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SEC Football: Top 25 2023 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

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Will Anderson Jr., Alabama Crimson Tide Football

Alabama outside linebacker/edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. has a shot at being the second straight SEC defender taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft

The 2022 NFL Draft is now officially in the books. And for the 16th consecutive year, the SEC's dominance was on full display with more players selected than any other conference in college football. All told, the SEC had 65 players selected by NFL teams over the three-day event in Las Vegas, matching last year’s record-setting total.

The SEC boasted a total of 12 players taken in the first round alone, including the No. 1 overall pick in Georgia defensive end Travon Walker. Georgia led the way for college football’s premier conference with 15 players selected overall, breaking the record for the most players picked in a seven-round NFL draft. LSU sported the second-most picks among SEC teams with 10, followed by Alabama (seven), Ole Miss (six), and Tennessee (five).

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 2022 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 2023 NFL Draft.

2023 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

Here now are 25 draft-eligible SEC players (in alphabetical order) that could very well hear their names called next year when the draft is held in Kansas City.

Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M (Jr., 5-9, 185)

Despite sharing time in the backfield with Isaiah Spiller, Achane managed to rack up 1,933 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns in his first two seasons in College Station. He also led the SEC in yards per carry (7.0) last season. Achane is a bit undersized, which could slightly hurt his draft stock, but he more than makes up for it with his versatility and elite athleticism. He’s an elusive runner with blazing speed. He can also star in the return game, in addition to being an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield. Achane appears poised for a monster season with Spiller no longer in the picture.

Will Anderson Jr., OLB/Edge, Alabama, (Jr., 6-4, 243)

Anderson Jr. led the nation in sacks (17.5), tackles for a loss (33.5), and QB pressures (81) as a sophomore in 2021, racking up numerous accolades in the process — including the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and unanimous All-American recognition. The elite pass rusher has a big motor and freakish athleticism to go along with a real nose for the football. He could be the No. 1 overall pick next year.

Jordan Battle, S, Alabama (Sr., 6-1, 206)

A sure tackler with great instincts, Battle is set to embark on his fourth season as a starter in the secondary for the Crimson Tide. The All-American safety finished the 2021 season ranked fourth on the team in tackles with 86, adding six pass breakups and three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. A standout senior campaign should catapult Battle into first-round consideration.

Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU (Jr., 6-0, 205)

Boutte broke the SEC and LSU single-game receiving record as a freshman, piling up 308 yards and three touchdowns on 14 receptions against Ole Miss. He also earned Freshman All-American and All-SEC accolades in 2020. In 16 career games (11 starts), he has already compiled 83 receptions for 1,244 yards and 14 touchdowns and is sure to be the go-to receiver in new head coach Brian Kelly’s offense in 2022. Boutte boasts a phenomenal combination of speed, sure hands, elusiveness, and route-running ability which should place him among the top wide receivers selected in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Jermaine Burton, WR, Alabama (Jr., 6-0, 200)

Burton makes his way to Alabama following a solid sophomore campaign at Georgia, where he averaged 19.1 yards per reception for the national champs. He has elite speed and his aggressive style allows him to overpower opposing defensive backs, while also excelling as a blocker. Burton needs to improve on the stat sheet overall, which shouldn’t be a problem with Bryce Young now as his quarterback. He appears poised for a big year in Alabama’s high-powered offense. And if that comes to fruition, Burton will surely shoot up draft boards.

Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia (Jr., 6-3, 310)

A second-team All-SEC (coaches) selection as a sophomore in 2021, Carter tallied 37 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, 33 QB pressures, and blocked two kicks. According to PFF, he earned the highest pass-rushing grade (90.0) of any player on Georgia’s elite 2021 defense. The explosive defensive tackle is expected to wreak havoc on opposing offenses this fall, cementing his status as a potential top-10 pick next year.

Jalen Catalon, S, Arkansas (Jr., 5-10, 200)

Catalon earned first-team All-SEC accolades as a redshirt freshman in 2020, racking up 99 tackles, three interceptions, seven pass breakups, and a pair of forced fumbles in just 10 games. A shoulder injury cut his 2021 season short, but the hard-hitting safety still managed to compile 46 tackles and two interceptions in just six games. A sure tackler with standout coverage skills, Catalon is among the most complete safety prospects in the nation. He should have no problem garnering early-round consideration with another big year for the Razorbacks.

Javion Cohen, OG, Alabama (Jr., 6-4, 305)

Cohen was one of the few bright spots for an Alabama offensive line that struggled at times last season. He made 14 starts for the Crimson Tide and did not surrender a single sack in 628 pass-blocking snaps at left guard. Versatile and athletic, Cohen has the ability to play both guard and tackle at the next level. Another step forward in 2022 could place him among the first offensive linemen to come off the board in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Zach Evans, RB, Ole Miss (Jr., 6-0, 215)

The TCU transfer tallied 1,065 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards per carry during his first two seasons with the Horned Frogs. Speed and elusiveness are his calling cards. However, Evans also possesses adequate size, burst and pass-catching ability to excel at the next level. He should have no problem showcasing his elite talents in Lane Kiffin’s offense this fall. It takes a special running back to get into early-round consideration in this day and age, and Evans fits that bill.

Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama (Jr., 5-11, 200)

The Georgia Tech transfer compiled an ACC-best 1,805 all-purpose yards last season as a sophomore en route to first-team All-ACC honors. The do-it-all running back has elite speed and is equally gifted as a runner and as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Gibbs is among the most versatile and dynamic backs in the nation. A strong junior campaign for the Crimson Tide will position him nicely for next year's draft.

Derick Hall, OLB/Edge, Auburn (Sr., 6-3, 256)

Hall earned second-team All-SEC (coaches) honors following a breakout junior season that included 52 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a  loss, nine sacks, and two forced fumbles. He has a great frame with excellent bend and explosiveness off the edge. If Hall can take another step forward in 2022, he should hear his name called early in next year’s draft.

Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee (Sr., 6-4, 218)

The former Virginia Tech transfer emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC last season, leading the conference in passer rating (181.41) and ranking second in yards per attempt (9.7). Hooker completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,945 yards with 31 touchdowns against just three interceptions in Josh Heupel’s high-octane offense. He’s also an elusive runner, racking up 613 yards and five scores on the ground in 2021. Another strong season on Rocky Top should help propel Hooker into the early rounds of next year's draft.

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Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia (So., 6-4, 315)

Jones is living up to his billing as a former 5-star prospect out of high school. He appeared in every game last season for the eventual national champions, making four starts en route to Freshman All-SEC honors. The athletic left tackle has a high ceiling and all the tools necessary to develop into a top-flight NFL offensive lineman. Another impressive season in the trenches for the Bulldogs will have Jones soaring up NFL draft boards.

Jaylon Jones, CB, Texas A&M (Jr., 6-2, 205)

The former high school All-American has started every game in his first two seasons with the Aggies (22 starts) — compiling 65 tackles, three interceptions and 15 pass breakups. He has ideal size, athleticism and excels in pass coverage. Jones stars at cornerback for the Aggies but has the ability to play anywhere in the secondary. The rising junior possesses a versatile skill set that will translate well to the next level. A strong junior season will likely result in Jones entering his name into the 2023 NFL Draft.

Will Levis, QB, Kentucky (Sr., 6-3, 232)

The former Penn State transfer played a huge role in leading the Wildcats to 10 wins last season — completing 66 percent of his pass attempts for 2,826 yards and 24 touchdowns. A gifted runner for his size, Levis added an additional 376 yards and nine scores on the ground. He possesses the ideal size, arm strength and toughness that NFL scouts are looking for in a franchise quarterback. Levis still needs some polishing after throwing 13 interceptions last season. However, a big step forward in 2022 will only boost Levis' draft stock.

BJ Ojulari, DE/Edge, LSU (Jr., 6-3, 245)

In 23 career games (13 starts), Ojulari has tallied 71 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, and 11 sacks for the Tigers. He’s a high-motor guy with an elite first step that should help him excel as a top-flight pass rusher in new head coach Brian Kelly’s defense in 2022. His older brother, Azeez, was a second-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and enjoyed a stellar rookie season with the Giants. BJ has a similar skill set, which should place him in very high demand in next year’s draft.

Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina (Jr., 6-1, 200)

A first-team All-Big 12 selection as a redshirt freshman at Oklahoma, Rattler entered last season as the presumptive Heisman Trophy front-runner before being benched. Nevertheless, the former 5-star signal-caller put up strong numbers — completing 70.6 percent of his passes for 4,595 yards with 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 23 career games with the Sooners. Rattler will need a big season at South Carolina to resurrect his first-round grade, but he certainly has the tools to make that happen.

Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida (So., 6-4, 237)

There isn’t a more athletically gifted quarterback in college football than Richardson. In addition to having a cannon arm, AR-15 is a dynamic runner with the speed and elusiveness to get past would-be-tacklers with ease. He has the size and strength to run over defenders if need be as well. Following an erratic '21 campaign, Richardson will need to be more consistent in new head coach Billy Napier's offense to maximize his draft status. But he already has NFL scouts intrigued about his potential.

Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama (Jr., 6-2, 190)

The LSU transfer quickly jumped onto NFL scouts' radar as a freshman for the Tigers in 2020 with a team-high four interceptions (two of which went for touchdowns), earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-American honors. Ricks’ sophomore season was cut short by a shoulder injury, but he appears poised for a big bounce-back campaign after joining the Crimson Tide. He's a physical defender with ideal size and elite ball skills, which is why Ricks is expected to be among the first cornerbacks to come off the board in next year’s draft.

Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia (So., 6-2, 205)

A Freshman All-SEC performer for Georgia’s vaunted 2021 defense, Ringo compiled 34 tackles, 10 pass breakups and two interceptions (including the game-sealing pick-six in the national title game against Alabama). He has ideal size and elite speed to go along with outstanding ball skills. A standout junior season could earn Ringo first-round buzz for next year's draft.

Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina (Jr., 6-0, 185)

Smith was a second-team All-SEC selection in 2021 following a breakout sophomore season that included 41 tackles, three interceptions, 14 pass breakups, and a forced fumble. He also had the highest coverage grade (89.7) of any Power 5 cornerback last season, according to Pro Football Focus. If Smith can pick up where he left off last season, he should be among the most coveted players at his position in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Nolan Smith, OLB/Edge, Georgia (Sr., 6-3, 235)

The No. 1-ranked player in the nation coming out of high school, Smith wrapped up his junior campaign with 56 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, 27 quarterback pressures, and forced four turnovers for the Bulldogs’ historic defense in '21. He was projected to be a Day 2 selection in the 2022 NFL Draft but opted to return to Georgia for his senior season. The athletically gifted outside linebacker appears destined for a monster senior season which would all but guarantee his selection in the first round of next year's draft.

Henry To’o To’o, LB, Alabama (Sr., 6-2, 228)

The former Tennessee transfer took on a starring role for Alabama last season, leading the Crimson Tide in tackles (113) on his way to second-team All-SEC honors. To’o To’o has great instincts and a real nose for the football. Another impressive season in Tuscaloosa should place the former 5-star prospect in high demand on draft boards at season’s end.

Bryce Young, QB, Alabama (Jr., 6-0, 194)

A Heisman Trophy winner and consensus first-team All-American last season, Young led all SEC quarterbacks with 4,872 passing yards and 47 touchdowns through the air. Despite lacking ideal size for the next level, he has all the tools necessary to be a highly successful NFL quarterback. Young is already among the leading contenders to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Byron Young, DL, Alabama (Sr., 6-3, 292)

Young has played in every game for the Crimson Tide over the last three seasons. He compiled 39 tackles (nine for a loss) and two sacks in 15 games (seven starts) last season as a junior. A strong tackler that can play inside or outside, Young is expected to take on an expanded role as a senior. A productive season and some additional polishing should position him nicely as an early-round selection in next year's draft.

25 more draft-eligible SEC prospects to watch:

Kris Abrams-Draine, DB, Missouri
Jaheim Bell, TE, South Carolina
Tank Bigsby, RB, Auburn
Nick Broeker, OL, Ole Miss
Brenton Cox Jr., Edge, Florida
DJ Dale, DT, Alabama
Emil Ekiyor Jr., OL, Alabama
Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State
Arik Gilbert, TE, Georgia
Trajan Jeffcoat, DE, Missouri
Antonio Johnson, DB, Texas A&M
Cameron Latu, TE, Alabama
Jonathan Mingo, WR, Ole Miss
Malachi Moore, DB, Alabama
Owen Pappoe, LB, Auburn
Zaach Pickens, DL, South Carolina
Chris Rodriguez Jr., RB, Kentucky
Will Rogers, QB, Mississippi State
Jaquelin Roy, DT, LSU
Ainias Smith, WR, Texas A&M
Ricky Stromberg, C, Arkansas
Cedric Tillman, WR, Tennessee
O'Cyrus Torrence, OL, Florida
Sedrick Van Pran, C, Georgia
Byron Young, Edge, Tennessee

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— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.