5 non-1st round SEC prospects who will thrive immediately, especially if they end up with these teams
Joe Burrow will light it up with the Cincinnati Bengals.
There. I said it.
I also happen to think that Burrow would light it up on any team that drafted him. He’s that talented and that determined.
That’s hardly a bold prediction. What’s a bit bolder is saying that a non-1st-round pick is going to pop in the league. That is, assuming he ends up in the right situation. Nothing is worse than when a team wastes a pick on a player and he doesn’t fit the system.
For example, drafting a 3-4 defensive end to play as a 4-3 defensive end isn’t ideal. What is ideal is a team like the San Francisco 49ers drafting Deebo Samuel in the 2nd round, and using him in certain run game packages. Or think of the Kansas City Chiefs drafting the speedy Mecole Hardman late in the 2nd round.
So, with the NFL Draft rapidly approaching, I wanted to look at some non-1st-round SEC prospects who I think could really pop in the right situation. And what might those situations look like?
1. Marlon Davidson, Auburn DE
Top destinations — Texans, Bears, Titans
I want to see Davidson end up playing as a 3-4 defensive end. I realize there could be some temptation to move the 300-pounder to the inside because of his unique athleticism. What would make more sense is Davidson starting immediately opposite of J.J. Watt with the Texans. Watt is getting up there in age and would love a durable, high-motor guy like Davidson to work alongside.
You could say the same thing about Davidson winding up in Chicago with 1 of their 2 2nd-round picks. Stick him opposite of Akiem Hicks and I have no doubt that they’d form a dynamic duo, and possibly a reality show. The Bears might be looking to add some help on the offense first, though, which could be the deterrent in them getting an NFL-ready guy like Davidson.
And call me crazy, but I think Mike Vrabel could find a way to maximize Davidson’s abilities. Let him and former Mississippi State star Jeffery Simmons wreak havoc on the outside for the next 7-8 years. Something tells me, though, that the Titans would need to trade up from No. 61 in order to land Davidson, who will absolutely have a market in the middle of the 2nd round.
2. Lynn Bowden, Kentucky WR
Top destinations — Rams, Patriots, Eagles
Ah, my guy. Bowden was more than one of the coolest stories in college football in 2019. He proved exactly why he was a versatile offensive weapon who needs to be coveted on the 2nd day of the draft. Unselfish, tough, versatile … the guy checks a lot of boxes for a team in need of immediate help.
The Rams just traded Brandin Cooks, and in a deep draft for receivers, I can’t help but think they’ll go after one in the first few rounds. We know that Sean McVay loves having 3 reliable wideouts to work with, and I’m not sure the Rams are expecting former Texas A&M star Josh Reynolds to be that guy. And the good news is that Reynolds is in a contract year, so Bowden can be taken as his replacement.
The Patriots need weapons for the post-Tom Brady era. Julian Edelman is 33 and has been rumored in trades, but even if he does stay, soon-to-be 31-year old Mohamed Sanu and underwhelming 2nd-year player N’Keal Harry are the other starting wideouts. Bill Belichick loves the hard-working, team-first guys like Bowden, who could also help in the return game as he develops his route-running.
#Patriots Draft Target: WR- Kentucky, Lynn Bowden 6’1 200lbs
Probably the most versatile player in the draft. Played QB, RB, WR and was a return man. Makes plays no matter where he is. Likely a 3rd/4th rounder that checks the boxes for what BB looks for.pic.twitter.com/pHCDiAS5iH
— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) April 13, 2020
If you saw the Eagles’ depth chart at the end of last season, you’d know that they needed receivers more than anybody. It’s probably not good that their top starting receivers are both on the wrong side of 30 with lengthy injury histories. The Eagles need more depth for Carson Wentz to work with, and Bowden would provide that immediately working in Doug Pederson’s offense.
Or, you know, just put Bowden at quarterback if and when Wentz gets injured.
3. Van Jefferson, Florida WR
Top destinations — Broncos, Patriots, Packers
Teams in need of someone who can get separation and catch balls in the middle of the field will hope Jefferson falls to them. They’ll hope that his foot injury drops him deep into the Day 3 crowd, which it very well could. One of the impacts of COVID-19 is the inability for team doctors to get a full report on his recovery.
But either way, Jefferson has the makeup of an NFL-ready slot receiver. That’s something that Drew Lock could use in Denver, as could Jarrett Stidham in New England (if he’s the guy in 2020). A slot receiver can be a developing quarterback’s best friend. Jefferson is no stranger to playing alongside talented receivers and still being a steady, move-the-chains guy. That’s what he was for Kyle Trask last year at Florida.
That would be a major difference-maker for Aaron Rodgers, who has been lacking that type of reliable weapon in recent memory. Jefferson would be a nice late-round find for the Packers, but they’ll likely address that need much earlier in the draft. Would they take 2 receivers in the first 4 rounds? Possibly.
Jefferson is inevitably going to wind up slipping and looking like a steal. It won’t be long before he’s starting and catching 4-5 balls a game for a productive offense.
4. Darrell Taylor, Tennessee Edge
Top destinations — Titans, Ravens, Patriots
Let Taylor start off as a 3rd-down pass rusher in a 3-4 system and he can thrive. He has the foot injury, yes, but he’s an experienced edge guy who took off in Jeremy Pruitt’s defense. According to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, Taylor is rising up draft boards in a hurry. Those who watched him in the SEC can understand that.
It’s a bit obvious to say the Titans and Patriots would be great landing spots because who wouldn’t want to play for Vrabel or Belichick? There’s a definite need in those 3-4 defenses. The Patriots lack proven guys at the outside linebacker positions, and as solid as the Titans were overall as a defense, they could use some help getting to the quarterback. Taylor would do that.
Darrell Taylor has excellent AA with very good bend and burst. That is rare for this edge class. He needs work on his technical ability as a pass rusher and vs the run. But you can’t teach the AA. He is a nice mid round high upside option teams should take a chance on. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/uiZqnbbN3L
— Ryder (@RyderM25) April 9, 2020
Could the Ravens be a team who could snag Taylor late in the 3rd round? Absolutely. Even though they were 3rd in scoring last year, they ranked in the bottom 1/3 of the league in sacks. That would be the type of move that would get groans from AFC North front offices.
5. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU RB
Top destinations — Chiefs, Buccaneers, Rams
My favorite player of the 2019 season is ready to do it all for a team in win-now mode.
Chiefs fans should be salivating at the thought of scooping the former LSU star up late in the 2nd round. In a draft where picks are at a premium for the Super Bowl champs, they could do a whole lot worse than pairing Edwards-Helaire with Pat Mahomes in Andy Reid’s offense. As good as Damien Williams was down the stretch for the Chiefs, he’s 28 and not as versatile as Edwards-Helaire.
Tampa Bay also has a need at running back after losing Peyton Barber. Is Bruce Arians sold on Ronald Jones? My guess is no, despite the fact that the team reportedly has “a lot of faith” in the former 2nd-round pick. At that No. 45 overall slot, Edwards-Helaire would be an ideal pick to pair with Tom Brady and those outside weapons. He can handle a big workload, he catches out of the backfield and he pass protects, which seems pretty important for keeping the soon-to-be 43-year old quarterback upright.
Then there are the Rams, who just cut Todd Gurley. Edwards-Helaire in McVay’s system would be a match made in heaven. He could get him looks in space, and he’d be able to thrive in a modern, up-tempo offense like the one he played in at LSU last year. Could Edwards-Helaire do a lot of the things that made Gurley successful in 2017 and 2018? Absolutely. If Edwards-Helaire falls to the Rams at No. 52, they could fill that Gurley-sized hole in a hurry.
As long as Edwards-Helaire isn’t drafted by a team to be some 3rd-down back, all signs point to him picking up exactly where he left off in Baton Rouge.