First-rounders are often instant impact players, but franchises are built in the later rounds, a process of stockpiling picks with advanced scouting of prospects that may be undervalued a bit for various reasons.
Here’s a look at the SEC’s best bargains by position after standouts such as Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel and Greg Robinson are long gone:
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia; 4th-5th round projection — Likely selected after LSU’s Zach Metternberger and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, the SEC’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes is a steal for a team with a late day two selection. He made 52 career starts in a pro-style offense at Georgia often against top-level defensive talent in college football’s toughest conference. Questions linger on whether or not he’ll be the same quarterback after reconstructive knee surgery, but Murray’s a proven winner with no off-the-field issues and a strong delivery.
Rajion Neal, RB, Tennessee; 5th-6th round — Most would expect Auburn’s Tre Mason and LSU’s Jeremy Hill to no longer be available by the end of the third round, leaving Neal as the SEC’s next best ballcarrier. Tennessee’s leading rusher last season wasn’t invited to this year’s combine, but posted a 4.57 40 during his pro day in Knoxville. Soft hands with a wrecking ball body of 6-foot, 225 pounds is a plus for the Fayetteville, Ga. native. Don’t be surprised if a former SEC tailback, Alabama State’s Isaiah Crowell who starred as a freshman at Georgia, is battling for position alongside Neal in the first 200 picks.
Trey Burton, WR/ATH, Florida; 7th round-Undrafted — Reminds me a lot of Green Bay’s Randall Cobb, a former Kentucky playmaker who lined up in a variety of positions for the Wildcats. Burton was one of the Gators’ few reliable options on offense as a senior and packs a punch at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. He’s a physical wideout, but doesn’t run as well as scouts would like. If he’s drafted, Burton will make an NFL roster and become a factor as a third or fourth option.
Justin Britt, OL, Mizzou; 5th-6th round — Started all 14 games at left tackle for the SEC East champions last season as one of the Tigers’ most reliable players up front in Mizzou’s spread attack. Has ideal NFL size and quickness for a tackle at 6-foot-6, 325 pounds. Britt cleared up any questions concerning an ACL injury as a junior with last season’s success. He’s a guy who will be drafted on day three with a shot at making a roster on a squad in need of a pass protector.
Ed Stinson, DL, Alabama; 6th-7th round — The All-SEC second-teamer doesn’t have elite speed as a pass rusher off the edge, but Stinson’s capable of developing into a situational player with a high upside. Primarily used in a three-point stance by Kirby Smart during his career, Stinson’s best against the rush as a hybrid defensive tackle. He’s a good investment late with a skill set similar to teammate Jeoffrey Pagan. There’s a chance SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam is selected on day three as well.
Chris Smith, DE/OLB Arkansas; 3rd round — Most mock drafts have Smith falling to the third round, but Arkansas’ best defensive lineman would be a first-round pick if he was two inches taller. A bit undersized to play defensive end at the next level against mammoth-sized offensive tackles, Smith’s projected as an outside linebacker and run-stopper. Smith’s 8.5 sacks in the SEC West was an impressive number and he was one of the league’s best in pursuit with 11.5 tackles for loss. If he’s selected by a contender with a well-established core of linebackers, expect Pro Bowl-type numbers in a few years. Smith’s the steal of this year’s draft defensively if he’s not taken in the second round.
Louchiez Purifoy, DB, Florida; 4th round — One of three Gator defensive backs expected to be taken in this year’s draft is a step behind Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson due to off-the-field troubles in March with the Gainesville Police Department. The underclassman cornerback has natural ability and could have elevated his stock with a better pro day performance. He’s an inch taller than Mizzou’s E.J. Gaines, a physical corner with a near identical draft grade according to scouts.
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