The 2015 NFL draft is now only hours away, and as many as 10 SEC prospects may come off the board during tonight’s first round. By the end of the three-day extravaganza, there might be upwards of 40 former SEC stars beginning NFL careers, but which of those players will make the most immediate impact at the professional level?

We asked our SDS staff members that very question. Take a look at who they’re high on as the draft approaches.


Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS): Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

In the right system, Amari Cooper will flourish at the next level and perhaps become the No. 1 option on his respective team by season’s end. He’s not a field-stretcher like former LSU wideout Odell Beckham, but Cooper’s expertise in the short game will translate well to the NFL where putting the ball in the hands of playmakers quickly is paramount to offensive success. For Cooper’s sake, I hope he can avoid Oakland at all costs.

Ethan Levine (@ELevineSDS): Dante Fowler Jr., DE/LB, Florida

A player’s fit on a given team has major bearing on that player’s success, especially as a rookie, as does the coaching staff that selects the player in question. However, going in blind, I’ll say Dante Fowler will be the SEC’s best Rookie of the Year candidate this fall. There’s a good chance he stays in the Sunshine State as the Jaguars’ pick at No. 3, and if Jacksonville chooses USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams instead, Fowler will likely only fall to the Redskins at No. 5. Both teams are in desperate need of an athletic pass rusher off the edge, and either would likely allow Fowler to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback in all obvious passing situations. Regardless of his sack total, if he can warrant attention from opposing players in protection, lining up with his hand in the ground or as an outside linebacker, he’ll receive the credit he deserves at season’s end.

Brett Weisband (@WeisbandSDS): Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Considering that four of the last seven offensive ROYs and two of the last four defensive ROYs have come from SEC schools, the odds are actually pretty good that an SEC alum will take home one of the awards this year. Todd Gurley seems like the best bet to win it after the way he’s risen up projections in the final couple of weeks leading up to the draft. While offensive ROY has recently been a QB-dominated award, both of the stars in this draft will have their work cut out for them wherever they land (Jameis in Tampa Bay, Marcus Mariota who knows where). Gurley’s projections have him landing in some favorable spots, and if he can stay healthy (granted, a big if) he’s destined to put up big numbers. He has the skills to be an every-down back, which is becoming more of a rarity in today’s NFL. For a team to draft Gurley, they’ll be looking to give him the ball plenty, giving him all the opportunity he needs to become the SEC’s third straight alumni to win the award.

Jon Cooper (@JonSDS): Bud Dupree, DE/LB, Kentucky

Bud Dupree is one of the hottest prospects entering the NFL draft, but I’m one who believes Dupree will fall a little further than some think on draft night to somewhere around No. 15. If my theory is correct, that totally works to Dupree’s advantage. I think he lands on a good team where he can play and excel right away. Though Dupree isn’t a can’t-miss edge rusher, the fact that he should land on a good team (and knowing his elite athletic ability) makes him an attractive option for this debate. Mark it down: Bud Dupree will be the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Christopher Smith (@csmithSDS): Someone outside the SEC

Dante Fowler Jr. and Bud Dupree are the players most likely to wrack up sacks. Todd Gurley, if healthy, could have a very good rookie season. La’el Collins may be the surest impact player as a rookie. Amari Cooper, as a plug-and-play receiver, has an opportunity. If we’re talking overall rookie of the year, rather than offensive and defensive as awarded by the Associated Press, which is what I gather from the question, quarterbacks, running backs and receivers are most likely to win, and in that order. I’d give the combined pool of Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Kevin White, Melvin Gordon and Nelson Agholor slightly better odds than that group of SEC players, though Gurley and Cooper stand a chance.