By Billy Watkins
For the 17th consecutive year, the SEC had the most players selected in NFL Draft — 62. Next best was the Big Ten with 55.
I’m sure folks outside the Southeast are saying “Well, our league would have the most drafted, too, if we had Alabama and Georgia in it.”
Not so fast. The 11 other SEC teams (Vanderbilt had no one drafted) had 42 players selected. That’s more than the ACC (32), Big 12 (30) and Pac 12 (27).
We’ll get to Ole Miss and Mississippi State in just a second. But let’s look at a breakdown of the numbers.
Alabama and Georgia each had 10 players drafted. The rest: Florida and LSU six each; Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee five each; Ole Miss four; Texas A&M and Kentucky three each; State and Arkansas two each; Missouri one.
Once again, the SEC showed it wears big-boy britches. Ten defensive linemen and nine offensive linemen were picked. The other positions by the numbers: cornerback, six; running back, wide receiver, outside linebacker and safety, six each. Five quarterbacks. Four inside linebackers. Two tight ends. One placekicker. (Hopefully, Mr. and Mrs. Carlson from Colorado City, Colo. have no more placekickers to send Auburn.)
A few things stood out in those numbers: *In these pass-happy times, the SEC had as many running backs drafted as wide receivers.
*Six safeties were selected, half of them from Alabama.
*Jimbo Fisher has been head coach for five seasons at A&M, where money is no problem and his home recruiting base is in the largest of the lower 48 states. Three Aggies were drafted, the first in the third round. Make your own assumptions about Jimbo’s job performance.
*The SEC is the first league to have four quarterbacks selected in the first three rounds. And anyone skeptical about the Carolina Panthers trading up to take Alabama;s Bryce Young with the No. 1 pick … well, you haven’t watched him play very closely.
*Georgia had more first-round picks than any other school. And all five were from the defensive side.
No one should be surprised that State’s Emmanuel Forbes was the 16th player taken overall and the second cornerback. He came out of Grenada High School the No. 2 prospect in Mississippi in the 2020 class and committed to the Bulldogs in February before his senior season. In 2022, he made six interceptions and returned three for touchdowns. Those are extraordinary numbers in the country’s top conference.
Much was made of his slight build — he measured 6-foot-1, 166 pounds at the NFL combine. Some wondered if he would be physical enough to hold up.
I usually go by what my eyes tell me, and he always seemed physical enough to me. He was seventh on State’s defense in tackles with 46. And in his final two seasons, he missed just one game. His 4.35 40-yard dash at the combine tied for third among cornerbacks. The Washington Commanders did their homework.
So, too, did the Panthers concerning Ole Miss wide receiver Jonathan Mingo, rated the state’s 12th-best player in the 2019 recruiting class. It seemed ridiculously low at the time and surely does now. He committed to Ole Miss in July before his senior year.
Mingo caught 51 passes for 861 yards and five touchdowns last season. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story. When Ole Miss ran out of tight ends due to injuries, Mingo filled in a lot of the time. His 6-foot-2, 220-pound body allowed him to do so. It certainly cost him catches.
People forget that he started as a true freshman and finished his college career with 112 receptions for 1,758 yards and 12 TDs. He averaged nearly 16 yards per catch. Scouts liked his ability to gain yards after catch and his knack for winning his share of one-on-one balls. His 4.46 combine 40-yard dash was 10th-best among receivers.
*State’s only other player to be drafted was defensive linemen Cameron Young, who went to Seattle in the fourth round.
*Ole Miss’ other three picks were outside linebacker Tavius Robinson (fourth round, Baltimore), running back Zach Evans (sixth round, Los Angeles Rams) and offensive lineman Nick Broeker(seventh round, Buffalo).
Something tells me Evans is going to make some teams regret not taking him sooner. His 936 yards rushing and nine touchdowns were lost in the glow of true freshman Quinshon Judkins’ brilliant season. And Evans put up those numbers while nursing an injury.
*It says something that the only SEC tight ends selected came from the top two schools — Georgia and Alabama. Yes, the tight end is still a valuable asset.
*Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman, Jr., who was drafted by Cleveland in the third round, is the son of a former Alcorn State star. Cedric Tillman Sr. caught passes from Steve McNair and spent four seasons in the NFL. Cedric Jr.’s older brother, Jamir, was a standout receiver for Navy from 2013-2016.