5 former SEC players who should be showing up unanimously in mock drafts but aren't
I get it. Guys fall through the cracks for different reasons.
What I don’t get is why there are certain guys like Justin Jefferson or Deebo Samuel who don’t get unanimous first-round love. Or if they do, it only comes after the NFL Combine. Granted, there are plenty of guys I banged the drum for in the past who didn’t work out (see “Lock, Drew).
With mock draft season in full swing and the NFL Combine approaching, I thought now would be a nice time to look at some guys who are considered more of late first-round picks who should be getting unanimous Round 1 consideration.
Here are the 5 from the SEC who should be in every mock draft but aren’t:
Darnell Washington, Georgia TE
Washington is one of the few human beings who might actually be bigger than what his 6-7, 270-pound frame would suggest. He’s massive in-person, he’s massive on TV and he was massive for the Georgia offense in a variety of ways. There’s zero doubt about his ability to block in the NFL. Washington already showed he can do that at an elite level. Get the ball in his hands and he’s an absolute nightmare to bring down, whether that’s running through you or over you (go back to that Mizzou game).
The side-by-side of Washington vs. Brock Bowers might convince you that the former is lacking ball skills. I’d push back on that. Washington just isn’t as skilled as Bowers. Washington could fall into Round 2 because he doesn’t project to be a 1,000-yard receiver at the next level, but he’s incredibly versatile for a guy his size, and he could immediately be an every-down player. The guy could be George Kittle plus 3 inches and 20 pounds (or more).
Derick Hall, Auburn Edge
Hall was in a tough spot in his past 2 seasons. He attempted to put the Auburn defense on his back because, well, he had to. He never left the field — Hall ranked No. 3 among Power 5 edge defenders with 745 snaps — and as a result, you can find some not-so-perfect reps. Yes, the sack numbers went down. So did the talent around him on a defensive line that seemingly had a new player hit the portal every day for a 2-month stretch.
Don’t let that overshadow the fact that Hall could wind up being one of the top 3 edge rushers in this class. The guy sacked Bryce Young 4 times in the 2021 Iron Bowl. Hall also tore up the Senior Bowl and earned defensive player of the week honors. A high-character, ruthless pass-rusher like Hall is going to succeed wherever he goes, especially after being dealt a rough hand in his 2 pre-Draft seasons.
Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M DB
It’s too bad that Johnson couldn’t stay healthy for a full year in DJ Durkin’s defense. The long, versatile defensive back was the best version of himself after returning from injury for the final 3 games. In that stretch alone, he totaled 23 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles and 2 QB hurries. Johnson is a football player through and through. He can play in any scheme, and at worst, he can be an excellent slot corner.
Those who haven’t studied Johnson might assume he couldn’t line up on the outside and stay with bigger receivers, which is why he wasn’t really put on an island. But that’s not the case. He’s the rare combination of a guy who seeks those opportunities to dismantle a ball-carrier coming downhill while also possessing exceptional cover skills. PFF had Johnson for just 368 yards allowed on 91 targets the past 2 years for an A&M defense that was better than what the overall record showed. Johnson is worthy of Kyle Hamilton comps, but for whatever reason, it’d be surprising to see him near the first 15 picks.
Emmanuel Forbes, MSU CB
Nationally, Forbes was one of the most under-appreciated players in America. In Starkville, that was a different story. The guy is a walking interception. Forbes had 14 picks (!) in his 3 years in Starkville. It’s disrespectful that quarterbacks continued to throw at him, and it’s disrespectful that outside of Mel Kiper Jr., who has Forbes coming off the board at No. 23, it’s hard to find a whole lot of mock draft love for the ball-hawking corner.
The comp is Trevon Diggs, who is a polarizing subject in NFL circles because of how many chances he takes to get all those takeaways. But I don’t believe that’s a totally accurate comp for Forbes because he isn’t quite the risk-taker that Diggs is. Forbes had PFF’s No. 7 coverage grade among FBS corners, which is all the more impressive considering he lined up 91% of his snaps on the outside covering SEC wideouts. I’m convinced that if Forbes were coming out of Alabama or Georgia, he’d be getting the first-round attention of Kelee Ringo. As it stands, though, it’s more disrespect.
Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee WR
By the time you finished reading this sentence, Hyatt just waltzed into the end zone for another 40-yard score. He had 3 more 40-yard catches than any Power 5 player, and he did so in just 12 games. Not too shabby for a guy who didn’t even start the year as WR1. Somewhere in the midst of Hyatt’s Biletnikoff Award-winning season, it should’ve probably hit the masses. His breakout year wasn’t just a byproduct of Tennessee’s offense. Hyatt is somehow always open, and he may just know a thing or 2 about route-running.
In a draft that doesn’t have the perceived “can’t miss” receiver prospect, I’m surprised that Hyatt isn’t getting more attention. There’s never been more demand for depth at wideout, and as we know, field-stretching slot guys don’t exactly grow on trees. Hyatt should either be mocked to the Chiefs at No. 31, or he should be projected to go a few picks earlier to an AFC contender for simple logic of “don’t give Pat Mahomes a weapon like that.”