12 SEC players make NFL.com’s list of the top 20 draft eligible college upperclassmen at midseason…that’s 60 percent for you math majors. The NFL will be even more saturated with SEC players in the near-distant future. Here are the rankings and the blurbs by NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks:
#19 Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Hunter flashes all of the physical tools to be the best receiver in college football. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Hunter is a big-bodied pass catcher with excellent movement skills and athleticism. He capably runs all of the routes and shows the capacity to work effectively both over the middle and down the field. While I love his production as the Vols’ No. 1 receiver, he needs to become more consistent as a pass catcher to finish the season regarded as the premier receiver in college football.
#17 Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Even though the NFL is trending toward running back rotations, most coaches will still tell you they would prefer having a multi-purpose workhorse in the backfield. Lattimore has been a premier runner in college football since his arrival as a true freshman, and he continues to display the overall skills to handle 300-plus carries as a feature back in a pro system. While there is some concern about his recovery from a torn ACL, Lattimore has shown no ill effects from the injury and remains the smooth, fluid runner that I remember from early in his career. With a few more games to show that he has fully recovered from last season’s setback, Lattimore can certainly reestablish his reputation as college football’s premier back.
#16 Jonathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Nose tackle isn’t a sexy position, but every defense needs a monstrous player in the middle. Jenkins is a natural, boasting the size, strength and power to control the point one-on-one or against double-teams. With more teams utilizing variations of the 3-4, Jenkins will certainly receive a ton of attention from scouts heading into draft.
#15 Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
It is hard to find offensive linemen with the kind of versatility Jones has displayed during his time with the Crimson Tide. He has notched starts at center, guard and tackle during his career, and his ability to play at a high level at each spot makes him a valuable commodity in the minds of evaluators. While I envision Jones excelling as an interior blocker at the next level, it is quite possible that a team will view him as a capable offensive tackle prospect, raising his value on the draft board.
#13 Dee Milliner, DB, Alabama
The lack of cover corners with the size, athleticism and length to match up with the big-bodied receivers currently dominating the NFL raises Milliner’s value in the minds of evaluators. At 6-1 and 199 pounds, Milliner is big enough to challenge tall receivers at the line and in jump-ball situations. Most importantly, he shows the agility and awareness to make plays on the ball in coverage. With few college corners capable of playing effectively in both man and zone, Milliner will earn rave reviews from NFL scouts when they eventually take a closer look at his game.
#12 Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Montgomery is a powerful edge player with the size and length to develop into a disruptive base end as a pro. He will be most effective working against right tackles and tight ends due to his rugged game, and he should be able to set the edge against the run with to his strength and power. Although disruptive pass rushers are traditionally viewed as the premier players in college football, the fact that Montgomery has registered solid sack production while capably manning the edge leads me to believe he will receive a high grade from scouts.
#11 Johnthan Banks, DB, Mississippi State
Banks possesses the size and skill to blossom into a No. 1 corner at the next level. While I still have some reservations about his speed and burst, I love his competitive grit and the way he raises his game against top competition. With those characteristics valued at a premium by defensive coordinators around the league, I expect this senior to carry a high grade on most draft boards around the league.
#9 Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Mingo might be the most athletic edge player in college football when you consider his combination of speed, quickness and explosiveness. He blows off the ball like a cat and shows remarkable closing quickness when chasing quarterbacks from the backside. Although Mingo’s sack production certainly doesn’t match his athleticism, the disruptive potential that he displays in flashes will make him a coveted pro prospect.
#8 Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
When a prospect the son of a Hall of Famer (Bruce Matthews) and possess the requisite physical characteristics, NFL scouts will pay closely attention to their development over the course of a career. Matthews has quickly become one of the top offensive tackles in college football, and his sound overall game has evaluators salivating over his potential as a pro. Although Matthews could opt for another year of seasoning as a collegian, I love his overall growth over the past year and expect him to emerge as one of the top prospects in the 2014 class.
#7 Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
The Crimson Tide have become quite a football factory under Nick Saban, and the production line will certainly continue with Warmack emerging as a potential top-10 selection. At 6-3, 320 pounds, he is a fundamentally sound interior blocker with exceptional strength and explosiveness. Although the guard position isn’t traditionally viewed as a premium need, the fact that Warmack is a “plug and play” prospect could prompt NFL scouts to make an exception to the rule.
#6 Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Offensive tackles with superb size, strength and footwork are hard to find, so Joeckel has created a buzz in the scouting community with his exceptional skill set. The hype will only increase following Joeckel’s fine performance against LSU’s Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. With a few more showdowns against quality competition in the SEC, Joeckel could finish the season regarded as the top offensive tackle in college football.
#5 Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Pass rushers are coveted at a premium in the NFL, and there isn’t a finer rusher in college football than Jones. The junior led the SEC in sacks a season ago, and has already racked up 5.5 sacks in five games in 2012. Jones’ combination of speed, explosiveness and burst is unrivaled in college football, and he has developed an array of rush moves that complement his remarkable athleticism. Although concerns about his injury history could impact his eventual draft grade, Jones is an intriguing prospect with the kind of talent scouts desire in franchise players.