013 draft class. Pic, courtesy 247 Sports
The Aggies will enter the SEC this fall, and while they will have to replace departed star quarterback Ryan Tannehill—whoever emerges to take his place will be well-protected considering the elite duo of tackles residing in College Station.
Jake Matthews has the bloodlines (son of Hall-of-Fame lineman Bruce and cousin of All-Pro Packers linebacker Clay) and could wind up as a first-round pick (as could Aggies linebacker Sean Porter), but Joeckel is a 6’6”, 310-pound left tackle that will likely catch the eyes of teams in the market for a protector of a franchise quarterback.
Joeckel is talented enough to be the first left tackle to go off the board, which means with a big season this fall, he could be a candidate to be one of the first names called by Roger Goodell next April.
Florida: S Matt Elam
Elam is one of the hardest hitting safeties in the nation.
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After their weakest draft showing in over a decade, Florida has a bevy of gifted upperclassmen that have an opportunity to improve their draft stock in year two of the Will Muschamp era.
While fellow junior teammates defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and linebacker Jelani Jenkins are rated higher entering the season, I’m taking a bit of a gamble on placing the uber-talented Elam in this spot.
However, Elam was arguably the Gators’ defensive MVP last season, racking up 78 tackles (second best on the team), two interceptions, two sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Considering how strong he finished last season, Elam should improve enough in his second season under Muschamp to have a chance to climb all the way to the top of the board in a weak class of strong safeties if he chooses to turn pro.
Georgia: LB Jarvis Jones
Jones ability to rush the passer is the main trait that has him safely in the first-round of most mock drafts entering the season.
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The Bulldogs enter 2012 as a dark-horse national title candidate, and the return of Jones—who began his college career at USC—is a huge reason why Georgia is favored to claim the Eastern Division for the second consecutive season.
Jones burst onto the scene in a major way in 2011 (13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss), and he took the league by storm on his way to being named a first-team All-American and a Butkus Award Finalist.
Unless his production dips dramatically from last season, Jones will be a candidate to become the first linebacker off the board in the 2013 NFL draft.
Kentucky: OG Larry Warford
Warford has been a consistent performer on an otherwise bleak situation for the Wildcats OL. Photo, Courtesy 247 Sports
As bad as Kentucky’s offense was last season (finished last in the SEC in total offense), their lone bright spot was the play of Warford on their depleted offensive line unit.
Warford—who graded out at 87.5 percent for the 2011 season—allowed only one sack from his right guard position en route to be named a second team All-SEC performer.
The 6’3”, 336-pound senior is rated as the sixth-best guard prospect in the 2013 draft class by CBSSports.com, and his ability to play well against the elite defensive linemen in the SEC will be beneficial to his stock at the next level.
Missouri: DT Sheldon Richardson
Richardson has the potential to rise up draft boards with a strong 2012 season.
The SEC’s newest set of Tigers jump into the toughest conference in the country this fall, and their defensive front will be anchored by former 5-star recruit Sheldon Richardson.
The 6’4”, 295-pounder originally signed with Missouri in the 2009 class, but had to go the JUCO route before resurfacing in Columbia last season.
Richardson was named an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection after recording 37 tackles, eight tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
If he can harness his enormous potential this season, Richardson possesses the type of freakish athleticism that could create a buzz leading up to draft day.
South Carolina: RB Marcus Lattimore
Lattimore has the potential to be the first running back taken in next year's draft.
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Lattimore was having a monster 2011 season before suffering a torn ACL against Mississippi State in mid-October.
While the value of franchise running backs has declined in the NFL, three rushers were taken in the first round of the most recent draft—including the SEC’s leading rusher from 2011, Trent Richardson.
Like Richardson last season, Lattimore enters his junior season projected as the top rusher available in the 2013 draft class.
After rushing for 2,025 yards and scoring 30 total touchdowns over the last year and a half , Lattimore will be one of the nation’s most prized underclassmen to keep an eye on this fall.
Tennessee: WR Justin Hunter
WR Justin Hunter highlights, football begins at 1:49.
Like Lattimore, Hunter enters this season coming off a major knee injury that cost him a majority of the 2011 season.
In similar fashion, assuming he returns to his playing form pre-injury, the lanky wideout’s NFL stock likely will not suffer.
Considering he has an NFL-caliber passer throwing to him (quarterback Tyler Bray) and another NFL prospect flanking him at wide receiver (Da’Rick Rogers), Hunter could elevate himself into the category of fellow elite junior pass-catchers Robert Woods of USC and Keenan Allen of California.
Vanderbilt: CB Trey Wilson
Wilson will now be counted on to be the leader in the Commodores secondary this season.
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The Commodores have a pair of studs on offense (quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy) that may be more well-known to fanbases across the SEC, but the 5’11”, 192-pound Wilson stepped up and had a solid junior season opposite departed star corner Casey Hayward (who was selected in the second round by the Packers in April).
Wilson recorded 30 tackles and three interceptions—two of which he returned for touchdowns—last season.
If Wilson can produce similar numbers without the benefit of having Hayward flanking him on the other side, he has a chance to join his former teammate in an NFL secondary this time next year.