The NFL Draft is here, and for the SEC, that usually means it’s time to flex.

For the past 17 years, the SEC produced the most NFL Draft picks of any conference. You can set your watch to that social media post.

But this year, it could be on the line.

A big part of that is Michigan, which has visions of breaking Georgia’s modern Draft record of 15 selections. If the Wolverines set the table with a feat like that, the Big Ten could end the SEC’s streak at 17. It’s also significant because this is the last year that we can treat it like a true competition. After all, the Big Ten is expanding to 18 teams in 2024. The SEC, on the other hand, will be at 16.

We’ll know the answer to that by the end of the weekend. For now, though, let’s stick to what’s worth watching for the SEC on Thursday night in Round 1:

1. Will we get any Jayden Daniels drama?

All signs point to Daniels being the No. 2 overall pick for the Washington Commanders. Mock drafts and odds suggest that’ll be the outcome. As of Tuesday, DraftKings had Daniels at -400 to be the 2nd player selected. Any outcome to the contrary would qualify as drama. A trade-up to No. 2? Drama. A Drake Maye selection? Drama. A JJ McCarthy selection?!? Drama. If that happens, throw out the mocks. The first round will get weird in a hurry.

2. Malik Nabers coming off the board No. 5 to 9 feels inevitable, but maybe No. 4 to the Cardinals is in play?

Nabers feels like one of the biggest mock draft risers, which is a weird thing to say about someone who had the best season of any receiver in the sport in 2023. Perhaps there was some “chalk it up to the system” with Nabers catching passes from the aforementioned Daniels, but that’s well in the rearview mirror. He shouldn’t have to wait very long because 4 of the 5 teams that are selecting between 5-9 should be in the market for a pass-catcher. Shoot, maybe the Falcons are, as well, even after their run of offensive skill-players in the top 10 the last 3 years. Nabers getting to the Jets at 10 would be a significant early surprise. Who knows? Maybe the first big surprise is Nabers coming off the board to the Cardinals at No. 4 instead of Marvin Harrison Jr.

3. Will Dallas Turner be the first defensive player drafted?

The Falcons drafting at No. 8 feels like where Turner is showing up most often in mocks — he’s +170 on DraftKings to be picked there — but in a draft that lacks some of the obvious top-end defensive players, who really knows? Maybe his teammate, cornerback Terrion Arnold, could be the first defensive player off the board. Perhaps Turner won’t even be the first edge rusher selected and someone like UCLA star Laiatu Latu will do just that. The last time a defensive player was Alabama’s first selection in the NFL Draft was Quinnen Williams in 2019. Turner going inside the top 10 would likely put an end to that.

4. I’ll do my best not to get too mad if Brock Bowers falls out of the top 10 … but no promises

I get it. The positional value doesn’t have Bowers in the same spot as others. But the fact that he’s the best tight end in college football history has to appeal to someone inside that top 10. The Jets at 10 could be where the market begins for Bowers. If the Georgia All-American comes off the board there, I won’t have to shake my head at the NFL collectively. If he doesn’t and instead drifts into that 15-20 range, I’ll wonder why the league overthought Bowers, who is ready to be a top-5 tight end from the moment he steps onto an NFL field.

5. The Brian Thomas Jr. landing spot could be all over the place

I’m super intrigued by Thomas. If this were 20 years ago, I doubt he makes it out of the top 10. You can’t teach his size and ball skills. But at a time when the interchangeable receiver is a bit more valued, I’d be surprised if Thomas came off the board that early. Having said that, anywhere 12-32 could be in play. Thomas’ value could depend on what happens with Marvin Harrison Jr., the aforementioned Nabers and Rome Odunze. If they’re all of the board in the first 9 picks, does a receiver-needy team get antsy and trade up for him around 12-17? Or does the depth at the position delay a potential run on receivers until the 25-32 range? All feel possible for the nation’s leader in receiving touchdowns.

6. Does Ladd McConkey sneak into the first round?

Here’s a 3-pack of facts that the casual fan might not know about Georgia receivers:

  • Terrence Edwards was the only 1,000-yard receiver at UGA (2002)
  • George Pickens was the only UGA receiver drafted in the past 4 years
  • AJ Green was UGA’s last first-round receiver back in 2011

McConkey can’t go back in time and record a 1,000-yard season, but he can check those last 2 boxes on Thursday. In a deep receiver draft, perhaps that hurts McConkey’s stock after he tore up the Senior Bowl and impressed during the pre-draft process. Alternatively, the versatile McConkey could be an ideal fit for a team late in the first round like Buffalo, Baltimore or Kansas City. The latter seems far more likely than it did at this time last year.

7. Will the SEC have its worst first round since 2015?

The last time that the SEC didn’t have at least 8 players selected in Round 1 was 2015. That year, 7 SEC players came off the board in the first round, though the SEC still led the way in total selections with 57. This year, I wonder if it’ll be closer to 7 or 8 first-round selections from the SEC. The first-round locks appear to be Daniels, Nabers, Turner, Bowers, Arnold, JC Latham and Thomas. That’s 7. Maybe you could add Amarius Mims and Kool-Aid McKinstry, but I don’t think it’d be shocking if they didn’t come off the board, which is also true for the likes of Darius Robinson, Kamari Lassiter and McConkey. That means the range could be anywhere from 7-12, but I’d probably bet closer to 7. In other words, brace for the anti-SEC crowd to be out in full force by night’s end.