With a wave of players heading to the NFL, underclassman and up-and-coming seniors have the opportunity to show NFL scouts that they have what it takes to get their shot at playing on Sundays.
Here are 10 SEC players who can help their draft stock the most in 2017.
1. Arden Key, LSU, Defensive end: With NFL departures across the LSU defensive line, Arden Key will be the focal point of opposing offenses in 2017. Key is very capable of matching his 2016 stats, 12 sacks in 11 games, along with 14.5 tackles for loss, and will have the spotlight on him for the 2017 season. With his ability to blow past offensive tackles, Key could solidify himself as an early first-round pick come 2018 – assuming, of course, that he returns from his leave from the football program.
2. Nick Chubb, Georgia, Running back: In 2014, Chubb showed that he was one of the nation’s best running backs, rushing for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. He returned after a season-ending leg injury in 2015 but didn’t show the same production. Now fully recovered with time to prepare, Chubb chose to return for his senior season and help take the pressure off quarterback Jacob Eason’s shoulders.
3. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama, Running back: It’s obvious that Bo Scarborough has the size and potential to be another one of Alabama’s great running backs. Injuries have been his biggest obstacle, but he’ll be healthy and ready for 2017. If Alabama’s next offensive coordinator can get him the ball regularly, he could jump into the first-round discussion.
4. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M, Wide receiver: Electric. That is one way to explain the star wide receiver. Kirk, the league’s fourth best receiver with 928 yards, is arguably the most dynamic player in the conference. His agility allows him to make defenders miss and also gives him a huge advantage in the return game. With his junior season among the horizon, if Kirk’s consistency continues in Year 3, the Texas A&M star could bolt early for the 2018 NFL Draft, where he’s already being pegged as a potential top-10 pick.
5. Austin Allen, Arkansas, Quarterback: The SEC’s leading passer returns for his senior season to show scouts that he has the ability to be a future NFL quarterback. Before playing Alabama last season, Allen threw 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He threw 3 TD passes against the Tide but also was picked off 3 times.
That started a slide that ended with 10 more touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his final seven games. The senior will be without three of his leading receivers heading in 2017, which leaves him with an uphill battle. Luckily, he has the pocket presence and leadership to get one of the young receivers involved.
6. Derrius Guice, LSU, Running back: With Leonard Fournette leaving early for the NFL, Guice will be the feature back Matt Canada’s offense. Guice has the total package: nice balance of power along with the ability to cut and get the ball north and south, which is what you want in a SEC running back. Guice led the SEC with 1,387 yards in 2016. He’s trying to become the first SEC player to repeat as a rushing champion since Arkansas’ Darren McFadden did it in 2006 and 2007.
7. Skai Moore, South Carolina, Linebacker: Getting Skai Moore to return for his senior season is a huge win for Will Muschamp. Moore was the leading tackler for South Carolina from 2013-2015 and could have gone pro after his junior season, but a neck injury set him back. He missed all of last season.
Moore ultimately decided to return in 2017. Moore was a beast before getting injured, posting 111 tackles, four interceptions, 6.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in 2015.
8. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt, Running back: The Commodores’ all-time leading rusher with 3,297 yards will have a final chance to show scouts that he can be a reliable and durable every-down threat.
9. Jordan Jones, Kentucky, Linebacker: Jones had an unbelievable sophomore season, recording 109 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. The Ohio native recorded over 10 tackles in four games in 2016 and helped the Wildcats reach a bowl game for the first time since 2010. What stands out about Jones is he was an absolute force against Georgia, Louisville and Mississippi State. If he can back up his 2016 play with an outstanding 2017 season, there is no question the rising junior could leap to the NFL.
10. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama, Defensive back: Fitzpatrick showed why he was arguably the best cornerback in the league in 2016, leading the SEC with six interceptions, returning two to the end zone, and adding seven pass breakups.
SEC corners are becoming first-round locks, and Fitzpatrick is a candidate to join the parade after the 2017 season.