- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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With the season winding down, we figured we'd start looking to the future. Like, beyond bowl games future.
We are looking into our crystal ball to check out some of the SEC best who could declare for April's NFL draft early. We've talked to people around the league, those in the know at ESPN when it comes to the NFL draft, and came up with the top 10 underclassmen we feel are the best bets to come out and go the highest in next spring's draft.
Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. updated his Big Board this week and featured 12 SEC players in his top 25. Ten were juniors.
We're going in alphabetical order, so here are 10 SEC underclassmen we feel have the highest draft stock:
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee: Pro scouts have drooled over Hunter's natural ability and his breakaway speed. He was a little hesitant on his knee early after undergoing ACL surgery last year, but he's made nice strides as the season has progressed, catching 65 passes for 979 yards and eight touchdowns. He has four 100-plus-yard receiving games, and some think he could be a mid-first-round draft pick in April.
Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: It's hard to find a better left tackle out there. Joeckel entered the season as a surefire first-round pick and has only helped his draft stock with an excellent junior season. He hasn't been rattled by the speed of opposing SEC ends, and has provided very good protection in the pass game. It sounds like he could be the first tackle off the board if he declares early.
Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: He was the SEC's top defender last season, and has been one of the nation's best pass-rushers the last two years. He really can do it all. He drops into coverage, stops the run and constantly harasses quarterbacks. He also never seems to lose energy. He's been banged up this season, but Kiper still has him No. 1 on his Big Board.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: The Aggies are really getting greedy with their tackles. Matthews has been excellent all season, and could play either right or left tackle in the NFL. He's very powerful and moves well up front. He could be a late first-round pick if he decides to come out.
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: He has had some struggles lately in coverage, which could hurt his stock, but he's so athletic and so physical that teams will be all over him if he opts to leave early for the NFL. He can play the run, has tremendous speed and has very good field intelligence. He's defended an SEC-high 16 passes this season.
Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU: He might not be burning up the stat books this season, but he might be the nation's fastest pass-rusher. He has been extremely agressive all season against the pass and run. He has great length, and doesn't really have to take on many blocks because of his speed. He entered the season as an early first-round draft pick, and that still seems to be the case.
Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: It's hard to find anyone with the same on-field personality and energy. He might be bigger than Mingo, but he's chased down his fair share of running backs during his career. He has six sacks this season and 11 tackles for loss. He could have left early last year, but decided to stay and still has early first-round potential.
Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M: Talk about really breaking out onto the national stage. He was excellent as an outside linebacker last season, but has been an absolute monster at defensive end in his first (and probably only) year in the SEC. He really adjusted to the new 4-3 scheme, and might have played himself into a top-10 pick. He has a team-high 74 tackles, leads the nation with 20 tackles for loss and is tied for first with 12.5 sacks.
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia: Some think he might be better suited for the NFL than Jones because of his speed, athleticism and instincts. He had a rusty start to his season after serving a four-game suspension, but he's been outstanding in recent weeks. He can make plays all over the field, and should be a first-rounder if he decides to leave school early.
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: He is arguably Missouri's best player, regardless of position. He's constantly taking on double-teams, but figures out a way to blow them up. He leads Mizzou with 70 tackles, has 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He's quick and can disrupt both the run and pass. However, his recent suspension could make his draft stock fall some.
Keep an eye on ...
Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee: Has all the physical tools to be special in the NFL, but off-field issues could push him out of the first round.
Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: Has been extremely disruptive all year up front for the Gators, and could hear his name called in the second round.
D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Has had a solid season, but he still needs to develop his game more, and there are more NFL-ready tackles ahead of him.
Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn: Was very productive last season, but has fallen a bit this season. Still has all the tools to be a top 40 pick in April.
With the season winding down, we figured we'd start looking to the future. Like, beyond bowl games future.We are looking into our crystal ball to check out some of the SEC best who could declare for April's NFL draft early.