NFL Scouting Combine coverage: SEC East Preview
With six BCS National Championships in as many years, there’s no denying the talent in the SEC
By AJ Young - February 18 2013
Having won the last six BCS National Championships, it should come as no surprise that the SEC is sending 79 players to this year’s NFL Combine. The SEC is the powerhouse of college football and will be for the foreseeable future. As a consequence, it’s only fair to have a slightly more in-depth look at some of the talent emerging from the SEC in this year’s draft. I'll be looking at 16 players over two articles; 8 from the SEC East division and 8 from the SEC West division.
When I initially cut down the list of 79, I was left with 27 players worthy of further discussion. I eventually whittled the list down to 16 players but it should be noted that you could easily replace this list with another group of 16 prospects from the SEC and it would be equally valid. As I mentioned in my introduction to these Combine previews, I'll be avoiding sure-fire top ten picks. That means the likes of Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Damontre Moore are absent; same goes for the likes of Chance Warmack and Dee Milliner of Alabama and Kevin Minter and Barkevious Mingo of LSU. I'm sure in the month or so leading up to the draft, these types of prospects will be covered but for the mean time we're looking at players who will attempt to use the Combine to improve their draft stock and move up the board where possible.
In today's NFL Combine preview I’ll be covering 8 prospects from the SEC East:
Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Under the current system, a player cannot enter the NFL Draft until the end of their junior year. I recently read an article that said this rule was arbitrary and that the NFL should take a leaf out of the out of the NBA's book by allowing players to enter the draft following their freshman year. The article said it should be called 'The Marcus Lattimore rule':
As a true freshman straight out of high school, Lattimore amassed 1609 total yards for 19 touchdowns. LaMichael James led the nation in total yards that season with over 1939 yards. But unlike James, Lattimore didn't play in the Pac 12, he played in the SEC; big boy football, the closest thing you're going to get to an NFL calibre defence and he was good enough to lead the league in total yardage as a true freshman. He beat defenders in just about every way possible; he could run them over, make them look stupid as he juked them with a quick shuffle, he could hurdle players and shrug off tackles. He ran with authority and fought for every yard yet had the breakaway speed to leave defenders in the dust. And then he blew his left knee out in his sophomore year. And then he blew his right knee out in his junior year...
If Marcus Lattimore was able to enter the NFL Draft after his freshman year, he'd have been a top ten pick that would have made millions of dollars. Instead, Lattimore enters the draft with slim hope of getting drafted before the fifth round, if at all. And for me, that's a travesty. So come on, bring in the Lattimore rule and let’s pray that Jadeveon Clowney makes it through his junior year unscathed.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
In Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee had the most talented receiving tandem in the nation in 2012. Unfortunately for the Volunteers, their success on offense didn’t translate to wins as Tennessee went 1-7 in the SEC with its lone victory coming against 0-8 Kentucky. Their poor season had more to do with a defense that ranked dead last in the SEC than any failings on offense and consequently the Vols premier receiving duo will enter April’s draft among the best prospects at their position. After playing only three games during his sophomore year due to an ACL tear, Hunter averaged over 90 yards receiving per game in 2012, finishing with over 1000 yards on the season. At 6-4, 200 lbs, Hunter has the size to transition well at the next level though he will need to add bulk to a somewhat wiry frame. He was a top high school recruit that started his career in Knoxville somewhat slowly but in only 17 career starts, he leaves Tennessee ranked in the top-five for career touchdown catches with 18. He has long strides and looks similar to Randy Moss when running deep routes; unfortunately he lacks Moss’s top end speed and hand skills. He’s not great at going over the middle, catching with alligator arms rather than corralling the ball in. Hunter’s effort and body language leave something to be desired at times; he reacts negatively to off-target balls which doesn’t bode well if he’s drafted by the Jets. All in all, he looks like a wideout who’s only played 17 career games but he has a high ceiling and the potential teams look for. He’ll hope a good Combine tempts teams into spending a second round pick on him.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Hunter’s partner in crime at Tennessee (not literarily, they have no off-field concerns that I’m aware of) was Cordarrelle Patterson. If you thought Hunter was inexperienced, Patterson only saw 12 starts for the Volunteers. That would be because he spent the first two seasons of his career lighting up the junior college ranks to the tune of 113 receptions, 1832 yards and 36 touchdowns. Patterson carried on in Knoxville where he left off, amassing 1858 all-purpose yards for 10 touchdowns in his lone season as a Vol. He has good size and strength to compliment his speed (runs a 10.33 100m) which allows his to gain separation from defenders and make plays down the field. He returned two kicks for touchdowns last year and should be able to contribute on special teams at the next level. He’s psychical downfield and can out-position defenders to make a play on the ball; this can be a negative however as he has the tendency to push off and in the no-contact league that is the NFL these days, he’ll likely be flagged for similar move at the next level. He needs to improve his route running and maintain his concentration to avoid unnecessary drops but on the whole he is a very talented prospect worthy of his first round projected. Expect him to light up the track during the 40 yard dash in Indianapolis as he attempts to prove scouts he’s worthy of a top 15 pick.
Sheldon Richardson, DL, Missouri
At 6-3, 295 lbs, Richardson has the ideal size to play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme. He plays with active hands and has a fluid over-arm swim move that allows him to get the better of offensive lineman when coming off the edge. This bodes well for any team looking to plug him in at defensive end at the next level. For a guy his size, he possesses unnatural athleticism to the extent that Missouri would occasionally drop him back into coverage during zone blitzes. He has the ability to pressure the passer as well as disengage from blockers to make plays in the run game. He's not without some red flags however; he had shoulder surgery after the 2011 season and had some academic troubles over the course of his career causing concern that he might struggle learning the playbook at the next level. A guy his size with the speed and athleticism to rush the passer has the potential to be drafted in the first fifteen picks; scouts will scrutinise his medical records at the Combine and Richardson will look to prove he has the maturity and metal capacity of an early first round pick.
Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Floyd has endured more than his fair share of trials in life to arrive at this point. In a story that's comparable to that of Michael Oher, he grew up without his parents and spent most of his life living place to place, from with his grandmother to his high school coach to his guidance councillor among many others. As a consequence of this hardship, Floyd found himself in trouble with the NCAA after violating preferential treatment rules after receiving $2500 from an individual not associated with the university. This resulted in a two game suspension in 2011 (which by NCAA standards was a lenient punishment) but shouldn't have an effect on his draft stock in light of his hardships. On the field, Floyd has the body of a tackle but the quickness and strength of an end which allows him to sniff out plays in the backfield and make a play on the runner. Similar to Richardson, he comes without a great number of starts but has good potential to transition to the next level as a lineman in either the 4-3 or 3-4. He doesn't get after the passer as well as Richardson but is relentless in his efforts and looks to swat the ball at the line. He projects to be a first round pick and his performance at the Combine will go some way to determining how high.
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
When Ogletree makes his trip to Indianapolis this week, it won't be to show scouts that he has the physical tools to perform at the next level; it'll be to endure a myriad of interviews with teams concerned about a string of off-field incidents that could jeopardise his draft status. He was suspended before he even played a game at Georgia after being arrested and charged with theft. This resulted in a suspension for the season opener but was later suspended four games during last season after he failed drug tests. Finally, this past weekend he was arrested and charged with DUI after speeding in the early hours. Really? You're on the cusp of the biggest job interview of your life and you're caught driving under the influence? I don’t even know where to begin.
In terms of Ogletree's on-field production, he initially started in Athens as a safety before moving to linebacker. He possesses phenomenal speed for his size, having the ability to cover sideline to sideline in a flash. Overall, he's likely an outside linebacker at the next level, most probably better suited to the 3-4. He's a bit raw for an inside linebacker as he sometimes struggles to diagnose the play and can sometimes be undisciplined in his assignments. By contrast, his freakish athleticism and top end speed would be better utilised coming off the edge as a pass rusher. If Ogletree's draft stock survives the red flags, he's likely a top fifteen talent; unfortunately it's becoming harder and harder to justify such a high pick for a somewhat volatile player off the field.
Matt Elam, S, Florida
Explosive. Physical. Aggressive. Whenever you see highlights of Elam's career at Florida, those three adjectives are the first that come to mind. He shows good closing speed near the line of scrimmage to deliver powerful hits on the ball carrier but also has the versatility to cover receivers down the field. He proved to be a ball hawk during his time in Gainesville, snagging six interceptions over the course of his two years starting, demonstrating good timing and the necessary instincts to make a play on the ball. Although he racked up 176 tackles during his three year career, he needs to work on his fundamentals as his tendency to go for the SportsCentre hit results in some ugly missed tackles. He'll have to answer a few character questions at the Combine after two run-ins with the law over alcohol but on the whole he showed good leadership qualities that scouts look for in a top pick. He's a borderline first round pick but could fall into the second round due to his slightly smaller than desired size.
Shawn Williams, S, Georgia
Williams epitomises what we've come to expect from SEC football; he's a big physical safety that has the size and athleticism to deliver punishing hits, whether it's a running back at the line of scrimmage or a wide receiver over the middle. He looks more like a linebacker than a defensive back but he has the speed required to cover receivers on deep routes. Though he didn't record an interception as a senior, he caught four as a junior and quarterbacks were consequently reluctant to throw deep to his side of the field last season. He does have a tendency to stare down the quarterback however which can result in the wide receiver getting behind him; something that more accurate passers will look to punish at the next level. All in all, he's comparable to Bernard Pollard and will look to demonstrate to scouts at the NFL Combine that he's worthy of a selection in the first two rounds.AJ Young
is the editor of Down at the One.