2014 NFL Draft: Top 25 Draft-Eligible Players from the SEC
Star-Studded Group Headlines SEC's top 2014 NFL Draft Prospects
The prevailing theme in the 2013 NFL draft was the complete and utter dominance of the SEC as a total of 63 players from the premier football conference in the country were selected in the seven-round event. Basically, an SEC player was drafted every four picks over the three-day event with Alabama and LSU leading the conference with nine selections and Georgia having eight picked, respectively.
With the 2013 NFL draft in the books and spring football wrapped up across the conference I took a look at the top talent in the conference and identified the top 25 draft-eligible prospects that are sure to headline the 2014 class. The 2014 class likely will feature the top pick overall, a quarterback with multiple championship rings and last, but not least a Heisman trophy winning quarterback.
A few other observations from this list is that three schools did not place a single player among the top 25, only one running back made the list and the Crimson Tide once again leads the pack with the most selections having placed six on my list which is sure to change a massive amount of times as the season progresses.
Who did you think was ranked too high or too low and who are some of the notable snubs that you believe should have been included in this list?
25. Jordan Matthews-Vanderbilt-Wide Receiver
When you watch Matthews he isn’t going to remind you of Julio Jones or AJ Green, but what Matthews lacks in top-end speed he makes up for in running clean routes and plucking the ball away from his body. He isn’t a tremendous athlete, but at 6’3’’ he can position himself to win jump balls and create bigger windows for his quarterback to deliver him the ball. He will be counted on being a big part of the Vanderbilt offense with Zac Stacy and Jordan Rodgers gone.
24. Kony Ealy-Missouri-Defensive End
The comparisons to former Tiger Aldon Smith have followed Ealy and perhaps that’s a little unfair considering the career that Smith has had through two seasons in the NFL. However, thus far the potential has far surpassed his production on the field as the defensive end has just 4.5 sacks. But at 6-5 and 260-pound with 4.7 speed, he has the necessary tools to get to the quarterback and look for 2013 to be his coming out party.
23. Daniel McCullers-Tennessee-Defensive Tackle
An absolute intimidating presence at 6’6’’ and 380-pounds, McCullers will be transitioning to defensive tackle this season after playing nose tackle in 2012. The big concern with him as one might expect of a man near 400-pounds is his conditioning. When he’s on the field he eats up lineman and can free up defenders like A.J. Johnson to make plays without offensive lineman hanging off him. If he can get down to 350-pounds he will be a nightmare for opposing SEC linemen this season.
22. Tyler Russell-Mississippi State-Quarterback
Russell is going to go down as the most prolific passer in Mississippi State history, but has had bouts of inconsistency during his career. When he’s on his game he is as efficient as they come and rarely turns the ball over. However, when facing elite defenses he has shown to be prone to bad decision-making and a higher rate of interceptions. If he can limit his mistake as a fifth-year senior and pull off an upset of one of the top teams in the SEC, then he can put himself in a position to open some eyes around the NFL.
21. Odell Beckham-LSU-Wide Receiver
Beckham's college career has been more potential than production thus far. He only has four career touchdowns and just shy of 1,200 yards, but this year will be a breakout campaign for Beckham in Cam Cameron’s offense. The Tigers will still be a run-oriented team, but there will be an increased tempo and effort to get the ball into the hands of Beckham on the perimeter to put his playmaking ability to better use.
20. Ladarius Perkins-Mississippi State-Running Back
No player has been overshadowed more than Perkins at Mississippi State. He is coming off a 1,000-yard season and started 2012 with a band as he reached the end zone in each of the Bulldog’s first seven games. His team was 8-0 when he scored a touchdown on the ground or via the pass and 0-4 when he didn’t reach pay dirt. Perkins will be the third Mississippi State running back drafted in the last four years joining Anthony Dixon and Vick Ballard.
19. Deion Belue-Alabama-Cornerback
Cornerbacks have thrived under the tutelage of Nick Saban at Alabama and Belue is the latest beneficiary of his supreme coaching. He is a lanky corner at 6’0’’, but will need to fill out a little more, but that hasn’t made him timid in coming down in the box in run support. He has the speed, closing ability and instincts to develop into one of the best in the conference.
18. Nickoe Whitley-Mississippi State-Safety
Whitley is the lone returning starter from last year’s secondary that was perhaps the best in the nation. Gone are Thorpe award winner, Johnthan Banks and fellow second round pick Darius Slay as well as Corey Broomfield, so Whitley will take on a bigger leadership role as a redshirt senior in 2013. After rupturing an Achilles in 2011, Whitley has shown the work ethic to come back from injury as he did in high school when he tore his ACL and MCL and has the ability to make plays in the run and pass game from his free safety position.
17. Mike Evans-Texas A&M-Wide Receiver
The favorite target for Johnny Manziel during his Heisman season, Evans exploded onto the scene in 2012 with 82 receptions, 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. His consistency was evident as well as he had 10 games with more than 75 yards and with Ryan Swope off to the NFL, could put up close to 100 receptions, 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns.
16. A.J. Johnson-Tennessee-Middle Linebacker
The 6’2’’, 240-pound linebacker will be on the short list for Butkus award candidates as the top linebacker in the nation after a 138-tackle sophomore season that led the conference in 2012. Johnson made a career-high 21 tackles in the loss to Mississippi State and has made large strides since his freshman All-American season in 2011. A similar leap this year will result in Johnson making the All-SEC first team after making the second team last year and has the potential for All-American teams.
15. Anthony Johnson-LSU-Defensive Tackle
Johnson has flashed his potential during the first two seasons he has been at LSU, but this year he will be the leader on the line after losing four starters to graduation or the NFL. He came to Baton Rouge as a heralded prep recruit and will need to live up to his vast potential and anchor this line that will be largely unproven. After playing behind stalwarts like Michael Brockers, Bennie Logan and Josh Downs the past two seasons, I think Johnson will have a season that was better than any of his predecessors. At 6’4’’ and 304-pounds, he has the size to plug the run game and the first-step quickness to be a disruptive pass-rusher.
14. Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix-Alabama-Safety
Clinton-Dix really emerged down the stretch for the Crimson Tide and had key interceptions in each of the team’s final three games including an acrobatic pick in the BCS Title Game vs. Notre Dame. He is somewhat reminiscent of former top 10 pick Mark Barron albeit not quite as physical, but his coverage abilities may be superior. If he continues his rapid development and picks up where last season left off, then he is the clear leader for the best safety in the conference.
13. Gabe Jackson-Mississippi State-Guard
The 2013 draft class at guard was as good as it’s been in years and had Jackson declared early for the draft he may have slipped out of the first round, but that won’t be the case in 2014. The two-time All-SEC left guard selection has started 39 games so far in his time at Starkville and was on a number of All-American teams last season. At 6-4 and 320-pounds he has the prototypical size you look for in an interior lineman and is blessed with tremendous athleticism.
12. Dominique Easley-Florida-Defensive Tackle
A torn ACL and playing out of position at defensive end have stunted the growth of Easley at Florida, but two years removed from his ACL tear and playing at his natural defensive tackle position in 2013 should mean big things are in store for the 280-pound Easley. He should be able to replace first-round pick Sharrif Floyd and could prove to be a first-round pick himself if he is able to fulfill some of his potential that has Gators fans and coaches excited.
11. Aaron Murray-Georgia-Quarterback
Murray is a highly productive and successful college quarterback, but the big knock on him is his height, he’s only 6’0’’, and he doesn’t always play well in big games. This could be the year that he overcomes that because he has a special supporting cast around him. He has always been tough and an excellent leader that has consistently improved as a passer. His final year on campus will be one that defines his Georgia career.
10. Donte Moncrief-Ole Miss-Wide Receiver
A fan favorite for the Rebels, Moncrief had a few monster games last year including 177 vs. Mississippi State, 161 vs. LSU and 144 vs. Texas. He should blow past the 1,000-yard barrier this year and improve on his 10 touchdown receptions as a sophomore. He will face a difficult decision whether to declare for the NFL draft or return for a promising 2014 season for the Rebels.
9. Loucheiz Purifoy-Florida-Cornerback
Purifoy has had his fair share of off-the-field incidents during his stay in Gainesville, but he is one of the nation’s best cover corners. He has great hands, which has led to him taking snaps with the offense in the past, and is a threat on punt returns. He will be a big part of the Gators defense in 2013 and could challenge for the Thorpe award which has gone to SEC defenders four years in a row.
8. AJ McCarron-Alabama-Quarterback
Perhaps the greatest quarterback in the program’s history, McCarron has a chance to be the starting quarterback for three straight national titles. An unfathomable achievement for a guy that has proved his game-manager label was not only insulting, but in accurate. The best trait for McCarron is his ability to elevate his game in crucial situations and on the biggest stage.
7. Antonio Richardson-Tennessee-Offensive Tackle
At 6’6’’ and 332-pounds Richardson is the polar opposite of his nickname “Tiny”, and the massive left tackle has as much potential as anyone on this list. He projects as a right tackle in the NFL. If he can improve his footwork and refine his technique in 2013 at Tennessee he will be among the top offensive tackles in next year’s draft and could earn some All-American attention if the Volunteers can make big improvements under Butch Jones.
6. C.J. Mosley-Alabama-Inside Linebacker
Mosley likely would have been a first-round pick this season had he elected to come out, but he returns to Tuscaloosa to try and win another BCS title and improve his run-stopping ability. At 232 pounds, Mosley could stand to bulk up another 10-15 pounds, but he has playmaking ability and is one of the more instinctive linebackers in the nation.
5. Johnny Manziel-Texas A&M-Quarterback
Last year’s Heisman trophy winner loses some of his supporting cast from his magical 2012 season, but he has enough weapons around him to put up similar numbers in 2013. He will be a polarizing figure in draft circles, but on the college field he is as electric as they come. He may not win the Heisman this season, but he may have a greater shot at the BCS National Title.
4. Adrian Hubbard-Alabama-Outside Linebacker
The next in a long line of great Crimson Tide linebackers, Hubbard has incredible size at 6’6’’ and 248-pounds to be the premier 3-4 outside linebacker in the nation. The best way to describe his style of play is disruptive. He causes havoc and is coming off an 11-sack season. He should have no problem approaching 15 this season.
3. Jake Matthews-Texas A&M-Offensive Tackle
His former teammate Luke Joeckel took home the Outland trophy last year and was the No. 2 pick in the draft, and now Matthews slides over from his right tackle position, where he earned All-American accolades, to the blind side where he will be given the responsibility of protecting reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.
2. Cyrus Kouandjio-Alabama-Offensive Tackle
He was overshadowed at times last year on a unit that featured two players taken in the top 11 picks (Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker), not to mention, by All-American Barrett Jones. But it’s Kouandjio that could end up being the best of his former teammates and could merit a top five selection in the 2014 draft. He will be the anchor at left tackle for the Crimson Tide as they look to capture a third straight title.
1. Jadeveon Clowney-South Carolina-Defensive End
The presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft would have been the top pick in the 2013 draft, but was not eligible. Entering his junior season, the freakishly talented Clowney could challenge for 20-sacks and be the rare defender to challenge for the Heisman trophy. He is the total package of size, strength, agility and instincts. Enough superlatives don’t exist to describe his game.