The SEC is once again well stocked with elite talent for the 2019 NFL Draft
The 2018 NFL Draft is now officially in the books. And for the 12th consecutive year, the SEC had more players selected than any other conference in the nation. To be exact, 53 of the SEC’s top performers were chosen by NFL teams in this year’s draft. That matches last year’s total and includes 10 players taken in the first round alone. To no one’s surprise, Alabama led the way with 12 total selections.
The good news is that the SEC-NFL pipeline is showing no signs of declining any time soon. Per usual, college football’s premier conference is loaded with top-tier talent for the upcoming season. And while it will be another year before we officially find out which SEC players the NFL covets the most, it’s never too soon to look at some of the conference’s top prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft. Here now are 25 of those players.
1. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri (Sr., 6-4, 225)
Lock earned first-team All-SEC accolades in 2017, throwing for 3,964 yards and setting a conference single-season record with an FBS-best 44 touchdown passes. He will need to improve on his accuracy and footwork during his senior campaign to maximize his draft stock. However, Lock already has the ideal size and arm strength that NFL general managers drool over. That will likely put him at the top of the list for several NFL teams in search of a potential franchise quarterback.
2. A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss (Jr., 6-1, 225)
Brown led the SEC in receiving yards (1,252) and touchdown receptions (11) to earn first-team All-SEC honors during a breakout sophomore season. He’s poised to better those numbers in 2018 as a key component of Ole Miss’ high-octane passing attack. Brown has linebacker size, the skill set of a top-tier running back after the catch, and all the tools NFL scouts look for in an elite receiver. He is likely to be the first wideout to come off the board in the 2019 NFL Draft.
3. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama (Jr., 6-7, 306)
Davis was a first-team All-SEC selection in 2017. He led the Crimson Tide with 8.5 sacks and ranked second on the team with 10 tackles for a loss. His freakish combination of size, speed and athleticism also helped him dominate during Alabama’s stellar College Football Playoff run to the national title. Davis should wreak havoc on opposing offenses throughout the 2018 season. He projects to be among the first names called in the 2019 NFL Draft.
4. Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss (Jr., 6-6, 325)
Ole Miss is once again expected to have one of the nation’s top passing attacks in 2018. A big reason for that success is the Rebels' left tackle. Already a two-year starter, the junior-to-be graded out as one of the nation's top pass blockers in 2017 to earn second-team All-SEC accolades. Little’s athleticism is off the charts for someone of his stature, which is exactly why he could be the first offensive lineman to have his name called at the 2019 NFL Draft.
5. Andraez “Greedy” Williams, CB, LSU (R-So., 6-2, 182)
Williams definitely lives up to his name. The defensive back known as Greedy was targeted 71 times during his breakout redshirt freshman campaign, allowing just one touchdown. His six interceptions tied for the most in the SEC, and he ranked second in the league with 17 passes defended. Due to the departure of Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver II, opposing quarterbacks will be less likely to throw Williams’ way in 2018, which could hurt him statistically. Regardless, he has everything that NFL teams are looking for in an elite shutdown cornerback and projects to be the first defensive back taken in next year’s draft.
6. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama (Jr., 6-5, 305)
The rising junior has earned All-SEC accolades in each of his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa, starting every game for the Crimson Tide. Williams made the transition from right tackle to starting left tackle last season, where he allowed just 2.5 sacks and eight QB hurries in 831 snaps. NFL scouts are enamored by his potential and another stellar season will likely result in a first-round selection on draft day.
7. Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia (Sr., 5-11, 180)
A second-team All-SEC selection in 2017, Baker put together an outstanding junior season that included 44 tackles, three interceptions, and a team-high nine pass breakups. More importantly, he didn’t give up a single touchdown on a ball thrown his way. Despite being projected to go in the first three rounds of the 2018 draft, Baker boldly elected to return for his senior season.
8. Devin White, LB, LSU (Jr., 6-1, 240)
A highly recruited running back out of high school, White (above, right) has transformed into one of the nation’s premier linebackers. A first-team All-SEC performer last season as a sophomore, White racked up 133 tackles (14 TFL) and 4.5 sacks. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week four times in 2017 (a conference record). White has outstanding measurables and a nose for the football. Another monster season could vault the junior standout into the first-round of next year’s draft.
9. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama (Sr., 5-11, 212)
Following back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing efforts, it came as a surprise when Harris (right) announced that he would return for his senior season. He also had the second-highest yards per carry average (7.4) in the SEC last season to go a long with a team-high 11 touchdowns. Harris can become the first player in Alabama history to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons and needs 1,394 in 2018 to become the Crimson Tide’s all-time leading rusher. He should be among the first three running backs taken in the 2019 draft.
10. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, DB, Florida (Jr., 6-0, 200)
Gardner-Johnson first gained notoriety as a true freshman, winning MVP honors for his two-interception performance in the Outback Bowl. As a sophomore, he ranked second on the team with 58 tackles (6 TFL), adding two interceptions and seven pass breakups. He will transition from safety to nickelback or “star” in Florida’s new-look 3-4 defense in 2018. A sure-tackler and equally gifted in pass coverage, the rising junior possesses a versatile skill set that will translate well to the next level.
11. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn (R-Jr., 6-3, 214)
The Baylor transfer led the SEC in completion percentage (66.7) and ranked second in the conference in passing yards (3,158) to earn second-team All-SEC accolades last season. More importantly, he led the Tigers to an Iron Bowl victory en route to an SEC West title. A more experienced Stidham is among the early favorites to contend for the Heisman Trophy in 2018. While his initial draft grades seem to be all over the place, most experts agree that he’s on pace to be an early-round pick in 2019. Stidham has all the tools necessary to excel at the next level.
12. Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State (Jr., 6-4, 300)
Despite facing constant double teams, Simmons racked up 60 tackles, five sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and blocked three kicks to earn first-team All-SEC honors as a sophomore. According to Pro Football Focus, the former 5-star prospect received the highest grade (87.7) of any player in the SEC that will return for 2018. And he could prove to be even more dominant as a junior in Mississippi State’s new-look 4-3 defense.
13. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn (Jr., 6-5, 315)
It’s not easy to stand out on a defensive line loaded with NFL talent. And yet, Brown does just that. The former 5-star prospect tallied 56 tackles (9 TFL), 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles last season as a sophomore. He also received high praise from ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., who referred to Brown as “a rare, rare talent.” That alone bodes well for Brown's outlook in next year's draft. He should be able to back it up on the field with a huge junior season.
14. Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina (R-Sr., 6-0, 210)
There may not be a more electrifying player in the nation than Samuel (right). The versatile senior is a legitimate triple threat, equally gifted as a pass catcher, runner and return specialist. Prior to suffering a nasty leg injury in just his third game last season, Samuel had already racked up a ridiculous 474 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns. His talent is truly undeniable. That said, Samuel has battled injuries throughout his collegiate career, so it’s vital that he stay healthy to maximize his draft potential.
15. Marlon Davidson, DE, Auburn (Jr., 6-3, 282)
Davidson earned Freshman All-SEC honors in 2016, becoming the first true freshman defensive lineman to start a season opener for Auburn in 30 years. Despite a somewhat disappointing sophomore campaign, plagued by nagging injuries, he still managed to register 43 tackles (6.5 TFL) and 3.5 sacks. NFL scouts absolutely love Davidson’s upside. But he will need to stay injury-free and live up to some lofty on-field expectations in 2018 to ensure an early-round selection in a talent-rich draft class for defensive linemen.
16. Josh Allen, LB, Kentucky (Sr., 6-5, 230)
Allen earned second-team All-SEC honors last season as a junior, leading the Wildcats in sacks (7.0) and tackles for a loss (9.5). An explosive pass rusher for a linebacker, he also has great instincts as a run stopper and in pass coverage. Allen was widely viewed as a potential first-round draft pick before his production tailed off a bit down the stretch in 2017. A strong senior campaign will likely put him back in that conversation.
17. Montez Sweat, DE/OLB, Mississippi State (Sr., 6-6, 241)
The former Michigan State transfer took the SEC by storm in 2017. He was a first-team All-SEC selection after finishing his junior season tied for the conference lead in both sacks (10.5) and tackles for a loss (16). Sweat will spend 2018 with his hand in the dirt, as he transitions from outside linebacker to defensive end in Bob Shoop’s 4-3 defense. If he can back up last season’s numbers with another monster campaign, Sweat should hear his name called relatively early in the 2019 NFL Draft.
18. Terry Beckner Jr., DT, Missouri (Sr., 6-4, 305)
The former 5-star standout suffered season-ending knee injuries in each of his first two years in Columbia. Fortunately, he was able to return to form with a stellar junior campaign, registering 35 tackles (11 TFL), seven sacks and an interception. His injury history could negatively impact his draft stock with some teams. However, the explosive defensive tackle should be able to overcome those concerns with another outstanding, injury-free season in 2018.
19. Anfernee Jennings, OLB/DE, Alabama (R-Jr., 6-3, 262)
Jennings' numbers from last season won’t jump off the page at you. But he did come on strong in his last two games with 5.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. Unfortunately, he would also suffer a serious knee injury near the end of one of those standout performances against Clemson in the College Football Playoff. The good news is that he appears to be on track to return for the 2018 season. And if he returns to form, Jennings could be one of the SEC’s more dominant players. NFL scouts love his upside and high motor.
20. D’Andre Walker, LB, Georgia (Sr. 6-3, 245)
Despite his backup role in one of the nation’s best linebacker rotations last season, Walker played a vital part in Georgia’s success in 2017. He ranked second on the team in both tackles for a loss (13.5) and sacks (5.5), adding 12 QB hurries. Walker truly shined in wins over Auburn in the SEC title game and Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, combining for nine tackles (4 TFL) and two sacks in those two games alone. Some projections have suggested that he could go as high as the first round in the 2019 NFL Draft.
21. Mack Wilson, LB, Alabama (Jr., 6-2, 238)
Wilson made only two starts as a sophomore in 2017 and missed two games with a broken bone in his foot. And yet, he still managed to lead the Crimson Tide with four interceptions. He came on particularly strong during the playoff, tallying 18 tackles (2 TFL) and an interception in wins over Clemson and Georgia. He’s pegged as the next great linebacker at Alabama and appears primed for a breakout season in 2018. If that happens, Wilson’s NFL draft stock will go through the roof. Terrell Lewis, Christian Miller and Isaiah Buggs are additional Bama defenders who barely missed making this list, but also could see their draft stock skyrocket with big seasons.
22. Benny Snell Jr., RB, Kentucky (Jr., 5-11, 223)
Despite being the focal point of every defense Kentucky faced last season, Snell (right) managed to rack up the second-most rushing yards in the SEC last season (1,318). The All-SEC performer also ran for more touchdowns (18) than any other player in the league. He is arguably the best running back in the SEC, and there isn’t an NFL team out there that wouldn’t love to have Snell on their roster. The only drawback is that he will already have a lot of mileage on him before he ever gets to the NFL.
23. Tyrie Cleveland, WR, Florida (Jr., 6-2, 200)
An anemic Florida passing game and pesky injuries have seriously hampered Cleveland’s production in his first two seasons in Gainesville. However, the junior-to-be has shown flashes of greatness. He also has all the tools NFL teams look for in a top-tier wideout. If new head coach Dan Mullen can finally get the Gator passing attack on track in 2018, Cleveland’s draft stock will soar.
24. Ross Pierschbacher, OG, Alabama (R-Sr., 6-4, 305)
Pierschbacher is set to begin his fourth consecutive year as a starter for the Crimson Tide along the offensive line. Already a two-time All-SEC selection, the road-grading left guard graded out as one of the top performing linemen in the conference last season. Another strong season should propel Pierschbacher into the early rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft.
25. Tyrel Dodson, LB, Texas A&M (Jr., 6-2, 245)
Dodson is sort of a sleeper pick here, and just barely beat out another under-the-radar prospect in Arkansas linebacker De’Jon Harris. Dodson quietly put together one of the strongest seasons in the conference as a sophomore in 2017. He led the Aggies with 104 tackles (11 TLF), adding 5.5 sacks, three interceptions and eight passes defended. There isn’t a ton of draft buzz surrounding Dodson just yet, but that will likely change before the conclusion of the 2018 season.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.