SEC-centric mock NFL draft: Rounds 1-3
The NFL draft begins Thursday in Chicago, as 31 players will hear their names called as first-round picks.
Remember the New England Patriots don’t have a first-rounder as part of their punishment for “Deflategate” — somehow, mercilessly, that story is back in the news — hence 31 selections in Round 1 instead of the traditional 32. Friday is Rounds 2 and 3, with the three-day event finishing up Saturday with Rounds 4-7.
According to CBSSports.com, 31 SEC prospects are graded highly enough to go in the initial three rounds.
Some of them are locks for the first round. Others are battling for that Round 3-4 range. Regardless, when the draft is all said and done, the best conference in America is sure to be represented all weekend long.
Here is Saturday Down South’s mock draft, focusing exclusively on SEC alums and where they could be going.
No. 3: San Diego Chargers
Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil
Arguably the most NFL-ready player available, Tunsil is unquestionably the best offensive lineman in the draft and likely a future Pro Bowler at the next level. Philip Rivers is still a lock for 4,000-plus yards passing at 34 years old, although he is perhaps the most immobile quarterback in the entire league. While King Dunlap is currently projected to be the starter again at left tackle, he’s had an injury-plagued career and isn’t an elite blocker.
No. 13: Miami Dolphins
Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Hargreaves might have lost his battle with Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey as the best defensive back in the draft, but while Ramsey is more of a hybrid defender in the pros, Hargreaves is a pure cover corner. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock believes Hargreaves has the best feet he’s seen at the position in quite some time. Even though the Tampa native may have slipped past his hometown Buccaneers at No. 9, the Dolphins will happily take him as a replacement for the departed Brent Grimes.
No. 15: Tennessee Titans
Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell
Not only did the Titans make out like bandits trading the No. 1 overall selection to the Los Angeles Rams, acquiring a plethora of picks that can help replenish a weak roster, but they still manage to fill arguably their most pressing need. Jameis Winston has his go-to guy in Tampa Bay with Mike Evans, and now Marcus Mariota gets his No. 1 target in Treadwell. Even if his 4.6 speed may scare off some scouts, Treadwell plays faster than the stopwatch suggests and makes all the tough catches.
No. 17: Atlanta Falcons
Alabama LB Reggie Ragland
The Falcons weren’t too bad this past season defending the run, allowing 105 yards per game and an even 4 yards per carry, but they’re about to get a whole lot better with the addition of Ragland. Atlanta currently has Brooks Reed atop the depth chart at middle linebacker, yet he was originally drafted by the Houston Texans in 2011 to be a Clay Matthews-like pass rusher. Ragland is an instinctual defender and probably leads the team in tackles as a rookie.
No. 19: Buffalo Bills
Alabama DT A’Shawn Robinson
A defense-first coach like Buffalo’s Rex Ryan will never say no to another havoc-wreaking contributor up front, and that’s exactly what he gets in Robinson. There are a lot of Crimson Tide defenders with first-round talent in this draft, but he has the most upside in all likelihood. Although the Bills already boast Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams at the defensive tackle position, Robinson can also rush the passer and fill the void left by Mario Williams.
No. 20: New York Jets
Georgia LB Leonard Floyd
Another team that will never shy away from looking at more pass-rushing threats for the front seven, the Jets add Floyd to a defense that presently features Muhammad Wilkerson up front and Sheldon Richardson off the edge. The other outside linebacker slated to start opposite Richardson is Trevor Reilly, who is a former seventh-rounder and only has 1 sack in 29 career games. Floyd is a high-energy playmaker and gives Todd Bowles a lot of options.
No. 21: Washington Redskins
Alabama DT Jarran Reed
The third Alabama defender to be chosen in the last five picks, Reed was one of the more underappreciated members of Nick Saban’s national championship squad. Washington gave up 122.6 yards per game on the ground last season and an unacceptable 4.8 yards per carry, so Reed fills an obvious need for a franchise that doesn’t have difference makers in the trenches. While Chris Baker is a nice player and posted a career-high 6 sacks, he could use a partner in crime.
No. 24: Cincinnati Bengals
Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche
Once considered a lock for the top 10, Nkemdiche falls all the way to the lower part of the first round due to a lack of consistent production on the field and a handful of character concerns off the field. Cincinnati might be the ideal landing spot for him, as Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap combine to form one of the most productive pass-rushing tandems in the league. Nkemdiche would be a luxury choice, plus the Bengals have a history of rolling the dice on potential problem children.
No. 31: Denver Broncos
Alabama C Ryan Kelly
One of the more complete centers to enter the draft in recent memory, Kelly was the focal point of an offensive line that paved the way for Derrick Henry’s record-setting season on the ground. Because Denver is moving on from the Peyton Manning era, solidifying the offensive line for a new quarterback that surely won’t get rid of the football as quickly is a sound plan. Incumbent Matt Paradis is an overachiever who played every snap in 2015, but Kelly is an upgrade.
No. 35: San Diego Chargers
Florida S Keanu Neal
For the first time since 2007, the San Diego secondary won’t have the multi-dimensional ability of Eric Weddle, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens as a free agent. Neal is a hard hitter and a necessary addition to compete with marginal pros Jahleel Addae and Dwight Lowery.
No. 42: Miami Dolphins
Alabama RB Derrick Henry
Miami certainly isn’t going to have Jay Ajayi as its featured back after losing Lamar Miller as a free agent, so Henry brings some much-needed muscle to what has been a soft offense. He’ll be in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year if he gets the carries.
No. 46: Detriot Lions
Florida DT Jonathan Bullard
The Lions still have Haloti Ngata after saying goodbye to Ndamukong Suh in free agency two offseasons ago, but Bullard has enough flexibility to make plays just about anywhere up front. Look for him to line up outside on running downs and inside on passing downs.
No. 48: Indianapolis Colts
Texas A&M OT Germain Ifedi
A high-upside selection that still needs a lot of work at the game’s highest level, if Ifedi develops into a quality pass protector, suddenly Andrew Luck isn’t getting hit quite so often. And if Luck is healthy again, the Colts are back to being serious contenders in the AFC.
No. 52: Houston Texans
Arkansas TE Hunter Henry
The best tight end in the draft, Henry would catch a lot of passes over the middle as a rookie in Houston with DeAndre Hopkins commanding so much attention out wide. He and Brock Osweiler could be the new Matt Schaub and Owen Daniels, which was an underrated combo.
No. 56: Seattle Seahawks
Mississippi State DT Chris Jones
A five-star recruit coming out of high school that never quite lived up to his billing in Starkville, there are many that think Jones will finally break out of his shell in the pros. Since his effort has been questioned, making him part of a deep rotation might be the way to get the most out of him.
No. 57: Green Bay Packers
LSU LB Deion Jones
Jones is undersized and only has one year of starting experience, but he led the Tigers in tackles and really got the NFL’s attention as a senior. His versatility will be coveted by a creative defensive coordinator like Dom Capers, as Jones can tackle in the box and cover out in space.
No. 68: San Francisco 49ers
Missouri LB Kentrell Brothers
A tackling machine, Brothers can strengthen a San Francisco linebacking corps that dealt with the early retirements of both Patrick Willis and Chris Borland following the 2014 campaign.
No. 69: Jacksonville Jaguars
Auburn OT Shon Coleman
While the Jaguars have an enviable array of skill-position talent, Blake Bortles was sacked a league-high 51 times in 2015 and requires better protection.
No. 77: Cleveland Browns
South Carolina WR Pharoh Cooper
Cleveland needs as much help as any team in the league, including at wide receiver, as Travis Benjamin left via free agency and Josh Gordon unable to pass a drug test to get reinstated.
No. 79: Philadelphia Eagles
LSU OT Jerald Hawkins
Jason Peters is 34 years old and dealt with a back injury all last year, so Hawkins could be a bookend of the future to pair with 2013 first-rounder Lane Johnson.
No. 80: Buffalo Bills
Georgia LB Jordan Jenkins
The Bulldogs play a base 3-4 scheme, which is unusual at the collegiate level, but it gives players like Jenkins experience rushing the passer out of both a two- and three-point stance.
No. 89: Pittsburgh Steelers
LSU CB Jalen Mills
Because the Steelers are looking for help at both the corner and safety spots, Mills makes a lot of sense for them coming from a school that produces NFL defensive backs.
No. 90: Seattle Seahawks
Missouri G Connor McGovern
The Seahawks are an organization that like to error on the side of athleticism, and McGovern is a country-strong blocker who can start quickly at either guard position.
No. 91: New England Patriots
Mississippi State CB Will Redmond
As often as the Patriots play with a lead in the second half, they need as many defensive backs as they can get their hands on with the opponent forced to throw the ball liberally.
No. 93: Carolina Panthers
Alabama CB Cyrus Jones
Not only do the Panthers have to address the cornerback position after unexpectedly taking the franchise tag off the too-expensive Josh Norman, but Jones is also an electrifying return man.
No. 96: New England Patriots
Arkansas RB Jonathan Williams
Tom Brady has had tons of success handing off to no matter who is in the backfield, plus there are several scouts that like Williams ahead of Alex Collins despite a foot injury forcing him to sit out 2015.
Missing the cut
LSU G Vadal Alexander: Played guard and tackle but never dominated at either.
South Carolina TE Jerell Adams: Too inconsistent as a pass-catching weapon.
Alabama RB Kenyan Drake: Never had a chance to be the primary ball carrier.
Georgia WR Malcolm Mitchell: Plagued by mediocre quarterback play in Athens.
Arkansas RB Alex Collins: Fumbling issues tend to overshadow running ability.