Ultimate SEC Mock Draft: Where all-time greats would go in 2017 NFL Draft
With a respectful nod to the SEC’s past, a hearty grasp of the NFL’s present and a thoughtful glimpse of what that make-believe mix would look like in the future, we give you the Ultimate Mock Draft that Mel Kiper or any other draftnik couldn’t dream up.
Let’s make pretend that we had a time machine — and who wouldn’t want their own time machine? — and could zoom back to any SEC draft class we wanted and insert that would-be NFL star onto a current pro team that just happens to have a need at that position.
Old SEC standouts joining current NFL teams for a brighter, winning future. That’s the fictional recipe we’re going to delve into for a mock draft that defies the hands of time and would make Marty McFly and Doc Brown smile.
So almost anything goes with our first-round draft countdown. From the top pick to No. 32, our biggest rule is that draft picks actually played in the SEC, so the Von Millers of the world don’t qualify since he starred at Texas A&M just before the Aggies left the Big 12. Same goes for pre-SEC gems at later conference arrivals like Arkansas and Missouri.
Another clause is that the picks are based on their entire football careers, at whatever SEC school they wracked up gaudy numbers combined with the NFL teams they became Pro Bowlers with, so that means someone who became a legend on both levels would be picked higher than someone who only had a great SEC career. Also, we can dream a little and project a high-flying rookie or young pro from the SEC who we think will set the NFL on fire for the next decade and become Hall of Fame worthy, and therefore be drafted in our first round.
With that, we give you this timeless first round with the rich, Southeastern Conference slant:
1) Cleveland Browns — Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee
The Browns have been looking for a quarterback since Bernie Kosar left the scene a quarter-century ago and at last their prayers are answered with the surgical right arm of Manning, who never beat Florida while at Tennessee but did just about everything else in a masterful college career. Cleveland, after a million misses, including Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, you finally have your quarterback for the next 15 years.
2) San Francisco 49ers — Emmitt Smith, RB, Florida
Possible future Hall of Famer Frank Gore gave the 49ers everything he had, but he’s gone, and Carlos Hyde has star potential but has been injury-prone the past few years. The 49ers need a rock in the backfield, someone both dynamic and dependable, and Smith will surely be that. After a legendary run in Gainesville, he’s the perfect guy to grab and build around in the backfield with San Francisco’s quarterback situation being so shaky.
3) Chicago Bears — Derrick Thomas, LB, Alabama
Thomas won the Butkus Award in 1988 with an NCAA-record 27 sacks, and who better than the unanimous All-American to go to Chicago and continue the Bears’ supreme linebacker tradition that Dick Butkus, the man the award was named after, helped start. Butkus gave way to Mike Singletary (and Otis Wilson and Wilber Marshall), who gave way to Brian Urlacher, and now Urlacher will finally have his star linebacker successor in the mold of the Monsters of the Midway.
4) Jacksonville Jaguars — Hines Ward, WR, Georgia
The Jaguars have seemed like they’ve been young forever, with mostly unrealized potential. So taking Ward, an all-around gem who can block as well as he can catch and who plays the game far beyond his years, seems like a natural and perfect fit for the Jags. His smile is infectious and his work ethic is contagious, and he’ll instantly be a team leader as Jacksonville tries to be relevant for the first time in a decade.
5) Tennessee Titans — Ozzie Newsome, TE, Alabama
Yes, the Titans have Delanie Walker, who has made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons. But Walker is also 32, and it’s time Tennessee drafted the guy to succeed him. That should be Newsome, an All-American who had over 2,000 yards receiving during his stellar Crimson Tide career and one of the few who’s a member of both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame. Marcus Mariota, here is your security blanket for the next decade.
6) New York Jets — Eli Manning, QB, Ole Miss
Peyton’s brother and Archie’s son is the answer to the Jets’ decades-long search to find the next Joe Namath, or even the next Ken O’Brien. In Eli the Jets get a humble, workmanlike signal caller who wasn’t afraid of his father’s shadow during an All-SEC career in Oxford. And something tells us he won’t be afraid of the glare of playing in New York.
7) Los Angeles Chargers — Joe Namath, QB, Alabama
Speaking of the charismatic Namath, who better than Broadway Joe, with that big-market smile and confidence bordering on cockiness, to be the Chargers’ quarterback of the future as Philip Rivers turns 36 in December and the franchise transitions from San Diego to the bright lights of Los Angeles? Namath led the Crimson Tide to the national title in 1964, and he’ll provide wins with a Hollywood-type flair for Los Angeles’ newest team. A perfect marriage.
8) Carolina Panthers — Champ Bailey, CB, Georgia
The Panthers, still chasing that elusive Super Bowl in the Cam Newton Era, lost elite cornerback Josh Norman to Washington. Bailey can be the next Norman and then some. The All-American in Athens will outlast Newton in Charlotte and be Carolina’s next defensive anchor.
9) Cincinnati Bengals — Reggie White, DE, Tennessee
The Bengals have been a playoff team during the Andy Dalton Era that gets there, then folds under the weight of expectations. Drafting the Minister of Defense would change that. He was the 1983 SEC Player of the Year in Knoxville and a 13-time Pro Bowler and he won that elusive Super Bowl ring with the Packers. His sturdy, winning mentality is exactly what the Bengals need.
10) Buffalo Bills — Fran Tarkenton, QB, Georgia
The Mad Scrambler who starred in Athens in college and high school is the answer to yet another franchise’s endless quest to find its next “it” quarterback. Jim Kelly retired a very long time ago, and Tyrod Taylor is OK but he’s not what Tarkenton could be. We also know the College Football Hall of Famer can thrive in cold weather, performing his wizardry outdoors all those years in frozen Minneapolis.
11) New Orleans Saints — Y.A. Tittle, QB, LSU
Another match made in heaven: Tittle, the two-time All-SEC quarterback at LSU, heading up the road from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to be the Saints’ next great quarterback as Drew Brees starts to wind it down at age 38. Tittle can be a legend in two Louisiana cities now.
12) Cleveland Browns — John Hannah, OG, Alabama
The guy nicknamed “Hog” is the Browns’ perfect complement to taking Manning No. 1. Imagine the two-time All-American at Alabama blocking for Manning for the next 15 years as they bring the Browns back to the elite status they held decades ago.
13) Arizona Cardinals — Archie Manning, QB, Ole Miss
This makes it three Mannings in our top 13. Carson Palmer is 37 and it feels like he’s 47 with all the injuries he’s had. Manning was an Ole Miss legend and has the moxie to take over whenever Palmer is done, which could be one injury away.
14) Philadelphia Eagles — Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
The 2017 draft is in Philadelphia, and the hometown team will grab the backfield talent who’ll be Carson Wentz’s wingman for the next decade. The Eagles have a need at running back, and Fournette has All-Pro and Hall of Fame potential after dominating in Baton Rouge when he was healthy.
15) Indianapolis Colts — Jason Witten, TE, Tennessee
Yes, the Colts have Jack Doyle, and he’s OK, but Andrew Luck needs a bona fide star tight end to throw to for years to come. Witten, the former All-SEC selection at Tennessee, can be that rock-solid guy Luck has needed for a while now (just ask Tony Romo).
16) Baltimore Ravens — Cornelius Bennett, LB, Alabama
Ray Lewis is long retired, and Terrell Suggs is 34 and nearing the end. The Ravens need their “next one” at linebacker, and the former Crimson Tide All-American is brash and loud and talented just like Lewis and Suggs. It’s a natural fit.
17) Washington Redskins — Jamal Lewis, RB, Tennessee
Kirk Cousins is pretty established now, and Lewis can be his Washington running mate for years to come. Redskins fans who fell in love with the bruising John Riggins will appreciate the equally hard-nosed Lewis, who ran for 2,677 yards at Tennessee.
18) Tennessee Titans — Wilber Marshall, LB, Florida
With Mariota and Newsome on offense, the Titans need an anchor on defense, and the high-flying playmaker Marshall was that at Florida before starring on the Bears’ famous defenses of the 1980s.
19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Dwight Stephenson, C, Alabama
Stephenson was an All-American and national champion at Alabama, and he can anchor Tampa Bay’s offensive line for years to come with Jameis Winston at the helm. Stephenson did pretty well blocking for Dan Marino in South Florida.
20) Denver Broncos — Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney was vicious at South Carolina, including his famous hit in the Outback Bowl, and he can be the perfect complement to linebacker Von Miller as John Elway looks to keep his defense elite.
21) Detroit Lions — Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Cooper was all-world winner at Alabama, capturing SEC titles and a national title, and he’s already been to Pro Bowls. It’s very simple: Calvin Johnson retired, so here comes Cooper, making former Georgia star Matthew Stafford happy for once to see an Alabama guy.
22) Miami Dolphins — Joe Haden, CB, Florida
Miami is finally on its way to building something special again, but it needs help at corner, and the former Gator All-American Haden can stay in the Sunshine State and become the leader of the Dolphins’ secondary.
23) New York Giants — Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn
Bo was everything at Auburn, he was big-time in the NFL before his career was cut short by injuries, and he can handle the bright lights of New York. The Giants have the outside weapons, led by former LSU star Odell Beckham Jr. But there’s a huge hole at running back. Bo fills it and then some.
24) Oakland Raiders — Wes Chandler, WR, Florida
This is one pick that’s not based on need, as the Raiders already have Cooper and Michael Crabtree, but they take Chandler, the former All-American at Florida, anyway because he’s all-world and available to give Derek Carr another target and an embarrassment of riches.
25) Houston Texans — Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Similar to Calvin Johnson in Detroit, Andre Johnson has retired, so it’s time for the next great receiver in Houston, and that can be Jones, who won a national title at Alabama, nearly won a Super Bowl and is on pace to be a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
26) Seattle Seahawks — Fred Taylor, RB, Florida
Beast Mode Marshawn Lynch has left the building and we don’t know quite yet if Thomas Rawls is the real deal, so the Seahawks grab Taylor, the former Gator great who quietly had a pretty great NFL career in Jacksonville.
27) Kansas City Chiefs — Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
The two-time SEC Offensive Player of the Year is the logical pick with Jamaal Charles gone from K.C. The Chiefs take McFadden, the former Hog superstar, because they think he can put them over the top in the AFC.
28) Dallas Cowboys — Patrick Willis, LB, Ole Miss
Quarterback Dak Prescott won’t mind a bit if the Cowboys draft a guy from his rival school, since Willis is the ultimate professional type who can lift Dallas’ defense to a level where the offense already is.
29) Green Bay Packers — Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia
Walker’s pro career was a bit of a letdown after his legendary college career in Athens, but he still made two Pro Bowls and ran for more than 8,000 yards. The Packers will happily take that, with former Alabama star Eddie Lacy having departed.
30) Pittsburgh Steelers — Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia
Ben Roethlisberger can’t play forever, especially with the injuries continuing to pile up and being “an old 35,” so the former Georgia rifleman Stafford can be groomed to take over. Stafford has more than 30,000 NFL passing yards to prove he can get it done.
31) Atlanta Falcons — Jack Youngblood, DE, Florida
The Falcons, specifically their defense, ran out of gas in a stunning Super Bowl loss, and a consistent workaholic like Youngblood can be the lifeblood that puts Atlanta over the top. The former Gator standout won’t fade in the fourth quarter like the Falcons did on the big stage.
32) New Orleans Saints — Tyrann Mathieu, S, LSU
The Saints look for their next anchor in a beleaguered secondary and find it in a New Orleans native who starred down the road at LSU. The 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year is the perfect answer in every way to the Saints’ issues at safety.