10 Most NFL-Ready Players in the SEC
The SEC has owned college football over the past decade. So, it's no real surprise the league also stamped its insignia all over the NFL as well.
According to NFL.com's Mike Huguenin, 49 SEC players were selected in the 2014 draft, the most among any conference for the eighth consecutive season. The SEC also had 11 first-rounders (the most from any conference), and every team had at least one player selected, led by LSU's nine.
The league could take a significant hit on star power in 2014, but it's still rife with talent that will suit up in the NFL in the not-so-distant future.
Even though there are dynamic, game-changing stars all over the SEC, a few stand out among the pro prospects. These are the players who could make an immediate impact on an NFL roster today, and some aren't even eligible to enter the draft yet.
These players were chosen for a combination of their skill sets, level of production and how their talent and intangibles are projected to translate into the NFL game. They've not only displayed immense skill but also shown enough polish that they wouldn't be considered a project on the next level.
Here (in alphabetical order) are 10 of the SEC players who are already prepared to play on Sundays and will do so when their college days are done.
La'El Collins, LSU Offensive Tackle
At 6'5", 315 pounds, La'el Collins is a massive specimen who could play offensive tackle or guard on the next level.
Regardless of where he winds up, he'll almost certainly be a high draft pick.
The senior from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, bucked the trend of leaving college early that so many Tigers elected to do a season ago, and he was rewarded with preseason All-SEC honors.
Instead of going through training camp as a pro, Collins is getting ready for his senior season on the bayou. He told the Shreveport Times' Glenn Guilbeau at SEC media days he has no regrets:
"This is that one percent of my life that I'll never get back. I'm extremely excited about getting to do all of this one more time. I've got great guys around me, great coaches. There is no better feeling."
The Tigers desperately need an offensive anchor with all the star power they lost. Collins won't be opening up holes for Jeremy Hill or protecting Zach Mettenberger while he throws to Odell Beckham Jr. or Jarvis Landry anymore.
But he can boost his stock with a strong final season. NFLdraftscout.com's Rob Rang projects Collins as a guard on the next level, saying he "has a portly build better suited to guard in the NFL, but he possesses long arms, light feet and surprising balance for such a big man."
Whether he stays on the outside or shifts to the interior, Collins is a run-blocking force who is projected to go as high as ninth to Cleveland (per WalterFootball.com) or late in the first round to Miami, according to B/R's Curt Popejoy.
An NFL future awaits the big Bayou Bengal next season, and staying that extra year shouldn't hurt his stock at all.
Landon Collins, Alabama Safety
There could be a picture of Alabama's Landon Collins next to the word "safety" in the dictionary. He has every asset you want at the position.
At 6'0", 222 pounds, he is big and physical but also possesses long arms and bullet speed. He is rangy enough to be a terror in coverage but doesn't shy away from contact.
This year, he'll get to display his leadership abilities as he helms Nick Saban's defense.
There are too many reasons to mention why Collins is a "can't-miss" NFL prospect who appears destined to follow in the footsteps of Mark Barron and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and be a first-rounder if (when) he comes out early following his junior season.
Collins is better in the run game than either of those two players were too.
A season ago despite having to flip between free and strong safety, he finished with 70 tackles, four tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and eight passes defended.
With Clinton-Dix gone, it's Collins' turn. NFL teams are probably drooling to get a shot to draft him next spring.
B/R's Curt Popejoy has Collins heading to Dallas with the 22nd pick, while SI.com's Chris Burke has him at 17th to Cincinnati and WalterFootball.com's latest mock draft has him going all the way up at sixth to the Giants.
No matter where he's projected, Collins is almost a consensus first-round pick. He'll live up to his former 5-star billing and be a longtime star on the next level after his days around the Capstone are through.
Amari Cooper, Alabama Wide Receiver
Despite not standing out physically, Amari Cooper has found his way into virtually every mock draft guru's first round.
The reason is simple: He is a burner who flat-out makes plays with the ball in his hands.
Through his two seasons at Alabama, Cooper routinely took simple bubble screens and turned them into long, highlight-reel touchdowns. He has a nose for the end zone, and he also emerges at key moments.
Once Cooper's foot injury healed last season, he was the dynamic star he was as a freshman. As ESPN's Alex Scarborough notes, new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin loves to showcase playmakers, so Cooper could be in for a huge year if Bama can find a viable signal-caller.
That's why Scarborough has him as the conference's third-best player entering the season.
It's going to be difficult for any NFL team to pass on Cooper to take another receiver in the draft, which is the reason why the 6'1", 210-pound pass-catcher has sneaked his way into the top 15 picks in virtually every mock draft.
The projections have him going as high as fourth to Minnesota, according to Water Football.
On an offense full of stars, Cooper stands out, and according to AL.com's Andrew Gribble, he has become a face of the program, which is something difficult to do at UA. He also received extremely high praise from Nick Saban:
I think it's the personal development as a player. … No one pushed him to (be a leader); I just think he's more ready to do it. Feels more confidence, feels more comfortable in it, sees the necessity of it in terms of value for himself and for the team.
With those intangibles, he is already ready for the next level.
Mike Davis, South Carolina Running Back
These days, very few running backs are selected high because of their stunted shelf life on the next level.
South Carolina's Mike Davis has the ability to be a longtime star in the league, if he can just have the durability.
At 5'9", 223 pounds, he is a muscle-bound Ray Rice clone who is coming off a 1,000-yard season and has earned a spot on Phil Steele's and Athlon's preseason third-team All-America squad, according to his official bio.
Though there are some legitimate questions about Davis' ability to stay healthy, this season should provide him a little more relief as Carolina can throw out some other capable backs to help. Davis will still shoulder the load and has the opportunity to prove he can last a season through the rugged SEC.
He already has tweaked a hamstring in offseason workouts.
Entering his junior season, the NFL already has crossed the Gamecock's mind. According to the Associated Press, Davis won't hesitate to leave if he has the chance. His season should be boosted by a potentially dominant offensive line, too.
"In order for me to leave, I have to have a great year so, of course, I'm focusing more on this year ahead," Davis said. "If I have that chance to leave, I will go."
NFLDraftScout currently has Davis as the No. 4 draft-eligible running back
His older brother, James, struggled to catch on in the NFL after a standout career at Clemson, but that won't stop NFL teams from drafting him.
If the younger Davis has another strong year and proves he can last the extent of the season, he will make his presence felt for a NFL team quickly next season.
Dante Fowler, Florida Defensive End
Dante Fowler has lost nearly 15 pounds from a season ago, and at 6'3", 261 pounds, appears in peak physical condition to wreak havoc on SEC offenses everywhere.
It's that size-and-speed combo that makes Fowler a pass-rushing freak who NFL teams love as a defensive end/outside linebacker on the next level. He appears to be a perfect fit for a 3-4 NFL scheme.
For now, Fowler will anchor Will Muschamp's unit as the Florida Gators try to put a miserable 4-8 campaign from a season ago behind them.
If they are going to do that, Fowler must have more games like the Tennessee game a season ago when he forced two fumbles, finished with three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
There's little doubt in teammate Vernon Hargreaves III's mind that Fowler will. VHIII told FOX Sports Florida's Scott Carter at SEC media days:
Dante is not going to say much until he gets on the field, puts on his helmet, and he is going to show you the way he feels. You are going to feel him no matter where he's at on the field. He is going to make an impact.
While Hargreaves is close to NFL-ready himself, he will be forced to have another two years of seasoning. Fowler already has marinated a couple of years in the college game. If he continues to progress, there's no reason to believe he'll stay all four seasons in Gainesville.
He's one of the best pass-rushing talents in all of college football, and the first round is squarely in his sights.
Todd Gurley, Georgia Running Back
In a league full of future NFL running backs, Georgia's Todd Gurley is the best.
As a matter of fact, the star Bulldog is one of the main reasons why NFL.com's Bucky Brooks wrote that the devaluation of the running back position in the league will end with the 2015 draft.
Along with Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Gurley is believed to highlight the next great class of NFL running backs. According to Brooks:
There's nothing like watching a five-star recruit live up to the hype on the biggest and brightest stages. That's why scouts are excited about Gurley's potential at the next level after watching him tear it up in the SEC as the hammer in the Bulldogs' offense.
The statistics for the 6'1", 232-pound rising junior in that article are eye-popping: 27 rushing touchdowns in two seasons, 13 100-yard games—all that while battling through injuries. Brooks likens Gurley to a young Marshawn Lynch.
Gurley is massive like Lynch and runs with the same reckless abandon, but the Bulldogs' offensive centerpiece is faster than the Seahawks All-Pro. He also has the ability to be a major receiving weapon out of the backfield.
Considering the way the league has treated college runners in the past, that's high praise.
Gurley is going to blaze the trail for the future of SEC runners, along with Mike Davis and T.J. Yeldon. No matter how long runners hang on in the NFL, it's going to be tough to pass on a game-changer like Gurley.
Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida Cornerback
Vernon Hargreaves III is special.
Though cornerback is a position prospects normally have to mature into, "VHIII" perfected it as a true freshman. By the end of his first year at Florida, he was the league's best shutdown corner, finishing with three interceptions and 11 passes defended.
At 5'11", 194 pounds, VHIII has the size and speed to be a star, and as a coach's son [his dad, Vernon Hargreaves Jr., is the defensive ends and special teams coach at South Florida] he has been around the game much of his life.
That polish makes his game shine.
Coming out of Tampa's Wharton High School, VHIII was expected to be a star. The 247Sports Composite had him as its third-ranked overall player in the nation and top-rated cornerback.
But nobody could have predicted what VHIII did a year ago.
Now, he's a near-consensus All-American entering his sophomore year, and while he still has to play two seasons in Gainesville, VHIII is already considered a "pro," according to coach Will Muschamp, who told the Orlando Sentinel's Edgar Thompson:
I worry about other guys that maybe aren't as mature, aren't as hungry, aren't as driven. I've seen nothing in his approach in the off season program to spring practice, to the summer program, his work ethic, his buy-in, to continue to be strive to get better. He's a guy, if we start lifting at 10:00, he'll be in there at 9:30 stretching on his own. When weights are over, he's stretching. He's a pro at what he does. He understands that part of it and what it takes to be successful and expect for him to have another good year.
Though he'll have to wait to become a true professional, it shouldn't surprise anybody that WalterFootball has him as the sixth player taken in a 2016 mock draft.
Everybody wants to see what VHIII does as an encore, especially considering he could be lining up for the Dallas Cowboys already.
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State Linebacker
Mississippi State junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney routinely roams the middle of the field for the Bulldogs, but at 6'4", 245 pounds, he may find his way to the outside on the next level.
One thing is almost certain: This will be his final college season.
McKinney considered turning pro after his redshirt sophomore season in 2013, but he came back for another year. In McKinney's announcement that he was returning, he said, according to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread, "I just want to let everyone know I'm staying one more year."
So, that sounds pretty definitive this will be his final season in Starkville, which isn't a huge surprise. Players who run sub-4.7 40-yard dashes with his size and athleticism rarely exhaust their college elgibility.
With the Tunica, Mississippi, prospect's skill set, taking him in the draft would be far from a gamble. Many pundits have McKinney getting selected in the first round, including ESPN's Todd McShay (subscription required), who has McKinney going to the Philadelphia Eagles with the 15th pick.
That's a selection that NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks said would be a fit for Philly:
[T]he Eagles have a big need at inside linebacker. Their starter, DeMeco Ryans, is probably nearing the end of his time in Philadelphia. He played well last year, but the Eagles are likely looking to move on from Ryans after this upcoming season. Pairing McKinney with Mychal Kendricks on the inside would give the Eagles a pair of athletic, fast linebackers to build their defense around.
No matter whether he plays inside or out, McKinney has the versatility every NFL team needs. He is poised for a big season in Starkville, and then he'll be a longtime contributor on the next level.
Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
Of all the NFL prospects in the SEC, Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi may have the most upside.
It won't be long before everybody in the league knows how to pronounce Ogbuehi (oh-BWAY-hee).
At 6'5", 305 pounds, the former 4-star prospect from Allen, Texas, appears poised to follow in the footsteps of Aggies tackles selected high in the draft. Luke Joeckel went second overall in 2013, and Jake Matthews was selected sixth in the 2014 draft.
Though Ogbuehi received a first-round grade for the '14 draft, according to ESPN's Alex Scarborough, he elected to return for another season. That risky decision may just pay off.
SI.com's Burke believes Ogbuehi will go first overall to the Oakland Raiders in his early mock draft, which would further cement A&M as Left Tackle U.
How he adjusts to the left tackle spot previously inhabited by the two top selections will ultimately determine just how high he is picked. But passing on the type of athleticism Ogbuehi boasts is difficult for NFL teams searching for quarterback protectors.
In another article, Burke says of the newest star tackle in College Station:
It's possible that Ogbuehi will be the best of the bunch, as he takes over the left tackle spot held in previous years by those top-10 draft picks. Ogbuehi has plenty of size at 6-5, 300, and still shows terrific footwork. A full year starting at left tackle, on top of his work at right tackle, could lock Ogbuehi in as one of the best linemen in the upcoming draft.
There's no denying the athleticism and star power of Ogbuehi, and he just so happens to play one of the high-profile positions when it comes to the NFL. That combination is almost certain to equal another high draft selection.
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss Wide Receiver
The only other underclassman besides Vernon Hargreaves III to make the list from a loaded sophomore class is Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell.
Though a case could be made for teammates Robert Nkemdiche and Tony Conner, as well as Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson and Derrick Henry, Tennessee's Marquez North, MSU's Chris Jones and Auburn's Montravius Adams (among others) Treadwell is the most pro-ready.
There's no way Treadwell wouldn't get pro snaps if he was on a NFL roster.
There is a reason why Treadwell was the nation's top-ranked receiver coming out of Crete-Monee High School in Illinois. He finished a stellar freshman season in Oxford with 72 catches for 608 yards and five touchdowns.
Though he wasn't asked to stretch the field much, he will be more this season. He has excellent speed for his size, though he hasn't yet had much opportunity to showcase it.
It's that untapped part of Treadwell's game that teammate Cody Prewitt says is going to make everybody stand up and take notice this season. Prewitt told ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf:
Amari Cooper is fast. But if I were going to go up in a jump ball against both of them, I'd rather do it against Amari because Laquon is a big body. He's a really good receiver. To be as big as he is, it's amazing to watch him run because he still runs like a deer at 230.
With Donte Moncrief gone on to the Indianapolis Colts, now is the chance for the 6'2", 229-pound receiver to prove he is more than just an imposing physical force.
Treadwell was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list this year, according to USA Today's Tess Quinlan, and he won't sneak up on anybody this season
Huge things are expected of Treadwell, and he could take Ole Miss' offense to another level with Bo Wallace throwing him the football.
When the stats match his impressive physical traits, Treadwell is going to be one of the biggest stars in the league.
Then, he'll be one of the biggest stars in the NFL.
All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here: