The SEC is arguably the most dominant conference in college football and has been for the better part of the the 21st century. With that, it has also been a factory for high NFL draft picks and some of the elite players currently in the league. In the 2015 class, the SEC led the draft with 56 players taken, including seven first round picks. This year could be much the same as the SEC is fielding some blue chip level players on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback: Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
After a down year for SEC quarterbacks, Dobbs could spearhead a very nice comeback for the position in the south. Dobbs is an incredibly intelligent passer, being able to scan the field and deliver the ball accurately to all levels. He does not have a big arm, but compensates with high level anticipation and instincts. Dobbs also has very good functional athletic ability. He has defense threatening legs, but does a good job to stay a pass first quarterback and only uses his legs when absolutely necessary. The biggest concerns reside in his slight build (6-3, 207) and a propensity for injury. If he can stay on the field for his whole junior year, Dobbs could move himself into the conversation with the other top quarterbacks in the class.
Second Team: Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
Running Back: Alex Collins, Arkansas and Derrick Henry, Alabama
Though he was second on his team in rushing, Collins was the best back for the Razorbacks last season. He has a very strong, compact build (5-11,225) and runs with excellent pad level, leg drive and vision. He is a very violent runner and is dependable to pick up yards with even the most dire blocking. He may not wow with any one athletic trait, but he is an incredibly aggressive and consistent running back.
Like Collins, Henry was his team's second running back last season, but unlike Collins, Henry is a physical specimen that will leave NFL teams in awe. Henry is built like a linebacker, standing at 6-2, 245 pounds with an incredibly muscular frame. He is a tall runner, which will hurt him in the NFL, but he possesses very impressive lower body strength and leg drive in order to fight through contact. He is not especially fast, but his ability to accelerate at his size is very impressive. It will all come down to if he can improve his pad level in the NFL, but Henry has the tools to be a dangerous NFL running back.
Second Team: Jonathan Williams, Arkansas and Kelvin Taylor, Florida
Wide Receiver: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss, Duke Williams Auburn and Demarcus Robinson, Florida
Laquon Treadwell can make a very good case for being the best player in this year's class and is most definitely the best receiver to come out of college football since AJ Green. Treadwell has a well constructed build (6-2, 210) with long arms. Treadwell is a very good athlete, but his best asset is his infield instincts and mentality. He is incredibly aggressive when the ball is in the air and does a great job positioning himself to come down with any pass.After the catch, he has great open field vision and is a very hard runner. His game is incredibly reminiscent of Dez Bryant and I could see Treadwell make that type of impact as soon as he steps onto an NFL team. His biggest thing to overcome will be recovering from a leg injury he suffered against Auburn last season.
In last years class, Auburn receiver, Sammie Coates, was taken in the third round by the Steelers. If he can build on his tools, I am confident that Duke Williams can go much, much higher. The 6-3, 225 pound receiver has everything anyone could want, physically, from a receiver. He is huge, with long arms and very impressive movement skills. He has the strength to make an impact after the catch and has flashed ability to dominate the catch point. He has inconsistencies when it comes to the nuances of the position; He loses focus with the ball in the air and his routes could be a lot cleaner on a regular basis. From a physical standpoint, he looks like a Create-A-Player, and if he improves his technique and focus, he could be the second receiver taken come April.
The Florida offense of the last few years ranks among one of the more depressing things in our country. Luckily, Demarcus Robinson was a bright spot on last year's team despite catching passes from the likes of Jeff Driskel *shudders* and Treon Harris. Robinson has a good build (6-1, 195) and does a good job using his body at the catch point. He has good agility and acceleration, but his route running is lazy at times and hurts his ability to separate. His best ability is his mentality with the ball in his hands, as he is very aggressive as a runner and consistently will create yards after the catch. Hopefully he gets to see more targets with a different quarterback and offense this year because Robinson has a ton of intriguing gifts.
Second Team: Pharaoh Cooper, South Carolina, Travin Dural, LSU and De'Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State
Tight End: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Despite being hampered by atrocious quarterback play, Evan Engram showed out as one of the best ight ends in college football last season. He does not have elite size (6-3, 227), but he is a tremendous athlete and functions as a very big wide receiver. He has a dependable set of hands and has very good body control. He moves with good acceleration and long speed, and does not mind getting physical with the ball in the air or as a runner. His size limits him as a blocker, but he brings an aggressive mentality to blocking, which is very important. I do not think he will be a classic in line tight end at the next level, but he could be a very good fleet-type of tight end like Delanie Walker or Aaron Hernandez.
Second Team: OJ Howard, Alabama
Offensive Tackle: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss and Denver Kirkland, Arkansas
Another Ole Miss player who could make a case for being the best player in the country, Laremy Tunsil is an outstanding offensive tackle who still has room to grow. At 6-5, 305 pounds, Tunsil has a huge frame with tree trunk legs and long, muscular arms. He is an incredibly violent blocker with a strong punch, but is also very controlled out in space. It is a amazing to see such aggressive play come in such a consistent way that does not hinder the player's balance. Of course, Tunsil still has some lapses and can get off balance at times, but those are small dents in his very complete game. With another offseason to grow physically and mentally, it will be scary to see what Tunsil can deliver on the field.
The Razorbacks famously fielded the heaviest offensive line in football last year and 6-5, 340 pound Denver Kirkland probably did a good job on his own to raise that average. The long armed blocker is aggressive and very strong as a run blocker and pass protector. He is not the best athlete, but his arm length helps him compensate on the edges and allows him to make impressive blocks in the run game. He is schematically limited at the next level, but he looks like the type of player who could make impact in a gap blocking scheme
Second Team: John Theus, UGA and Brandon Shell, South Carolina
Offensive Guard: Vadal Alexander, LSU and Alex Kozan, Auburn
Despite making the move to tackle for his final season in Baton Rouge, Alexander has spent most of his college career dominating at guard. At 6-6, 330 pounds, it would be hard to miss Alexander on any offensive line. While his height hurt his natural leverage, Alexander did a great job using his length, strength and mentality to function as a very good blocker in both facets of offense. He does not have great movement skills, but he does not exactly lumber either. It will be interesting to see how he plays at tackle this season, but I think he is a very good fit at guard in the NFL.
Auburn's high powered offense would not be possible without the superb play of their senior guard, Ale Kozan. Kozan is a very good athlete with good size (6-3,300). He has clean technique and is very aware in space. I have questions about his functional strength, but his smarts and movement skills make him seem like a good guard prospect.
Second Team: Greg Pyke, UGA and Ethan Pocic, LSU
Center: Evan Boehm, Mizzou
At 6-3, 320, Boehm is rather big for a center. Despite his size, he moves very well and has very good pad level. Boehm is very strong at the point of attack and does a good job working to the second level in the running game. Boehm is a very solid prospect with good athletic ability, smarts and on field demeanor and he just needs to clean up his technique, but he looks like a starting NFL center.
Second Team: Ryan Kelly, Alabama
Interior Defensive Lineman: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss and A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
It was not too long ago that Robert Nkemdiche was the best player in high school football and a few years later, he could be one of the best college football players in the country. After spending his freshman year playing a lot of defense end, Nkemdiche beefed up to almost 300 pounds and moved inside to defensive tackle. I think the weight gain was bad for him, as his motor and quickness suffered. However, there were moments where his dominating athletic ability would flash and he would wreck offensive linemen in the passing and running game. He has unreal strength for his size and light feet, but needs to keep his weight in check to maximize his tools. Hopefully he is more comfortable with his body this season and he can the dominant potential he has.
After a bit of a hiatus of fielding elite defenses, Alabama looks like it has the players to get back to classic Tide defensive play this season. A'shawn Robinson spearheads the Tide's stout defense with strong play up front. At 6-3, 313 pounds, Robinson has a strong build and he does a great job using it on every down. He is very physical and powerful with good quickness off the line. He still needs to learn how to use his hands, but he has incredible physical tools that could propel him into being a top tier defensive player.
Second Team: Montravious Adams, Auburn and Chris Jones, Mississipi State
Edge Defender: Carl Lawson, Auburn and Jonathan Allen, Alabama
After dominating his freshman year at Auburn, Carl Lawson suffered a torn ACL and missed all of his sophomore season to rehab. During his freshman year, despite playing with former first round pick, Dee Ford, Lawson was the best pass rusher by far. He has NFL size and 6-2, 257, but also has tremendous burst off the edge to pair with great bend and ability to convert speed to power. Lawson has every bit of first round potential, but will need to prove healthy if he wants to assert himself.
Jonathan Allen may fly a bit under the radar due to playing next to A'Shawn Robinson, but Allen is a very talented defender in his own right. At 6-3, 277 pounds, he has a tweener body type, but he is used all over the Alabama line. He is very savvy, using active hands, great pad level and a high motor to work into the back field to create production. There are very little flaws to Allen's game, so it may come down to him proving he has a definitive role in the NFL instead of jack of all trades, but an ace of none.
Second Team: Leonard Floyd, UGA and Johnathan Bullard, Florida
Linebackers: Reggie Ragland/Reuben Foster, Alabama, and Kendell Beckwith, LSU
The leader of the Alabama defense is linebacker Reggie Ragland and he shows that through intelligent, aggressive play. He does not have great range, but is incredibly good at attacking downhill and making plays in the run game. He has superb recognition skills and has the physicality to fight through blocks and make plays. He is a strong, punishing tackler and he is relentless when attacking a ball carrier. His lack of range limits what he can do in the NFL, but he looks like a very good strong inside linebacker.
Foster was one of the best inside linebackers in the country coming out of high school, but has been fighting for playing time since arriving in Tuscaloosa. When he has seen the field, he looks very physical and athletic, doing a good job diagnosing plays and attacking the ball carrier. With Alabama losing a few linebackers in last years class, Foster has a great opportunity to show the potential he has.
Kendell Beckwith took over at inside linebacker halfway though last season and never looked back. The 6-2, 250 pound linebacker is incredibly physical taking on blocks and is relentless when attacking plays. He is a bit raw mentally and lacks top notch range, but his physical style of play is very intriguing and he is still new to a starting role.
Second Team: Kris Frost, Auburn, Richie Brown, Mississipi State and Reggie Carter, Georgia
Cornerback: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida and Cam Sutton, Tennessee
Vernon Hargreaves is another player from the SEC who could end up being the best player in this class. While he lacks elite size (5-10, 198), Hargreaves is a complete corner who is elite in almost every facet of the game. He has tremendous footwork, is physical at the line, is very smooth in coverage, has great awareness and possesses top notch closing speed and ball skills. Some teams may knock him for his lack of size, but those teams are incredibly stupid, because Hargreaves is as good as any corner to come out of college football in recent memory. He should be a top three pick and could be a top tier corner as soon as he hits the NFL.
Cam Sutton gets overshadowed due to playing in the same conference as Hargreaves, but he is a very good corner in his own right. He has a good frame at 6-1 with long arms, but is a bit lean. He is physical at the line and does a good job using his body in coverage. His athletic ability is not anything special, so Sutton needs to refine his consistency in other aspects of his game to maximize his skill set on every play.
Second Team: Tre'Davious White, LSU and Will Redmond, Mississippi State
Safety: Tony Connor, Ole Miss and AJ Stamps, Kentucky
Another member of the stacked Rebels team, Tony Connor is a physical safety with good coverage skills. He has a strong build at 6 foot, 215 pounds and makes his presence felt when he attacks the line of scrimmage as a run defender and when defending the middle of the field. He has good eyes in coverage, but tends to play with a bit of a hot head, which can take him out of plays or lead to missed tackles. Teams will love his aggressive nature on the field, and if he can clean up his misses in coverage and in the run game, he will boost his stock tremendously.
Kentucky had a defender taken in the first round last draft and could see another defender get picked relatively high again this season. Stamps arrived at Kentucky as a JuCo cornerback, but was moved to safety in spring training. He has outstanding range and ball skills over the top of a defense and makes his biggest impact center fielding. He has flashed ability to make plays in the run game, but it is not his strong suit as he is not consistently physical. He has room to improve as this is a new position for him, but he has very impressive coverage abilities.
Second Team: Jalen Mills, LSU and Eddie Jackson, Alabama
The SEC is loaded top to bottom on both sides of the ball and could produce an even bigger and more talented crop of players than they have in recent memory.
Next week will be the last full conference preview with the Pac-12 before looking at Non Power Five Prospects!