Published March 5, 2012 - 9:00am
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Imagine NFL scouts and general managers selecting players from an SEC-only player pool for this year’s draft. Strange right?
Take away Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Justin Blackmon from the top picks and what’s left? A bunch of can’t-miss, Sunday-ready defensive stars from the nation’s toughest conference patrolling a backfield — or secondary — near you.
What would an all-SEC draft day be without a few surprises …
1. Indianapolis Colts: With Peyton Manning’s future up in the air in Indy, the Colts need a franchise player in this position with the top pick — not necessarily a quarterback. Colts GM Ryan Grigson narrows it to two players, Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill and LSU’s Morris Claiborne, before making a selection. Indy needs an insurance policy on Peyton … Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M.
2. St. Louis Rams: The Rams aren’t trading away the No. 2 pick in this draft with the standout player they’ve wanted all along still on the board. The shocking news of Luck and RGIII pulling out of the draft means Sam Bradford’s the future in STL. This All-American will start from Day 1 on the carpet in St. Louis and may even have an impact in the return game like his brethren in Arizona … Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU.
3. Minnesota Vikings: Minnesota needs to draft remaining top-tier talent rather than need with the third pick, eliminating wideouts Rueben Randle and Alshon Jeffery from the mix. Troy Williamson never worked out under the dome and the Vikes didn’t resign Sidney Rice, both former Gamecocks. Adrian Peterson is the franchise player, but this All-SEC sensation can benefit the other side of the football and its multitude of problems early … Melvin Ingram, LB/DT, South Carolina.
4. Cleveland Browns: Remember Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis? Neither do I. Cleveland hasn’t decided whether the tailback will be re-signed, tagged or dumped into free agency. Tampa tried to move up at the last second to grab this selection, but the Buccaneers were not giving the Brownies enough draft picks in return … Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman and the Bucs had the rug pulled out from under them in the first round after the Browns picked up Trent Richardson. In need of another Crimson Tide star, a lanky cornerback has his name called to eventually replace the aging — but talented — Ronde Barber … Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama.
6. Washington Redskins: Dan Snider has pulled a fast one on everyone in attendance and watching around the world. Roger Goodell just called a speedy athlete from Athens, Ga. with the No. 6 overall pick. Snider must think this two-way player is a cross between Santana Moss and LaRon Landry. Time will tell how this pick turns out … Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Help along the defensive line is a necessity in Jacksonville and a couple of tackles are sitting in the front row waiting to be called. It’s either Miss. St’s Fletcher Cox or LSU’s Michael Brockers for the Jags since Ingram went to the Vikings with the third overall pick … Fletcher Cox, DT, Miss. St.
8. Miami Dolphins: Hootie frontman Darius Rucker has another reason to cry for his beloved pro football team. After GM Jeff Ireland tries valiantly to acquire Manning from Indy in a sign-and-trade, he drafts an offensive lineman to further frustrate the South Beach fanbase. Well, someone has to block for Chad Henne and J.P. Losman … Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia.
9. Carolina Panthers: Move over Steve Smith. Armanti Edwards? You can slide further down the bench. Cam Newton teams up with a physically-gifted target with big hands and a knack for coming down with the football. Questions about his weight and speed are put to rest when this South Carolina native sprints up to the podium donning the draft’s most subtle garnet and black suit … Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina.
10. Buffalo Bills: Finally, a schedule selection that fits in most mock drafts. The Bills need help on the outside, especially someone who can cover that pesky Wes Welker on the drag route two games a season … Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama.
11. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have been SEC-heavy in recent drafts. Dexter McCluster, Javier Arenas and Eric Berry made splashes as rookies and Kansas City believes it is a team stacked with young talent. It’s hard to believe former LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey is already a four-year veteran. He’ll be joined by another Bayou Bengal who has slid to No. 11 …. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Head coach Pete Carroll and the rest of Seattle’s brain-trust has spent the entire offseason looking for another weapon to follow Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is the only household name in the rainy city and he’ll be a free agent after this season. It’s too early to select Vick Ballard or Tauren Poole, so the Seahawks go defense. But be careful, picking a linebacker didn’t work out in 2009 with Aaron Curry … Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama.
13. Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald is begging for a sidekick in the desert, another target to ease some of the pressure off the former Pittsburgh Heisman candidate. The Cardinals are afraid of the lack of size associated with two available Arkansas wideouts, so they draft a Tiger — LSU’s third selection of the first round … Rueben Randle, WR, LSU.
14. Dallas Cowboys: With lock-down corner Dre Kirkpatrick off the board, the Cowboys eye the next-best defensive back. This guy excelled at the combine and should fit it nicely in the Big D secondary. He may even see a few snaps in the Wildcat (note: sometimes no Tony Romo is better than shotgun Romo) … Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina.
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Most pundits think Philly goes defense here, possibly linebacker, but the athletes the Eagles wanted have already been selected. Who is the top remaining player from the SEC? It would be hard to argue against Georgia’s Orson Charles, but Philadelphia already has three tight ends on roster. Unable to deal the pick, the Eagles stay up front … Ben Jones, C, Georgia.
16. New York Jets: Rex Ryan and the Jets are feasting at No. 16. For some reason, an Alabama ballhawk is available for the taking. He’ll gladly join a talented secondary for the rookie minimum in New York … Mark Barron, SS, Alabama.
17. Cincinnati Bengals: Cincy thought about going with former Florida standout Janoris Jenkins in the middle of the first round, but leaned towards a player without any off-the-field troubles. This defender becomes the Commodores’ first opening-round pick since Jay Cutler in 2006 … Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt.
18. San Diego Chargers: When will Philip Rivers, one of the AFC’s top quarterbacks, win a Super Bowl? Whenever the Chargers decide on playing consistent, mistake-free football is the short answer. San Diego looks deep south on its draft board with the 18th pick. Think mini-Antonio Gates … Orson Charles, TE, Georgia.
19. Chicago Bears: LSU DB Brandon Taylor raised eyebrows in the Bears’ camp with sparkling combine numbers but even Chicago is skeptical on selecting a projected fifth-rounder. Drafting a 6-foot-6, 300-pound blocker is usually a safe bet in the NFL and the Bears choose that route … Brandon Mosley, OT, Auburn.
20. Tennessee Titans: Methinks the Titans are a little too Chris Johnson-happy with this pick. Along with Washington’s surprise selection of Brandon Boykin 6th overall, Tennessee raises some eyebrows in the back after requesting an invoice for this track star … Chris Rainey, RB, Florida.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Rookie and new signee Casey Hayward helps the front office with Cincy’s next pick. These two battled a few years as SEC East Division rivals even though both were starters on defense … Antonio Allen, SS, South Carolina.
22. Cleveland Browns: What a draft it has been for the Cleveland Browns. First, they grab Alabama’s Trent Richardson fourth overall then trade a 2013 first-round pick to the Detroit Lions for this year’s 23rd overall selection. For what reason you ask? Speed … Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas.
23. Cleveland Browns: Acquired via deal with Detroit, the Browns go back to the SEC West for another playmaker who so happens to be teammates with pick No. 22 Joe Adams. Cleveland’s receiving corps overhaul continues … Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Big Ben and the Terrible Towels got away from smash-mouth football last season to a more sexy spread attack. The result? A wild-card playoff loss to the Denver Tim Tebows. The Steelers get back to a powerful backfield with their tailback of the future … Vick Ballard, RB, Miss. St.
25. Denver Broncos: John Elway and the rest of Denver’s brass skipped the draft festivities in New York. Instead, the Broncos sent in Tebow to grade players and make the team’s only first-round pick. The former Gator noticed a highly-rated lineman still on the board capable of protecting his blind side next season in the pocket or on the run … Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss.
26. Houston Texans: Can Houston keep defensive end Mario Williams? The former top draft pick is in line for a big pay day should he avoid injury and accumulate some sacks next season. In lieu of Williams’ expected absence, the Texans move on … Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas.
27. New England Patriots: The Patriots wanted Miss. St’s Fletcher Cox to solidify a front run that couldn’t stop the run in the Super Bowl. Too bad. Cox was gone 20 picks previously to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The next best thing is some secondary help to put the ball back in the hands of Tom Brady and Co. … Brandon Taylor, S, LSU.
28. Green Bay Packers: The Packers look at one of the conference’s newest members for the 28th overall pick. This player, under the tutelage of Charles Woodson, could help a unit near the bottom of the league in pass defense … Coryell Judie, CB, Texas A&M
29. Baltimore Ravens: Running the football has worked for the Baltimore Ravens. Jamal Lewis, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice have perfected the low-risk, high-reward offense that has become the franchise’s staple since 2001. Throw this guy into the mix with those other powerful shape-shifters … Tauren Poole, RB, Tennessee.
30. San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers make their money on defense, not offense, and should draft accordingly. With most of the SEC’s top defensive talent off the board, San Francisco looks at the best available option: the kicking game. Any team led by Alex Smith under center is sure to punt a few times a game, so why not make those kicks extra lethal … Drew Butler, P, Georgia.
31. New England Patriots: Former Florida All-American Brandon Spikes has become the leader of New England’s defense and numbers wise, there’s a player still waiting to be picked who is just as special. This year’s SEC-tackles leader slips because of his stature, not because of his performance … Danny Trevathan, LB, Kentucky,
32. New York Giants: The SEC’s last-remaining first-round pick gives Eli Manning a target across the middle twice as athletic as incumbents Jake Ballard Bear Pascoe … Deangelo Peterson, TE, LSU.
Mr. Irrelevant: Stephen Garcia, QB, South Carolina. He “walked-on” Tampa’s practice squad after the draft and is rumored to be in a battle with Josh Freeman for the starting spot. The hot-button topic going into fall camp is this for new coach Greg Schiano: How many turnovers should I expect from each quarterback?