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Eagles 2023 NFL Draft prospects: SEC players to monitor

The best college football conference in the country also happens to produce the best NFL players. Crazy!

TaxAct Texas Bowl - Texas Tech v Ole Miss
Ole Miss RB Zach Evans is a violent runner. I like that.
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

I watch what many might consider an “unhealthy” amount of college football. When you combine that with all of the time I spend consuming college football content via other media you can see why my children already know that they won’t get to watch Bluey on Saturdays ever. I was hoping to turn this “problem” into something useful for Eagles fans, so I started compiling a list of players, one from every Power 5 team plus some Group of 5 and FCS prospects too, that I think the Birds should at least kick the tires on come draft weekend.

Here is the next conference in the series, the SEC!

Alabama: CB Eli Ricks, 6-foot-2, 196 pounds (2nd round)

  • 2022 stats: 13 tackles (1 TFL), 4 pass breakups
  • 2022 honors: preseason 1st Team All-American (AP, PFF, Walter Camp)
  • You may notice that Ricks’ honors from last year are of the preseason variety and that is because he battled injuries at the beginning of the season and never really seemed to be 100% until the end of the year. His last truly healthy season (2020, freshman year) he had four interceptions, four pass breakups, and was named a 3rd Team All-American. If healthy, he’ll give you first round production at a second round cost.
Arkansas v Brigham Young Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Arkansas: OL Ricky Stromberg, 6-foot-4, 313 pounds (7th round, if he falls)

  • 44 career starts; 2022 Jacobs Blocking Trophy (best SEC lineman) winner; 1st Team All-SEC (AP, Coaches, PFF, USA Today); Honorable Mention All-American (PFF)
  • According to his Arkansas bio, he did not allow a sack or a hit on the QB all of last season. In fact, he only allowed four sacks in his entire collegiate career! Great size for an interior lineman (he played center for the Razorbacks) and an excellent run blocker. The Hogs set multiple school offensive records with Stromberg in the middle and as a junior in 2021 he helped pave the way for an Arkansas rushing attack that gained 227.8 yards per game, best of any Power 5 school. He would pair nicely with Cam Jurgens on the interior of the o-line but I’d guess that the Birds would have to trade up to get him.

Auburn: EDGE Derick Hall, 6-foot-3, 256 pounds (2nd round)

  • 2022 stats: 60 tackles (12 TFL), 7 sacks, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery
  • 2022 honors: 1st Team All-SEC (coaches); 2nd Team All-SEC (AP, Phil Steele)
  • Hall is a freak of nature and is basically maxed out at all physical measurements of an OLB/EDGE player. He’s a guy who is going to win some fans at the NFL Combine. I would never say the name “Mike Mamula” around here, and Hall is not just a Workout Warrior, but he wasn’t asked to do a ton in run defense or pass coverage so NFL teams will have to weigh how valuable his superior pass rushing ability is to them. He was voted team captain as a senior which I know front offices love.

Florida: S Rashad Torrence, 6-foot-0, 202 pounds (3rd round)

  • 2022 stats: 84 tackles, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
  • He was Florida’s leading tackler last season and third leading tackler (87 stops) the season before, so he has no problem getting in the mix and making a play. He is good at playing centerfield and tracking the ball on pass plays too. Torrence isn’t an elite athlete but he does a good job of getting downhill on run plays and helping outnumber the blockers. Could he be brought in as a cheaper replacement for fellow Gator, and free agent, C.J. Gardner-Johnson?

Georgia: EDGE Nolan Smith, 6-foot-3, 235 pounds (late 1st round)

  • 2022 stats: 18 tackcles (7 TFL), 3 sacks, 16 QB hurries, 1 pass breakup
  • 2022 honors: preseason watch lists for Outland Trophy (nation’s top interior lineman) and Nagurski Trophy (nation’s top defender); preseason 2nd Team All-American
  • Unfortunately Smith got hurt at the end of October so his stats and accolades aren’t as impressive as they might’ve been otherwise. However, he is still easily a top-50 player in this draft class and brings a lot to the table.

Kentucky: IOL Eli Cox, 6-foot-4, 298 pounds (7th round)

  • 2022 stats: 22 career starts (30 career games); 2022 Outland Trophy Watch List
  • As a right guard, Cox didn’t allow any QB sacks or pressures in 2021. He only played nine games that season before suffering a season-ending hand injury, but bounced back to start all 13 games in 2022 at center. His versatility on the interior of the o-line would be appealing for a team looking to potentially save a roster spot by having Cox fill multiple backup roles. UK wasn’t a great rushing team last season, but they also threw the ball more than they ran it and QB Will Levis is considered a high 1st round talent, in no small part due to his offensive line keeping him clean.

LSU: EDGE BJ Ojulari, 6-foot-3, 250 pounds (2nd round)

  • 2022 stats: 58 tackles (8.5 TFL), 5.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 13 QB hurries
  • 2022 honors: selected to wear No. 18 jersey last year, which “is given each year to the player who best represents all the outstanding traits of an LSU football player;” 1st Team All-SEC (AP, Coaches); twice named SEC Defensive Linemen of the Week
  • Would be an ideal fit in a Jim Leonhard-style 3-4 defense as an EDGE rusher due to his athleticism, explosiveness, and speed. Clearly has all of the leadership qualities that an NFL front office would like to see as he earned the No. 18 jersey as a junior. According to his LSU bio, he is the grandson of a Nigerian prince.

Mississippi State: CB Emmanuel Forbes, 6-foot-0, 180 pounds (2nd round)

  • 2022 stats: 46 tackles (1 TFL), 6 interceptions, 16 passes defended, 1 block, 3 touchdowns
  • 2022 honors: 2nd Team All-America (AP); 1st Team All-SEC (AP, Coaches)
  • He is the FBS career leader in pick sixes, with six, and has 14 career interceptions which made him the active leader in FBS last season. Forbes is extremely aggressive, as you can see by how many turnovers he created, loves to battle with wide receivers, and is more physical than your average outside cornerback.

Missouri: DL Isaiah McGuire, 6-foot-4, 274 pounds (3rd round)

  • 2022 stats: 39 tackles (13 TFL), 7.5 sacks, 4 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble, 1 block
  • 2022 honors: 1st Team All-SEC (AP), 2nd Team All-SEC (coaches)
  • A really nice case of a player getting better each season through four years of college and now entering the NFL as a plug-and-play rotational guy on the defensive line. McGuire doesn’t have as high a ceiling as many other DL prospects, but his high floor makes it likely that he won’t be a “waste” of a Day 2 draft pick. He has intriguing size with a frame to add some more weight to maybe even slide inside as a defensive tackle (he played there for Mizzou in limited action).

Ole Miss: RB Zach Evans, 6-foot-0, 215 pounds (3rd round)

  • 2022 stats: 144 rushes, 936 yards (6.5 ypc), 9 TDs; 12 receptions, 119 yards (9.9 ypc), 1 TD
  • 2022 honors: he was a preseason All-SEC pick for most CFB publications
  • During his two seasons at TCU, before transferring to Ole Miss, Evans averaged 4.8 yards per attempt AFTER CONTACT, which was the most of any Power 5 running back since 2020. Evans really “looks the part” of an NFL running back and he doesn’t have as much wear and tear on him as a lot of other tailbacks coming into the league. Although he was nominally the starter at Ole Miss, they moved to more of a running back by committee approach throughout the season as freshman Quinshon Judkins proved to be too good to keep off the field (QB Jaxson Dart was also a rushing threat). Evans is fast, as well as strong, and if he shows an improvement in the passing game he could become a steal of an all-around back. As I’m a guy who had both Evans and Judkins on my fantasy team, I could go on about them, but I’ll spare you a recap of my weekly angst over who would get more carries.

South Carolina: CB Cam Smith, 6-foot-0, 188 pounds (1st round, either)

NCAA Football: Charlotte at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2022 stats: 27 tackles (1 TFL), 1 interception, 6 passes defended
  • 2022 honors: was a preseason All-American candidate (Walter Camp, Phil Steele, Athlon, Sporting News); was 2nd Team All-SEC (AP, PFF) and Honorable Mention All-America (PFF) in 2021
  • Smith not earning any postseason accolades in 2022 is the product of SEC teams being smart enough to not throw his way all season. He is one of the most talented CBs in the draft this year and checks all the boxes scouts are looking for. He’s athletic, he’s smart, he has good ball skills (14 passes defended, 3 INTs in 2021 when teams threw at him), and he isn’t afraid to lay the lumber in the running game. He is, unfortunately, probably not quite good enough for the Eagles to draft him at 10 and won’t be around when they pick again at 31. If he falls though…

Tennessee: WR Jalin Hyatt, 6-foot-0, 185 pounds (late 1st round)

  • 2022 stats: 67 catches, 1,267 yards (18.9 ypc, 105.6 ypg), 15 TDs, long of 78
  • 2022 honors: Biletnikoff Award (best WR in country); consensus and unanimous 1st Team All-American; 1st Team All-SEC (AP, coaches, USA Today)
  • You may remember Hyatt from his jaw-dropping and record-breaking showing against Alabama last year (6 catches, 207 yards, 5 TDs), but he was great all season too. In the Bama game, he tied the SEC record for single-game TDs, last accomplished by DeVonta Smith of Alabama in 2019. Hey! We know that guy! Hyatt led the SEC in receiving yards, touchdowns, receptions per game (5.6), and receiving yards per game while finishing second in the FBS in receiving touchdowns and fifth in receiving yards. He led the nation in 40+ yard receptions (11), 50+ yard catches (7), and 60+ yard catches (5) too. He is extremely speedy and a demon after the catch, but there are some concerns as well. Hyatt played in a wide receiver friendly offense at Tennessee and only had standout production for one year…but it would be foolish to let that dissuade the Birds from taking a look at him as he would instantly be one of the best WR3s in the league.

Texas A&M: S Antonio Johnson, 6-foot-3, 195 pounds (late 1st round)

  • 2022 stats: 71 tackles (5 TFL), 1 sack, 1 pass defended, 3 forced fumbles
  • 2022 honors: 1st Team All-SEC (AP); 2nd Team All-SEC (coaches)
  • Missed three games in 2022 with an injury but otherwise started every game over the past two seasons for the Aggies. Johnson is what one might call “a bit of a tweener.” I don’t mean this in a bad way, it’s just that a defensive coordinator might have to get a bit creative to get the most out of him at the next level. He is an excellent tackler and locates the ball carrier with the quickness of a heat seeking missile. He isn’t, however, excellent in coverage and his ball skills leave a bit to be desired. Johnson played all over the field for A&M, including lining up as a linebacker in some packages, but it’s unclear if he has a true positional “home” in the NFL. I, for one, love the versatility and think that any defense could use a talent like his, but since the Eagles don’t have a defensive coordinator yet, who knows what they’re thinking.

Vanderbilt: LB Anfernee Orji, 6-foot-2, 230 pounds (3rd round)

NCAA Football: Elon at Vanderbilt George Walker IV-USA TODAY Sports
  • 2022 stats: 108 tackles (7.5 TFL), 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, 2 passes defended, 1 touchdown
  • 2022 honors: 2nd Team All-SEC (Phil Steele)
  • Look, Vanderbilt stinks at football, but that is no fault of Orji who has been a productive player for the Commodores for years. He is constantly around the ball and is above average in both run and pass defense. Orji is athletic and smart enough to make it in the NFL and I think he could be a key rotational linebacker early in his career.

Others to watch: CB Sevyn Banks (6-foot-2, 205 pounds, LSU); EDGE Brenton Cox Jr. (6-foot-4, 253 pounds, Florida); RB Chris Rodriguez Jr. (5-foot-11, 224 pounds, Kentucky); OLB Bumper Pool (6-foot-2, 232 pounds, Arkansas); ILB Henry To’o To’o (6-foot-2, 228 pounds, Alabama)

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