There’s no guarantee that the SEC will do it again. By “it,” I’m referring to leading the way with the most NFL Draft selections for the 18th consecutive year.

Why do I say that? Isn’t that far too general of a statement? Well, it’s not when you realize that the Big Ten led the way with 90 invites to the 2024 NFL Combine. Granted, the SEC trailed by just 1 with 89 invitees, but still. It’s possible.

This weekend’s festivities in Indianapolis could have a major say in that. The NFL Combine will kick off Thursday:

  • Thursday: Defensive linemen/linebackers
  • Friday: Defensive backs/tight ends
  • Saturday: Quarterbacks/wide receivers/running backs
  • Sunday: Offensive linemen

Here are 5 SEC things that I’m watching for this week:

1. There will be plenty of eyes on Maason Smith

At least there should be. There was hope that Smith would turn into the 2023 version of Jalen Carter, but for one reason or another, the LSU defensive lineman became that game-wrecker. It was surprising that he left LSU early for the NFL Draft after a disappointing 2023 campaign that saw him rack up just 4.5 TFLs (only 1.5 came vs. SEC competition) and 2.5 sacks. How much of that was the 2022 ACL tear and how much of that was the scheme that saw LSU gut its entire defensive staff? That’s debatable.

Either way, there are questions about his motor, which might sound strange for an interior defensive lineman who played in at least 50 snaps in 7 games of his pre-Draft season. At 6-6, 315 pounds, Smith showed flashes early in his career of being a no-doubter first-round prospect. His stock has seemingly shifted to more of a mid-to-late round guy who could see a drastic shift if he looks like he’s in peak form.

This weekend will be monumental for Smith.

2. Cody Schrader’s 40-time shouldn’t matter so much, but for many, it will

It’s lame to think that some are so invested in Schrader’s straight-line speed. Even if he runs a 4.7-second 40, it shouldn’t take away from how special he is as an outside zone runner. His ability to wait on his blocks and attack an opening made him an All-American. It’s why he racked up 851 yards after contact alone. That won’t be on display running a pad-less 40-yard dash.

But what if Schrader surprises many and runs a 4.4-second 40? Couldn’t that suddenly make him a much more obvious Day 2 selection? It should.

Perhaps it can set the stage for Mizzou to have an offensive player selected in the first 4 rounds for the first time in the Eli Drinkwitz era.

3. Spencer Rattler and Xavier Legette should surprise many who tuned out 5-7 South Carolina

If you watched South Carolina this year, you know that the Gamecocks only had a bowl opportunity in the regular-season finale because of how phenomenal that Rattler-Legette connection was. They were special. There’s no doubt that they should’ve earned themselves some money at the next level after carrying the Gamecocks all fall.

Neither player is in Tier 1 of their respective position groups, which likely won’t change this weekend. But Rattler turned heads at the Senior Bowl by earning MVP honors after outplaying the more highly regarded Bo Nix. The improvement of Rattler under first-year offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was significant. That should be on full display in Indianapolis, even though a top-heavy quarterback class will surround him. Perhaps if Caleb Williams and Drake Maye work out in a limited capacity, it’s Rattler who’ll stand to benefit the most.

Legette, on the other hand, still has a legitimate shot to come off the board in the back end of Round 1. That’d be no small feat for someone who was an afterthought at this time last year. In Juice Wells’ absence, Legette emerged as one of the best receivers not just in the SEC, but in all of college football. The question about Legette’s Combine performance might be related to the ankle injury he worked through at the Senior Bowl.

The Gamecocks’ 2 biggest bright spots of 2023 should have an opportunity to shine in a significant way in Indianapolis.

4. Can we move past Brock Bowers not being confused for Rob Gronkowski?

There were a lot of reactions to this interaction at the Super Bowl:

If Bowers’ frame scares you off, that’s on you. He’s been listed at 6-4, 240 pounds during a college career in which he became arguably the best tight end ever. By the way, that was for a 2-time national champion who lost a total of 2 games, both of which were to the greatest coach ever in the SEC Championship (oh and the 2021 SEC Championship was when Bowers was easily the best player on the field for Georgia).

So yeah, miss me with any skepticism about Bowers’ frame. If the biggest criticism of Bowers is that he’s not 260 pounds like Gronkowski, that’s a weak argument for a guy who moves and blocks as well as he does.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Bowers participates in. For someone with nearly 40 games of reps, I’m not sure how much Bowers has to gain from being part of every drill. Then again, this is someone as competitive as it gets, and if that’s what he feels he needs to do to move past some of this weird pre-Draft skepticism, don’t bet against No. 19.

5. Jayden Daniels and the push for No. 2 overall

There’s a legitimate conversation about Daniels being the first player off the board after Caleb Williams. Maybe a little bit of that is pre-Draft fatigue surrounding Drake Maye, but multiple mocks have the Heisman Trophy winner coming off the board at No. 2 overall.

Do I expect Daniels to be a full participant in Indianapolis? Most likely not. Again, the guy won the Heisman and made himself a substantial amount of money with the 12 games he played in 2023, which was why he was a non-participant in the bowl game and the Senior Bowl. He led all FBS quarterbacks in rushing, so even running the 40-yard dash might only be to his detriment. His tape suggests that everything clicked and we saw someone blossom into a versatile, confident assassin in Year 5 as a starter.

The conversations with Daniels could be based on just that — conversations. How will he perform in meetings? Will there be smokescreens about that? That we don’t know.

What I do know is that it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which Daniels leaves Indianapolis and he’s no longer part of that conversation for No. 2 overall.