Most of the time, the SEC likes to brag about its litany of national championships, All-Americans and NFL draft picks.
This year is no different.
After leading all of college football with 42 selections, here’s 10 players from the SEC you’ll be hearing about this season:
5. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina (Buffalo Bills) – The Gamecocks’ three-year starter and former Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina has a chance to be the cornerstone of Buffalo’s defense with a rare combination of athletic ability and ball skills. While he struggles at times against pump fakes and taller wide receivers, Gilmore’s speed should make up for occasional mental lapses in the secondary.
4. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia (Buffalo Bills) — One of the best “steals” of Day One, Glenn slipped to Buffalo at No. 42 overall and should start from day one for the Bills. Glenn was tabbed with a first-round grade by most experts, so hearing his name called in the second round was a bit of a surprise for the former Bulldog. At 6-foot-5, 350 pounds, Glenn is a monster to run behind. Already one of the NFL’s least-sacked quarterbacks, Ryan Fitzpatrick, is happy if Glenn starts at left tackle.
3. Morris Claiborne, DB, LSU (Dallas Cowboys) — Claiborne will be a star in Big D … in due time. He’ll make an impact this season in the return game and — in certain packages — on defense. He’s a natural ballhawk with 11 interceptions over his final two seasons in Baton Rouge. And please disregard the Wonderlic score! It proves nothing. Claiborne admitted to blowing it off since it doesn’t consist of football-related questions. He won’t have a problem with the Cowboys’ playbook, nor covering some of the NFL’s top wideouts at the line of scrimmage.
2. Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama (Baltimore Ravens) — Whether it’s Upshaw or fellow Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower here, both linebackers are interchangeable talents. Upshaw will fit right into Baltimore’s 3-4 scheme as a hybrid pass-rusher and run-stopper. Like Hightower, Upshaw can play off the edge or drop back into coverage with relative ease. Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome traded up to get Upshaw, an impact player who will be on the field more often than not as a rookie. He’ll be in the starting mix according to head coach John Harbaugh.
1. Mark Barron, FS, Alabama (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) — One of five Crimson Tide standouts to be picked in the first 35 selections, Barron brings supreme talent to a unit that under-performed in 2011. The Bucs need all the help they can get on a defense that ranked last in the league with 30.9 PPG allowed. The Bucs also gave up an NFL-high 6.3 yards per play. In the same secondary as veteran corner Ronde Barber, Tampa’s pass defense got a serious hard-hitting upgrade in Barron.
5. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (Cleveland Browns) — Definitely a shocking pick as a potential bust, Alabama’s Heisman finalist is a tank that takes no prisoners with the ball in his hands, but shouldering the load in Cleveland after off-season knee surgery raises questions. Richardson could be a serious stud and perennial 1,500-yard running back, he’s that good. The other end of the spectrum seems more likely, at least, early in his career behind an offensive line in Cleveland that struggled last season.
4. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU (New York Giants) — Randle is in a good position with the defending champs, but there was a handful of better options for the Giants at this spot in the draft. Picked to replace Mario Manningham, New York ultimately went with LSU’s most reliable target who blossomed as a junior with eight touchdown receptions. Randle could mature into Eli Manning’s best option on the outside, but that will take a few games, seasons perhaps. This fall, he’ll battle Jerrel Jernigan for the Giants’ third wideout spot behind Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
3. Melvin Ingram, DE/LB, South Carolina (San Diego Chargers) — Labeled a tweener by most analysts, Ingram’s lack of size as a defensive lineman raises questions on how he’ll perform at the line of scrimmage in the pros. At 6-1, 260 pounds it seems more likely that Ingram will play linebacker in San Diego or become a third-down blitz specialist. I think it’s laughable that some folks have mentioned Ingram being a weapon on special teams. That worked momentarily at South Carolina, but won’t in the NFL. With that being said, he’s an athletic playmaker that can help in a variety of areas and a safe gamble for the Chargers.
2. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU (St. Louis Rams) — Brockers grew from a 250-pound defensive end as a freshman to an agile, 320-pound tackle over his final two seasons but it’s that added size that could negatively affect his ability to chase down opposing running backs and now, some quarterbacks. As dominant as LSU’s defense was last season, Brockers only had two sacks and didn’t force a fumble, so calling him a feared pass-rusher isn’t exactly accurate. Playing in St. Louis without much talent around him won’t help his cause.
1. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina (Chicago Bears) — I said it months ago and I’ll say it again: I don’t see Alshon making an impact in professional football. He doesn’t have top-end speed, is a sloppy route runner and has trouble creating separation. Against talented NFL defensive backs, I don’t think he’ll be able to make the same highlight-worthy catches he made during his first two seasons in Columbia. He’s still a formidable downfield threat with great hands and leaping ability, but issues with his speed will be detrimental to his progress. Alshon’s only experience in freezing temperatures was at the Papa Johns Bowl his freshman season. Like most wideouts that afternoon, he had a case of the drops. In the end, he could be Justin Blackmon-good, or just an interchangeable possession guy for quarterback Jay Cutler. The Bears took a chance and hope it pans out.