Detractors say perception and opinion have built the powerful SEC brand.
There is some truth in that statement.
There are also legitimate reasons behind the widespread belief that it’s the nation’s premier conference.
Performance in the postseason, depth of the league and recruiting talent are among those factors.
The hordes of former SEC players who populate NFL rosters is another.
In April, 51 SEC players were selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, making it 10 straight years that the SEC has led college football in total draftees. The conference also claims 65 first-round selections since 2010, almost twice as many as the next-best conference (ACC, 34).
With so many rookies getting their first taste of pro ball, keeping up with your school’s alumni can be challenging. Luckily for you, SEC Country has tracked down eight SEC rookies who are lighting it up during the preseason:
Alabama DL Jarran Reed, Seattle Seahawks
Considered a sure-fire first-round selection, Reed fell to the 49th overall pick before Seattle scooped him up. That may end up paying big dividends for the Seahawks.
During last Thursday’s preseason action, Reed “was disruptive against both the Vikings’ starting offense and their reserves,” according to the AP. The Seahawks offensive line has received praise for showing improvement this August, which probably benefited Reed by giving him tough practice competition.
Of course, Reed already spent four years working against Alabama offensive lines, so he might not even need the extra challenge.
With the loss of starting defensive tackle Brandon Mebane to free agency, Seattle figures to prominently feature Reed in its defensive line rotation.
Jarran Reed was such a steal. Still can't believe he slipped that far in the draft.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) August 19, 2016
Alabama CB Cyrus Jones, New England Patriots
Imagine that, another Alabama player.
A second-rounder, Jones was New England’s first pick in the 2016 draft because of that whole DeflateGate thing (you may be aware of it). He has been working in and out with the first-team defense throughout camp, and even more impressively, he’s seen time as the team’s top kickoff- and punt-return man.
Over the weekend, Jones had his coach glowing after anticipating a throw from opposing quarterback Brian Hoyer and picking it off.
“I think like Asante Samuel had that ability when he was here for us,” Bill Belichick told reporters on a conference call.
Belichick knows his defensive backs, so that is high praise indeed.
Auburn CB Jonathan Jones, New England Patriots
The super-speedy Jones went undrafted in April, but he’s getting a shot with the Patriots and could even be in line to land one of the team’s final roster spots.
From NESN’s Doug Kyed:
“Jonathan Jones, (Cre’Von) LeBlanc, (Elandon) Roberts, (E.J.) Biggers and (V’Angelo) Bentley (who was waived on Monday) (are) competing for what’s likely just one roster spot. Jones, who received first-team reps Sunday, is the favorite among that group, though LeBlanc was extremely impressive in the Patriots’ preseason opener. It might come down to who’s the better special teams player, and so far that has been Jones.”
So make that two versatile SEC cornerbacks who could figure into Belichick’s defense this fall. ESPN’s Todd McShay praised Jones for his surprising strength before the draft. He measures in at just 5-foot-9 and it would appear he’s poised to prove his doubters wrong.
Arkansas TE Hunter Henry, San Diego Chargers
Henry is in position to see a fair amount of action as a rookie.
Though he has been working as the No. 2 tight end behind the great Antonio Gates, the team is expected to have Henry rotate snaps with the 36-year-old veteran.
Henry has caught four passes for 50 yards in two preseason contests while progressing as a blocker, and he’s already bonding with teammates.
@PaulMalandNFL Rotating snaps, unless they have a lot of success early in 12 personnel. The Chargers are still a 3-WR team.
— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) July 16, 2016
LSU LB Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons
At the NFL combine, Jones measured 6-foot-1 and 222 pounds — small for a linebacker and particularly small for a middle linebacker. That is where he projects with the Falcons.
Apparently that hasn’t mattered much. The rookie has drawn early praise from Atlanta’s coaching staff and, more recently, earned a tip of the hat from NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks:
“The rookie flashed big-time speed and quickness flowing from sideline to sideline, finishing Thursday’s game against the Redskins with five tackles and a pass breakup. Most impressively, Jones looks like a tone-setter in the middle of the retooled defense.”
The second-round draft pick displayed some of those same skills at LSU, where he recorded 5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss as a senior. He may not be a Week 1 starter for the Falcons, but the job ultimately could be his.
Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Perhaps the most obvious choice for this list, Prescott has been one of the NFL’s biggest preseason stories.
He’s gone 22 of 27 passing for 338 yards and 6 total touchdowns (4 passing, 2 rushing) without throwing an interception.
After Prescott’s most recent preseason performance, star Dallas receiver Dez Bryant summed it up as well as you can, via ESPN’s Todd Archer.
“He was running the show,” Bryant said. “He was leading. It was his huddle. He didn’t play like a rookie. His mindset was not like a rookie. It was like he’d been there before”
Tony Romo, 36, still is the starter. But Prescott’s early promise casts the fourth-round draft pick as the likely option to succeed Romo in the pressure-cooker role of being Jerry Jones’ quarterback.
South Carolina RB Brandon Wilds, Atlanta Falcons
Wilds, one of the few seniors on a struggling South Carolina offense last fall, went undrafted. Between injuries and sub-par blocking, he managed just 567 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns in 9 games.
However, he could wind up being a preseason success story. Though the Falcons’ top two running back spots are reserved for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, it’s an open battle for the No. 3 job, and Wilds has done a solid job in camp and in exhibition games (18 carries, 75 yards, 2 touchdowns).
“The opportunity for him is here, and he’s taking advantage of it,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said, per atlantafalcons.com.
Texas A&M CB Brandon Williams, Arizona Cardinals
You know you’re in a good spot when the official team site runs an article under the headline “Starting Cornerback Brandon Williams’ Job To Lose.” And for a player who only spent one season as a cornerback with the Aggies, that makes quite a statement about his athleticism.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise,” Williams said of his sudden ascension. “Not to be cocky, but I know how hard I work for it. If you work hard for something and believe in yourself, good things tend to happen.”
Williams, the former No. 1 overall high school prospect from the state of Texas, began his career as a running back at Oklahoma, and then transferred to Texas A&M as a sophomore. He recorded 37 tackles and 7 pass breakups in his lone season playing defensive back.
If he does hold onto the starting job, he’ll be part of an all-SEC Cardinals secondary that features Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and D.J. Swearinger.