The NFL combine is now behind us, and we’re on the road to Philadelphia for the 2017 NFL Draft. Here is my All-SEC big board, a look at the conference’s top 25 prospects and finalized grades for many other alums.
Before the board, some quick notes:
- The top five overall players on my full board come from the SEC.
- Alabama leads the way with six players in the All-SEC top 25, with LSU and Florida both producing four.
- While Alabama has six total players, Florida ties them with four first-round-graded prospects.
- The Cam Robinson question — Alabama’s tackle does not make the All-SEC top 25. I’ll write a more detailed explanation in a follow-up piece.
- In a down year of quarterbacks, my highest grade for an SEC quarterback is Chad Kelly (5th round/60). Josh Dobbs is behind Kelly, getting his own developmental grade (6th round/57). Within my grading system, quarterbacks are given an extra graded category (six as opposed to five for all other positions), giving them a disproportionate number that can bump them further up the board, commensurate with the value of QBs. Even with that, this class grades out poorly, and the SEC’s prospects reflect a down year of QB play within the conference.
1. Myles Garrett, Edge, Texas A&M, Grade: 96 (1st overall)
Simply put, Garrett is the most gifted talent at one of the game’s premier positions (edge) I have evaluated. His skill set is similar to future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers — long, explosive and able to convert his speed into overwhelming power.
Like Peppers, Garrett is able to line up all over the defensive front, be it in a three- or four-man front — stood up outside or with his hand on the ground. He isn’t perfect, but his athleticism, at his size, along with his quality pass-rushing technique — he can win inside or outside and has very good hand usage — makes him the top overall player in the class and the likely first overall selection in April.
2. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU, 94 (2nd overall)
Fournette is the draft’s top back and as special a player as I have covered. He has a rare combination of size, speed and power for the position. His ankle injury, which may be chronic, is a major red flag. However, if his medical checks out, he has the talent to be an instant star. Finding the right scheme fit will be a key: He needs to play in a gap/man-based running scheme rather than a zone one that asks him to read and cut. Patience can be an issue, leading to Fournette passing up big-play opportunities as he looks to initiate contact rather than find a cut-back lane. Despite that, his floor is high and his ceiling is as great as any prospect in the draft. He can create offense by himself and should be the centerpiece of a team’s attack from day one.
3. Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama, 94 (3rd overall)
Allen does everything at an excellent level. He can line up anywhere across the front — inside as a three-technique or further outside. As an interior rusher, he whipped fronts all season with a blend of athleticism and an understanding of pass-rushing nuance — keeping linemen off his pads and setting up “pay off” moves. His production is also off-the-charts good in the run game (16 TFLs in 2016), and his scheme versatility makes him an option for any team at the top of the draft.
He’ll be best utilized as a Michael Bennett-type at the next level: A guy who lines up outside on early downs and then kicks inside in passing situations. He’s an instant impact player who wins with quickness or power. The only downside is reported arthritis in his shoulders. Allen has claimed it’s an issue that’s not bothered him in the past, but it will be up to each club’s medical staff to figure out whether it’s enough of an issue to remove him from their board.
4. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama, 93 (4th overall)
Given that NFL teams now spend upwards of 70 percent of their defensive snaps in nickel or dime, Foster is everything a team could hope for in a modern-day linebacker. He has the athleticism to cover sideline-to-sideline, an innate ability to read and shoot gaps, can sort through traffic to make plays, and can turn and run in coverage. As he plays more, his diagnose-and-attack instincts will improve — the most important trait for any inside linebacker — but right now he makes up for a lot of that with sheer athleticism.
When he decides to fire, he arrives at the ball-carrier quickly, stacking and shedding blockers at a high level. The real fun begins when he does arrive, unpacking lethal power. Overall, he’ll provide any defense he joins the ability to play in nickel or dime on all three downs by himself, a rare trait that few linebackers can provide so early in their careers.
5. Jamal Adams, S, LSU, 93 (5th overall)
Adams is this year’s “throw him out there and let him go to work” safety, fitting in the mold of former LSU great Tyrann Mathieu. He can line up right across the defensive formation — in the slot, flexed out, in the box or in the middle of the field. And he does it all at a very high level.
His 1-on-1 battle with Ole Miss’ Evan Engram — a Jordan Reed-like tight end who moves all over the offensive alignment — showcased exactly what Adams can be in the NFL: a defensive playmaker who can take away an offense’s matchup threat, or a guy who has freedom to roam the field and make plays — like former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu — and force opposing quarterbacks to identify him pre- and post-snap on every play.
6. Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida, 91 (11th overall)
Wilson is a true press-man corner with size (6-foot-1, 211 pounds), length and exceptional route-recognition skills. He doesn’t move in his backpedal as smoothly as other top corner prospects, but he makes up for it by reading, diagnosing and breaking on routes. When he’s up in press coverage, he has the length to jam receivers and has shown great accuracy to set up his leverage and disrupt the timing of routes. His top-end speed is also excellent, making him a nice fit for the press-and-trail systems that have spread around the NFL.
7. Tim Williams, Edge, Alabama, 91 (12th overall)
Williams is the ultimate boom-or-bust prospect. His off-the-field issues have been well documented — failing multiple drug tests during his time with the Crimson Tide and receiving internal suspensions for maturity issues. On the field, there’s other issues. Right now, he’s not a true three-down player — often a requirement for a first-round pick. Against the run he can struggle, often conceding leverage and not carrying out the necessary assignment. He’ll also get caught in the trash, trying to make a home run play rather than hit the assigned single.
With that said, a team isn’t drafting Williams for his run defense. He’ll be brought in to rush the passer. Stand-up edge players have three responsibilities: A) hit the opposing quarterback; B) set a hard edge as the force or contain defender; C) drop into coverage. If a defender does one really well, he makes the NFL. If he does two really well, he’ll be a first-round pick. And if he does all three, he’ll be an All-Pro. And while all three are important, the first one can trump all.
As a pure pass rusher, Williams is as naturally gifted as any of this year’s crop. He possesses an explosive first step, has sudden change quickness, powerful hands and rocks offensive linemen when he arrives. He also has experience playing in both a two- and three-point stance. But he makes most of his plays by exploding out of his stance and beating linemen to their set point.
Early in his career, he may be just a sub-package pass rusher, but he has a similar skill set to former Mizzou Tiger Shane Ray when he entered the league — a prolific pass rusher who can drop into coverage but struggles against the run. After his rookie season, Ray developed vs. the run. He’s now an every-down player and one of the league’s most explosive pass rushers. Ray also had off-the-field concerns, but the Broncos took a gamble in the first round that paid off.
Williams likely will be on the board throughout the first round. Whoever takes the gamble will get a player who stars at one of the most difficult skills in the sport — pressuring quarterbacks. Taking him certainly would be a gamble, but it sets up to be one of the steals of the draft.
8. Caleb Brantley, DL, Florida, 91 (14th overall)
Are you looking for an interior disrupter who wins with first-step quickness as a pass rusher and can anchor against the run? Then look no further than Brantley. He is another in a long line of Gator three-techs who are fun as hell to watch — Dominique Easley, Jonathan Bullard, et al. Right now, Brantley grades out as the best of them all. He’s big (waist size, not length) but not hulking, with good enough lower-body explosiveness to allow him to beat interior linemen out of their stances and penetrate into the backfield.
The biggest knock is his lack of scheme versatility, lining up exclusively as three/one-technique in a four-man front. That will limit the number of teams with interest.
9. Charles Harris, Edge, Missouri, 90 (16th overall)
None of the draft’s edge rushers offer as much schematic or positional flexibility as Harris. He has experience in both a one-gap and two-gap scheme, and aligned in every spot possible along Missouri’s defensive front.
Coaches love that kind of versatility. It allows them to stay in the same personnel package against tempo, conceal their own tendencies and allows them to switch up plays prior to the snap when an offense motions or shifts — something that’s extremely important for multi-gap fronts.
As a pure pass rusher, Harris is smart. He doesn’t overwhelm with athleticism — something his testing times proved — but he has a good first step, converts speed to power and can win in multiple ways. Sources within the Missouri program rave about his attitude, citing the team’s change in scheme — which limited his pass-rushing opportunities and reduced his production — as an example of sacrificing for the team.
10. Teez Tabor, CB, Florida, 90 (18th overall)
Whereas Gator teammate Quincy Wilson is more of a press corner, Tabor is better suited in off-man or zone coverage. He has outstanding lateral quickness, mirror skills and good anticipation. Combined, that makes him an effective playmaker, consistently driving on the ball and undercutting throws.
Although he has good length, he can struggle when playing up on the line of scrimmage in press coverage. His length gives him a chance, but his radar is often missing — not delivering a clean blow or using incorrect leverage. Run support is another area of concern. Not only does he struggle to stack-and-shed, he often looks unwilling.
If a team is looking for a playmaker on the back end, Tabor fits the bill. If it’s looking for a foundational piece that helps on every down, there are other options.
11. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama, 90 (21st overall)
Howard is an in-line tight end (“Y”), but he also can move across the formation. He didn’t catch as many balls at Alabama as he (or indeed head coach Nick Saban) would have liked, but he displayed all the capabilities of creating separation, catching the ball in traffic and creating big plays.
Where Howard sets himself apart is as a blocker. He’s not necessarily just a pure in-line blocker, either. With a predominantly running quarterback this season, Alabama ran a ton of split-zone option looks that had Howard lead the way or seal the backside of a play. He’s shown the ability to move, locate the correct defender and flip his hips to open running lanes. It’s an advanced stage for modern tight ends who have essentially become bigger and slower receivers.
12. Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee, 90 (22nd overall)
Kamara has not received as much attention as the likes of Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook, or indeed Christian McCaffrey or D’Onta Foreman, but he’s a wonderful player. He has supreme stop-and-start quickness and is electric whenever the ball is in his hands. At Tennessee, he was asked to be more of a space back than one who runs between the tackles. However, that had as much to do with his offensive line, which was among the worst in the SEC.
At the next level, he’ll be stout between the tackles. He runs hard, rarely takes a clean shot, and can deliver his own blow to tacklers. Kamara’s skill set is as diverse and all-encompassing as any back in this class. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to have the best career.
13. Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida, 89 (26th overall)
Davis is my final SEC product with a first-round grade — total grade of 89 or above. He is an exceptional sideline-to-sideline athlete, perfect for modern defenses that play with just one or two off-ball linebackers. In the run game, he’s a violent hitter with outstanding diagnose-and-attack instincts. Not only does he read the game well, he can create big plays, shooting through gaps and dropping runners in the backfield. His three-down value — and complete skill set — should see him go in the first round.
14. Derek Barnett, Edge, Tennessee, 88 (28th overall)
You will be hard-pressed to find anyone in college football who had more production than Barnett in 2016 (19 TFLs, 13 sacks). While the production is impressive, Barnett’s athleticism is a concern. He isn’t an explosive athlete and doesn’t bend the edge with the kind of consistency that is traditionally needed from a top-tier rusher — though to say he’s inflexible would be grossly unfair. And yet there’s a bigger concern: pass-rush discipline. Too often Barnett finds himself stuck behind the opposing quarterback, unaware of the launching point or unable to bend the corner.
Rush discipline is as important as first-step quickness. After all, what use is rushing the quarterback if you consistently end up behind him? Yet Barnett’s production is no fluke. His power and technique are exemplary. He possesses a number of counter moves and consistently wins at the punch by keeping linemen off his pads.
Regardless of where he lines up or who he goes against, he’s constantly impacting the game. It will be interesting to see if a team like the Cleveland Browns, who have valued college production as much as baseline tests, are decidedly more interested in Barnett than those that have strict athletic measurements for each position.
15. Carl Lawson, Edge, Auburn, 87 (33rd overall)
Once considered a top-five selection, Lawson has fallen behind many of the other big-name edge rushers who’ve put up monster years or leapt off TV screens. But he remains a terrific player. In the past I’ve called him the pass-rush enigma. He does the little things at an extremely high level while consistently being overly scrutinized for failing to deliver the kind of freakish edge-rushing potential that many considered him to have when he came out of high school.
Lawson strikes a good balance between being a run defender and a pass rusher, rather than just being a one-gap-and-go player who will be shoved into a sub-package in his first year in the league. He may not make game-changing plays, but he will be an instant contributor who makes a defense better.
16. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU, 87 (35th overall)
White’s value will be inflated by the rise of spread formations and pre-snap movement. He has the ability to line up right across the defensive backfield — on the boundary, in the slot or even as a pseudo safety in the “big nickel” package. He is a fluid mover in off-coverage, with outstanding instincts — route recognition skills, undercutting throws and excellent eyes when sitting in a deep zone.
His overall speed may be a concern when going up individually against top receivers, but he has fantastic lateral quickness that will allow him to travel with some of the NFL’s best slot receivers, whether they line up inside or outside.
17. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama, 87 (36th overall)
Humphrey is viewed by many NFL scouts as the draft’s top overall corner. His size, length and movement skills make him an extremely impressive press-corner. Coming out of Alabama’s system, he’s featured a lot in man-to-man press-coverage, as well as a pattern-matching system (a hybrid man/zone coverage) that has rapidly spread throughout the NFL.
His biggest issue is tracking the ball down the field. He often can get caught peeking in the backfield or trying to jump routes, making him particularly susceptible to double moves and towering vertical receivers. Unlike others, I think he may be best suited playing as a rotation safety in a base single-high defense. In that role, the game is in front of him and he can use his eyes, foot speed and length to make plays across the field.
18. Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss, 86 (42nd overall)
During the SEC season, I wrote about Engram as the conference’s top offensive weapon. In some ways, he’s a clone of Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed; a taller and slower wide receiver who creates matchup nightmares for defenses. Unlike Reed, Engram moves right across the alignment — in the slot, as a H-Back, attached to the line or flexed out as a wide receiver in isolated formations.
Against man-coverage he’s simply too big and too athletic for safeties, as well as being a crafty route runner who can create late separation and win at the stem of his route. In zone coverage (which opponents often ran if they didn’t have a defensive piece that matched up with his size or speed), he’s shown savviness for when to sit down in soft spots, and the speed to stretch safeties vertically, clearing out underneath zones for receivers.
Engram’s blocking ability will be a concern for a team that relies on blocking out of “11” personnel sets (one back, one tight end). However, he’s good enough to complement a tackle or tight end on double-teams in “12” personnel packages (one back, two tight ends), and has shown promise as a move blocker on split-zone runs.
19. Ethan Pocic, IL, LSU, 84 (52nd overall)
Pocic has a big frame and nimble feet for someone his size. He is the kind of interior lineman that NFL coaches fall in love with. Not only does he pass the size and agility test for in-line and pull-blocking schemes, but he’s as good as any center in the draft at picking up stunts and twists.
At LSU, he got experience in a downhill zone attack where he was used on several combination blocks before climbing to the second level and taking on linebackers or safeties. His skill from the neck up is evident against pass-rushing teams and identifying the correct second-level defender on inside-zone runs. It’s likely that he will be the first center off the board.
20. Marcus Maye, S, Florida, 83 (54th overall)
Maye isn’t exactly a carbon copy of former Gators safety and first-round pick Keanu Neal, but he isn’t far off. Like Neal, Maye plays the role as the late rotator in a cover-3/man-free system. Their role and sizes are similar, but their skill sets vary somewhat.
Maye is better in coverage, both lined up in the slot or as a middle of the field defender — making him equally as capable as playing in split-safety coverages and not exclusively as the rotator in single-high sets. In run support, he’s more technical than violent. He doesn’t offer game-changing pop, but he plays with good angles and executes at a high level. Maye is recovering from a late-season injury that might jeopardize his draft spot.
21. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt, 83 (56th overall)
I’d be surprised if Cunningham wasn’t off the board in the first round. What he offers is what teams need in a modern off-ball linebacker — sideline-to-sideline speed, good diagnose-and-attack instincts and good enough coverage skills to play all three downs. Additionally, Cunningham has proven himself capable when lining up as an on-ball linebacker to rush the passer from the outside or along the interior.
In many ways, he reminds me of Cleveland Browns linebacker Jamie Collins, who made a name for himself in New England as an athletic stud who allowed the Patriots to play any number of hybrid fronts — as he could lineup anywhere regardless of the offensive formation. Like when Collins first entered the league — as a second-round pick — Cunningham’s biggest weakness is downhill against the run.
He’s shown the speed and instincts to shoot into the backfield against outside-zone and stretch concepts, but has struggled 1-on-1 at the point of attack to shed blockers and locate the ball. His athleticism, length and versatility will allow him to impact games early in his career, but he still has a long way to go technically against the run.
22. Jeremy Sprinkle, TE, Arkansas, 83 (60th overall)
Sprinkle isn’t a household name and he’s not going to transform any franchise. He’s just a really good football player who impacts the game in every phase. In-line, he’s the best blocking tight end in the class. He played in an intricate gap scheme at Arkansas that regularly asked him to hold the point or seal the backside of plays while offensive linemen pulled and moved.
That saw him go 1-on-1 against stout SEC run defenders and he more than held his own, showcasing that he could surge defenders off the ball initially as well as drive-block impressive run defenders when it was called for. He’s received little attention as a receiver, but I love his traits. Sprinkle is a smooth double-mover who regularly creates separation down the seams and has the knack for getting open in zone coverage.
At his best, he can be a Jason Witten-like player, someone who doesn’t rely on athleticism to win and does a lot of little things that help an offense be successful.
23. Ryan Anderson, Edge, Alabama, 80 (66th overall)
Anderson may rank sixth among ‘Bama prospects, but it’s not for a lack of talent. If we refer back to the trio of off-ball linebacker skills — as described in the Tim Williams analysis — Anderson does two at an extremely high level: setting the edge as the force or contain defender and dropping into coverage. He’s also a very good pass rusher. While he isn’t as explosive or twitchy as other top-level talents, his hand usage matches anyone’s. In the national championship game, he put a clown suit on multiple Clemson linemen by simply winning the hand fight and flattening to the quarterback.
NFL coaches love players who know how to win a pass-rushing duel. Yes, it’s great to be an elite athlete — hence why those guys rank ahead of a player like Anderson — but you can’t win in the NFL with great athleticism on every down. Pass rushers need to have a plan and have to win the technical fight.
Anderson has proven that he can do both, although his lack of first-step quickness certainly limits his margin for error. Having said that, there’s no use in collecting a bunch of dip-and-rip rushers who are ready and waiting to tee off on third-and-long. A defense has to get to third down first. Anderson may not be the best third-down rusher in the draft, but he’ll help a defense get there.
24. Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M, 79 (not yet ranked overall)
If an NFL team is looking for a split-safety defender who can vacillate between the traditional strong safety and free safety roles, Evans will be high on their list. The Texas A&M product is a well-balanced safety with good range from the middle of the field, excellent eyes — he rarely gets manipulated by opposing quarterbacks or bites on fakes — and a strong presence in the run game.
He doesn’t bring fireworks in run support, but he has excellent closing speed and rarely misses open-field shots. Under defensive coordinator John Chavis, he played in a system that featured more safety movement than any other in the SEC. That kind of versatility and experience in a rotation defense lends itself to a pro team’s “big nickel” unit in which it rolls out three safeties.
25. Montravius Adams, DL, Auburn, 78 (not yet ranked overall)
There are inconsistent players littered throughout this class of SEC prospects. None of them infuriate more than Adams. It’s not the classic “looks like Tarzan plays like Jane,” because when Adams is feeling it, he’s an unblockable force. The issue is how often he feels like it.
His physical tools — size, first-step quickness, natural leverage and power — are suited to be an effective three-technique for a defense running a four-man front. But teams will have to dig into why his motor runs so hot and cold and whether the NFL is the finishing point or starting point.
25B. Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee, 78 (not yet ranked overall)
Sutton’s injuries make him a tough evaluation and put the draft process largely in the hands of each team’s medical staff. If he’s given the all-clear, he could wind up being a fantastic mid-round value. On pure talent, he’s a top 50 player, with the injuries making it more likely that he’s drafted somewhere between No. 50 and No. 100.
In man-coverage, he has strong mirroring skills, quick feet in and out breaks, and does an excellent job of locating the ball. In off-coverage, his feet remain excellent. He glides over the field and explodes to close when the ball is in flight. One area of concern is at the line of scrimmage in press coverage. Although he’s productive there, he can get grabby, continuing the fight downfield and is fortunate to get away with some holding calls. His size and agility might force him into the slot, which may better preserve him from having to make 1-on-1 plays on the boundary in the run game — an area where he struggles.
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama, 77
Davon Godchaux, DL, LSU, 75
ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama, 74
Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida, 73
Deatrich Wise Jr, Edge, Arkansas, 71
Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU, 71
Eddie Jackson, S, Alabama, 70
Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU, 70
Bryan Cox, Edge, Florida, 70
Jermaine Eluemunor, OT, Texas A&M, 70
Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss, 69
Jon Toth, IL, Kentucky, 68
Dalvin Tomlinson, DL, Alabama, 65
Travin Dural, WR, LSU, 65
Da’Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama, 62
Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M, 61
Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss, 60
Duke Riley, LB, LSU, 59
Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee, 59
Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M, 58
Josh Dobbs, QB, Tennessee, 57
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB, Tennessee, 57
Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Ole Miss, 57
Greg Pyke, IL, Georgia, 57
Jonathan Ford, S, Auburn, 55
Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M, 55
Daeshon Hall, Edge, Texas A&M, 54
Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia, 53
Oliver Connolly is the Senior Football Analyst at Cox Media. He previously spent three years working for NFL Draft scouting services, and served as a college football recruiting advisor. You can find him on Twitter @OllieConnolly