NFL Draft 2018: Way-too-early ranking of top 7 SEC prospects

Sep 26, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies receiver Christian Kirk (3) runs after a reception in the second quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It’s still very early for 2018 NFL Draft talk, but here are the top seven prospects from the SEC in next year’s class.

The 2017 NFL Draft is about one week away. So, is it wrong already look ahead to the 2018 NFL Draft?

As football fans, it is impossible to not think ahead to next year, for some fan bases this holds true more than for others.

The SEC is always loaded with talent. The presumptive top choice in the 2017 NFL Draft is Myles Garrett out of Texas A&M. Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams and Jonathan Allen are all strong bets to go in the top 10 and hail from the SEC.

The 2018 NFL Draft promises to be full of SEC talent. While the Pac-12 has some of the top quarterbacks eligible—Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Jake Browning and Luke Falk—the SEC has among the most potential first-round prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft.

Of course, a lot depends on whether certain players declare for the draft or decide to return to school. The 2017 NFL Draft is littered with players foregoing their senior year of eligibility and 2018 will likely be no different. Plenty of uber-talented players in the NCAA will be juniors in the 2017 season. Let’s have a look at the top prospects.

Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) scores a touchdown while defended by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) during the first quarter of the SEC Championship college football game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

7

Antonio Callaway

WR, Florida

Antonio Callaway joined an elite list of collegiate players in 2016. He became just the 21st FBS player to score a passing, rushing, receiving, kickoff return, and punt return touchdown in a career. Callaway earned third-team All-American honors in 2015 as a punt returner.

In 2016, he tallied 54 receptions for 721 yards and three touchdown receptions. He brings extra special teams value with three touchdowns as both a kickoff and punt returner. Callaway is a deep threat who is a threat to score any time he gets the ball.

Improving draft stock

Another strong statistical season will help Callaway’s case, but there isn’t much question Callaway is a dynamic athlete.

Callaway has found trouble off-the-field. Most of the rumors swirling around Callaway involve his alleged habitual use of marijuana. He was cleared in a sexual assault case, along with former teammate Treon Harris. While he was cleared of wrongdoing, NFL officials will have questions.

Oct 29, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb (27) runs with the ball as Florida Gators defensive lineman Caleb Brantley (57) defends during the first half at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

6

Nick Chubb

RB, Georgia

Nick Chubb’s best season thus far was his freshman year in 2014. He rushed for 1,547 yards, had a 7.1 yard average per carry, and scored 14 rushing touchdowns.

In 2015, he suffered from significant knee injuries during the Tennessee game that ended his season. In just five games, he had an 8.1 yard per carry average while rushing for 747 yards.

In 2016, his numbers were down due to an abysmal performance by the Georgia offensive line. Chubb’s average per carry moved down to just 5 yards per carry (not a bad figure, but down significantly by Chubb’s standards).

Improving draft stock

It’s a difficult line for Chubb because NFL teams would probably like to see Georgia watch his overall carries. Less wear and tear is more appealing for his NFL career. Then again, he needs to show he can remain healthy, as well as produce better numbers than last season. His figures were down last season, but the Georgia offensive line looks better on the paper, so Chubb’s numbers should be better in theory.

Sep 3, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Armani Watts (23) reacts to a tackle against the UCLA Bruins during a game at Kyle Field. Texas A&M won in overtime 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

5

Armani Watts

S, Texas A&M

Armani Watts is not only a playmaker at free safety, he is also known as being a physical defender. Leading the Aggies with 126 total tackles attests to this fact.

During his freshman season in 2014, he led the team with three interceptions. He had one interception in the 2015 campaign and had two interceptions in the 2016 season. Watts also had seven pass deflections during his freshman season.

Despite only playing in eight games in 2016, he still tallied six tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and a sack.

Improving draft stock

Simply by staying healthy throughout the 2017 seasons would significantly boost Watts’ draft stock. He suffered through a range of injuries in 2016, including a serious knee injury in November against Ole Miss that caused him to miss the last three games of the season altogether.

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) warms up prior to the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the Clemson Tigers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

4

Calvin Ridley

WR, Alabama

Calvin Ridley’s numbers took a dip last season, as Alabama threw the ball less last season with a true freshman at quarterback. Still, he did finish as the team leader a second straight year with 72 receptions.

Ridley’s yardage totals dropped significantly, as he went from 1,045 yards in 2015 down to 769 yards in 2016.

Again, this can be attributed, at least in part, to having Jalen Hurts at quarterback. Hurts had an incredible freshman season, but his biggest weakness — throwing the deep ball — happens to be Ridley’s greatest strength.

Ridley tallied seven receiving touchdowns for the second straight season. He even managed to add a rushing touchdown to his resume in 2016.

Improving draft stock

Ridley has progressed as a blocker, but he could still stand to become more physical on the whole. Some cornerbacks have jammed him at the line of scrimmage. He is a willing blocker, but he can’t get pushed around by more physical cornerbacks at the NFL level.

Nov 28, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers defensive end Arden Key (49) and LSU Tigers defensive end Lewis Neal (92) celebrate sacking Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Kyle Allen (10) during the second half at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Texas A&M Aggies 19-7. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

3

Arden Key

DE, LSU

Arden Key is currently taking a break from football, but the expectation is he will return in time for the 2017 season. He set a school-record in 2016 with 12 total sacks. At 6-feet, 6-inches and 238 pounds used his tremendous speed and length to get to the quarterback.

He is allegedly up to 255 pounds, so it will be interesting to see how the weight gain might make him an even stronger overall player, especially in run support. His tackles for a loss total jumped to 12.5 in 2016, up from 6.5 in 2015.

Improving Draft Stock

Key already took a step to gain weight to prepare him for the next level. Now, he needs a season of experience playing at an elevated weight to show he can maintain the weight and still be an elite pass rusher.

Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) makes an interception and returns it for a touchdown against the Florida Gators during the first quarter of the SEC Championship college football game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

2

Minkah Fitzpatrick

CB, Alabama

Minkah Fitzpatrick began the 2016 season as a tall, physical cornerback and ended it as one of the nation’s top safeties. He will return to cornerback this season, but his versatility has to be intriguing for NFL coaches. He earned All-American and All-SEC first team selections after collecting six interceptions and seven pass breakups in 2016.

Fitzpatrick’s ball hawking skills are a large part of why he is a special player. Fitzpatrick also has a winning pedigree, having won multiple state championships in high school and as part of the 2016 National Championship-winning team.

Improving draft stock

Fitzpatrick filled in at safety due to injury but will return to cornerback in 2017. He needs another year of experience to show NFL executives he is capable of being a lockdown corner on the outside. He lined up primarily at the STAR position (similar to slot corner) his freshman season and player a little outside and a little at safety in 2016.

Dec 28, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies wide receiver Christian Kirk (3) runs with the ball during the second quarter against the Kansas State Wildcats at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

1

Christian Kirk

WR, Texas A&M

Christian Kirk was named a first team All-SEC selection at wide receiver both as chosen by SEC coaches and by the Associated Press.

Kirk is one of the top punt returners in the nation as well after averaging 24.5 yards per return to go along with three touchdowns in 2016.

At receiver, Kirk’s total yards took a slight dip in 2016, but he produced more receptions and more touchdowns. In 2016, he had 83 total receptions and nine touchdowns compared to 80 receptions and seven touchdowns in 2015. In 2016, he still had 928 receiving yards, down from 1,009 yards posted in 2015.

Improving draft stock

Kirk can use another year to become a more polished route runner. At times, he uses his exceptional athleticism to make plays, but he’ll need sharper route running to be successful in the NFL.

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