Top SEC football players 2016 could be NFL first round draft choices
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Southeastern Conference might be on its way to making more history.
The powerhouse football league, which won an unprecedented seven consecutive national championships (2006-12) and eight in the last 10 years, could have a record number of first-round picks in the 2017 NFL draft.
Yes, it’s early and the big event is still six months away. But with mock drafts being updated weekly, it’s becoming clear that the SEC is loaded — as usual — with top NFL talent. There might even be more than ever before.
CBS Sports’ latest projection has half the first round coming from the SEC. ESPN, meanwhile, has 15 SEC players ranked among its top 32 prospects. The league shares the record for the most first-round picks from one conference with the Atlantic Coast Conference, which had 12 in 2006. The SEC tied it in 2013, and also set a record with 63 players drafted that year.
“Oh yeah, I see it,” Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor said, reeling off a list of the league’s big names. “There are a lot of guys, plenty of them.”
Although the conference is widely regarded as “Alabama and everybody else,” the talent pool runs deep — especially on the defensive side of the ball — as more than half of the 14 teams could have at least one first-rounder in April.
Here’s a look at how some of the highly touted players are doing as the SEC nears the season’s halfway point:
— LSU safety Jamal Adams: He might be a better pro prospect than Alabama’s Mark Barron (2012) and LSU’s Eric Reid (2013). The junior has 19 tackles and seems like a lock to get drafted higher than his father, George, who was taken 19th overall by the New York Giants in 1985.
— Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen: Although he’s unlikely to come close to his goal of breaking Derrick Thomas’ Football Bowl Subdivision sack record (27 set in 1988), Allen is clearly the Tide’s undisputed leader on defense. The senior has four sacks, six quarterback hurries and a fumble return for a touchdown.
— Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett : After recording 10 sacks in each of his first two seasons, Barnett has five this year — all in SEC play. He’s seven shy of Reggie White’s school record (32). “He means as much to this team and this unit as any player on any team on any unit,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said.
— Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley: He hasn’t been as dominant as predecessors Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley, Dante Fowler or Jonathan Bullard, but the fourth-year junior has shown flashes. He has eight tackles and a sack, raising speculation about whether his production can match his potential.
— Georgia running back Nick Chubb: After missing most of two games with a sprained left ankle, Chubb returned to form with 121 yards rushing and two touchdowns at South Carolina last week. The junior ranks fifth in the league in rushing, carrying 100 times for 546 yards and five scores.
— Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham: He leads the league with 62 tackles and 10 1/2 tackles for loss. His size, speed and versatility will allow him to play multiple spots at the next level.
— Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster: An intimidating defender who has can run sideline to sideline with just about anyone, Foster leads the Tide with 37 tackles. He left last week’s game at Arkansas with a concussion.
— LSU running back Leonard Fournette: One of the most dynamic players in the country, Fournette has missed two games because of a sprained left ankle and would have sat out last week at Florida had the game not been postponed. After running for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2015, Fournette has 386 yards and two scores this season.
— Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett: It’s easy to see why NFL scouts consider Garrett a top-five pick, maybe even the overall No. 1 selection. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound junior runs the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds, has a 38 1/2-inch vertical jump and continues making plays despite a leg injury. “Here’s a guy with a bright future and with a lot at stake,” coach Kevin Sumlin said. “That tells you where he is as a person. Not just a great football player, but a great person.”
— Missouri defensive end Charles Harris: A zero-star recruit in high school, Harris has used a relentless motor to become Missouri’s best player. He had 18 1/2 tackles for loss and seven sacks as a sophomore last year, but had a slow start this season while adjusting to a new scheme. He has 19 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks.
— Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey: The son of former NFL running back Bobby Humphrey, Marlon Humphrey is becoming known for more than being the guy who recovered the Tide’s pivotal onside kick in the national title game against Clemson. He’s emerged as a shutdown corner.
— Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly : Despite a difficult early schedule, the senior ranks third in the league with 1,596 yards passing and 13 touchdowns. He’s struggled with sacks and turnovers, but has been better the last two weeks against Georgia and Memphis.
— Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin: A senior and team captain who recorded more than 100 tackles in each of the last two years, Reeves-Maybin could be done for the season with a shoulder injury. It also could affect his draft stock. Coach Butch Jones says he’s “still looking at some different options for what avenues he wants to pursue.”
— Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson: The 6-foot-6, 320-pound left tackle hasn’t missed a start in his college career (35 games). He was a big reason the Tide won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s top line in 2015.
— Tabor: Florida’s junior cornerback served a one-game suspension for fighting in practice and was humbled by a loss at Tennessee. Otherwise, he’s been as good as advertised with three interceptions in four games.
— Alabama linebacker Tim Williams: Mostly coming off the bench as a pass-rush specialist, Williams has 3 1/2 sacks and a team-leading seven quarterback hurries.
AP Sports Writers David Brandt, Brett Martel, Steve Megargee, Kristie Rieken, Teresa Walker and John Zenor contributed to this report.
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