Derek Stingley Jr. headlines a stout SEC class for next year's draft
The 2021 NFL Draft is now officially in the books. And for the 15th year in a row, the SEC's dominance was on full display with more players selected than any other conference in college football. All told, the SEC had a record 65 players selected by NFL teams over the three-day event in Cleveland, beating its own record of 64 set in 2019.
To put the SEC's dominance into perspective, the Big Ten finished a distant second with 44 players selected. College football's premier conference boasted a total of 12 players taken in the first round alone, including six of the first 10 selections. Alabama led the way for the conference with 10 players selected overall (six in the first round alone), followed closely by Georgia with 9, Florida with 8, LSU with 7, and Kentucky with 6.
The SEC-to-NFL pipeline isn't showing signs of slowing down anytime soon either. As per usual, the conference is loaded with top-tier talent for the upcoming 2021 season. And while it will be another year before we officially find out which elite SEC players the NFL covets the most, it's never too soon to look at some of the conference's top prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft. Here now are 25 draft-eligible SEC players (in alphabetical order by last name) that have the most potential to hear their names called next year in Las Vegas.
Adam Anderson, LB/EDGE, Georgia (Sr., 6-5, 230)
Despite coming off the bench for the Bulldogs last season, Anderson flashed elite potential as a pass rusher, ranking second on the team in both sacks (6.5) and quarterback pressures (24). He appears primed for a breakout senior season. However, he will need to prove to NFL scouts that he is more than just a gifted pass rush specialist by expanding his overall skill set this fall. That said, Anderson's pass-rushing ability alone might be enough to merit an early-round pick in next year's draft.
Jordan Battle, S, Alabama (Jr., 6-1, 210)
A sure tackler with great instincts, Battle is set to embark on his third season as a starter in the secondary for the defending national champs. He finished the 2020 season ranked third on the team in tackles with 66, adding four pass breakups and a pick-six. Battle appears poised to emerge as one of the top safety prospects in next year's NFL draft, where he hopes to become the 11th Alabama safety selected since 2009.
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas (Jr., 6-3, 225)
He's already a two-time All-SEC performer and graded out as one of the top wide receivers in the nation last season (89.1 according to Pro Football Focus) after hauling in 51 catches for 820 yards and seven touchdowns despite playing in just nine games. Burk's unique blend of size, strength, speed, and pass-catching ability should place him in very high demand in next year's draft.
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss (Jr., 6-1, 205)
A gifted passer and runner, Corral put up big numbers in Lane Kiffin's offense last season, completing 70.9 percent of his pass attempts for 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also had 506 rushing yards and four scores on the ground. He's a bit undersized and needs to reduce the number of interceptions he threw last season (14). However, Corral is a playmaker in every sense of the word and should climb up NFL draft boards with another productive season.
Brenton Cox Jr., LB/EDGE, Florida (RS Jr., 6-4, 252)
The former 5-star recruit started his college career at Georgia but is now taking on a starring role as an explosive playmaker for the Florida defense. Cox recorded 41 tackles last season to go along with four sacks. He also led the Gators in both quarterback hurries (18) and tackles-for-loss (9.5). He is a disruptive force with ideal size, speed, and strength for the next level. Cox's impressive playmaking ability makes him a strong candidate to come off the board early in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State (RS So., 6-5, 305)
A former 5-star recruit and Freshman All-SEC selection, Cross is already regarded as one of the top offensive linemen in the SEC. He's athletic with a great motor and is equally skilled in pass protection and run blocking. More importantly, Cross is just now scratching the surface on his elite potential. A few minor improvements and a strong 2021 season could have him in the conversation as a possible first-rounder if he elects to leave school early.
JT Daniels, QB, Georgia (Jr., 6-3, 210)
The former 5-star signal-caller seems to be making the most out of his opportunity at Georgia after injuries derailed the start of his career at USC. In just four games as a starter last season, Daniels completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,231 yards with 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He still has plenty to prove, but if he can pick up where he left off last season and stay healthy, his draft stock should soar. He has all the tools that NFL scouts look for in a future franchise quarterback.
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia (Sr., 6-6, 340)
Davis would have likely been drafted in the early rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft but elected to return to Athens for his senior season. He is disruptive and freakishly athletic for his size, which should translate well at the next level for an NFL team looking for a space-eater with upside to anchor the interior of their defensive line.
Jerrion Ealy, RB, Ole Miss (Jr., 5-8, 190)
It's rare to see running backs taken in the first round in the modern NFL era. But occasionally, a special talent comes along that is too good to pass up. Ealy has the potential to be that running back in next year's draft. Home run speed and elusiveness are his calling cards, but the former five-star prospect also is an extremely powerful runner who can break tackles with ease despite his small stature. He's even drawn comparisons to Alvin Kamara. Ealy has elite potential on the baseball field as well. But his future likely lies in the NFL. With a strong season on the stat sheet, he could be a Day 1 pick.
Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida (Jr., 6-2, 193)
The Gators have a rich history of producing top-tier defensive backs, and Elam is no exception. The talented cornerback earned second-team All-SEC honors last season as a sophomore — compiling 39 tackles, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups, and a fumble recovery. Elam possesses that rare blend of size, speed, and ball skills that NFL teams covet. A big junior season should catapult him into the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M (Jr., 6-4, 325)
Green will move to left tackle this fall after earning consensus All-American accolades at left guard last season as a rising sophomore. He plays with a nasty disposition and has elite potential as both a run and pass blocker. Green is already on the NFL radar as a possible early-round selection, and, depending on how well his transition to left tackle goes this season, he could make his way to the stage on Day 1 of the 2022 draft.
Christian Harris, LB, Alabama (Jr., 6-2, 232)
Harris looks to build on a strong sophomore campaign in which he ranked second on the Alabama defense with 79 tackles (7 tackles for loss), adding 4.5 sacks and an interception. In addition to having a nose for the football and solid pass-rushing skills, the former high school defensive back is skilled in coverage and versatile enough to play inside or outside linebacker at the next level. He should hear his name called early in next year's draft.
Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama (Sr., 6-1, 192)
Jobe earned honorable mention All-American honors from PFF following a standout junior season that included 55 tackles (2.5 for loss), two sacks, 11 pass breakups, and a pair of forced fumbles. He also allowed 35 yards or less in 12 of 13 games last season. One of the more physical cornerbacks in the country, Jobe uses that to his advantage to excel in run support and press coverage. However, that has also worked against him, drawing more penalty flags than any other defensive back in the FBS last season. Jobe has the measurables and the tools, but he will need to clean up the penalties to solidify himself as a first-rounder.
Darian Kinnard, OT, Kentucky (Sr., 6-5, 345)
A three-year starter at Kentucky, Kinnard earned second-team All-American and first-team All-SEC honors last season as a junior. He's a solid pass blocker who moves well for his size, but he shines brightest as a run blocker, where he graded out as one of the best in the nation last season (91.9 per PFF). NFL teams are always looking for big road-grading run blockers who are skilled in pass protection to solidify their offensive line, and Kinnard certainly fits that bill.
DeMarvin Leal, DE, Texas A&M (Jr., 6-4, 290)
Leal put together a productive sophomore season for the Aggies, registering 37 tackles (7 for loss), 2.5 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. He has the size and strength to play inside at defensive tackle and the athleticism to slide out to defensive end. He checks all the boxes that NFL scouts are looking for in a top-tier defensive lineman. A strong 2021 campaign should have him in the discussion as a Day 1 selection in next year's draft.
John Metchie III, WR, Alabama (Jr., 6-0, 195)
He stepped up in a big way following Jaylen Waddle's injury last season, racking up 916 yards and six touchdowns on 55 receptions for the Crimson Tide. No longer in the shadow of Waddle and DeVonta Smith, Metchie appears poised for a monster 2021 season. If that happens, the talented wide receiver will likely join the long line of great Alabama wide receivers taken in the first round over the last few years.
Ventrell Miller, LB, Florida (Sr., 6-1, 230)
Miller led the Gators with 88 tackles last season (7.5 for loss), adding 3.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. While slightly undersized at inside linebacker, his skill set should translate well to the next level as an outside linebacker. He has a real nose for the football, with great range and athleticism. Another step forward in his progression this season could land Miller in the first round.
Evan Neal, OT, Alabama (Jr., 6-7, 360)
Following an impressive freshman season at left guard for the Crimson Tide, Neal made the move to right tackle as a sophomore, where he graded out as fourth-best offensive lineman in the country (83.7 according to Pro Football Focus). His enormous frame and brute strength serve him well as a road grading run blocker. He's also surprisingly agile for his size, which pays big dividends in pass protection. A standout junior season should propel Neal into the first round of next year's draft.
Owen Pappoe, LB, Auburn (Jr., 6-1, 226)
Pappoe may not be the biggest or strongest linebacker prospect in the SEC, but he does flash the kind of elite playmaking ability and range that NFL teams love. He had a team-high four sacks last season and ranked second in tackles with 93 (six for loss). The former five-star recruit also had an interception and fumble recovery. If he continues on his current trajectory, Pappoe should emerge as an early-round draft pick.
George Pickens, WR, Georgia (Jr., 6-3, 200)
A torn ACL this spring could force Georgia's leading receiver over the past two seasons to sit out most, if not all of his junior season. Nevertheless, Pickens continues to be one of the most talked-about prospects for next year's draft. He has a top-flight skill set as a pass-catcher — displaying great hands, dynamic leaping ability, and outstanding body control. Pickens' ability to stretch the field and make difficult catches look easy (even when contested) makes him an intriguing prospect with first-round potential.
Jamaree Salyer, OL, Georgia (Sr., 6-4, 325)
He's a versatile blocker who has made starts at both tackle positions and left guard for the Dawgs. According to Pro Football Focus, Salyer was one of just ten offensive tackles in the nation last season to earn a grade above 77.0 as both a run and pass blocker. And over his last four games, he graded out as the second-best offensive lineman in the nation in pass blocking (90.6). While he projects as a guard at the next level, Salyer will be high on the list of prospective NFL teams in search of a skilled blocker that can play multiple positions along the offensive line.
Nolan Smith, LB/Edge, Georgia (Jr., 6-3, 235)
The No. 1-ranked recruit in the nation coming out of high school in 2019 has been quietly waiting in the wings behind Azeez Ojulari. And now, Smith finally has the opportunity to showcase his talents on the big SEC stage. He's an unbelievable athlete with huge upside as a pass rusher. And if he lives up to his lofty potential with a strong 2021 campaign, it will pay big dividends in the 2022 draft.
Tykee Smith, DB, Georgia (Jr., 5-10, 198)
The West Virginia transfer hopes to take on a starring role in a Georgia secondary that is now in short supply of experienced playmakers after this year's draft. Smith earned third-team All-American honors for the Mountaineers last season, compiling 61 tackles (8 for loss), two interceptions and five passes defended. In ten games, he allowed just 110 yards total and never once allowed a pass play of more than 15 yards. A sure tackler with great instincts and excellent coverage skills, he will likely line up as an immediate impact player at safety and/or Star (nickel) for the Dawgs. It would not be surprising to see Smith sneak into the first round with a big 2021 season.
Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU (Jr., 6-1, 194)
Stingley earned consensus All-American honors following a monster freshman season that included six interceptions and 15 pass breakups. Despite battling injury as a sophomore, he would go on to earn first-team All-SEC accolades for the second year in a row. At 6-1,194, he has ideal measurables and an elite skill set that should allow him to thrive as a lockdown corner at the next level. Stingley is widely projected to be the first cornerback to come off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M (Jr., 6-5, 255)
A finalist for the John Mackey Award and a second-team All-SEC selection as a sophomore, Wydermyer led the Aggies in receptions (46) and touchdown catches (6) last season. He has great hands and ideal size and has made substantial improvement as a run blocker. Wydermyer also has a knack for getting open despite his lack of elite speed and has no trouble making plays in traffic. He should be among the first tight ends selected in next year's draft.
25 more draft-eligible SEC prospects to watch:
Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M; Travon Walker, DT, Georgia; Cade Mays, OL, Tennessee; Mike Jones Jr., LB, LSU; Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn; DJ Dale, DT, Alabama; Kobie Whiteside, DT, Missouri; Zamir White, RB, Georgia; Demani Richardson, S, Texas A&M; Kingsley Enagbare, DL, South Carolina; Phidarian Mathis, DT, Alabama; Jalen Green, S, Mississippi State; LaBryan Ray, DL, Alabama; Leon O'Neal Jr., DB. Texas A&M; Nick Broeker, OT, Ole Miss; Brian Robinson Jr., RB, Alabama; Ed Ingram, OL, LSU; Sam Williams, LB, Ole Miss; Austin Deculus, OT, LSU; Emil Ekiyor Jr., OL, Alabama; Zacch Pickens, DL, South Carolina; Neil Farrell Jr., DL, LSU; Chris Rodriguez Jr., RB, Kentucky; Kevin Harris, RB, South Carolina; Josh Ali, WR, Kentucky
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
(Top photo by Chris Parent/LSU Athletics)