Don't expect that to be the start of a trend, though. A close look at the returning personnel makes clear the conference could be headed for a special season and a record breaking draft performance.
Potential first round picks for 2009 are all over the rosters of prominent programs throughout the SEC this year. At Florida alone, likely first rounders Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes are expected to head to the NFL after their junior seasons unless injuries intervene, and Tim Tebow has been projected as the seventh pick in next year's draft by ESPN's Todd McShay should he opt to enter. Inevitably, some players will emerge who aren't on anyone's radar yet and others will fall off from their expected performance levels, but here are the other conference athletes currently being discussed as possible first rounders.
GEORGIA - QB Matthew Stafford, RB Knowshown Moreno, DT Jeff Owens - With the way injuries curtail the careers of so many running backs, if Moreno has a full season to match the kind of production he displayed in the second half of 2007 he'd be crazy not to go pro. Even though he's just a sophomore thanks to a redshirt year, he's eligible because of being three years out of high school. Stafford has been projected as the potential first overall pick by some analysts. No one questions his physical tools, but he needs to demonstrate better decision making and consistency this season. It's not clear how Stafford would feel about turning pro a year early. Owens is a senior with talent and lots of experience who could squeeze into the first round as well.
ALABAMA - OT Andre Smith - Expected to be the first offensive lineman chosen - any LT who can start as a true freshman in the SEC gets the NFL's attention.
AUBURN - DT Sen'Derrick Marks - Marks is considered potentially the top prospect at the always highly in demand defensive tackle spot for next season.
LSU - OT Ciron Black, WR Demetrius Byrd, OG Herman Johnson, DT Al Woods, DE Tyson Jackson - Black will be a high pick as long as NFL scouts feel he's a left tackle. Byrd has a chance to make round one, although potentially diminished passing game effectiveness with Ryan Perrilloux gone could negatively affect his chances. Johnson is a great fit for teams who still are looking for mammoth linemen instead of the smaller, quicker model. Jackson was expected to be a first round pick this year, while Woods physical tools have teams extremely interested in him.
OLE MISS - OT Michael Oher, DE Greg Hardy - Oher nearly entered this year's draft and had been expected to be a first rounder, which will also be the case next year barring injury. Hardy is a gifted athlete who registered double digit sacks last season and will be in demand as a pass rusher.
ARKANSAS - DE Antwain Robinson - A big senior season could secure first round status for this gifted pass rusher.
Not all these players will go early in the 2009 draft, but the idea that round one could see the SEC provide half the NFL's incoming talent speaks volumes about how extraordinarily deep this year's league is.
The Heath Cline Show airs daily from 11-1 on Gainesville's Star 99.5 FM
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