SEC Football: Players Whose Draft Stock Will Rise in 2014
SEC football players hear their names called every spring during the NFL draft.
How they get to the point of an NFL organization deciding to select them varies tremendously.
Some, such as former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, have obvious paths to professional careers from the day they set foot on campus. Clowney, unsurprisingly, went No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans in this year’s draft.
Conversely, other players must work their way into draft position.
Auburn tackle Greg Robinson entered the 2013 season with a high ceiling but little success to indicate he would end up as the No. 2 pick.
Yet, that’s exactly where the St. Louis Rams selected Robinson.
Here, we attempt to spotlight players who, like Robinson, could see substantial steps forward in their draft statuses.
Because this list will focus on players whose draft stock will rise this year, only those eligible for the 2015 NFL draft have been considered for this list.
Furthermore, players considered first-round picks will receive only limited consideration because it would be difficult to climb much higher.
Here is our list.
LB Reggie Ragland, Alabama
When programs reach Alabama’s stratosphere, remaining anonymous in the football world becomes more difficult.
Therefore players such as receiver Amari Cooper and safety Landon Collins enter the year projected by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) as first-round draft picks.
Linebacker Reggie Ragland seems like the player who could elevate his draft stock the most because he opens the season off the radar and alongside Trey DePriest.
The Crimson Tide have developed a tradition of getting linebackers drafted—most recently C.J. Mosley.
Ragland is poised to crack the starting lineup after gaining the upper hand over former 5-star prospect Reuben Foster during spring practice. Such competition has traditionally drawn the best out of Alabama defensive players.
LB Kris Frost, Auburn
Despite serving as a reserve for more than half of 2013, Kris Frost has already started to garner attention.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Frost as his No. 3 underclassman inside linebacker.
Frost wasn’t at all polished as a sophomore. His sheer athleticism made him a fan favorite even before he cracked the starting lineup.
By midseason Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson largely supplanted senior Jake Holland with Frost—and the younger player rewarded him for the tough decision.
Though Holland continued to start, Frost finished fifth on the team in tackles. He also posted six tackles for loss and tied for a team-best two forced fumbles.
Frost seems poised for a full-time starting spot this season, helping elevate his status even more.
DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
Trey Flowers won’t sneak up on any NFL scouts.
The All-SEC performer from last year made a quick impact, earning All-Freshman honors in 2011 as well.
Flowers presents a challenge for offensive tackles across the league, regardless of whether their units try to run or pass. He posted five sacks but also recorded a team-best 13.5 tackles for loss.
Flowers forced three fumbles and intercepted a pass.
Though Flowers has already established a track record at Arkansas, he seems like the surest bet to improve his draft status this season.
With another strong year—and a more competitive Razorbacks team which would result in more pass-rush opportunities—Flowers would likely emerge as an even better professional prospect.
LB Antonio Morrison, Florida
New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s arrival makes it tempting to go with a Florida player like quarterback Jeff Driskel or one of many receiver stars with breakout potential.
In the end, though, linebacker Antonio Morrison seems like the obvious choice.
Morrison finished last season as the team’s second-leading tackler, despite missing four of the 12 games.
He stabilizes the middle of what should be a stout Gators defense.
Remember, though Florida fell on its face during the 4-8 campaign a year ago, the defense remained adequate—simply without ample support.
Defensive end Dante Fowler enters the year with massive expectations and being well-thought-of in NFL draft circles. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had Fowler at No. 8 on his initial 2015 big board.
Morrison doesn’t currently have the same fanfare.
In order to gain the attention of NFL scouts, Morrison likely needs to create more turnovers and blow up plays in the backfield.
As a sophomore he didn’t have a hand in a single takeaway and recorded just one tackle for loss.
WR Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
For Malcolm Mitchell to fulfill his potential on this list he must find a way to stay on the field.
Mitchell suffered a season-ending knee injury during the first quarter of the season-opening game against Clemson.
Unfortunately for Mitchell, 2013 marked his first true opportunity to make a splash at receiver.
He started his true-freshman year at cornerback before moving to receiver midway through the season.
Still, Mitchell produced 40 catches for 572 yards.
Mitchell has “breakout star” written all over him—if he can stay on the field. A minor leg injury kept him sidelined for a chunk of spring practice.
DE Za’Darius Smith, Kentucky
Teammate Alvin Dupree gets most of the love, but Za’Darius Smith will likely reap the benefit of the attention.
Dupree posted 61 tackles and seven sacks.
Smith was right on his heels with 59 and six, respectively.
Consider that Smith also registered six quarterback hurries, compared to Dupree’s three, and it’s easy to see how comparable the two were in 2013.
The area where Smith can shore up his game the most comes against the run. Of Smith’s 6.5 tackles for loss, six were sacks.
T La’el Collins, LSU
LSU must have been elated during the offseason when La’el Collins opted to return for his senior season and anchor what stands to be a strong offensive line.
Collins could have easily entered the NFL draft.
Among SEC offensive linemen, Collins seems as likely as any to shoot up NFL draft boards in the same way Auburn’s Greg Robinson did a year ago.
Collins has the size (6-foot-5, 315 lbs) to physically dominate and fulfill his All-America potential.
Breaking in a new, inexperienced starting quarterback should result in a reliance on the run game—a place where Collins can shine.
Even better, incoming freshman Leonard Fournette arrives on LSU’s campus being compared to Adrian Peterson.
Such a dynamic runner would inevitably draw attention to those creating the holes for him.
Look for Collins to find his spotlight this year.
CB Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State
A combination of cover skills and tackling ability, Taveze Calhoun gives Mississippi State a formidable tandem of cornerbacks in the secondary.
Calhoun and Jamerson Love posted three interceptions apiece a year ago and combined for 17 total passes defended, with Love posting 10.
What helps Calhoun crack this list over Love is that the former has the size set to catch NFL scouts’ eyes at 6-foot-1.
Not only does Calhoun offer a bigger frame, he also showed he can use it to play physically.
Calhoun posted 45 tackles over his 12 games, finishing sixth on the team.
DE Shane Ray, Missouri
Like line mate Markus Golden, Shane Ray stands to benefit tremendously from additional opportunity.
Defensive ends Michael Sam—the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year—and Kony Ealy are gone, which created two openings at starting positions for Missouri.
The Tigers won’t be hurting for talent.
Golden is justifiably drawing preseason all-conference attention after he wreaked havoc on offensive lines while coming off the bench in 2013.
Ray didn’t post quite the eye-opening numbers Golden did, but he turned in nine tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks a year ago. He also tallied 11 quarterback hurries, ranking behind only Ealy.
Producing big plays will be nothing new for Ray. He played a key role in Missouri’s upset win over Georgia when he stripped Aaron Murray on a sack and Sam picked up the loose ball, returning it for a touchdown.
LB Serderius Bryant, Ole Miss
Classifying last year’s Ole Miss season exclusively as a youth movement meant ignoring returning talent such as Serderius Bryant.
As a junior, Bryant started just seven games but led the team with 78 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
His three sacks ranked only behind Isaac Gross.
Bryant seems poised for additional playing time in 2014 and will benefit from a defensive line anchored by tackle Robert Nkemdiche. The 247Sports’ class of 2013 No. 1 prospect delivered on his considerable hype and will continue to make offensive coordinators game-plan around him.
Nkemdiche’s ability to eat up double-teams creates more opportunities for Bryant, who should see his NFL stock increase as a result.
QB Dylan Thompson, South Carolina
Though Dylan Thompson will serve as South Carolina’s starting quarterback for just one season, he has an excellent opportunity to show up on NFL radars this year.
Thompson will be more of a prototypical NFL pocket passer than predecessor Connor Shaw.
Shaw, who set the program’s record for wins, played with a reckless abandon that helped the Gamecocks find ways to steal victories. His style also left him on the injury list on more than one occasion.
When Shaw couldn’t go, Thompson adequately filled in—highlighted best when Thompson threw a game-winning touchdown pass to beat Michigan during the 2013 Outback Bowl.
Now Thompson will have the opportunity to settle into a comfort zone—at least as much of a comfort zone afforded by coach Steve Spurrier.
Talented receivers, a steady run game and one of the conference’s top lines should create an optimal environment for Thompson to improve his stock.
S Brian Randolph, Tennessee
Linebacker A.J. Johnson is already well-known among the NFL scouting circles, but Randolph could really help himself this year with a strong senior season.
Randolph had to battle through injuries during his career. He made the most of a fully healthy 2013 campaign during which he posted a team-best four interceptions.
Not only did Randolph help solidify the secondary, he also served as one of the team’s most trustworthy tacklers. Only Johnson recorded more than Randolph’s 75 stops.
CB Deshazor Everett, Texas A&M
The biggest shame of Texas A&M’s woeful defense might be that it creates doubt when Deshazor Everett is discussed as one of the top SEC cornerbacks.
Opposing offenses have already learned to avoid Everett when possible, though he managed to register two interceptions and nine total passes defended anyway.
When Everett does get the ball, he is dynamic and fully capable of finding the end zone.
The senior is also an apt tackler. Everett’s 73 tackles ranked fourth on the team.
RB Jerron Seymour, Vanderbilt
An uncertain quarterback situation should leave Jerron Seymour with plenty of opportunities to prove his sophomore season simply marked the start to a strong career.
Seymour was supposed to serve as Wesley Tate’s primary backup, but he quickly proved too talented to keep off the field.
He ended 2013 with a team-best 716 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, the latter of which tied a school record.