Predicting 10 players from SEC who will go in first round of 2018 NFL Draft
The 2017 NFL Draft is finally in the rearview mirror, so that can only mean one thing: Prematurely looking ahead to next year’s draft.
There are mock drafts for 2018 all over the internet already, but be sure to take them with a grain of salt. At this time last year, former Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly was supposed to be a Round 1 lock. He ended up Mr. Irrelevant in Round 7.
Nevertheless, expect the best conference in America to again dominate the draft discussion for the next 12 months. The SEC tied the all-time record it already shared with the ACC with 12 first-round picks — the Big 12 only had 14 selections in all seven rounds combined — and could threaten that mark again next April.
Needless to say, Alabama will be heavily involved. The Crimson Tide led all teams with four first-rounders this time around, and they have perhaps twice as many at least in the mix to be among the first 32 choices once this season is complete.
Here are 10 players from the league with a very good chance go in Round 1 come 2018, and, according to draft experts, they’re not alone.
Alabama CB Minkah Fitzpatrick
The ultimate 21st century defensive back, Fitzpatrick can do it all. He can play as a traditional corner and cover a team’s primary receiver. He can shift to safety and be employed more as a center fielder. He can slide inside to handle slot responsibilities. That kind of versatility helped make LSU’s Jamal Adams a top prospect.
Additionally, Fitzpatrick has incredible ball skills. Of his 8 career interceptions, four times he’s taken it to the house for six points.
LSU RB Derrius Guice
When was the last time that the SEC’s leading rusher didn’t even start for half of the season? That was the case for Guice in 2016, as he took over as the primary ball carrier in Baton Rouge when soon-to-be No. 4 pick Leonard Fournette wasn’t available due to injury. The Bayou Bengals were every bit as effective on the ground, too.
Fournette is arguably the most talented back to ever wear purple and gold, yet Guice might even be more productive once it’s all said and done.
Florida OT Martez Ivey
While the Gators have been less than impressive along the offensive line since coach Jim McElwain arrived, Ivey has been a standout. He arrived in Gainesville a tackle, but he kicked inside due to the presence of David Sharpe and developed into an All-SEC performer at guard. Now with Sharpe off to the NFL, Ivey gets to return to his natural position.
Sharpe was a massive presence on the blind side, but Ivey is lighter on his feet and should perform better against the conference’s speed rushers.
LSU DE Arden Key
Speaking of speed rushers, Key had more sacks last season (12.0) than eventual first-round picks Jonathan Allen (10.5), Charles Harris (9.0) and Myles Garrett (8.5). Unlike Garrett, who only had 2.0 sacks when facing ranked opponents, Key had 2.0 against Wisconsin, 1.5 against Auburn, 1.0 against Florida and 2.0 against Louisville.
It’s concerning that Key was absent from spring practice for “personal reasons,” but he should be back and better than ever by fall camp.
Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk
His first two years in the SEC, Kirk has been credited with at least 80 receptions. He’s done so with an inconsistent quarterback situation at best in College Station, plus the receiving corps for the Aggies has also boasted the likes of Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones. Of that quartet, Kirk is the only one left for 2017.
In addition to Kirk’s enviable pass-catching skills, he’s also one of the more explosive return men in the country with 5 career special-teams TDs.
Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne
In 2015, the Crimson Tide were led by A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed in the trenches. And then last year, it was Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson. Nevertheless, Payne caught the attention of scouts with his dynamic size-and-speed combination at 6-foot-2 and 319 pounds. This season, he finally has a chance to be the Alpha dog of the D-line.
According to ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic, Payne has a chance to be the best defensive tackle that coach Nick Saban has produced at ‘Bama.
Mississippi State OT Martinas Rankin
Originally a junior-college transfer, Rankin has much more upside than the recently departed Justin Senior, who was just selected in Round 6. Last year, after the Texas A&M game, Rankin was named the SEC’s Offensive Lineman of the Week for his outing. Neither Garrett nor fellow draftee Daeshon Hall recorded a sack or a tackle for loss.
It was Rankin, not Senior, who lined up at the all-important left tackle spot for coach Dan Mullen in 2016. Rankin will be there this season, too.
Alabama WR Calvin Ridley
As a freshman in 2015, Ridley immediately took over for the Tide’s all-time leading receiver, Amari Cooper, as the primary threat in the passing game. His numbers took a dip this past year with Jalen Hurts at the controls, but Ridley is still a big play waiting to happen. He was constantly getting behind cornerbacks in the spring game.
Ridley followed Cooper from the Miami area all the way to Tuscaloosa. He’ll likely follow him to a high pick in the draft, as well.
Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham
Based on what we saw in the draft this year, when three teams traded up to take quarterbacks that had their fair share of naysayers in the scouting community, the NFL is more desperate than ever for quality passers. If the spring game is any indication, the mere presence of Stidham’s right arm has given the Tigers legit vertical capability.
It wouldn’t be unheard of for a JUCO-transfer QB to light it up on The Plains for a lone season and then take the draft by storm (see Newton, Cam).
Georgia DT Trenton Thompson
Like the aforementioned Key, Thompson missed all of spring ball. The Dawgs need him back, though. He’s the straw that stirs the drink for coach Kirby Smart’s defense. Even if he doesn’t play what’s typically considered a glamorous position, Thompson finished third on the club in tackles last season and atop the list in tackles for loss.
Reportedly, Thompson was forced to withdraw from school due to a health issue involving medication. But when healthy, he’s borderline unblockable.
Florida WR Antonio Callaway, Georgia RB Nick Chubb, Missouri DT Marcell Frazier, Alabama LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama DE Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama S Ronnie Harrison, Ole Miss LB Marquis Haynes, LSU DT Christian LaCouture, LSU CB Kevin Toliver II, Texas A&M S Armani Watts