Suffice to say, we've seen a ton of film and highlights on many of the top prospects in the 2012 draft class and each has his own set of elite skills in specific areas. But just about anyone in recent years could do a decent first-round mock draft by doing just one thing – being a legitimate fan of the Southeastern Conference.
In the next version of our mock draft, we have nine SEC players being selected in the first 25 picks – Alabama RB Trent Richardson, LSU CB Morris Claiborne, South Carolina DE/OLB Melvin Ingram, Georgia G/OT Cordy Glenn, Alabama safety Mark Barron, Alabama DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw, Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox, Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick and LSU DT Michael Brockers.
Of every three picks that will be made early, one of them will be from the SEC. Crazy, right? As scouts from Chicago are wont to say, "Not so fast, my friend."
If it was a one-year blip on the screen, that would be one thing. However, the SEC has become the NFL's AAA affiliate – the king of the minor leagues that weans and produces talent to move up to the Big Show.
Last year, the SEC had 10 players taken in the first round, including five of the top six picks – Auburn QB Cam Newton (No. 1, Carolina), Alabama DT Marcell Dareus (No. 3, Buffalo), Georgia WR A.J. Green (No. 4, Cincinnati), LSU CB Patrick Peterson (No. 5, Arizona), Alabama WR Julio Jones (No. 6, Atlanta), Auburn DT Nick Fairley (No. 13, Detroit), Florida C Mike Pouncey (No. 15, Miami), Alabama OT James Carpenter (No. 25, Seattle), Alabama RB Mark Ingram (Miami, No. 28) and Mississippi State OT Derek Sherrod (No. 32, Green Bay).
The 2011 SEC harvest would have been a record if not for an even bigger season – from the SEC. The 10 SEC players taken in the 2011 first round was one short of the all-time record of 11 set by the SEC in 2007. That draft started off with LSU QB Jamarcus Rusell (Oakland) and was followed up by LSU safety LaRon Landry (No. 6, Washington), Arkansas DE Jamaal Anderson (No. 8, Atlanta), Ole Miss LB Patrick Willis (No. 11, San Francisco), Tennessee DT Justin Harrell (No. 16, Green Bay), Florida DE Jarvis Moss (No. 17, Denver), Florida safety Reggie Nelson (No. 21, Jacksonville), LSU WR Dwayne Bowe (No. 23, Kansas City), Tennessee WR Robert Meachem (No. 27, New Orleans) and Auburn G Ben Grubbs (No. 29, Baltimore). As if hitting on more than one out of every three picks in the first round wasn't enough, the SEC wasn't done. Six of the first 22 picks in the second round were also SEC players.
The 2012 draft is going to take over national attention over the next couple of weeks and, in the process, the list of mock draft experts is going to grow exponentially – from those who follow the college game closely to those who just a month or two ago didn't know Fletcher Cox from Fletcher Christian, Michael Floyd from Raymond Floyd, Justin Blackmon from Justin Timberlake or Dontari Poe from Edgar Allen Poe. They're going to come out hot and heavy, fast and furious.
For those of us who have been banging our heads on the wall when a single free-agent signing can cause a domino drop of a dozen draft picks (that's when mock becomes a verb), a sad reality has become apparent. When it comes to the first round of the draft, any fan of the SEC can do as well or better than Mel Kiper, Rich Gosselin or any other of the renowned draft gurus. It's time for the NFL to start kicking some love back to the SEC. It's become the primary feeding ground for the next generation of NFL players and it doesn't look to be slowing down any time soon.
Want to be a draft expert to get in a three-way argument with Kiper and Todd McShay? Watch SEC games and you've got your foot in the door.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.