Revisiting the SEC's early draft entries
In January, I ranked all 11 SEC teams that lost players with college eligibility to the NFL draft based on the impact of the losses.
Today we’ll take a look at how each of the SEC’s 21 early entries fared in this year’s NFL draft, using the framework of the January rankings.
As an aside, 60 of the 84 early entries got drafted. That leaves 28.6 percent of underclassmen scrambling for undrafted free agent contracts despite retaining college eligibility. The NFL tweaked its advisory committee feedback this year after a record 98 underclassmen entered the ’14 draft, 36.7 percent of which weren’t selected.
Of the SEC’s 21 early entries in ’15, just 19 percent went undrafted. (For a full list of every SEC early entry since 2010, as well as where each player got drafted, go here.)
So there’s some improvement there, but also plenty of justifications to point to for those who get a “return to school” grade, but insist on entering the draft — for example, Florida’s D.J. Humphries, who defied the advice and became a first-round pick.
1. ALABAMA (3)
- T.J. Yeldon, RB: Second round (No. 36 overall)
- Amari Cooper, WR: First round (No. 4 overall)
- Landon Collins, S: Second round (No. 33 overall)
All three of these players made the right decision even with Collins slipping into the second round. Cooper isn’t getting drafted higher than No. 4 based on returning to Tuscaloosa in 2015, running backs taken in the first three rounds of the draft are prolonging an already-short NFL life expectancy and Collins’ limitations in coverage weren’t enough to keep him from getting picked very high.
2. FLORIDA (4)
- Tyler Moore, G: Undrafted
- Matt Jones, RB: Third round (No. 95 overall)
- D.J. Humphries, OT: First round (No. 24 overall)
- Dante Fowler Jr., DE: First round (No. 3 overall)
What a draft for three of the team’s four early entries. It’s hard to beat “first defensive player selected in the entire draft,” which Fowler Jr. achieved. Humphries defied the advice of the draft advisory committee and got guaranteed first-round money as a reward. Even Jones went higher than many expected in a deep pool of running backs, getting called before the end of the second day.
Gators fans really, really wish Moore had returned to Gainesville, especially with the current state of the offensive line. The decision stings even
Moore more, pardon the pun, considering that as of early Sunday afternoon, it didn’t look like he’d even signed a contract as an undrafted free agent.
3. MISSISSIPPI STATE (2)
- Josh Robinson, RB: Sixth round (No. 205 overall)
- Benardrick McKinney, LB: Second round (No. 43 overall)
The Bulldogs return the fewest number of starters in the SEC (and nearly the country). McKinney, an early-round NFL pick, went even higher than expected given his limitations outside of being a run-stopping thumper. He can’t be blamed for turning pro, but it would’ve been nice to have him as a sort of transition piece for the new defense. It was nice to see Robinson get drafted, but he’s replaceable within Mississippi State’s system.
4. LSU (3)
- Danielle Hunter, DE: Third round (No. 88 overall)
- Jalen Collins, CB: Second round (No. 42 overall)
- Kwon Alexander, LB: Fourth round (No. 124 overall)
The Hunter loss still hurts. Media accounts portrayed him as swing decision, torn between staying or leaving. He didn’t reach his potential at LSU, but with one more season, he could’ve been an All-SEC type player. Getting picked in the third round is OK, but it’s easy to go from “development project” to “out of the NFL,” so he better develop quickly.
The early second-round pick justified Collins’ decision, but Alexander is another player LSU would’ve loved to get back for one more season. Neither Hunter or Alexander made an egregious decision, but probably could’ve benefitted from one more college year.
5. MISSOURI (2)
- Shane Ray, DE: First round (No. 23 overall)
- Dorial Green-Beckham, WR: Second round (No. 40 overall)
Ray remained in the first round even with a citation for marijuana the week of the draft and a lingering foot issue. He didn’t have much to gain by returning to Columbia, Mo., as such a strong first-round candidate. DGB hasn’t been part of the Mizzou football program for a year, more or less, and returning to Oklahoma never was a real option for him after ’15.
6. ARKANSAS (1)
- Darius Philon, DT: Sixth round (No. 192 overall)
Out of all the drafted early entries, Philon is the one player who stood to gain the most from a return to the Razorbacks in ’15. He’s got upside as an interior pass rusher in a 4-3 front, but could’ve returned to Arkansas, added some bulk and strength, matured as a person and become a second-day selection next year, if not higher.
7. AUBURN (2)
- Patrick Miller, OL: Undrafted
- Sammie Coats, WR: Third round (No. 87 overall)
Teams seemed to want to give the speedy, athletic Coates a higher grade, but eventually had to acknowledge his hands are suspect and he has work to do as a route-runner.
Miller signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. Normally undrafted free agents with college eligibility are easy to stack in the “mistake” pile, but due to injury and a suspension, Miller was in and out of Auburn’s starting lineup the last two seasons anyway. Returning to the Tigers wouldn’t necessarily have turned him into a draft choice.
8. SOUTH CAROLINA (1)
- Mike Davis, RB: Fourth round (No. 125 overall)
Most everyone expected Davis to enter the draft this year before the ’14 season-opener. If only he’d been better prepared physically for the rigors of the SEC schedule. It took him a while to round into shape, and he dealt with some minor bumps and bruises early.
Still, he’ll get an opportunity to earn a legitimate role in the 49ers backfield, and could turn into a three-down player someday. It’s hard to fault him for leaving Columbia, S.C., but with his talent and the willingness of NFL teams to spend premium picks on running backs, it’s a shame he didn’t position himself as a second or third-round pick.
9. GEORGIA (1)
- Todd Gurley, RB: First round (No. 10 overall)
Gurley essentially played half of a season in ’14. Granted, an ACL injury is no joke. But, assuming his rehab goes well, his body doesn’t have as much mileage on it as a typical star SEC or Big Ten running back.
He is a rare talent that should’ve entered the NFL draft at the first opportunity, which he did, as his talent made him a sure first-rounder despite health concerns.
10. TEXAS A&M (1)
- Trey Williams, RB: Undrafted
Williams’ decision to leave for the NFL was a surprise to many outside of College Station. I’m not in favor of players leaving behind college eligibility if they aren’t going to get drafted, but who’s to say another year at A&M would’ve changed anything?
His future in the NFL, if he has one at all, is on special teams. (Williams signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent.) But he was little more than a bit player for the Aggies’ offense, although an efficient one. Texas A&M will miss him as a returner, but Speedy Noil seems primed to be one of the SEC’s best in that regard.
11. KENTUCKY (1)
- Braylon Heard, RB: Undrafted
Pick your favorite “p” word to describe your reaction to Heard’s decision to enter the draft: puzzling, perplexing, perturbing. But to those inside the UK football inner circle, it wasn’t all that shocking. The Wildcats return three other leading rushers, and seem more determined to feature talented sophomore Stanley “Boom” Williams.