There aren’t many guarantees in college football.

You can count on everyone being mad about targeting, and you can count on Brian Ferentz having a job as Iowa’s offensive coordinator because of nepotism and not performance.

Usually, you can count on anywhere from about 10-15 SEC prospects showing up in the first round of mock drafts in any given time of year. You can call that “SEC bias” or you can say the strongest conference in college football that had the most picks in each of the past 17 NFL Drafts gets the benefit of the doubt when it comes to projecting.

But if you pull up some of the way-too-early mocks for 2024, you’ll notice something. One of our few guarantees in college football is nowhere to be found.

Here’s the breakdown of total SEC prospects in the first round of these 2024 mocks:

  • PFF: 5
  • ESPN: 6
  • USA Today: 7
  • The Athletic: 7
  • Sporting News: 7
  • FOX Sports: 8
  • CBS Sports: 9

That’s an average of 7 SEC prospects per way-too-early mock draft. Just for a little perspective, the last time the SEC only had 7 first-round picks was 2015 and the only other instance in which the SEC didn’t have at least 7 players selected in Round 1 was 2008, when a 12-team SEC had 6 first-rounders.

That’s why we’re talking about this. To be clear, way-too-early mocks are just that — way too early. Having just 7 players projected as first-round picks roughly 360 days before the next NFL Draft is hardly a sign that the conference is falling off. For all I know, the SEC will break its record of 15 first-round picks, which was set in 2020.

But there still are some potential takeaways from seeing some of those way-too-early mocks.

Let’s start with the fact that the SEC just had 5 quarterbacks drafted in the first 4 rounds. At one point, it seemed possible that the SEC would shatter the record for first-round quarterbacks by having Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson, Will Levis and Anthony Richardson all picked in Round 1. That didn’t happen.

There is, however, a changing of the guard at the game’s most important position. You won’t find an SEC quarterback in any of those way-too-early mocks. Well, we’re talking current SEC. That excludes someone like Quinn Ewers from SEC-bound Texas.

The SEC has plenty of draft-eligible quarterbacks like KJ Jefferson, Jayden Daniels and Will Rogers. But the league also has 10 new offensive coordinators. LSU, Vanderbilt and potentially Ole Miss (if Jaxson Dart is the starter) are the only SEC teams that return their starting quarterback and primary offensive play-caller.

There’s another reason that could explain the SEC’s relatively quiet presence in the way-too-early mocks — 2 of the conference’s top 3 players aren’t even draft-eligible. Harold Perkins and Quinshon Judkins would probably be all over the mocks if they were eligible, but that’s not the case. That’s relatively unique for the conference. Sure, that’s only 2 guys, but that’s 2 guys who would be locks, much like we’re seeing with roughly half of Ohio State’s roster.

(Kidding, but man, are the Buckeyes loaded.)

Also a contributing factor? Percentage of returning production. Alabama is dead last in the SEC and No. 125 in FBS in that stat. The SEC’s biggest annual contributor in NFL Draft talent has questions galore. Will Alabama answer those questions? History says that’s a resounding “yes,” but the lack of established returning stars outside of Kool-Aid McKinstry, JC Latham and Dallas Turner could be a factor in that.

Also a factor? Georgia. The Dawgs have had a ridiculous 25 players come off the board in the past 2 NFL Drafts. Ohio State, meanwhile, had just 12. Yes, UGA is still loaded with talent. But there’s a reason Brock Bowers — the other non-Perkins/Judkins top-3 player in the SEC — is the only UGA player showing up consistently in the first round of the early mocks.

Kirby Smart truly prides himself on having a team without stars. Defensive linemen rotate so there aren’t crazy sack numbers. Quarterbacks distribute the ball all over the place so it isn’t just a 1-receiver show (UGA has only had 1 1,000-yard receiver ever). Running backs share the work. That means sometimes, you’ll have a year like this one where there aren’t necessarily a bunch of preseason household names … yet.

Alabama, Georgia and LSU are the SEC’s top 3 NFL Draft producers. All of them had at least 1 draft in the past 2 years wherein they had 10 players selected. Hence, why these numbers are where they are:

What should you make of that? The 3 programs that did some serious heavy lifting the past 2 years (and more) has more talent to replace than anyone.

The early mock drafts are often for returning household names. Maybe those are lacking in the SEC a bit entering 2023. Perhaps we’ll look up next April and see an SEC quarterback like Devin Leary emerge as a better prospect than Drake Maye. Maybe DL Maason Smith will have the bounce-back year LSU fans are hoping for and he’ll be even more coveted than Caleb Williams.

It’s darn near impossible to predict how much our opinions will change by this time next year, though this most recent group was actually pretty solid with Bryce Young, CJ Stroud and Will Anderson living up to their way-too-early mock projections.

Make of these what you will. If you’re saying the SEC talent well is drying up, I’d offer some alternative advice.

Go be mad about targeting.