We are officially into draft season, as the NFL combine in Indianapolis has begun. That means it’s the time of year where we pound our chest when NFL teams start talking about all the SEC players heading into the NFL Draft! (The first set of on-field workouts begin Friday.)
Record number of SEC players invited to combine
This year the draft is deep with SEC players as seen in the amount of players invited to the combine: 71. That’s a record for the conference and could mean we see a few more records broken come draft day. I look for at least 8-10 players from the SEC going in the first round and a possible 50+ taken overall.
The 2015 NFL Draft saw a total of 54 players taken from the SEC, making it the ninth year in a row that the conference has led in draftees. I don’t see this year being any different–with the exception that we may see more.
Top SEC players on offense to watch at the NFL Combine
RB Alex Collins – Arkansas
He’s been as consistent as you can ask for over the course of his three years at Arkansas putting up 1,000 yards or better each season under Bret Bielema and joining Darren McFadden as the only other Razorback to complete the feat. He was also the first freshman to put up three consecutive 100-yard games since Adrian Peterson did it in 2004. This season he didn’t have running-mate Jonathan Williams alongside him to take off some of the pressure and grind of the SEC, yet, he still prevailed as one of the toughest running backs in the country earning second team All-SEC honors behind Heisman winner Derrick Henry.
Where Collins separates himself going into the NFL Draft is with his footwork. He has the ability to weave in and out of traffic without breaking his speed or tempo. That translates to being able to avoid traffic in the backfield, and he has the acceleration to get right back in the groove of the run for a gain.
Collins finds ways to fall forward but doesn’t have the ability to be a tackle-breaker. If there’s a negative, it’s his inability to break tackles. He is credited with just five broken tackles out of 475 carries. Another point that scouts will look at is his tendency to fumble the ball. Collins has fumbled 17 times throughout his career with nine lost. Collins will also need to show scouts that he can be a pass-catcher from out of the backfield.–something we didn’t see a lot of while at Arkansas.
*Analysis – Collins has shown he can be a consistent durable back at the next level with the success he’s had at Arkansas during his three years. His vision, footwork, pad level and elusiveness will make him a prime pick for a gap, power or zone scheme offense. Collins will step in right away and compete for a starting position as well as some red zone work.
Potential NFL Teams: Look for teams like Seattle, Detroit and Baltimore as possible landing spots for ‘Mr. Consistency’ going as early as round two. A late addition may be the New England Patriots. If they pick up Forte in the free agency, they may pick up a rookie RB in the third and AC is a prime candidate for their system.
RB Derrick Henry – Alabama
It goes without saying this young man is a beast once he gets a head of steam behind him, but it’s his inability to create from behind the line of scrimmage that will garner criticism at the next level. Despite that, he’s got the makings of a potential Pro Bowl career with rare top-end speed from a guy his size. Let’s face it, he’s probably the biggest running back in the upcoming draft, hands down. It’s the combination of size and speed that he possesses that allowed him to constantly wear down defenses over a course of a game because he rarely, if ever, got fatigued.
An area of concern for Henry will be the amount of workload he sustained while at Alabama. He carried the ball over 400 times last season and averaged almost 32 carries versus SEC opponents. In fact, Henry carried the ball over 90 times in his last two games for the Crimson Tide. That type of punishment takes a toll on the body no matter how you spin it, yet, he seemed to get stronger as the games went along. It’s that type of strength and endurance that has many a draft analyst looking at Henry as a mid-to-late round pick in the first-round of the draft.
*Analysis -Henry will thrive in a downhill run type of offense where man blocking schemes are used. He may not be the quick starter out of the blocks, but once he gets a head of steam you better look out because this kid is a nightmare when he lowers his pads. There’s no doubt Henry will be a starter in the NFL.
Potential NFL Teams: Look for the Jets, Panthers, Vikings and Saints to potentially make a move on drafting this young bell-cow running back.
TE Hunter Henry
Out of the 15 tight ends who will participate in the NFL Combine, three hail from the SEC. This guy, in particular, is rated the No.1 overall tight end prospect heading into the draft. He has the intangibles that will make him a threat in the passing game with his combination of hands, size and speed. He’s proven he can be a game-changer when you look back at the film while playing at Arkansas, and many draft analysts believe he could be an eventual Pro-Bowl type player.
What stands out about Hunter is his athleticism. It’s that athleticism that allows him to make big-time catches in traffic and gives him the ability to be a fierce run blocker. His production this last season led to him winning the John Mackey Award for the nation’s best tight end, garnering All-American honors, and being named first-team All-SEC by the league coaches. Henry ended his junior year with 51 catches for 739 yards and three TD’s.
*Analysis – Henry should come in and be a starter right away for a NFL team. Not only will he be able to contribute in the passing attack, but he’ll be able to help in the running game for teams looking for a guy that can get out on the edge to seal off blocks.
Potential NFL Teams: Look for teams like Green Bay and Dallas to maybe make a push for him in the first-round.
WR Laquon Treadwell – Ole Miss
Despite suffering a horrific injury versus Auburn in 2014, Treadwell showed that he overcame the surgery as he ended the 2015 season with 82 receptions for 1,153 yards and 11 TD’s. That performance placed him in the running for the Biletnikoff Award (finalist) and brought him multiple All-American accolades. Treadwell received a lot of respect from SEC coaches voting him to the first team All-SEC team. To top it all off, he finished his final game in the Sugar Bowl versus Oklahoma State with three touchdown receptions.
Treadwell has the measurables that scouts look for at the next level, not to mention he’s smart. His film shows you he has the ability to make adjustments on the fly while shielding the ball from cornerbacks. He has extremely clean footwork in his routes and has the ability to stagger his feet while working through said routes. He rarely gives away the position of the ball to defenders while progressing through routes and will flat eat a zone defense alive. Plus, he is a very capable blocker down field if need be. Where some have had questions is his speed–does he have the speed to scare off cornerbacks off at the next level? That said, when watching Laquon, you have to be careful when overestimating speed without watching his tape.
*Analysis – Laquon has shown he is a gutsy, do-what-it-takes WR and that shows up on his tape every single time. He’ll be a challenge for defenses to account for in the slot position given his size. Treadwell also possesses the ability to be a legitimate downfield threat at the next level compared to the underneath routes he ran at Ole Miss.
Potential NFL Teams: Look for teams like San Francisco, Chicago, Buffalo, Minnesota, Cowboys and Cincinnati to possibly spend their first-round pick on Treadwell.
OL Laremy Tunsil – Ole Miss
The 2015 season was not what Tunsil envisioned. Injury, legal issues and NCAA allegations forced Tunsil to sit out for seven games. Even with all of the off the field issues, it’s Tunsil’s on the field play that has and will impress NFL scouts.
Just watching his game film you can see several characteristics that will make him a Day-1 starter in the NFL, including the height, power, bulk, length. He can bend and has tremendous balance for a guy his size. It’s that balance that allows for him to be able to re-work his hands if he does start to get beat on the inside position. His speed is deceptive, as he has the ability to redirect versus bull-rush defenders or counter moves.
*Analysis – Much like his teammate Treadwell, Tunsil is probably the cleanest technique-based OL in the draft–hence why teams like Tennessee will be looking to take him at the No. 1 spot to help protect their QB investment Mariota. It’s his footwork and technique coupled with natural instincts that will make him a potential all-pro lineman in the NFL.
Potential NFL Teams: Any team who wants Tunsil will have a hard time getting the No. 1 pick away from Tennessee, but if they do look for the Chargers at the No.3 pick to go for him. I highly doubt he falls outside of the top five in the first round.
That’s it for my top offensive guys to watch come draft day. Stay tuned for more in this series where I’ll break down defensive players as well as SEC surprise picks in the coming days.
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