The Best 2012 NFL Prospects in the SEC at Every Position
The SEC is stacked with professional talent. It's every year, and that's why more players are drafted from the SEC than from any other conference year in and year out.
This year is no exception, especially on defense. So who are the best prospects in the SEC? Read on for my top player at every position.
Offensive Tackle: D.J. Fluker, Alabama
Although it seems unlikely that Fluker will come out early, if he does, he'll be almost guaranteed first-round status.
This is a good year for offensive tackles, and D.J. Fluker is near the top of the pack. At 6'6" and 335 lbs., Fluker is built to be a powerful run-blocking right tackle. Coincidentally, his run blocking has been superb this year and has cleared the way for Trent Richardson to have a Heisman-level season.
He can also pass block with the best of them. If he leaves for the NFL this season, he'll be ready to start at right tackle from day one. Normally, right tackles aren't that valuable, but with the new rookie wage scale in place, elite bookend tackles are suddenly very affordable.
Guard: Cordy Glenn, Georgia
Glenn is overrated as a prospect, but that doesn't mean he's not great.
Boise State's defensive line had their way with him in their season opener, but he's been better since then and has held up against the tough defensive lines of Florida and South Carolina. He still missed a couple of blocks, but you can't expect perfect protection every time.
He is big and powerful (6'4" and 330 lbs.), but he may need to lose a little weight so he can be faster getting to his blocks. If he was able to improve his speed a little bit, he'd improve his draft stock a lot.
Even so, the guards from the SEC this year aren't that great, so Glenn is far and away the best in the conference.
Center: Will Vlachos, Alabama
Another Alabama lineman. If you can't tell already, Alabama will have a lot of players on this list. They are simply stacked with pro talent.
Will Vlachos is a little on the small side for a center (6'1" and 294 lbs), but the Pouncey brothers have shown that smaller, quicker centers can be every bit as effective as the 310 lb monster linemen of yesterday.
Vlachos is yet another cog in the very good Alabama offensive line that has kept A.J. McCarron on his feet and kept running lanes open for Trent Richardson. He also used to block for Mark Ingram a couple of years back. You might have heard of him.
Vlachos will be NFL ready immediately and will probably be an early pick on the second day of the draft.
Tight End: Orson Charles, Georgia
Georgia is likely to place second in the SEC East this year, and a lot of their success can be attributed to their tight end Orson Charles.
For the season, he has caught 31 balls for 390 yards and five touchdowns.
If that doesn't tell you how valuable he is to Georgia right now, the only game he wasn't utilized in was Georgia's loss to South Carolina. Having Charles in the game might have made the difference.
He's not the biggest tight end, standing only 6'3" and weighing 230, but his athleticism makes up for his shortcomings in size. He'll be an early third-day pick.
Wide Receiver: Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
Not even close. Alshon Jeffery is the consensus No. 2 receiver in the country right now, behind only Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon on most big boards.
He has had a quiet season so far, but Stephen Garcia's wildly inaccurate throws were a big part of that. Now that Connor Shaw has replaced him full time, defenses double or even triple-cover Jeffery since he is South Carolina's only weapon.
Lattimore being out for the season makes teams just cover Jeffery, so he won't impress with numbers.
Even so, he has a respectable 487 yards and five touchdowns. As big as he is, he'll do very well in the NFL with a competent quarterback throwing to him.
Running Back: Trent Richardson, Alabama
If Knile Davis hadn't sustained a season-ending injury at the beginning of the season, it might be close, but as it is, it's Richardson by a landslide.
Trent Richardson very well may be better than his predecessor, Mark Ingram (who won the Heisman Trophy, by the way). Richardson is already a 1,000-yard rusher, and he's nabbed 18 touchdowns to boot.
Even more impressive is that he's doing this while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. If it weren't for Andrew Luck, Kellen Moore and Robert Griffin, Richardson would be a Heisman favorite right now. As it is, he'll have to settle for being the best running back in the country.
Quarterback: Jarrett Lee, LSU
There is a ton of talent at the quarterback position in the SEC right now. Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers is doing great things with their offense, the Tylers (Bray and Wilson) are almost certain first-rounders in 2013 and Aaron Murray is leading Georgia through the SEC East.
Unfortunately, none of them are going to declare for the draft this year because they're mostly sophomores.
Of the starting quarterbacks in the SEC who are likely to be drafted this year, the cream of the crop is Jarrett Lee. He's thrown for 1,274 yards this season (while splitting time with Jordan Jefferson) and 13 touchdowns while only turning the ball over three times (twice to Alabama).
He's also completing 62.3 percent of his throws. Not too bad.
With the ridiculous strength of this year's quarterback class, he's likely to be a day three pick, but it'll be early on day three, and it'll be before any other SEC quarterback.
Defensive Tackle: Jaye Howard, Florida
A thin class of SEC defensive tackles this year is headed up by Florida tackle Jaye Howard.
Howard has been one of the many impressive players on Florida's stacked defensive line. For the season, he has tallied up 46 tackles (half of them solo) along with 2.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and a couple of deflected passes.
At 6'3" and 302 lbs, he also has prototypical size for a 4-3 defense. Of course, he could also play end in a 3-4 defense, but he projects much better as a true 4-3 tackle.
He actually started out the season pretty slow, probably because he saw a lot of double teams with Sharrif Floyd suspended. More recently, he's been more of a difference maker. If he keeps that trend up, he'll find himself picked pretty early.
4-3 Defensive End: Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
Melvin Ingram has been doing very well for himself. He leads his team in sacks (5.5) despite a slow start to the season.
In fact, the only thing keeping Ingram from first-round status is the three ultra-talented defensive ends in front of him: Quinton Coples, Andre Branch and Whitney Mercilus.
But even with those guys playing better, Ingram is no slouch. Outside of his 5.5 sacks, he's also grabbed 9.5 tackles for loss, with 34 tackles total.
Another problem for Ingram is his height. At only 6'2" tall, he is much shorter than most teams would prefer a defensive end to be. Even so, he's a great all-around prospect, so he'll get looks early in the draft.
Nose Tackle: Josh Chapman, Alabama
With more and more NFL teams switching to the 3-4, the nose tackle position has become increasingly valuable. However, not many college teams run a 3-4 defense, so players that played the position in college are rare.
Lucky for 3-4 teams, Josh Chapman happens to be one of those rare players.
Chapman is smaller than Alameda Ta'amu and Dontari Poe, the other two top nose tackles, but at 310 lbs, he's still big enough to stuff the run with the best of them.
He only has 17 tackles for the season and only a half sack, but nose tackles are expected to mostly sit and take up space in gaps, forcing the runner outside where the ends and linebackers can get them.
This, he does very well. He'll be a day-two pick.
Rush Linebacker: Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
If you've noticed a lot of Alabama players on this list, get used to it, there's a lot of pro prospects on that team, and Courtney Upshaw might just be the best one.
He has 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss this season, which are good numbers, but they don't seem phenomenal at first. However, when you remember that his defense also boasts Nico Johnson, Mark Barron, Josh Chapman and Dont'a Hightower, you realize that standing out amongst that kind of competition is really something.
Not to mention the fact that he's facing the toughest competition in the brutal SEC West.
Upshaw is also one of the bigger linebackers in the country, weighing in at 265 lbs. Even with that bulk, he moves very quickly.
He has the build to play either a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 rush linebacker, but he's best suited to play the position he's playing now at rush linebacker.
Outside Linebacker: Danny Trevathan, Kentucky
Danny Trevathan gets overlooked a lot for his size and for the team he plays on. However, for teams looking for a fast weakside linebacker, Trevathan is right up their alley.
Trevathan weighs in at only 232 lbs, but he does a lot with that little bit. For the season, he has 111 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. He did all that playing for one of the worst teams in the SEC.
Given his ability to pick off passes when he has the opportunity and his speed, Trevathan will make an excellent weakside coverage linebacker.
If he shows up to the combine and actually does weigh over 230, he'll definitely help his draft stock.
Inside Linebacker: Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
Every time I watch Hightower play, I get frustrated that he isn't playing for Tennessee (he's a native of the state). I have Kiffin to blame for that one, I guess.
If it weren't for this year, boasting such a strong inside linebacker class, Hightower would be one of eight or nine first-round picks from Alabama. As it is, he'll likely fall to the second round, which is still good.
Hightower has 53 tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception this season, which is very good when you remember that he has to split tackles with eight or nine of the best defensive players in the country.
He had a monster game against Tennessee, picking up seven tackles, one sack and an interception. If he keeps up that kind of effort, he might sneak past Manti Te'o or Luke Kuechly on a few big boards and go in the first round himself.
Cornerback: Morris Claiborne, LSU
This is a strong cornerback class, both within and without the SEC. The SEC boasts Claiborne, along with Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrck, Vanderbilt's Casey Hayward and South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore, all of whom could be first-round picks.
However, if you ask me, Claiborne is the best of the best. He has 33 tackles and four interceptions this season, along with four more passes deflected.
He's just the right size to keep up with the tall NFL receivers (6'1") but not so tall and lanky to lose pace to the smaller, quicker receivers. Like Patrick Peterson before him, he's everything you could want in a corner.
There must be something in the water in Louisiana that just breeds outstanding cornerbacks or something.
Strong Safety: Mark Barron, Alabama
Yep. Alabama. Again.
With Ray Ray Armstrong disappointing people this season, Mark Barron has emerged as the top strong safety in the country.
He has 43 tackles and two interceptions this season, and if you remember what I said earlier, tackles are hard to come by on Alabama's defense. The same can be said for interceptions while we're at it.
Barron is already pretty big for a safety (215 lbs) but he moves very quickly and has a nose for the ball.
He'll fall to the second day because of the position he plays.
Free Safety: Brandon Taylor, LSU
I'm a little higher on Brandon Taylor than a lot of others are, but he's definitely a quality safety prospect.
If you think tackles and interceptions are hard to come by on Alabama's defense, imagine playing free safety for LSU when the corners covering most of the passes are Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu.
Even so, Taylor has a respectable 53 tackles and two interceptions for the season. When he gets away from Claiborne and Mathieu stealing his thunder, he'll emerge as one of the top free-safety prospects out there.