SEC Draft Prospects Ready to Make a Splash in the NFL
If you’ve followed any of my work for The Football Girl, you’ve probably noticed a tinge of SEC bias. As an SEC product, I am especially focused on the top SEC players in this upcoming draft.
Even though the SEC has produced the most players drafted of any conference for eleven years running, the hype rarely matches the clear volume. One reason is that the SEC rarely produces stellar quarterbacks, which is rightfully the most discussed position leading up to the draft. However, when it does produce QBs, though, they’re iconic (re: the Mannings).
But SEC football typically prefers to let the workhorses do the talking which is why it always produces solid RBs (e.g. Todd Gurley, Bo Jackson, Derrick Henry), offensive linemen (Ole Miss bias alert – e.g. Michael Oher and Laremy Tunsil) and defensive linemen (there’s a reason Alabama keeps winning; Nick Saban is his own football defensive god). This year will be no exception.
I could talk about the beauty of SEC football all day, so I digress. In no particular order, here are 8 SEC players ready to make an impact in the NFL
Kerryon Johnson – Auburn – RB
I’ll admit, part of my love for Johnson comes from his having the perfect name for a running back, a name he more than lives up to. Despite only starting in less than half of the games he played while at Auburn (19 of 32), Johnson still managed to produce 11 career 100-yard games. As coach Gus Malzahn trusted him more, he only put up bigger numbers, increasing exponentially in each of his three seasons at Auburn. Johnson finished his last year at Auburn with more rushing yards (1391) than projected top five pick Saquon Barkley (1271) in a better football conference (my opinion). He was also the 2017 SEC Player of the Year.
Johnson isn’t getting near the same hype as Barkley. Overall, Barkley had better numbers and his team won their last bowl game before declaring for the draft. But Johnson was at Auburn with Kamryn Pettway, another monster NFL Draft prospect, so sharing time was a must. Choosing between the two for Malzahn was a great problem to have but it hurts both their numbers entering the draft.
Best Fit: Carolina Panthers. For more than just the fun of seeing another major Auburn product on the field. Johnson would add depth to a top-heavy RB corps. (Side note: Cameron Artis-Payne, Carolina RB, is also a product of Auburn).
Nick Chubb – Georgia – RB
If you don’t know Chubb’s name, you never watch college football. If that’s the case, let me introduce you to the NFL’s next big star. Chubb took over the Georgia run game his freshman year after Todd Gurley suffered an injury. Anyone not in Athens was sure that Georgia’s season was over, but the faithful knew the season was just getting started. Georgia made it to a bowl game each of Chubb’s years with the team; their only loss in the postseason came this year against Alabama in the national championship. Honestly, there’s not enough room here for all of his highlights, but here are the best of his best.
Chubb finished second in the SEC for rushing yards his freshman year despite only starting eight games, and tied Herschel Walker (the greatest college football player of all time, according to FBS coaches) with 13 consecutive 100-yard games. Only an injury stopped him from beating that record. Chubb returned the following season and finished his time at Georgia second all-time on the Bulldogs career rushing yards and second only to Walker in all-time SEC rushing yards. He’s a beast.
Best Fit: Washington Redskins. Jay Gruden approves. He shouldn’t be on the board still when the Redskins pick at no. 44 overall, but if he is, they shouldn’t hesitate.
Objectively, I know how good Alabama players are, but it’s hard for my Ole Miss heart to laud them. Because of that, we’re going to make this quick and painless and run through their three best players on the board at once.
Minkah Fitzpatrick – Alabama – DB
The picture says it all. But in case you still convinced, here’s Nick Saban on Fitzpatrick: “He’s phenomenal. He does it every day. I’ve heard guys say they save it for the game and they aren’t worth a shit.” Saban also believes the 6’1″ 201-pound Fitzpatrick should be a Top 5 player.
The Tide made it to the national championship game all three of Fitzpatrick’s years – and won two of them – much of it due to the star DB’s ability to thrive all over the field.
Funny Side Fact: Fitzpatrick missed Alabama’s game-winning TD in the final seconds of the national championship because he was using the bathroom.
Best Fit: Honestly, I think he’s athletic enough to fit in anywhere. But realistically, the Browns need a versatile defensive back with star talent to elevate their defense.
Bo Scarbrough – Alabama – RB
Like Fitzpatrick, Scarbrough won two championships during his three playing years at Alabama. Most notably, Scarbrough ran for an Alabama bowl game record 180 yards in the 2016 Peach Bowl. At 6’2″ he’s a huge body much in the vein of fellow ‘Bama product Derrick Henry.
Best Fit: Tennessee Titans. Scarbrough can add depth to the Titans dwindling RB corps and join Henry.
Calvin Ridley – Alabama – WR
Calvin Ridley is my favorite WR in the 2018 NFL Draft. Like I said before, the SEC tends to let workhorses do the talking on offense, meaning flashy receivers don’t get as much love (notable exceptions: Julio Jones [Alabama], Amari Cooper [Alabama] and Odell Beckham, Jr [LSU]) . It also doesn’t help that, again, quarterbacks don’t shine in the SEC the way running backs due. That being said, for a wide receiver to make a name for himself, he must be good.
Like Scarbrough and Fitzpatrick, Ridley was a part of the two national titles in three years. Ridley is fast (he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the Combine) and can handle the pressure of big games.
Best Fit: New York Jets. The Jets need an athletic, speedy receiver who can make an impact immediately.
Derrius Guice – LSU – RB
You might know Guice’s name from a certain unacceptable Combine question, but even then his circumstances outshone his football prowess. LSU’s season had its ups and downs, but he Guice still showcased his potential He is the only player in SEC history with three career games of 250 or more rushing yards. One of those games happened against Ole Miss, and trust me, he is not a player you want on the opposing team.
Best Fit: Seattle Seahawks. They need more star power at this position that hasn’t been strong since Marshawn Lynch “retired” (ya, that long).
Arden Key – LSU – DE
I went back and forth about including Key on this list because his college career was a rollercoaster. He struggled with consistency, but he was great when he was on. Key lacks discipline and went to rehab for a marijuana problem during an odd disappearance from the team before his senior season. Despite the NFL’s hard take on drug policies, this isn’t even the most concerning thing from Key. After rejoining the team, Key weighed in at a shocking 278 (he was back down to 238 at the combine). While away, Key had shoulder surgery that LSU later deemed unsuccessful.
His behavior is reminiscent of fellow LSU product Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu was kicked off the team and entered rehab for a marijuana problem before being drafted by the Cardinals. Despite these similarities, Key felt no reason to reach out to Mathieu, preferring to rely on those already in his camp. Even with these potentially career-destroying issues, he is still considered one of the top DEs in the draft because of his 11 sacks as a sophomore. For teams willing to bet on his off-field issues, he has the potential to be a star player.
Best Fit: New Orleans Saints. The Saints need an explosive edge rusher to compliment Cameron Jordan, and Key could benefit from the wisdom of Drew Brees.
Bonus: Marquis Haynes – Ole Miss – DE
Did you really think you could get through an entire NFL Draft Preview from me and not read about an Ole Miss player? Realistically, I know it will take a lot for any Ole Miss players to go high in the draft because of a few rough few years. However, Haynes has the talent of Key without any of the off-field issues. Haynes was a part of the Ole Miss teams who pulled off a huge upset against 3rd-ranked Alabama in 2014 and won the Sugar Bowl in 2015. Since there hasn’t been as much turmoil in Baton Rouge the last couple years, Key is higher on most draft boards. But if a team wants a solid player with fewer off-field issues, look no further than Haynes.
Best Fit: New Orleans Saints. The Saints wouldn’t have to worry about his off-field antics, and Haynes is explosive enough to compliment Jordan.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the best players in the 2018 NFL Draft. I tried to zero in on the ones most likely to immediately make an impact on their new teams. If you have other SEC players you feel should be on this list or just want to talk SEC football, hit me up on Twitter (@hanfran7).