12 more players from SEC likely to give up senior season, enter NFL Draft
Expect another avalanche of college players to enter the NFL Draft before their eligibility is up, whether they’re ready for the next level or not.
The SEC has already seen two standouts make their intentions known, South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst and Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan. The Gators finished 4-7, so Bryan’s campaign is over, but Hurst will suit up one final time for the Gamecocks in the Outback Bowl.
According to the experts at CBS Sports — that’s always where I turn first for draft-related content, as I know some of their insiders personally — Hurst could come off the board as early as Round 2. As for Bryan, he’s the No. 23 prospect overall and has a chance to be one of the 32 names called in the first round.
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Hurst and Bryan will soon be joined by double-digit former conference foes. To the surprise of absolutely no one, rivals Alabama and Auburn are likely to see the most defections since their depth charts are dripping with so much talent.
Here are 12 kids who are currently ranked in the Top 100 at CBS Sports, so look for them to toss their hats in the ring this holiday season.
Georgia LB Roquan Smith
The league’s Defensive Player of the Year, Smith is the quintessential sideline-to-sideline linebacker and the straw that stirs the drink for coach Kirby Smart’s defense. He may be fourth in the SEC with 113 total tackles, but he’s first with 72 solo stops. In other words, he doesn’t need much help getting ball carriers to the ground.
Ranks: No. 5 overall, No. 1 inside linebacker
Alabama S Minkah Fitzpatrick
The ultimate 21st century defensive back, Fitzgerald has done it all in coach Nick Saban’s sophisticated system. He’s played corner. He’s played safety. He’s played nickel. He’s even been a baby ‘backer in the dime package. Not to mention the fact that he has receiver-like ball skills, which has led to 4 interception-return touchdowns in his career.
Ranks: No. 6 overall, No. 1 free safety
LSU RB Derrius Guice
Like his one-time teammate with the Tigers, Leonard Fournette, Guice’s junior season was a bit of a disappointment due to nagging injuries. Nevertheless, he owns the program’s single-game rushing record with 285 yards and has gone north of 250 three times. He wasn’t quite the national sensation, but Guice actually might have better vision than Fournette.
Ranks: No. 11 overall, No. 2 running back
LSU DE Arden Key
Another member of the Bayou Bengals who did more damage as a sophomore than a junior, Key is widely regarded at the best pure pass rusher in the conference. When he was 100-percent healthy in 2016, he had 12.0 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Injured and perhaps lacking motivation in 2017, he wasn’t as productive. He’s no less gifted, though.
Ranks: No. 27 overall, No. 3 defensive end
Alabama RB Damien Harris
Coming into the year, it was Bo Scarbrough getting most of the attention in the Crimson Tide backfield. However, we soon learned that Harris was actually the most reliable and consistent ball carrier in Tuscaloosa. He averaged a stunning 7.1 yards per carry last year yet somehow upped that figure to 8.2 this year.
Ranks: No. 34 overall, No. 5 running back
Alabama WR Calvin Ridley
From the moment he stepped on campus as a true freshman in 2015, Ridley has been the primary target in the ‘Bama passing game. Tide legends like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper cast long shadows, but Ridley followed in their footsteps due to his razor-sharp route-running ability. He’s averaging a career-high 16.3 yards per catch this season.
Ranks: No. 41 overall, No. 6 wide receiver
Auburn DE Jeff Holland
Compared to a year ago, when eventual first-rounders like Myles Garrett, Derek Barnett, Jonathan Allen and Charles Harris tore up the league, it was a down season for pass rushers. Nevertheless, Holland is a force to be reckoned with off the edge on The Plains. He’s tied for second in the SEC with 9.0 sacks and tied for sixth with 12.0 TFLs.
Ranks: No. 44 overall, No. 5 defensive end
Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne
Despite the fact that he didn’t make a lot of splash plays behind the line of scrimmage, the fact that Payne is sixth on the Crimson Tide in tackles with 45 is impressive. That’s a lot of stops for a 6-foot-2, 308-pounder who had to split his fair share of double teams. He’s still more potential than production, but scouts see the upside.
Ranks: No. 51 overall, No. 6 defensive tackle
Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson
When the season started, Johnson was supposedly second fiddle in the Tigers backfield to Kamryn Pettway. But with Pettway available for just five games due to injury, Johnson spun his increased workload into Offensive Player of the Year honors. His style is reminiscent of Pittsburgh Steelers star Le’Veon Bell, which will only elevate his stock.
Ranks: No. 60 overall, No. 8 running back
Alabama S Ronnie Harrison
A heat-seeking missile once he locates the football, Harrison can contribute immediately as an in-the-box defender in the pros. That being said, don’t underestimate his ability in space. The former high school quarterback has picked off 7 passes in three years and scored a pair of defensive TDs while wearing that crimson-and-white uniform.
Ranks: No. 61 overall, No. 3 strong safety
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Alabama G Ross Pierschbacher
The Crimson Tide had three offensive linemen make First-Team All-SEC, and Pierschbacher was one of them. Luckily for him, the NFL has put an increased emphasis on the guard position in recent years instead of focusing so much on the two tackle spots. He’s a between-the-tackles mauler who’s used to being physical in the running game.
Ranks: No. 81 overall, No. 5 guard
Auburn DT Dontavius Russell
The Tigers were deep and dangerous along the defensive line, so Russell was able to attack blockers with fresh legs more often than not. Chances are, that’s how he’ll be used on Sunday since substitution packages are ubiquitous across the league nowadays. With 3.0 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss, he’s put a handful of big plays on tape.
Ranks: No. 90 overall, No. 10 defensive tackle