The SEC is once again stockpiled with elite talent for the 2020 NFL Draft
The 2019 NFL Draft is now officially in the books. And for the 13th consecutive year, the SEC flexed its muscle with more players selected than any other conference in college football. The SEC boasted a total of 64 players selected by NFL teams over the three-day event in Nashville, including 22 taken in the first two rounds alone. To put the SEC's dominance into perspective, the Big Ten was second with 40. The SEC even managed to shatter its own record of 63 from the 2013 draft.
The SEC-to-NFL pipeline isn't showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon either. Per usual, college football's premier conference is loaded with top-tier talent for the upcoming 2019 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 2020 draft. Here now are 25 draft-eligible SEC players that have the most potential to hear their names called next year in Las Vegas.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama (Jr., 6-1, 218)
Tagovailoa played a huge role in transforming what had long been a somewhat lackluster Crimson Tide passing attack into an absolute juggernaut last season. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,966 yards with 43 touchdown passes compared to just six picks, shattering several of Alabama’s single-season passing records along the way. His stellar efforts resulted in consensus All-American honors, the prestigious Maxwell Award, and a runner-up finish in the Heisman Trophy voting. Tagovailoa still needs to prove that he can get over the hump against elite defenses, but he has all the tools necessary to shine at the next level. The #TankForTua movement is already underway with Tagovailoa tabbed as the odds-on favorite to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft.
2. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn (Sr., 6-5, 318)
The 2019 NFL Draft was as deep and talent-rich with defensive linemen as any in recent memory. And yet, Brown probably would have still gone in the first- or second-round had he elected to forego his senior season. He’s genuinely that good. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has referred to Brown as “a rare, rare talent”. He moves incredibly well for a big defensive tackle and his instincts are off the charts. He should be in for a huge senior campaign, which would all but guarantee a top-five selection in next year’s draft.
3. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama (Jr., 6-1, 192)
Alabama is once again expected to have one of the nation’s top passing attacks in 2019. And Jeudy is a big reason why. Jeudy enjoyed a monster sophomore campaign to lead an ultra-talented Crimson Tide receiving corps with 68 receptions for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns. His stellar efforts garnered consensus All-American honors, along with the prestigious Biletnikoff Award as college football’s top wide receiver. Jeudy is heavily favored to win the award again in 2019. He’s a sure-fire first-rounder.
4. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia (Jr., 6-5, 320)
Thomas has had a starring role in the Georgia offense in each of his first two seasons in Athens. He served as a road-grading right tackle as a true freshman and transitioned to left tackle last season to protect Jake Fromm’s blindside. Thomas was for the most part dominant as a sophomore despite dealing with a lingering ankle injury. So, it’s almost scary to think how good he can be at full strength in 2019. He possesses the size, strength and athleticism that NFL general managers salivate over. The All-SEC performer is equally gifted as a pass protector as a run blocker. Thomas has an excellent shot at being the first offensive lineman taken in next year’s draft.
5. Grant Delpit, S, LSU (Jr., 6-3, 203)
The ball-hawking safety emerged as one of the top players in all of college football last season to earn unanimous All-American honors as a true sophomore. He led all SEC defenders with five interceptions, in addition to racking up 74 tackles (9.5 for a loss), five sacks, nine passes defended, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Delpit is a bona fide playmaker with an elite skill set that should translate well to the next level. He’s a pretty safe bet to go in the first round next year.
6. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia (Jr. 6-2, 220)
Fromm is as polished and poised as any draft-eligible quarterback heading into the 2019 season. He took a big step forward last season, completing 67.3 percent of his passes and throwing 30 touchdown passes to just six interceptions after leading the Bulldogs to an SEC title and the national championship game as a true freshman. And Fromm has already sent two higher-rated quarterback prospects packing in Jacob Eason (transferred to Washington) and Justin Fields (Ohio State). Legitimate questions have been raised about his ability to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL. However, Fromm has proven time and time again that he can overcome just about any obstacle put in front of him. I wouldn’t bet against him doing the same at the next level.
7. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama (Sr., 6-7, 309)
Davis was a first-team All-SEC selection in 2017, leading the Crimson Tide with 8.5 sacks and ranking second on the team with 10 tackles for a loss. Much to everyone’s surprise, his numbers dipped dramatically last season, as fellow defensive linemen Quinnen Williams and Isaiah Buggs stepped up to steal the spotlight. Davis will need to return to form and make big strides on the stat sheet in 2019 to guarantee a first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. That said, his freakish combination of size, speed, and athleticism may be enough to keep him near the top of draft boards regardless of his production.
8. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama (Jr., 6-3, 235)
He led the Crimson Tide defense with 86 tackles as a rising sophomore last season. Moses also had 10 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He’s a freak athlete that seems poised to take another step forward during his junior campaign to become the next great linebacker at Alabama. That certainly won’t hurt him in next year’s draft, where Moses is already being projected as a likely first-round pick.
9. Nick Coe, DE, Auburn (R-Jr., 6-5, 291)
He emerged as the Tigers' top pass rusher from his Buck position in 2018. The promising junior-to-be tallied seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss during his breakout redshirt sophomore season despite missing the better part of three games with wrist and thumb injuries. Coe doesn’t get the recognition he deserves playing along the talent-rich Auburn defensive front. But that will likely change after he wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks in 2019. That could also vault him into the first round of the 2020 draft.
10. CJ Henderson, CB, Florida (Jr., 6-1, 191)
Henderson earned second-team All-SEC (coaches) accolades last season, totaling 38 tackles (5 TFL), three sacks, two interceptions, nine passes defended, and two forced fumbles. He enters 2019 regarded as one of the top cornerback prospects in the nation. NFL scouts seem to be extremely high on his potential at the next level as well. Henderson has all the tools necessary to be an early-round pick. The same can be said for fellow Gator cornerback, Marco Wilson, provided he successfully rebounds from a torn ACL.
11. Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri (R-Jr., 6-5, 255)
The 2018 John Mackey Award finalist boasted a career-high 43 receptions and 466 receiving yards to go with six scores in just nine games during an injury-shortened season. As a redshirt freshman in 2017, Okwuegbunam hauled in 11 touchdown passes to earn All-SEC second-team honors. He enters the 2019 season widely regarded as the favorite to be the first tight end to hear his name called in next year’s draft.
12. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama (Jr., 6-0, 190)
Ruggs hauled in 46 passes for 741 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore. And while it might be a tall order to surpass those numbers as a junior, given that Alabama’s receiving corps appears to be even more loaded than last season; Ruggs remains one of the best wide receiver prospects in the nation. If the rumors are true that he ran a legit 4.25 in the 40-yard dash during Alabama’s junior pro day, he should be among the first wide receivers to come off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft.
13. Rashard Lawrence, DT, LSU (Sr., 6-3, 317)
The former five-star defensive line prospect enjoyed his best season to date in an LSU uniform in 2018, tallying 54 tackles (10 TFL) and four sacks. Lawrence finished the season on a high note as well, earning defensive MVP honors with a two-sack performance in the Fiesta Bowl win over UCF. If he can pick up where he left off last season, Lawrence will be a strong contender for the Outland Trophy in his final season in Baton Rouge. He’s also a strong candidate to be selected in the early rounds of next year’s draft.
14. D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia (Jr., 5-9, 215)
Swift battled through groin and ankle injuries in 2018 to rush for 1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry in the process. He also ranked third on the team with 32 receptions for 297 yards and three scores last season. Now fully healthy, he appears poised to make a bigger impact during his junior campaign. While his small stature could negatively affect his draft stock with a few NFL teams, Swift’s versatility as a top-flight runner and receiver out of the backfield should be enough to propel him into the early rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft if he elects to leave school early.
15. Trevon Diggs, DB, Alabama (Sr., 6-2, 200)
The younger brother of Vikings’ star wide receiver Stefon Diggs, Trevon is set to embark on his final season in Tuscaloosa. Despite a foot injury that somewhat derailed his junior campaign, Diggs managed to showcase his elite talent with a team-high six pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble in just six games. He’s still a bit raw as a defensive back prospect, but he has as much upside as anyone projected to be in next year’s draft class. His athleticism is off the charts, and Diggs is capable of playing any position in the secondary at the next level.
16. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU (Sr., 6-0, 192)
Already tabbed as the next great lockdown cornerback at DBU, Fulton put together an outstanding junior campaign after missing the entire 2017 season due to suspension. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed only 39.5 percent of throws in his direction to be completed. Additionally, Deandre Baker, a first-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, was the only SEC cornerback to grade out higher than Fulton in 2018. There is a reasonable possibility that Fulton will follow in Baker’s footsteps as a potential first-rounder himself in 2020.
17. Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama (Jr., 6-1, 196)
Deionte Thompson received most of the praise among Crimson Tide defensive backs in 2018. But a strong argument could be made that McKinney shined brighter than anyone in the Alabama secondary last season. The junior-to-be racked up 74 tackles (6 TFL), three sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and 10 passes defended. McKinney also earned defensive MVP honors for his standout performance in the Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the Crimson Tide safety makes his way across the Las Vegas stage on Day 1 of next year’s draft.
18. Jacob Phillips, LB, LSU (Jr., 6-4, 229)
The gifted linebacker flew a bit under the radar playing alongside NFL first-rounder Devin White last season. Nevertheless, Phillips made his presence felt, ranking second on the team behind White with 87 tackles and adding a pick-six for good measure. Now that White is no longer in the picture, 2019 is expected to be a banner year for Phillips. If he can live up to the hype, NFL teams should come calling early in next year’s draft. Fellow LSU linebackers K’Lavon Chaisson and Michael Divinity Jr. have the potential to find themselves in a similar position with big seasons of their own.
19. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama (Jr., 6-2, 227)
Harris managed to rush for 783 yards, averaging a team-best 6.7 yards per carry, despite playing third fiddle to Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs in the Alabama backfield last season. He should be in for a huge season as the Crimson Tide’s feature back in 2019. Harris certainly possesses first-round talent as an elite runner. However, he had just four receptions in 2018 and may need to prove himself to be a reliable pass catcher before NFL teams seriously consider drafting him on Day 1.
20. Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State (R-Jr., 6-2, 185)
In spite of a breakout sophomore season that included 43 tackles (2.5 TFL, sack), two interceptions, and 11 passes defended to earn second-team All-SEC honors, it seems that the college football world is still sleeping on the talented cornerback. But you can bet that NFL scouts have already taken notice. According to Pro Football Focus, Dantzler had the second-lowest passer rating allowed (42.9) among SEC cornerbacks in 2018. He also has the size, speed and ball skills that NFL general managers covet.
21. Terrell Lewis, LB, Alabama (R-Jr., 6-5, 252)
Lewis has flashed elite ability during his limited time on the field, particularly as a pass rusher. However, injuries have kept him on the sidelines for the better part of the last two seasons now. He will need to prove that he can stay healthy and meet lofty expectations on the stat sheet in 2019 to optimize his draft stock. The former 5-star recruit has tremendous upside at the next level.
22. Justin Madubuike, DL, Texas A&M (Jr., 6-3, 304)
Madubuike was often overshadowed at Texas A&M last season, playing alongside a group of prized upperclassmen. But the imposing junior-to-be more than held his own in 2018, tallying 40 tackles (10.5 TFL), 5.5 sacks, and a team-best three forced fumbles. There isn’t a ton of draft buzz surrounding Madubuike just yet, but that will likely change before the conclusion of the 2019 season. He checks all the boxes that NFL scouts are looking for in a top-flight defensive lineman.
23. Anfernee Jennings, LB, Alabama (R-Sr., 6-3, 259)
Jennings concluded a solid junior season with 50 tackles (13 TFL), 5.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, an interception, and a team-high 11 passes defended. While he needs to improve on his consistency and sack numbers in 2019, he has the potential to be one of the SEC’s top defenders during the upcoming season. If that comes to fruition, Jennings’ draft stock will soar.
24. Marlon Davidson, DE, Auburn (Sr., 6-3, 278)
As a three-year starter at defensive end for Auburn, Davidson has long been touted as a potential first-round talent. Unfortunately, he hasn’t really taken the big leap forward that many expected after earning Freshman All-SEC honors in 2016. He has all the measurables that NFL scouts look for in a top prospect. But Davidson will really need to put together a productive senior season on the field to get back in the conversation as a future first-rounder.
25. Jabari Zuniga, DE, Florida (R-Sr., 6-4, 257)
A standout for the Gators last season, Zuniga compiled 45 tackles and ranked second on the team in tackles for a loss (11) and sacks (6.5). And now that Jachai Polite is off to the NFL, Zuniga is expected to take on an expanded role as the Gators’ premier edge rusher in 2019. He will need to make the most of that opportunity with a big senior campaign, along with a strong performance at the Scouting Combine to hear his name called on Day 1, but the potential is certainly there.
25 more draft-eligible SEC prospects to watch: Trey Smith, OT, Tennessee; Shyheim Carter, DB, Alabama; K'Lavon Chaisson, LB, LSU; Prince Tega Wanogho, OT, Auburn; J.R. Reed, S, Georgia; Errol Thompson, LB, Mississippi State; Kendrick Rogers, WR, Texas A&M, Jeremiah Holloman, WR, Georgia; Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt; David Reese, LB, Florida; Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB, Vanderbilt; Ben Cleveland, OG, Georgia; De'Jon Harris, LB, Arkansas; Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina; Marco Wilson, CB, Florida; Lynn Bowden, WR, Kentucky; Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina; Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama; McTelvin Agim, DT, Arkansas; Kalija Lipscomb, WR, Vanderbilt; D.J. Wonnum, DE, South Carolina; DeMarkus Acy, CB, Missouri; Darrell Taylor, LB, Tennessee; Mohamed Sonogo, LB, Ole Miss; Darryl Williams, OL, Mississippi State
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.