Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson has the look of a future franchise signal-caller
These days, there's simply no need to argue about which college football conference is loaded with the most talent.
Even before the SEC decided to bring in Missouri and Texas A&M to bump its total number of teams up to 14, the league had already proved its superiority by taking home the last six BCS championships while consistently pumping out the most NFL draft picks year after year.
The SEC has produced the most draft picks in each of the past six years, and that trend continued in 2012, as 42 former SEC standouts were taken by NFL teams, including a whopping nine first-round selections.
Now, when you take a look at the type of potential star pro prospects that will be on display this season, it's clear that the conference will once again be the king of next year's draft as well.
So which players will the pro scouts be paying the most attention to this fall?
Here's an early preseason breakdown of the SEC's top 50 prospects for the 2013 NFL draft.
Last year, Tyler Wilson flourished in his first season as a full-time starter, as he stepped in for Ryan Mallett and proved to be a perfect fit for Bobby Petrino's offense.
Wilson completed 63 percent of his passes for over 3,600 yards and threw 24 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions in 2011. More importantly, he helped lead the Razorbacks to 11 total wins and a top-5 national ranking, with the team's only two losses coming on the road at the hands of the two top-ranked teams in the country—Alabama and LSU.
The 6'3'', 220-pound senior passed up the chance to be a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft in order to return to Fayetteville to try to win an SEC championship and a national title.
The NFL quarterback that Wilson most resembles from a physical standpoint is Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, but he has an even higher ceiling.
It's certainly not going to be easy for the talented Razorback passer to catch current consensus No. 1-rated quarterback, USC's Matt Barkley. However, Wilson's definitely got the potential to develop into a top-10 pick for the 2013 NFL draft.
In four out of the last five NFL drafts, the first running back selected has been a former SEC player. That trend will most likely continue in 2013.
This season, the conference will feature the two best running back prospects in the country—South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and Arkansas' Knile Davis.
Both Lattimore and Davis are returning from serious injuries, but if both are healthy, they both have the chance to develop into top-15 draft picks.
Lattimore is one of the most physically gifted running backs that we've seen in the college game since the turn of the millennium.
If it wasn't for an unfortunate torn knee ligament, right now, most people would probably be hyping him up as the best NFL prospect in college football.
The 6'0'', 218-pound junior has only played in 20 games during his college career, but he's still managed to accumulate over 2,600 yards of total offense and score 30 total touchdowns.
While he may lack elite open-field breakaway speed, Lattimore has all of the other traits—size, power, explosiveness, vision and balance—to be an NFL team's bell cow back.
Now that Tyrann Mathieu is no longer at LSU, Johnthan Banks should be able to finally receive the recognition he deserves as the SEC's top cornerback in 2012.
While Mathieu and his Tiger teammate Morris Claiborne were hogging up most of the attention last season, Banks was putting together a terrific campaign of his own.
The 6'2'', 185-pound senior actually outproduced both Mathieu and Claiborne in 2011, as he totaled 71 tackles, including eight tackles for loss, five interceptions, nine pass breakups, three sacks and three forced fumbles.
Banks has the combination of size, speed, instincts and ball skills that scouts are looking for in a potential elite cornerback prospect.
The two-year starter has already proven his true worth against some of the best competition that college football has to offer, and he'll now be looking to cap off a great college career with his best season yet in 2012.
With so many NFL teams now currently employing either a base 3-4 defense or certain 3-4 defensive packages, light and explosive edge-rushers are now becoming one of the most coveted commodities in the draft.
Recent first-round picks such as Melvin Ingram, Whitney Mercilus, Nick Perry, Von Miller and Aldon Smith are just a few notable examples of the increasing importance placed on finding young impact rush linebackers that fit into a 3-4 scheme.
One standout collegiate pass-rusher who perfectly fits the mold of a future 3-4 outside linebacker is LSU's Barkevious Mingo.
Mingo, who racked up eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss in his first year as a starter in 2011, has only been playing organized football since his junior year in high school. He's still noticeably raw and unrefined. However, his natural physical gifts are simply remarkable, and you can bet that scouts have already taken notice of him.
The 6'5'', 240-pound junior still needs to add some bulk to his slight frame, but he's clearly got the physical makeup and skill-set to become the top 3-4 rush linebacker prospect in the 2013 draft class.
It didn't take very long for Jarvis Jones to prove that he could handle playing SEC competition. After sitting out the 2010 season following his transfer from USC, Jones burst onto the SEC scene last year.
Ultimately, he turned out to be one of the conference's biggest breakout stars.
The 6'3'', 241-pound junior led the league with 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks in 2011.
That dominant debut now has everyone buzzing about his NFL potential.
Jones has the perfect physical makeup that pro scouts are looking for in a potential 3-4 edge-rusher, but he's also versatile enough to handle playing the weak side position in a 4-3 scheme as well.
The powerful and explosive outside 'backer is truly an offensive tackle's worst nightmare.
Following a breakout sophomore performance, in which he rushed for over 1,300 yards and scored 13 touchdowns, Knile Davis looked like he was ready to become a true national star in 2011. However, a freak preseason ankle injury ended up keeping him on the bench for the entire season.
Now, after rehabbing for months, Davis will return to the Arkansas backfield in 2012, as he looks to once again assert his dominance in his quest to prove that he's one of college football's top offensive playmakers.
Back in 2010, the 6'1'', 226-pound junior displayed tremendous burst and explosiveness for his size. He showed that he's the type of complete back who's capable of either running around would-be-tacklers or running right over them.
Davis is clearly one of the most intriguing physical specimens in the country, and he has all of the tools and skills to be a featured back in the NFL.
Just like his fellow conference counterpart Marcus Lattimore, the Razorback rusher will be looking to make up for lost time in 2012, and he has the chance to have a truly monster comeback campaign this season.
Florida's defense should be one of the strongest units in college football this season, and one of the unit's key leaders will once again be linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
Jenkins arrived in Gainesville as a highly rated 5-star recruit out of Maryland back in 2009, and he's certainly managed to live up to expectations over the last few years.
Since breaking his way into the starting lineup as just a redshirt freshman back in 2010, Jenkins has racked up a combined 151 tackles, including 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions.
The 6'0'', 237-pound senior may not be the biggest linebacker in the country, but he's got the perfect skill-set to excel in the NFL as a weak side linebacker in a 4-3 defensive scheme.
The athletic and intelligent Gator defender should now be ready to take his play to the next level in 2012.
Jenkins has the chance to develop into both an All-American as well as a first-round NFL draft pick.
This season, LSU's offensive line will feature arguably the best pair of offensive tackles in the country comprised of left tackle Chris Faulk and right tackle Alex Hurst.
Faulk has only been a full-time starter for one season, but his performance in 2011 indicated that he's got the chance to ultimately develop into a top-tier tackle prospect.
The 6'6'', 323-pound junior is one of the most athletic and agile offensive lineman in the country, and he's got all the physical traits that scouts are searching for in a potential franchise tackle.
While he may still be somewhat raw at this point, if Faulk keeps developing as expected, he's got the chance to end up becoming a top-15 pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
By the time next April rolls around, don't be surprised if everyone's talking about Chris Faulk the same way that they were talking about the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft Matt Kalil this year.
D.J. Fluker has been manning the right tackle position for Alabama since breaking his way into the starting lineup as just a redshirt freshman back in 2010.
During the past two years, Fluker has developed into a dominant and overwhelming run-blocker, as he's learned how to use his strength and his massive 6'6'', 335-pound frame to his benefit.
The former high school All-American is one of the most physically talented tackles in all of college football.
While he may still have to work on his pass-blocking in order to become a true all-around tackle at the next level, Fluker clearly has the potential to develop into a high NFL draft pick in 2013.
It only takes one quick look at Georgia's John Jenkins to realize that he's got what it takes to be a dominant 3-4 nose tackle.
The 6'5'', 351-pound Jenkins is a monstrous lineman, who has the size and the strength to clog up the middle of the field and eat up blockers on every snap.
The former highly touted 4-star JUCO recruit definitely lived up to expectations during his first season in Athens. He was one of the main reasons that the Bulldogs ranked 11th in the nation in rushing defense in 2011.
NFL teams are always looking for big, disruptive defensive tackles that can shut down running lanes and cause chaos in the trenches, and Jenkins certainly fits the mold of what scouts are searching for.
Even though Tyrann Mathieu was the LSU defensive back who received all of the attention last season, you could make the case that his fellow Tiger teammate, safety Eric Reid, had just as good of a season as the Honey Badger.
Reid tied Mathieu for the team lead with 76 tackles in 2011 and he came up with one of the most important plays of LSU's season—a goal line interception in the "Game of the Century" against Alabama, which likely saved the Tigers from defeat.
The 6'2'', 212-pound junior is one of the most athletic, intelligent and instinctive safeties that we've seen in college football in years, and he belongs in the same conversation as former SEC greats such as Mark Barron, Eric Berry and LaRon Landry.
Now that Mathieu's out of the picture, it's time for Reid to show just how valuable he really is to the LSU secondary in 2012.
Justin Hunter was on his way towards putting together an outstanding sophomore campaign in 2011 before he sadly suffered a torn ACL in Tennessee's third game of the season. After spending months working his way back to full health, Hunter will now re-enter Tennessee's offensive huddle with something to prove in 2012.
Hunter has only caught 33 passes during his college career, but he's shown plenty of glimpses of his enormous potential during his time in Knoxville.
The 6'4'', 200-pound junior possesses simply amazing athleticism and body control for his size, and he has the ability to separate and create game-changing plays when called upon.
If Hunter's knee proves to be strong enough this season, the big, sure-handed receiver has the chance to be one of college football's top offensive players in 2012.
In the last three NFL drafts, there were six interior offensive linemen that were selected in the first round.
It wouldn't be surprising if Alabama's Chance Warmack ends up being the next one to join that illustrious group.
Warmack is a big, powerful guard, who is one of the strongest and toughest run-blockers that you're going to find in college football this season.
The 6'3'', 320-pound senior is an experienced veteran who has started all 25 games over the past two seasons.
After opening up monster holes for both Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, Warmack will now once again be one of the key cogs up front for an Alabama rushing attack that should be one of the most productive in the country this year.
Sam Montgomery has all the traits that you look for in a star pass-rusher. Montgomery's a powerful, agile, tough and savvy defensive end who has a motor that never stops running no matter what quarter it is.
The 6'5'', 260-pound junior flaunted all of those traits last season when he racked up nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss.
Montgomery is a handful for even the most skilled offensive linemen to handle, as he's determined to break through blockers and get into the backfield on every single snap.
Although he's considered a bit light by NFL standards, the tenacious Tiger edge-rusher could fit in as either a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker in the pros.
Not only is Montgomery capable of winning some of college football's most prestigious defensive awards this season, he also has the chance to emerge as one of the most coveted pass-rushing prospects in the 2013 draft class.
Texas A&M will have one of the strongest offensive lines in college football this season, and the leader of that talent-rich unit will be left tackle Luke Joeckel.
Joeckel is a former 4-star rated recruit out of Texas' Arlington High School, who has certainly lived up to his high school hype.
The 6'6'', 310-pound junior has started every game of his collegiate career, and last year he was one of the main reasons why the Aggies allowed just nine total sacks, which was the second lowest number in the country.
With both Joeckel and Jake Matthews returning, Texas A&M will have one of the best pairs of bookend tackles in the country this season.
After making the switch from guard to left tackle for the 2011 season, Barrett Jones was on the move again this offseason, as he kicked inside to center to replace the departed William Vlachos.
The defending Outland Trophy winner is one of college football's most fundamentally sound and steady offensive lineman, and he looks like he's destined to become a long-time stalwart starter at the next level.
The 6'5'', 302-pound senior could have been a high pick in the 2012 NFL draft if he had decided to come out, but instead he chose to return to Tuscaloosa and continue to dominate defenders for one more season.
Jones may not be the most physically gifted lineman in the country, but he's had a sensational college career, and he's the type of hard-working, versatile and disciplined player that any NFL team would love to have in the trenches.
Corey Lemonier stepped into Auburn's starting lineup in 2011 and turned out to be the Tigers' most dominant defender and one of the SEC's top overall pass-rushers.
Last year, Lemonier racked up 47 total tackles, including a team-high 13.5 tackles for loss, as well as 9.5 sacks, which was the fourth highest total in the conference.
The 6'4'', 246-pound junior showed that he had an explosive burst off the edge and a knack for getting into the backfield.
While Lemonier is still somewhat of a liability against the run, he's already established himself as one of the premier pass-rushers in college football.
South Carolina's defensive line may have lost last year's key playmaker Melvin Ingram, but the Gamecocks' front-four will still feature two of the best defensive ends in the country this season—Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney.
While Clowney was the one who garnered more publicity in 2011 after arriving in Columbia as one of the most talked about high school recruits of all time, Taylor managed to put together a solid campaign of his own.
Over the past two years, the 6'8'', 267-pound senior has totaled 13 sacks and 21 tackles for loss, and he's shown that he possesses outstanding speed and quickness for his size.
Taylor is the type of big, athletic edge-rusher that scouts are certainly going to fall for.
Sharrif Floyd was one of the most talked about members of Florida's highly rated 2010 recruiting class. Last season, he showed why everyone was so excited about his potential when he initially arrived in Gainesville.
Even though he was forced to sit out two games due to a suspension, Floyd still totaled 46 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries in 2011.
The 6'3'', 303-pound junior moves incredibly well for his size, and he proved that he's the type of tackle who can be almost impossible for a blocker to handle one-on-one.
Floyd looks like he's ready to make a huge impact in 2012, and this year, he should be one of the key playmakers for Florida's supremely talented defensive front.
Tyler Bray is the type of tall, big-armed pocket-passer that NFL teams are looking for, and he seems like he's now ready to become one of college football's biggest star quarterbacks in 2012.
Bray has only started 12 games during his collegiate career, but he's still managed to throw for over 3,800 yards and 35 touchdowns during his time in Knoxville.
The 6'6'', 215-pound junior has the size, arm strength and confidence that scouts want to see in a potential starting NFL quarterback.
If he finally puts things all together this season, Bray could eventually work his way into the first-round conversation for the 2013 NFL draft.
Last season, Texas A&M's defense obviously missed disruptive outside linebacker Von Miller, who was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft. Luckily for the Aggies, they had a new star pass-rusher, Sean Porter, who stepped up and shined.
Porter may not have been the true dominant force that Miller was, but he still put together a tremendous performance in 2011, compiling a team-high 9.5 sacks as well as 17 tackles for loss.
It should now be interesting to see how the 6'2'', 230-pound senior adapts to his role in the team's new 4-3 defensive scheme.
Porter will surely be looking to prove his worth and make his presence felt in the SEC in 2012, but we'll simply have to see how he'll handle the bigger, stronger offensive linemen that he'll face in his new league.
Arkansas' receiver corps experienced some major blows this offseason with the departures of Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs, who were all fourth-round picks in this year's NFL draft.
With Wright, Adams and Childs out of the picture, that means that Cobi Hamilton will now be asked to step up and become QB Tyler Wilson's go-to target in 2012.
Hamilton should definitely be able to handle the role, given that he's one of the most physically gifted receivers in the country. The 6'3'', 209-pound senior is a former high school track star, who possesses incredible speed for his size.
After averaging 33 catches and five touchdowns over the past two seasons, Hamilton should now see his production skyrocket in 2012.
Jesse Williams will take over as Alabama's full-time nose tackle this season after spending last year switching between defensive end and nose.
Williams, an Australian native with a background in rugby, arrived in Tuscaloosa last offseason as one of the most highly touted JUCO recruits in the country. He managed to live up to his hype right away.
The 6'4'', 320-pound senior displayed an awe-inspiring combination of power, explosiveness and agility in 2011 . Now, he'll enter the upcoming season as one of the most intimidating and feared defenders in all of college football.
With the versatility to play a variety of different positions in different defensive fronts, Williams is one of the most intriguing interior defensive lineman prospects in the 2013 draft class.
At 6'1'', 210-pounds, Aaron Murray obviously doesn't have the prototypical size that NFL teams are looking for in a potential franchise quarterback. However, Murray possesses every other desired trait that you want to see.
Last year, the junior signal-caller really took some great strides towards becoming a true offensive leader, as he stepped his game up when the Bulldogs were 0-2 and helped lead the team to 10 straight wins and an SEC East division title.
Murray ended up throwing for over 3,100 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2011, and he displayed a great deal of toughness, intelligence, intangibles, awareness and overall passing prowess.
While he may not be your average tall, pro-style pocket-passer, Murray can overcome his lack of size with flawless mechanics, wise decision-making and terrific instincts for the position.
This offseason, Alabama lost its two best linebackers—Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, who were both high picks in this year's NFL draft. However, the Tide have plenty of depth at the position, and it shouldn't be hard to find some new star 'backers for 2012.
The team's most intriguing linebacker is C.J. Mosley.
Mosley has had to work his way up a crowded depth chart during his first two years in Tuscaloosa, but when he has been out on the field, he's been a standout playmaker.
The athletic and instinctive 6'2'', 232-pound is equally adept at stuffing the run as he is dropping back into coverage. Most importantly, he has the much-desired versatility to play any linebacker position and fit into any defensive scheme at the NFL level.
Look for Mosley to be one of the biggest breakout defensive stars in the country in 2012.
Jake Matthews is the other member of Texas A&M's outstanding offensive tackle tandem.
Matthews is the son of legendary hall-of-fame tackle Bruce Matthews and the cousin of Packers Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews.
Obviously, he has the bloodlines to be a standout NFL prospect.
The 6'5'', 305-pound junior possesses as much raw natural talent as any other offensive lineman in the country.
While he still may not be as fully developed as fellow Aggie tackle Luke Joeckel is at this point, Matthews has the chance in 2012 to be just as good, if not better, than his ultra-talented teammate.
Nico Johnson will enter the 2012 season as Alabama's leading returning tackler after racking up 46 total stops last year.
Johnson has been overshadowed by his fellow talented Tide defenders throughout his career, but now it will be his time to shine.
The 6'3'', 245-pound senior has the perfect physical build that you look for in an inside linebacker, and he possesses the read and recognition skills, instincts and awareness to diagnose plays in an instant.
Look for Johnson to now step out of the shadows and become one of the most talked about players on Alabama's stacked defense in 2012.
Last year, Ryan Swope proved that his 72-catch performance as a sophomore in 2010 was clearly no fluke, as he hauled in 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The 6'1'', 206-pound senior is one of the best route-runners in all of college football, and he's one of the most sure-handed and reliable receivers that you're going to find.
While Swope may not possess true breakaway deep speed, he's deceptively quick, and he knows how to properly set up defensive backs while also finding openings in coverage.
Since the Aggies will be breaking in a new quarterback this season, Swope's production could take a bit of a hit in 2012. However, after watching him continue to progress and develop into a complete receiving threat over these last two years, scouts already know what he can bring to the table.
Alex Hurst will enter the 2012 season as one of the favorites to win this year's Outland Trophy, and he'll also be a lineman that NFL scouts will be paying close attention to.
Hurst has been the Tigers' starter at right tackle for the past two seasons, and he's been one of the most steady and reliable blockers in the country during that time.
The 6'6'', 331-pound senior got abused on a few different occasions by Alabama's Courtney Upshaw in the BCS championship game, but other than that, he had a very strong overall campaign in 2011.
Now that All-American guard Will Blackwell is gone, Hurst will be expected to step up and become the offensive line's true leader this season. Ultimately, it should end up being a role he thrives in.
Alabama's secondary is certainly going to miss the presence of All-SEC safety Mark Barron, who was the seventh overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft.
The good news for the Tide is that it seems that safety Robert Lester is ready to assume Barron's leadership role this season.
Lester is one of the most athletic and fluid safeties in all of college football. Plus, he's shown that he has a true nose for the football, as he's totaled 99 tackles and 10 interceptions during his time in Tuscaloosa.
The 6'2'', 210-pound senior has the speed and the range to fly around the field, and he's really made some great strides to develop into a better coverage safety over the last few years.
Ultimately, it will be interesting to see how the big, long and athletic strong safety will handle his new leadership role in Alabama's defensive backfield in 2012.
It may be premature to call Missouri's James Franklin this year's version of Robert Griffin III, but Franklin definitely could be ready to have an eye-opening breakthrough campaign in 2012.
In his first year as a starter in 2011, Franklin proved that he was one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, as he threw for over 2,800 yards, rushed for 981 yards and accounted for 36 total touchdowns.
The 6'2'', 225-pound junior may not be an NFL level passer just yet, but he's clearly got the total physical package to develop into one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football.
Franklin's stock may be hurt by the somewhat gimmicky shotgun offense he plays in, but if he keeps developing as expected, he's got the chance to really wow onlookers in 2012.
Kentucky hasn't had an offensive lineman drafted by an NFL team since 1993, when Todd Perry was selected by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round.
That 20-year drought will come to an end in 2013, since Larry Warford is expected to be one of the most coveted interior lineman prospects in next year's draft class.
The 6'3'', 343-pound senior is a two-year starter who has been one of the most consistent lineman in the SEC during his college career.
Warford is a big, powerful mauler, who can truly dominate as a run-blocker. Plus, he has surprising agility and footwork for his immense size.
Michael Brockers, the No. 14 overall pick of this year's NFL draft, was the face of LSU's deep defensive tackle rotation last season. Now that Brockers is gone, though, it will be time for Bennie Logan to step up and become the main man inside for the Tigers defense in 2012.
Last year, Logan had to defer much of the attention and recognition to his talented defensive line mates such as Brockers, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, but he still put together a very impressive 2011 campaign.
The 6'3'', 295-pound junior notched 57 total tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss, as well as three sacks.
Logan moves extremely well for his size, and he's the type of versatile tackle that can cause major damage as both a run-stuffer as well as a pass-rusher.
In recent seasons, Florida has had its fair share of talented safeties such as Ahmad Black, Major Wright and Reggie Nelson patrolling the back end of its defense. However, the Gators latest secondary leader, Matt Elam, might just turn out to be better than all of them.
Elam is a former 5-star rated recruit out of Florida's Dwyer High School, who managed to make an impact right away as a true freshman in 2010.
It wasn't until last season, though, when we got a real glimpse of just how special of a safety he could really be. The 5'10'', 202-pound junior totaled 78 tackles, two interceptions, two sacks and seven pass breakups in 2011.
While he may not be the biggest safety you'll ever see, Elam is a tough, physical and instinctive playmaker who loves to fly around the field and bash ball-carriers.
Alabama's new starting running back Eddie Lacy has some big shoes to fill, replacing this year's No. 3 overall draft pick Trent Richardson. The good news, though, is that Lacy is the type of big, powerful and physical back, who is an absolutely perfect fit for the Tide's downhill running game.
Last year, the 6'0'', 220-pound junior only carried the ball 95 times. However, when he did get the chance to tote the rock, he definitely made the most of it, averaging over seven yards per carry and scoring seven touchdowns.
Lacy should have plenty of room to run in 2012 behind college football's strongest offensive line, and he has a chance to really make a name for himself on the national scene this season.
While Bacarri Rambo may have been the one who earned All-American honors in 2011, Shawn Williams was actually Georgia's most consistent safety last season.
Williams led the team with 72 tackles and finished with four interceptions in 2011, and he proved that he was the type of physical and intelligent safety that could keep a secondary glued together.
The 6'1'', 217-pound senior will now once again team back up with Rambo this season to give Georgia one of the strongest sets of safeties in the country in 2012.
If he keeps progressing and developing as expected, Williams' name should really begin to climb up draft boards in the coming months.
Missouri's defensive line lost three key starters from the 2011 season—defensive tackles Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Resonno and defensive end Jacquies Smith.
Luckily, the Tigers are bringing back one of the SEC's top defensive tackles, Sheldon Richardson.
Richardson arrived in Columbia last offseason as a highly rated JUCO recruit, and he quickly made his presence felt, racking up 37 tackles and two sacks in 2011.
The 6'4'', 295-pound junior possesses the agility and quickness to fly around blockers and penetrate into the backfield, but he also has the strength to hold his ground against double-teams as well.
Now that he has a year of experience going up against BCS caliber competition, Richardson should be ready to put together a true breakout performance in 2012.
Alabama lost both of its starting cornerbacks from last season, including first-round NFL draft pick Dre Kirkpatrick. Since this is a Nick Saban-coached team, though, you know that there are plenty of talented reinforcements at the position waiting for their shot.
Dee Milliner is one of those new starters who will be looking to become one of Alabama's next great defensive backs in 2012.
Milliner is a former 5-star rated recruit out of Alabama's Stanhope Elmore High School, who has spent the last two years eagerly waiting to get his shot as a full-time starter.
The 6'1'', 182-pound junior has the size, speed and confidence to match up with any receiver in the country. If Milliner plays up to his potential in 2012, he's got the chance to be one of the top cover corners in college football this season.
This season, most fans will be paying attention to Arkansas' explosive quartet of offensive playmakers consisting of QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, WR Cobi Hamilton and TE Chris Gragg. But NFL scouts will surely be keeping a close eye on offensive guard Alvin Bailey in 2012.
Bailey is the typical kind of big, bruising blocker who you would expect to find battling and banging around in the trenches of the SEC.
The 6'5'', 312-pound junior has started every single game since he entered the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman back in 2010.
While he still has to work on his pass-blocking technique in order to survive against the quicker defensive tackles he'll face at the NFL level, Bailey is already a pro-caliber run-blocker.
Like fellow defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley arrived at Florida as one of the most highly touted prospects of the Gators' top-ranked 2010 recruiting class.
After a quiet freshman season, Easley began playing up to his full potential last year, when he stepped into the starting lineup and totaled 37 tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 quarterback sacks.
The 6'2'', 280-pound junior has the skill-set to either be a 4-3 under tackle or a 3-4 defensive end at the next level, but for now, he'll man the defensive end spot for Florida's three-man front.
Easley is one of the most athletic lineman in college football, and he and Floyd should make quite a tandem in the trenches in 2012.
Now that Texas A&M has switched defensive philosophies from its old 3-4 scheme to its new 4-3 front, Damontre Moore will make the switch from his former hybrid "Joker" position to a hand-in-the-ground defensive end role in 2012.
Moore has the physical ability to handle the transition without a problem, and he has the versatile skill-set needed to flourish at his new position.
Last year, the 6'4'', 250-pound junior led the team with 17.5 tackles for loss and finished second on the squad with 8.5 sacks.
Now, Moore will get the chance to prove that he's truly an elite pass-rusher when he squares off against some of the SEC's best offensive linemen in 2012.
It doesn't seem fair that Georgia has not just one, but two beastly nose tackles that the Bulldogs can stick in the middle of their 3-4 defensive front.
Not only do they have senior star John Jenkins, the Bulldogs also have 6'6'', 355-pound Kwame Geathers as well.
Geathers is the younger brother of Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers and Cowboys defensive end Clifton Geathers, and he'll soon join his siblings in the NFL.
The mammoth junior tackle is relatively raw at this stage in his development. Nevertheless, freakishly big lineman that have the type of power and agility that Geathers possesses simply don't come along very often. He's the kind of rare physical specimen that will definitely intrigue more than a few pro scouts.
The SEC lost its most productive tight end from the 2011 season—Orson Charles, which means that the conference will need a new top dog at the position this year.
Auburn's Philip Lutzenkirchen looks like he could be just that player.
Lutzenkirchen caught 24 passes for 238 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011, and he displayed the type of physical skills that NFL scouts are looking for in a potential starting tight end.
The 6'5'', 255-pound senior possesses the prototypical size, strength, quickness and hands to a complete tight end. During his career at Auburn, he's shown that he can be both a dangerous weapon in the passing game as well as a reliable blocker in the run game as well.
While he may never be an elite game-changer at the next level, Lutzenkirchen is the type of versatile and well-rounded tight end that would be a valuable addition to any NFL offense.
New Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin certainly loves to throw the ball. However, Sumlin is smart enough to realize that when you've got a back as talented as Christine Michael is, it certainly wouldn't hurt to pound the ball on the ground and balance out the offense.
Michael is a former 5-star rated running back recruit out of Texas' West Brook High School, who will finally have his chance to be the full-time featured back for the Aggies offense in 2012.
Even though he was forced to split carries with Cyrus Gray last year, the 5'11'', 220-pound senior still rushed for 899 yards and eight touchdowns on just 149 carries.
Although he went down for the season with a serious knee injury late last year, Michael should be back and ready to prove his worth in 2012.
A.J. McCarron certainly wasn't the main reason that Alabama won a BCS championship last season, but it's highly doubtful that the Tide would have made it as far as it did if McCarron didn't play as consistent as he did in 2011.
Last year, the 6'4'', 210-pound junior played the role of game-manager to perfection, as he completed nearly 67 percent of his passes for over 2,600 yards while tossing just five interceptions.
McCarron will now be asked to step up and become a true offensive leader in 2012. Given the clutch performance we saw from him in last season's national title game, he should have no trouble handling the pressure this season.
Although he may never be considered a truly elite quarterback prospect, McCarron has the skill-set, intangibles and solid physical foundation to one day develop into a starting caliber NFL signal-caller.
If McCarron leads the Tide to a second-straight BCS championship this season, his pro stock will really start to soar.
LSU's stable of running backs is the deepest and most talented group that you'll see in college football this season. The Tigers have four backs—Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard, who would all start for most other schools in the country.
In terms of NFL potential, the most intriguing of the four is Ware.
The 5'11'', 225-pound junior is a powerfully built back who has the size and the strength to consistently pound the ball inside the tackles.
Although he had to defer a lot of carries to his talented teammates in 2011, Ware still manged to rush for 707 yards and score nine touchdowns.
While his opportunities will be somewhat limited this season, look for Ware to really make a name for himself as the Tigers' top back in 2012.
Emory Blake only caught 36 passes last season, but his mediocre production can be blamed mostly on inconsistent play at the quarterback position and nagging injuries.
There's no question that Blake has the talent and the potential to be one of the SEC's standout receivers this season. He just needs to stay healthy and hopefully get better play from his quarterback in 2012.
The 6'2'', 193-pound senior has the size and the sturdy frame that NFL scouts are looking for, and he's also got a sure set of hands.
Blake will be expected to develop into a true dynamic No. 1 receiving weapon for the Auburn offense this season, and it should be interesting to see if he's ready for the challenge in 2012.
Bacarri Rambo is certainly a player that NFL scouts will have some concerns about, considering he's been suspended multiple times during his career at Georgia. However, there's simply no denying the talent that Rambo possesses and the impact that he makes when he is out on the field.
Last year, the 6'0'', 210-pound senior had the best season of his career, earning All-American honors after picking off eight passes and notching 55 tackles.
If Rambo can prove to scouts that his off-the-field issues are in the past, and if he puts together a solid senior season after returning from his 4-game suspension, he's got the chance to be one of the first safeties selected in the 2013 NFL draft.
Jelani Jenkins isn't the only Florida linebacker that has an NFL future. Teammate Jonathan Bostic is also a player that pro scouts will be paying close attention to in 2012.
Bostic is coming off a season in which he led the Gators with 94 total tackles and also notched three sacks.
The 6'1'', 246-pound senior has all the physical traits that you look for in a prototypical 4-3 Mike linebacker, and he's one of the smartest and most instinctive defenders that you're going to find in college football.
Although Jenkins may have the higher pro ceiling, Bostic is definitely a solid overall NFL prospect in his own right.
When starting running back Warren Norman was forced to redshirt last season due to injury, Zac Stacy turned out to be the answer to Vanderbilt's prayers, as he stepped up and became the offense's most reliable player in 2011.
Stacy ended up rushing for 1,193 yards on just 201 carries (5.9 yards per touch), and he scored 14 touchdowns last season.
The stocky 5'9'', 210-pound senior is built like a bowling ball, and he's the type of compact and powerful back who is almost impossible to bring down unless you gang tackle him.
While he'll be forced to defer some carries to Norman this season, Stacy looks like he's primed to have another big campaign in 2012.
QB Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt
RB Mike Gillislee, Florida
RB Onterio McCalebb, Auburn
WR Chad Bumphis, Mississippi State
WR Tavarres King, Georgia
WR T.J. Moe, Missouri
WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, Texas A&M
TE Chris Gregg, Arkansas
TE Michael Williams, Alabama
OT Elvis Fisher, Missouri
OT Xavier Nixon, Florida
OG Dallas Thomas, Tennessee
OC Patrick Lewis, Texas A&M
OC T.J. Johnson, South Carolina
DT Josh Boyd, Mississippi State
DT Rob Lohr, Vanderbilt
DE Abry Jones, Georgia
DE Brad Madison, Missouri
DE Collins Ukwu, Kentucky
DE Damion Square, Alabama
DE Lavar Edwards, LSU
DE Quinton Dial, Alabama
DE Spencer Nealy, Texas A&M
DE/LB Cornelius Washington, Georgia
LB Alonzo Highsmith, Arkansas
LB Cameron Lawrence, Mississippi State
LB Daren Bates, Auburn
LB Jonathan Stewart, Texas A&M
LB Michael Gilliard, Georgia
LB Tenarius Wright, Arkansas
LB Zaviar Gooden, Missouri
LB/S DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina
CB Akeem Auguste, South Carolina
CB Branden Smith, Georgia
CB Corey Broomfield, Mississippi State
CB Darius Winston, Arkansas
CB Dustin Harris, Texas A&M
CB T’Sharvan Bell, Auburn
CB Trey Wilson, Vanderbilt
CB/S Prentiss Waggner, Tennessee
FS D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina
FS Josh Evans, Florida
QB Tyler Russell, Mississippi State
QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU
RB Alfred Blue, LSU
RB Henry Josey, Missouri
RB LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State
RB Michael Ford, LSU
RB Warren Norman, Vanderbilt
WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
WR Kenny Bell, Alabama
TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia
TE Jordan Reed, Florida
OT Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee
OT Kenarious Gates, Georgia
OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OC Jonotthan Harrison, Florida
OC Travis Swanson, Arkansas
DT Byran Jones, Arkansas
DT Donte Rumph, Kentucky
DT Jeffrey Whitaker, Auburn
DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
DT Maurice Couch, Tennessee
DE Kaleb Eulls, Mississippi State
DE/LB Denico Autry, Mississippi State
DE/LB Kony Ealy, Missouri
DE/LB Ronald Powell, Florida
LB Alec Ogletree, Georgia
LB Andrew Wilson, Missouri
LB Jacques Smith, Tennessee
LB Jake Holland, Auburn
LB Kevin Minter, LSU
LB Mike Marry, Ole Miss
CB Deion Belue, Alabama
CB E.J. Gaines, Missouri
CB Eric Gordon, Tennessee
CB John Fulton, Alabama
CB Tharold Simon, LSU
FS Charles Sawyer, Ole Miss
FS Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
SS Craig Loston, LSU
SS Eric Bennett, Arkansas
P Brad Wing, LSU