Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Johnny Manziel and many other SEC players are projected to be first rounders in this upcoming NFL Draft. The SEC is definitely represented in 2014 after a record-setting 63 men were drafted in 2013. While many SEC players are going to be drafted in the first few rounds, there are a few players that are being underrated by some draft analysts.
Projected Round: 4-5
The SEC’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes, completions, passing yards and total offense silenced critics in Athens and abroad in his final season wearing the red and black. Aaron Murray, who was always knocked for not winning the big game almost single-handedly beat South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee all without some of his best weapons. After his senior season performance, Murray will go down in history as one of the greatest and toughest Georgia football players. Standing at a Drew Brees like 6’0” Murray might be one of the steals of the draft. He is still recovering from a tear to his left ACL, but is starting to become more mobile and throw with authority. His former teammate and former LSU quarterback Zack Mettenberger is slowly creeping up the list of best quarterbacks while Murray stays in his current position. Murray is not the kind of player who will wow anyone with crazy athleticism, but he will wow coaches and GM’s with his knowledge of the game, his leadership abilities, his toughness and his ability to make the perfect throws. Murray is a student of the game, and what he lacks in some physical attributes, he makes up for in knowledge.
Projected Round: 3-4
Antonio “Tiny” Richardson is anything but tiny including his contribution to the Tennessee Volunteer offensive line for the past three years. Richardson was an All-SEC performer in 2013 and a two year starter for the Vols. While Ja’wuan James headlines as Tennessee’s premier lineman in the draft no one should sit on what Antonio Richardson can contribute to an NFL roster. For his sophomore and junior season Richardson started every game at left tackle going up against premier rush ends in the SEC. There are few guys who have experience like he does. There has been some concern that Richardson has never fully healed from past knee injuries, however “Tiny” is now sure that his knees are fine. In an interview with the Tennessean, Richardson told Steve Megargee that he is finally healthy. If that is indeed the case, then there are going to be a few teams who regret passing on a solid—if not elite—edge blocker.
Projected Round: 2-3
The only knock on Jeremy Hill’s draft stock besides the off field issues might be the fact that he is a running back. However, Hill might be the best running back in the draft. He is battle-tested even though he only saw two years of action and sometimes limited action when LSU had a committee approach. Still, Hill has gone up against teams like Alabama, Auburn and Florida, all of which will have plenty of defensive players drafted in the first and second rounds of this year’s draft. Hill’s size, breakaway speed, and power make him a dangerous runner in a third and short situation or as an entire game back. If this was the early 2000’s when it was common to take running backs in the first two rounds, Hill would be up there, along with Tre Mason. The biggest question is if Hill can stay out of trouble. If he can, there are a few teams that would be happy draft him.
Projected Round: 6
Tennessee is going to miss Rajion Neal who has been the backbone of Volunteer football for the past couple of seasons. After unproductive freshman and sophomore seasons, Neal burst onto the scene with 9 total touchdowns and 700 yards rushing in his junior year. In his senior season, the Fayetteville, Ga native rushed for 1124 yards, which was sixth best in the SEC and also rushed for 12 touchdowns. While Neal was a solid back, he never really produced the numbers that Tre Mason or Jeremy Hill produced. Neal does have the experience of carrying an entire team, like Tre Mason did at Auburn during most of the season. Question marks at quarterbacks and the carousel of coaches has affected not just Neal and his numbers, but all of the Tennessee faithful. What Neal needs is to be put into a situation with consistency at coaching and quarterback play. If put into that situation, Neal could become the number two or three guy on a depth chart and possibly shine.
Projected Round: 7-FA
Michael Sam had one of the best years in the SEC. He led the league in sacks with 11.5, won the league’s defensive player of the year and led Missouri to the SEC championship game. Sam seems to have most of the physical tools as well as the heart and motor to play in the NFL. Sam made headlines in February when he announced that he is gay, and will be the first openly gay football player. NFL coaches, GMs and owners are somewhat hesitant to see the dynamics of a locker room with an openly gay man in the mix. While many players would be more than ok with the idea, there are still players like Chris Culliver who made a statement prior to Super Bowl XLVII stating that there are and should be no gay players in the NFL. Culliver later apologized for his comments. Looking past Sam’s sexual orientation, coaches and GMs should know that this man is a player. Sam is slowly watching his stock drop and his teammate Kony Ealy’s rise. It will be interesting to see what will happen come draft weekend; Sam is no project; he is a proven talent, but who drafts him and when is still up in the air.
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