SEC Country offers a whimsical look at the SEC’s most notable hits, misses, coups and boos from NFL draft weekend.
For what it’s worth, the SEC produced the greatest number of Power 5 draftees when counting all seven rounds. On the down side, the conference missed out on the overall top five prospects drafted for the first time in 10 years.
BEST VALUE PICK: Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Miami Dolphins — 13th overall).
We’ll tackle Tunsil’s tumultuous weekend in greater detail further down; from an on-field perspective, Miami merits praise for landing a cornerstone left tackle midway through Round 1.
Tunsil has tremendous size, supreme athleticism, quick feet, long arms and the body flexibility (“great bend,” as the scouts love to say) to handle the most demanding position in pro football.
BIGGEST DRAFT COUP: The Chicago Bears leapfrogged the New York Giants (trading up two slots from No. 11) to draft UGA linebacker/rush end Leonard Floyd.
Floyd’s initial speed burst off the edge has invoked comparisons to Dante Fowler (first-round pick in 2015), Vic Beasley (first-rounder in 2015), Anthony Barr (first-rounder in 2014) and Von Miller (first-rounder in 2011).
As a potential rush-end dynamo, Floyd also has the knack to flourish in either a 4-3 or 3-4 front.
Perhaps stunned from the sudden loss of Floyd (and Michigan State O-tackle Jack Conklin at No. 8) on their draft board, the Giants invested the 10th pick on Ohio State defensive back Eli Apple, a talented-but-raw cornerback with only two years of college experience.
That’s a risky venture for a top-10 pick.
MOST CURIOUS ‘MIRROR’ PICK: Alabama running back Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans, 45th overall)
It’s no surprise Alabama’s Henry went in the second round. But why the Tennessee Titans, who just traded for Henry’s doppelganger last month — DeMarco Murray?
Murray captured the NFL rushing title with the Cowboys in 2014 (1,845 yards), before enduring a wretched-scheme-fit season with the Eagles in 2015.
Now with the Titans, the 28-year-old has agreed to mentor Henry (Alabama’s second-ever Heisman Trophy winner) during his rookie campaign.
On paper, this makes for a great pairing. But ay, the rub: Henry and Murray have similar running styles, best showcased when operating behind physical offensive lines; if Murray is already the more accomplished runner, pass-catcher and goal-line option, how does this situation create consistent playing time for Henry?
Over time, perhaps Kenyan Drake (Henry’s Alabama teammate) would have been a better complement to Murray.
MOST CURIOUS ‘MIRROR’ PICK, PART II: South Carolina receiver Pharoh Cooper (Los Angeles Rams, fourth round)
On one hand, I commend the Los Angeles Rams for bolstering their sorry-sack receiving corps with Cooper (Round 4). However, Cooper and Tavon Austin (907 total yards, 10 TDs last year) are similar assets in size, speed, shiftiness and positional limitations within the Rams offense.
In other words, are the Rams going to deploy multiple slot receivers, essentially guaranteeing minimal blocking help for tailback Todd Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff (No. 1 overall pick)?
If anything, the Rams would flourish in a Patriots-style attack, implementing two tight ends and riding Gurley (second-year candidate for 1,500 yards rushing) in a single-back formation.
MOST SURPRISING SLIDE: Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson (Detroit Lions, 46th overall)
The Lions front office was reportedly shocked to see Robinson (above) on the board midway through Round 2, and happily gobbled up one of the most dominant Alabama defensive linemen of the Nick Saban era.
It would be wrong to hype Robinson (nine sacks, 22 tackles for loss) as Detroit’s next version of Ndamukong Suh. But within the realms of stuffing the run and wreaking havoc in the trenches, Robinson has the physical upside to be an annual Pro Bowler.
Plus, he’ll garner on-the-job training from future Hall of Famer Haloti Ngata, now with the Lions.
BIGGEST HARD-LUCK SELECTION: Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams (Buffalo Bills, fifth round)
The Arkansas tailback, who has the annual rushing potential of 1,000 yards at the next level, now belongs to a crowded Bills backfield featuring superstar LeSean McCoy (four 1,000-yard seasons, 55 touchdowns this decade), Karlos Williams (seven touchdowns in his first six games last year) and Mike Gillislee (three touchdowns last December).
The lone upside to that: Buffalo enjoys running the ball more than most clubs. However, if he had been selected just one pick earlier in Round 5, Williams could have been the Colts’ long-term heir apparent to Frank Gore.
And that’s what makes the draft so vexing: These kids don’t realize how much their professional lives can change (or might have changed), on the momentum swing of a single draft slot.
MOST NOTORIOUS PICK: Laremy Tunsil (again).
Thirteen minutes before the draft launched on Thursday night, an unknown assailant allegedly hacked into Tunsil’s Twitter account and posted the now-famous “gas-mask bong” photo, an occurrence which undoubtedly triggered Tunsil’s Round 1 slide.
And roughly 13 minutes after being drafted by the Dolphins, Tunsil sent shockwaves through the SEC by admitting he accepted money from an Ole Miss coach at some point during his three-year college career in response to a character-crushing Instagram post from an unknown social-media bandit (likely the same perpetrator).
Simply put, Tunsil became a household name overnight with people who don’t necessarily follow football on a 24/7 basis. And unless you’re competing for a title on “Dancing With The Stars” … that kind of fame is seldom a good thing.
RISKIEST VENTURE: The Falcons bypassing on Ohio State’s Darron Lee, Clemson’s Shaq Lawson and UCLA’s Kenny Clark in Round 1, in order to draft Florida safety Keanu Neal (17th overall).
For Atlanta’s sake, I hope Neal ends up as a cross-pollination of Seahawks safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. But even if that’s the case, productive safeties can only do so much if the pass rush isn’t prolific. (The Falcons tallied just 17 sacks last season.)
BEST ROUND 1 FIT: Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (Arizona Cardinals, 30th overall)
Arizona needed quality depth along its defensive line, and Nkemdiche (a top-10 talent with a few off-field red flags) needs to be surrounded by a group of high-achieving, leadership-driven players who will put the rookie in his proverbial place, whenever necessary.
The Cardinals’ all-in/tough-love environment worked wonders for former LSU standout Tyrann Mathieu, and it should serve Nkemdiche well too, assuming he’s ready to get serious about his NFL legacy (very likely).
BEST LINE-OF-SUCCESSION PICK: Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry (San Diego Chargers, 35th overall)
During the offseason, tight end Ladarius Green — the one-time heir apparent to future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates in San Diego — signed with the Steelers, leaving the Chargers with a big-time hole to fill at tight end.
Enter Henry, whose most famous college play involved an intentional fumble. He’ll likely spend a year learning the ropes behind Gates (844 catches, 10,644 yards, 104 TDs) before taking over as the Chargers’ No. 1 tight end in 2017.
MOST POLARIZING SELECTION: Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones (Kansas City Chiefs 37th overall)
A handful of draft analysts on NFL Network and ESPN lauded the Chiefs for seeing Jones’ immense potential down the road. Heck, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer (NFL Network) even tabbed Jones as a potential top-five pick in 2017, if he had stuck around.
On the flip side, a number of analysts weren’t in love with Jones’ “motor,” which is code for being lazy or not caring about certain plays when the ball carrier runs away from the action.
This real-time debate made for great TV. It also exemplified why the draft — even in the higher rounds — remains a 50-50 proposition with the vast majority of prospects.
BEST ‘UPSIDE’ PICK: Florida receiver Demarcus Robinson (Chiefs, fourth round )
Kansas City has been seeking a No. 2 receiver for some time (say, 20-plus years?), and Robinson (6-foot-1, 204 pounds) has the physical tools to star at the next level.
Of course, it also means the Chiefs coaches must commit to throwing the ball downfield, occasionally getting out of their dink-and-dunk comfort zone.
Also, Robinson (three 120-yard games as a sophomore; noticeable drop-off as a junior) must move out of his ‘knucklehead’ comfort zone, which led to various suspensions and dismissals during his time with the Gators.
BEST ‘FANTASY’ ROOKIE: Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell (Minnesota Vikings, 23rd overall)
NFL rookie receivers are rarely stars in the fantasy realm, typically requiring a year or two to find their sea legs as go-to targets.
However, Treadwell (10 touchdowns in his final eight college outings) should start the 2016 season as no worse than Minnesota’ No. 2 wideout (behind Stefon Diggs); given the limited amount of passing targets earmarked for tailback Adrian Peterson and tight end Kyle Rudolph (49 catches, 495 yards, five touchdowns last year) … the door is wide open for Treadwell to corral 55-60 receptions in Year 1.
By comparison, Diggs caught 52 balls for 720 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie last season.
Which brings us to one final sub-section:
TOP 20 FANTASY OPTIONS FOR 2016 (all SEC players included)
1. QB Cam Newton, Panthers
2. RB Todd Gurley, Rams
3. WR Julio Jones, Falcons
4. WR Odell Beckham Jr., Giants
5. WR A.J. Green, Bengals
6. QB Eli Manning, Giants
7. QB Matthew Stafford, Lions
8. WR Alshon Jeffery, Bears
9. WR Amari Cooper, Raiders
10. RB Jeremy Hill, Bengals
11. RB Mark Ingram, Saints
12. TE Jordan Reed, Redskins
13. QB Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
14. RB Eddie Lacy, Packers
15. WR Jeremy Maclin, Chiefs
16. WR Randall Cobb, Packers
17. RB Matt Jones, Redskins
18. WR Mike Evans, Buccaneers
19. QB Jay Cutler, Bears
20. RB T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.