Ranking the SEC Early Entries

The SEC will be a little weaker next season with 15 of the top potential returning veterans deciding to enter the NFL draft rather than continue/conclude their collegiate eligibility. At least a half dozen of those players are likely to hear their name called in the opening round of the NFL selection process while others may go on day two and still others have to wait and wait and wait.

Here's one man's opinion as to how those guys rank from the top prospect for the pro game to the most curious decision to move on.

No. 1 Nick Fairley, Auburn ---- The Tigers' defensive lineman is the total package and a guy I would rank just a notch below last year's top defensive line prospect Ndamukong Su who was sensational as a rookie. Fairley might be the first pick overall and almost certainly will be one of the top two.

No.2 A.J. Green, Georgia ---- Green is the total package at wide receiver with size, speed, hands and toughness. He might be the most complete receiver to enter the draft since Larry Fitzgerald. Green will be an impact player for whoever chooses him.

No. 3 Patrick Peterson, LSU ---- I don't think Peterson is as good as Joe Haden as a corner, but his off-the-charts return skills move him into the top five this year. He's the best bet from this class to make the pro bowl for that very reason --- unless of course he goes to an NFC team and Devin Hester stays healthy.

No. 4 Marcell Dareus, Alabama ---- The first of three members of the Crimson Tide to come out early and likely the first of the three to hear his name called. He seemed a little heavier than last season, at least at the start of the season, but the longer the season went on the better and better he looked. He's going in the top ten for certain.

No. 5 Julio Jones, Alabama ---- Our theme of "Roll Tide" continues with the second best receiver in the draft and the second best on this list. Jones lacks Green's explosiveness, but his size and strength make me think he could be a Keyshawn Johnson type in the NFL. He's the perfect compliment for a team that already has a speedy deep threat.

No. 6 Ryan Mallett, Arkansas ---- there are some mixed opinions about Mallett and his decision making, but there are no questions about his talent. He should be the second QB taken after Blaine Gabbert of Missouri. His experience in Bobby Petrino's passing game should aid his transition to the NFL.

No. 7 Cameron Newton, Auburn ---- Newton excites some teams and scares the heck out of others. Will he be a disappointment like Vince Young or will he lead the next generation of combo quarterbacks? Personally, I would not take him as high as he's probably going to go.

No. 8 Mark Ingram, Alabama ---- The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner did not have a big year in 2010, but it's the right move to leave the college game. Ingram can be a lot like Ray Rice and that's not too shabby.

No. 9 Justin Houston, Georgia ---- He's better suited for a 3-4 scheme because he's small for a 4-3 defensive end but in a league that LOVES pass rushers Houston will climb draft boards with his speed off the edge.

No. 10 Randall Cobb, Kentucky ---- Many have compared him to Hines Ward, but I don't believe Cobb is in the same class as the former Georgia Bulldog who has had an outstanding pro career. He's not as big or as strong and Ward is a world class blocker. That said, Cobb will make a team and be a productive player because he gives you so many options.

No. 11 Stevan Ridley, LSU ---- I actually have a hunch Ridley will be a better pro than Ingram, but there's little indication that anyone in the NFL agrees with me. No problem, time will tell, but I really like his combination of size and speed.

No. 12 Jerrell Powe, Ole Miss ---- Defensive linemen tend to move up draft boards and Powe has pretty good tools. His size will be valued, especially by 3-4 teams looking for a guy who can plug up the middle.

No. 13 Tori Gurley, South Carolina ---- I was a little surprised that Gurley made this move. He's not a game breaker and has not been consistent enough to convince me he's ready. But he is a big target and you can't teach someone how to be tall.

No. 14 Will Hill, Florida ---- It's probably not as bad as the decision made by Dee Webb t come out early, but it's not like Hill has to sweat it out on the first day or two of the draft. He has physical tools that will score well in combine type testing, but his video will show a guy who reacts too slowly and takes poor angles in deep coverage. He'll go higher than his play warrants due to his athleticism.

No. 15 Darvin Adams, Auburn ---- I know he had a big day in the SEC Championship game, but no one had to game plan around Adams. He's a nice college receiver, but his decision to turn pro is the most puzzling on this list. And if you think I'm surprised, check with Gene Chizik.

So there you have an estimate of where the early entry guys might fit in the grand scheme of things. The one thing you never know about the NFL draft is if one particular team becomes enamored with a particular player. It happens and can vault someone much higher than expectations.

I expect the first 10 guys on this list to be chosen in the first two rounds and the rest will have to wait a while longer. All will be in NFL camps and at least 14 will make their respective teams.

The SEC early entry class is also quite a bit stronger than the standard entry group which includes just two players with a realistic shot at being first round picks --- Florida's Mike Pouncey and LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis.

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