This week I will take a look at each program's top draft eligible prospect for 2016 beginning with the Southeastern Conference. The SEC is loaded, with a few teams that have potential multiple first round picks like Ole Miss, Alabama and perhaps Mississippi State. The big question now is who will be the first player off the board from this league?
I first saw Vernon Hargreaves as a junior in high school and you knew then he had star written all over him. He signed with the Gators and made an immediate impact on Will Muschamp's defense. Now he's the top cornerback in college football with the skill set to be a potential top five pick in next year's draft. Hargreaves has very good size (5-11/192) and length. He plays with outstanding instincts and superior ball skills. Hargreaves is exceptional in press coverage and can play off. This is a confident corner that's as good as they come. Hargreaves led the SEC last season with 13 pass breakups and also recorded three interceptions. He’s clearly the top NFL prospect in Gainesville.
2) Ole Miss
I lean towards Laremy Tunsil right now over Rebels Robert Nkemdiche, LaQuan Treadwell and Tony Conner, as Ole Miss could possibly have four first round picks next spring. Tunsil is a former five-star recruit from the Sunshine State that held off Vernon Hargreaves for top honors in Florida in 2013. He's a massive tackle (6-5/305) with great length and athleticism out on the tackle island. Tunsil's strength is his ability to pass protect, using his feet and reach to keep pass rushers at bay. He has good agility, bends well and knows how to effectively uses his hands. Tunsil has been a starter since day one and has only given up two sacks in two seasons in the rugged SEC. This could be a close race between he and Nkemdiche for the top NFL prospect from Oxford.
Leonard Floyd may have very well snuck into the first round in 2015. But he surprised many and elected to stay in Athens for one more season. Floyd is a terrific athlete, sound tackler and shows excellent versatility because he can play anywhere at the linebacker position. Floyd has really developed his pass rush skills and excels in coverage. This is a well-rounded linebacker already with athleticism and upside. Floyd has posted some good numbers in two playing seasons at Georgia - 110 tackles, 12.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss.
A’Shawn Robinson started for Alabama at two different spots on the defensive front and that versatility will only make him even more valuable. This 312-pounder is incredibly light on his feet. His outstanding quickness allows him to penetrate and make plays or move laterally and make plays. That's a dangerous combination for this young player from Tuscaloosa. In addition, he has tremendous strength and does a nice job of keeping his pad level low. There's no question with a big season and growth in the development department he could elevate his draft status into the top ten. Robinson has serious upside written all over him. Right now he’s the top eligible NFL prospect in Tuscaloosa. Keep an eye on tight end O.J. Howard and running back Derrick Henry. They could both have monster seasons for the Tide.
Chris Jones gets the call right now for the Bulldogs although cornerback Will Redmond could ultimately be the guy from Starkville in the next draft. Jones can be as good as he wants to be. This defensive line prospect is blessed with an incredible combination of size, speed and athleticism. He's also extremely versatile and can play inside and out. At 6-4/300, he's long and explosive. With departures to the NFL from Starkville, Jones will have a chance to put up monster numbers and have a dominating 2015 season. The question is will he put in the work?
Dhaquille Williams nickname is Duke. This junior college transfer recorded 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns in his first season at Auburn. It was a good transition for Williams but could have been better. He just needs to play with more consistency and dropped too many easy balls. It's a concentration issue. Other than that, Williams has everything - size, speed and athleticism. This kid has serious talent and just needs to put it all together. With Jeremy Johnson now at the helm for the Tigers Williams will have a chance to post some much bigger numbers this fall.
Cornerback Cameron Sutton has been a starter since day one in Knoxville. In fact, he has started in all 25 games he has played for the Vols. Sutton has recorded 76 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, 25 passes defended, and four interceptions over his Tennessee career. This is a corner with outstanding size, instincts, and ball skills. He has above average speed and very good quickness. Sutton is just a sound player all the way around.
All you need to know about Pharoh Cooper is that he's one of the top athletes in the SEC. That's a pretty impressive statement considering the talent in that conference. Cooper made first team in that league in 2014, after recording 69 receptions for 1,136 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He's also an excellent return man. In two seasons in Columbia, Cooper has five plays of 70-yards or more. He's built like a running back and is tough to bring down with the ball in his hands because he has speed and quickness. Cooper is just a playmaker.
Vadal Alexander has played a ton of football the last two seasons in Baton Rouge. This is a massive offensive lineman that has cranked out 26 starts over the last two seasons at left guard and right tackle. He posted 73 knockdown blocks in 2014. Alexander is best when he can get his big body on a defender quickly. He's strong at the point of attack and shows above average drive blocking ability. Alexander will have to watch his weight, as that's a potential issue with him. On the plus side this is a big and versatile big man that can play multiple positions across the front.
What's with Missouri and defensive linemen? The Tigers have produced their share and Josh Augusta is the next in line. He's a very athletic 300-pound plus tackle that recorded 23 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, a sack and interception in 2014. Those are not mind-blowing numbers but this player ties up blockers and does his job. He's strong at the point of attack and tough to move off his spot. While Missouri was very good on the edges the last few seasons guys like Augusta will have to have big years on the inside. If that happens than this junior could turn himself into a top flight NFL prospect for 2016.
Running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, tight end Hunter Henry and offensive lineman Denver Kirkland are all considered here. At this time I would lean towards Collins. He’s a complete running back that can pretty much do everything. He’s a dangerous runner with size, speed, vision and strength and he can catch the football out of the backfield. Collins has been ultra productive in his two seasons at Arkansas. He rushed for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman and 1,100 yards and 12 scores as a sophomore. Collins could elect to stay for his senior season in 2016 as well.
12) Texas A&M
It’s incredible what’s happened with Texas A&M and offensive tackles over the past three drafts. Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi were all first round picks for the Aggies over back-to-back-to-back drafts. Germain Ifedi, 6-foot-5, 311-pounds, should very well be the next NFL caliber lineman from College Station, though I am not saying he falls in the first round. After red-shirting in 2012, Ifedi started 23 games over the last two years. This is another athletic big man with lots of experience. There’s also another Matthews in the A&M senior class. Mike is a center and will be one of the top centers in the next draft.
Patrick Towles gets serious consideration here, especially with how he looked this spring for Kentucky and their new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. But right now I would lean towards linebacker Josh Forrest. He’s got excellent size at 6-foot-3, 235-pounds and is coming off a year where he led the Wildcats in tackles with 110. Forrest also recorded eight tackles for a loss and a pair of interceptions. This middle linebacker is very good against the run inside the tackle box and shows the ability to play inside-out and make plays on the perimeter. He can also drop in coverage and play the pass.
The Commodores best defensive lineman is Adam Butler. This Duncanville, Texas native is a red-shirt junior. Now that Vanderbilt employs a 3-4 he’s well suited to play defensive end at 6-foot-5, 305-pounds. He’s an ideal two-gap player. Last season he played in every game, starting nine times. He finished with 35 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He switched from offensive guard to defensive tackle in the spring of 2013. Butler has a knack for a big man in blocking kicks. Head coach Derek Mason is now calling the shots for his defense. Butler has made great strides in Nashville the last two seasons and he will have a chance to thrive under Mason in this scheme.
2016 Top 50 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects