SEC Prospects Populate NFL Draft Projections

Answer me this football fans: Who would you take first among all the draft eligible players from the SEC if you were the general manager of an NFL expansion franchise?

Maybe a play-making tight end like Jason Witten? Or an an athletic linebacker like Boss Bailey? An explosive wide receiver like Taylor Jacobs? Or a high-profile passer like Rex Grossman? Perhaps you'd take a chance with a high-risk talent like Kelley Washington, who has been compared to Randy Moss for more than his talent alone. Then again you might prefer a proven talent such as offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb?

Any of those choices could be justified but those weren't the choice of the Sporting News war room, a committee of NFL Scouts, which selected Kentucky defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson as the No. 11 pick of the first round going to Seattle.

That's one of many revelations gleaned from the annual Draft Guide issue released in advance of the 2003 NFL Draft which takes place later this month.

The Draft Guide doesn't have the most up-to-date info in a process that is constantly evolving even after the two-day event is set in motion. However, the Guide does provide some good overall insights, many of which are somewhat unexpected.

For instance: The choice of Robertson is a little surprising. He came out of Memphis Melrose in the money-for-prospects scandal that landed the Wildcats in NCAA post-season prison. What's interesting about Robertson is that he wasn't nearly as highly regarded coming out of high school as former Melrose teammate Kindal Moorehead, who went to Alabama after being named Tennessee's co-player of the year with John Henderson in 1997. Moorehead is projected as a third round pick at defensive end.

Tennessee is well represented in the draft with Jason Witten looking like a certain first round pick and Kelley Washington climbing the charts in the second round and looking to break the first-round ceiling. The guide projects Witten going to New Orleans in the first round with the 18th pick. Washington has been proclaimed healthy and may have too much raw talent to pass up late in the first round, especially after excellent recent workouts.

After that it's a long wait to the third round where safety Julian Battle is the Vols only other projected first day pick. Offensive tackle Will Ofenheusle and defensive tackle Rashad Moore project as fourth round picks. Outside linebacker Eddie Moore and defensive end Omari Hand are listed as a fifth round choices while defensive linemen Demetrin Veal and Aubrayo Franklin are rated as sixth round picks at end and tackle, respectively.

Middle linebacker Keyon Whiteside and place kicker Alex Walls look like final round possibilities for some NFL squad. Cornerback Willie Miles is listed as the No. 36 prospect at his position which means he'll probably get a free agent contract.

Tennessee may have as many as 11 players drafted, including seven on defense, but is more likely to land eight or nine players in the NFL Draft and only two in the first two rounds.

Although that's a lot talent to lose, it's minor when compared to the players Georgia must replace next year. The Bulldogs have three players projected to go in the first round including defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, No. 15 to San Diego, OLB Boss Bailey, No. 22 to New York Jets, and offensive tackle George Foster, No. 21 to Cleveland.

Stinchcomb is listed as a second round pick and is one of six Georgia offensive linemen rated as likely NFL Draft choices along with Foster, OT Kareem Marshall (sixth round), guard Alex Jackson (sixth round) and guard Kevin Breedlove (seventh round). Running back Musa Smith is listed as a third round pick, the No. 5 running back overall and tops in the SEC. Outside linebacker Chris Clemons rates a fourth round pick, as does inside linebacker Tony Gilbert while Terrance Edwards rates as a fifth-round choice at wide receiver.

Florida also suffers serious losses with a pair of potential first round picks in Jacobs and Grossman while defensive tackle Ian Scott, outside linebacker Mike Nattiel, safety Todd Johnson and tight end Aaron Walker project as third round picks and running back Earnest Graham is listed as a fifth round choice.

By the way, one former Vol, running back Onterrio Smith and one former Tennessee commitment, quarterback Chris Simms, are projected to go in the second round. Smith who transferred to Oregon is rated the No. 3 prospect at running back while Simms is listed the Draft's No. 6 quarterback, one position behind Louisville's Dave Ragone and one ahead of Miami's Ken Dorsey.

A total of seven SEC players project as first round picks and all come from the East Division. Miami, Penn State and Georgia lead all teams with three projected first round picks while Ohio State and Washington State have two each. That's five schools predicted to produce 40 percent of the NFL first round picks.

Other items of interest:

• Rashad Moore earns the distinction of being named the defensive tackle prospect with the most "unrealized potential." Julian Battle is rated as "best in man coverage" among the safeties and Eddie Moore's stock is categorized as "on the decline" because of his history of shoulder injuries and size. Kelley Washington is regarded as the ‘biggest risk" at wide receiver. Jason Witten is the "best overall receiver" at tight end and Keyon Whiteside is named "best in passing game."

• So much for speed: Maryland's middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who was dominate on defense against Tennessee in the Peach Bowl, is listed as a first round pick and the top MLB despite having a 4.80 clocking in the 40. Quickness and instincts can make up for a lack of speed in the middle.

MTSU running back Dwon Hicks (5-10, 215, 4.65) is listed as the Guide's "sleeper pick" at his position. He's rated No. 14 overall at his position and a fifth round pick. Coincidentally, Hicks is listed right behind five premier SEC backs in No. 9 Artose Pinner of Kentucky, No. 10 LaBrandon Toefield of LSU, No. 11 Santonio Beard of Alabama, No. 12 Earnest Graham of Florida and No. 13 Domanick Davis of LSU.

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