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Kiper: Top 5 players at each position

1/20/2012

We've seen how pro prospects rank overall and where they might go in April's NFL draft, so it's time to take a look at where players matchup head-to-head with others at the same position.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has provided us with that opportunity by ranking the top five players at each positionInsider heading into this year's draft.

Here's a look at where SEC players placed:

RUNNING BACK

No. 1 Trent Richardson, Alabama

Thoughts: This should come as no surprise at all. Richardson possesses a tremendous combination of strength and speed that made him so tough to bring down during his three years at Alabama. The Doak Walker Award winner led the SEC in rushing, averaging nearly 6 yards per carry, and was a Heisman finalist.

WIDE RECEIVER

No. 5 Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina

Thoughts: With the season that Jeffery had in 2010, many thought he might battle Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon for the top spot at wide receiver. However, Jeffery received much more attention from defenders and struggled in 2011. Still, his size makes him extremely imposing and tough one-on-one.

TIGHT END

No. 2 Orson Charles, Georgia

Thoughts: Charles can really be a beast on the field and become a total mismatch for defenders. He can be too fast for linebackers and too big for defensive backs. Tight ends are becoming bigger components to NFL offenses, and Charles has the potential to make an impact early.

OFFENSIVE GUARD

No. 2 Cordy Glenn, Georgia

Thoughts: Glenn had no problem moving outside to left tackle this season, but he might be better suited inside at the pro level. But with his versatility, he could move outside if needed, which would make him a very attractive option in the draft.

CENTER

No. 4 William Vlachos, Alabama

Thoughts: Vlachos isn't the biggest, or most intimidating player up front, but he never quits. He has an absolute motor and can give bigger defensive linemen fits. His size could hurt him, but his determination won't.

DEFENSIVE END

No. 2 Melvin Ingram, South Carolina

Thoughts: He could end up playing outside linebacker in a 3-4. Ingram has tremendous speed outside and had a real knack for making plays. He didn't get 10 sacks and score three touchdowns last season by accident.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

No. 2 Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State

Thoughts: After bursting onto the scene in his second year, Cox was arguably the SEC's top defensive tackle in 2011. Kiper thinks he can play in a 4-3 or a 3-4. With his build and athleticism, Cox would no doubt succeed in either.

No. 3 Michael Brockers, LSU

Thoughts: His jump to the NFL was a bit of a surprise -- until you look at how productive he was as a third-year sophomore. Brockers not only clogs up the middle but has a tremendous wingspan that disrupts opposing passing and kicking games.

INSIDE LINEBACKER

No. 3 Dont'a Hightower, Alabama

Thoughts: It didn't look like Hightower was coming off a knee injury last year. Hightower was all over the field for Alabama and helped create a dynamic duo at linebacker with Courtney Upshaw. Having Hightower lurking on your defense is definitely a good thing.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

No. 1 Courtney Upshaw, Alabama

Thoughts: He didn't have a ton of tackles last year, but it wasn't like Upshaw didn't cause offenses headaches. With his speed, he's a tremendous pass-rusher and that's probably how he'll earn his paychecks at the next level. He can cover when he needs to and always seems to find the ball.

CORNERBACK

No. 1 Morris Claiborne, LSU

Thoughts: Was there a better cover corner in the country? Claiborne didn't get Honey Badger-like attention, but that didn't mean he wasn't great last year. Claiborne defended 12 passes last year and took away one side of the field when he was out there.

No. 2 Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama

Thoughts: Kirkpatrick has some questions to answer when it comes to his coverage ability, but his size will certainly help him at the next level. Kirkpatrick broke up nine passes last season and has ideal athleticism that will be attractive to teams.

No. 5 Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina

Thoughts: Like Kirkpatrick, Gilmore will have to answer questions about his coverage skill. He got caught looking a few times in 2010, and while he improved last season, he was beaten a few times on jump balls. But his speed and athleticism will have teams very interested in him come draft time.

SAFETY

No. 1 Mark Barron, Alabama

Thoughts: You'd be hard pressed to find a better safety in the country. Barron is big, though and knows how to take the deep ball away. He also isn't afraid of playing down in the box and taking the run away.

No. 2. Antonio Allen, South Carolina

Thoughts: Allen made a ton of plays for the Gamecocks last year in the Spur position and could be a real player at the next level. He quietly led South Carolina with 88 tackles and also forced four fumbles and grabbed three interceptions.

KICKER

No. 3 Blair Walsh, Georgia

Thoughts: He was supposed to be the top kicker in the country, but was extremely inconsistent throughout the season and struggled with his distance. He's a talented player, but missed 14 kicks in 2011, including the one that ended Georgia's season with a loss.

PUNTER

No. 1 Drew Bulter, Georgia

Thoughts: He might not have the most powerful leg, but Butler knew how to direct his kicks. He downed 21 inside the 20-yard line and also forced 15 fair catches.