2013 SEC Defensive Players Who Will Have the Best Pro Careers
The NFL draft only reinforces SEC dominance, as the conference set a modern record last season with 63 draft picks. The SEC has become a conveyor belt of talent, and it doesn't seem like it's going to let up anytime soon.
There are countless future NFL players running around the field on Saturdays, and many will soon hear their names called by the commissioner once they declare eligible.
Who are some of the next great NFL defenders from the SEC?
Of course, there's some South Carolina defensive end and a few Alabama players who come to mind, but there are also some guys who aren't in the spotlight as much who will carve out successful careers in the NFL.
10. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee
Don't bet against Daniel McCullers having success in the NFL. He is one of the biggest college football players you'll ever see at 6'8", 380 pounds.
With that size, he is certain to be drafted once eligible and will be given plenty of opportunities to prove himself. As you can imagine, McCullers consistently demands two offensive linemen at all times, and sometimes that isn't good enough. He does a great job of using his hands and moves surprisingly well for such an abnormal frame.
McCullers will be a productive defensive tackle at the next level and will make many of his pass-rushing teammates happy. After all, guys with his size are usually only seen in movies.
9. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
E.J. Gaines didn't get the credit he deserved last season due to playing for a Missouri team that finished 2-4 against the SEC East. But sleeping on the senior cornerback would be foolish.
Gaines doesn't have great size at 5'10", 195 pounds, but he is absolutely fearless and plays much bigger than his size indicates. He has no problem getting in a receiver's face at the line of scrimmage and possesses above-average recovery speed to make a play on the ball.
He's a feisty player with great leaping ability and playmaking skills to match. Gaines can also contribute on special teams, as you can see here.
The Missouri cornerback isn't getting much love just yet, but he will have a shot to prove himself at the next level and will be a steal for an NFL franchise.
8. Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
Adrian Hubbard will soon become a household name before you know it. Last season was his first chance to make an impression, and even then he was overshadowed by other Alabama defenders. Still, he led the Tide with seven sacks.
Hubbard is one of many Alabama players to make this list, and he probably has the most upside of all of them. At 6'6", 252 pounds, he has the long and athletic frame to beat linemen off the edge and get to the quarterback. He has a quick first step and is more than willing to take on blocks and help out in run support.
Hubbard will only improve with more playing time. It would also help for him to add another 10-plus pounds to his frame. There is little doubt he will shoot up NFL draft boards and make an immediate impact at the next level.
7. A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
Fundamentally sound players are the ones who last long in the NFL. They may not be the best or appear on highlight films, but they get the job done and play their positions well.
That's A.J. Johnson of Tennessee. He isn't the most athletic linebacker in the world and can struggle dropping back into coverage, but he is a tackling machine and does a nice job of flowing to the football. He also has terrific technique and does a nice job of shedding blocks to make a play on the ball-carrier.
Johnson led the SEC last season with 138 tackles as a true sophomore.
A player of this caliber who lines up and can provide 10-plus tackles each Sunday will have a successful career.
6. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is an interesting prospect because he isn't on the field all the time for Alabama. However, he has showed splashes of greatness when he does see the field, and NFL draft scouts are beginning to take notice.
Clinton-Dix possesses a great deal of athleticism and has the ability to quickly cover a lot of ground. He closes in nicely on the ball and displays great instincts by wasting little time in reacting. He also has wonderful ball skills that allowed him to intercept a pass in each of the final three games last season.
The more playing time he receives, the more folks will begin jumping on the Clinton-Dix bandwagon. He will start in the NFL and carve out a nice playing career that has Pro Bowl potential.
5. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
Loucheiz Purifoy is close to the complete package at cornerback. He has great size and length at 6'1", which makes it hard for a quarterback to find his receiver. He also has terrific athleticism that has forced the coaching staff to give him a look at wide receiver this season.
Purifoy is a lengthy corner, but he has terrific speed for such a large frame. He can keep up with a receiver stride for stride and doesn't allow much room to gain separation. These shutdown coverage skills have a lot to do with why he has yet to intercept a pass in his career.
The Florida corner is also quite physical for his position, as he finished fourth on the team in tackles (51) and plays on the kickoff coverage team.
Purifoy has a rare skill set and will continue to climb toward the top of NFL draft boards.
4. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Anthony Johnson has been nicknamed "The Freak" for a reason. Simply put: There's no way somebody who's 6'3" and almost 300 pounds should be able to move the way he does.
What other defensive tackle is clocking a 4.8 40-yard dash time?
Due to these gifts, Johnson fires off the snap and is wonderful at shooting the gap to penetrate the backfield. He is a load to handle for any offensive lineman because he can match the size, but he also has elite athleticism and speed that not many linemen can keep up with.
Johnson could either play the 3-technique or 1-technique at the next level and will make an excellent interior lineman.
3. Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
Dominique Easley hasn't fulfilled expectations at Florida since coming out of high school, but NFL teams don't care about that.
Can the kid play? Yes? OK, well he's good enough to earn a roster spot.
Easley is a player who will be much better in the NFL than he was in college. He has phenomenal first-step quickness for a guy who's 6'2", 280-plus pounds and plays with great leverage. He also has a relentless motor and doesn't give up until the play is over.
Easley can split the double-team with his quickness and great athleticism. He also has experience playing both inside and outside on the defensive line. He'll be a great NFL player once he adds a few more pounds to his frame.
2. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
It was surprising when C.J. Mosley didn't leave for the NFL draft last season. He would have easily been selected within the first two rounds and would have seen a lot of playing time in his rookie season.
Mosley is a terrific prospect for a 4-3 defense and is one of the better outside linebackers in recent memory. He has above-average athleticism and speed that allows him to drop back into coverage nicely and cover a variety of players.
He also has great size at 6'2", 232 pounds, which makes him a force in run support and could inspire a change to play middle linebacker at the next level. Mosley has an extremely high football IQ and reacts well to what he sees.
Alabama has produced great NFL players in the past, and Mosley will certainly add to that legacy.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney has been compared to everyone from Julius Peppers to Bruce Smith. It would be wise to let him play a year or two in the NFL before throwing out names of legends, but Clowney does have that type of talent.
He explodes off the snap with lightening quickness and has the complete package of speed, strength and athleticism. He has an arsenal of pass-rushing moves that make him a handful for opposing offensive linemen.
Clowney is a once-in-a-lifetime player who will provide an impact right away for a lucky NFL franchise. Clowney could be the best draft prospect of the last decade, while some would argue he is the best in football history.
Yes, the expectations are very high.