Which SEC stars should leave early for NFL Draft ... and who should return?
It might be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many top football prospects, it’s a challenging time. They find themselves pondering that age old question—should I stay (another year in college) or should I go (into the NFL Draft). We’re taking a look around the SEC and singling out a player from each team who should stay and one who should go.
Go: Who couldn’t go pro from the Tide? Tackle Cam Robinson is one guy who definitely should be on his way to the next level. Robinson could end up as one of the highest picks in the draft, should he show well at the combine.
Stay: One Tide star who should probably return is receiver ArDarius Stewart, who became the Tide’s big play receiver this year. Another season opposite Calvin Ridley shouldn’t hurt his chances of NFL stardom.
Go: Center Frank Ragnow isn’t a household name, but the people who know football are impressed. Ragnow was chosen all-American by Pro Football Focus, and is weighing over his NFL options. Ragnow is a player who might as well head on to greener pastures.
Stay: One who shouldn’t is QB Austin Allen, who was a pleasant surprise as one of the better passers in the SEC. He finished second with 3,152 yards and tied for second with 23 touchdown passes. That said, Allen hadn’t played meaningful snaps before 2016 and needs another big season before he even thinks about the NFL.
Go: Since Carl Lawson has already announced that he’s going, we’ll give you the “he won’t go, but he could go” pick: Kicker Daniel Carlson, whose leg strength and accuracy will keep him employed on Sundays.
Stay: Kamryn Pettway is coming back, but another player whose decision wasn’t watched as closely, but who should return is LB Tre’ Williams, who has steadily improved each year for Auburn.
Go: If RB Leonard Fournette didn’t enter the NFL Draft, they might as well just not have a draft. Another Tiger who is still undecided, but has so much NFL potential that he should hit the road is safety Jamal Adams.
Stay: One Tiger who would benefit by another year around Baton Rouge could be defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. Listed at 6-4, 299 pounds, Godchaux could impact an NFL team right away. He had 7.5 tackles for a loss this season but could develop into a first-round pick with another season at LSU.
Go: Giant JUCO tackle Martinas Rankin is one guy who could impress at the Combine, and might be a guy to watch for the NFL jump.
Stay: Most of the Bulldogs aren’t going anywhere, including wide receiver Donald Gray, who could be an NFL prospect if he can pick up the slack from the loss of Fred Ross. But at 5-9, Gray isn’t going anywhere except another year of college.
Go: Damore’ea Stringfellow bolted to the NFL Draft, and defensive end Marquis Haynes surprised many by announcing last week that he was returning for his senior season. DeMarquis Gates, who has led the team in tackles for each of the past two seasons, is a candidate to go early.
Stay: A guy who should be back is CB Kendarius Webster, who has NFL potential, but basically missed this season due to injury.
Go: Pass-rushing star Myles Garrett is a no-brainer NFL prospect and possible No. 1 overall pick.
Stay: A guy who might end up starring but could use a final year is WR Ricky Seals-Jones. He would be a redshirt senior, but had a disappointing 2016 campaign. Still, you can’t teach size and ball skills like Seals-Jones has.
Go: Cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are both ready to step in and play on NFL teams in 2017. Neither should feel bad about going pro early.
Stay: One Gator who should stick around is talented offensive tackle David Sharpe, who projects better in the NFL level as a slimmer right tackle. Obviously, given the way the Florida line played as a unit, Sharpe could make some improvement.
Go: After the mass announcement of returning Bulldogs, it looks like nobody is going. One guy who still could go is WR Isaiah McKenzie. He’s still a work in progress, but was the Dogs’ top receiver and a standout on special teams.
Stay: Well, half of the team have already announced that they’re staying. But another guy to keep an eye out for is CB Dominick Sanders, whose heads-up work in the secondary makes him just as important as guys like Chubb, Michel, Bellamy, and Carter.
Go: Stanley “Boom” Williams has averaged almost 7.0 rushing yards per carry in his three years at Kentucky. As a 5-9 speed merchant, Boom might as well go ahead and earn his money at the next level.
Stay: On the other hand, safety Mike Edwards, who is gaining some accolades for his play (he ended up tied for fourth in the SEC in tackles) would be well advised to stick around Lexington for at least one more year and refine his technique.
Go: It’s not so much a matter of NFL potential, but RB Ish Witter has next-level skills and will probably spend the rest of his Mizzou career buried behind Damarea Crockett. Sometimes, the slow path to the NFL is a better bet than sitting the bench in college.
Stay: A Tiger who should stick around was SEC leading receiver J’Mon Moore, who topped 1,000 yards on the season but struggled with drops and consistency issues.
Go: LB Skai Moore elected to return for his senior season and then promptly suffered a neck injury and missed the year. Accordingly, while Moore could redshirt and take another year, given the memories of Marcus Lattimore that we all have, he might as well head for the NFL.
Stay: Talented tight end Hayden Hurst is 23 but still learning the intricacies of playing tight end. He was great in 2016, but another season will help him climb the mock draft rankings.
Go: Derek Barnett is looking for a sack in the Music City Bowl to set UT’s all-time career sack record. He’ll probably get it, but either way, guy looks like an early first-round pick, and accordingly, should put his name into the NFL Draft.
Stay: One guy who could come back is WR Josh Malone, a junior whose 852 yards and 10 scores show his ability. Malone has tons of potential but could use another season to work on consistency.
Go: Linebacker Zach Cunningham might have been the single best player in the SEC, and looks like a future star at the next level. The getting is good now for Cunningham.
Stay: One player who might want to return is running back Ralph Webb, who is one of the best in the conference, but at 5-10, 200 pounds, lacks the size or single dimension that would blow away NFL scouts.