We're continuing to look into the future toward the 2014 NFL draft, and ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. is coming out in full force this week.
The SEC has a pretty strong group of receivers coming back this season. When it comes to draft eligible players, Kiper has two SEC receivers currently in his top five, including Texas A&M redshirt sophomore Mike Evans at No. 3. He led the Aggies in catches (82) and yards (1,105) last season and also caught five touchdowns.
To me, he really stood out in the Alabama game. He only caught five passes for 40 yards that day, but he out-muscled guys to make catches. He carried a couple defenders for extra yards. He was just the tougher player at times. He's big and rangy, making him a prime target for Johnny Manziel. More will be asked of him this fall with Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu gone. He should expect more attention and plenty of double-teams. He'll really get a chance to show what he's made of in a few months.
Vanderbilt senior-to-be Jordan Matthews comes in at No. 5 on Kiper's list. Matthews could have left early for the NFL this year, but he decided to spend another year in school. Matthews was probably one of the more underrated players in the SEC last year. He doesn't really have game-breaking speed, but he's quick off the line and his 6-3, 205-pound frame causes problems for opposing defensive backs. He led the SEC with seven 100-yard receiving games and 94 catches last year.
Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief and Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell made Kiper's "Next up" list. Both could have really big seasons this fall. Mitchell will be all offense this fall, so that will help him get way more reps. He really is a top-tier player at receiver when he's out there enough.
Moncrief showed his big-play ability during the second half of the Rebels' season in 2012. He's big and has exceptional hands. He'll be looked at more by defenders this fall, but he's such a physical receiver that it might not matter too much.
Other draft-eligible receivers I'd keep an eye on this fall:
Jarvis Landry, LSU: He really stepped up and looked like a true big-play threat in the Tigers' offense this spring.
Marcus Lucas, Missouri: He has the makings to be a legitimate deep threat for Mizzou, but he has to work on his focus and consistency.
Jonathan Rumph, Georgia: The junior college transfer has great size and speed and really impressed this spring.
As for defensive ends, only South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney made Kiper's cut. Clowney's appearance at the top of Kiper's list for defensive ends shouldn't surprise anyone. He could very well be the top pick in next year's draft, anyway.
Florida's Dominique Easley made Kiper's "Next up" list. It'll be interested to see what pro scouts think about Easley. He's extremely disruptive up front and can play either end or tackle. He's moving back inside this fall, but he'll probably venture out here and there.
Other draft eligible defensive ends I'd keep an eye on this fall:
Denico Autry, Mississippi State: He didn't have a great 2012 season, but Autry showed lots of improvement this spring. He has all the talent to be a force off the edge, but he has to be more consistent.
Alvin Dupree, Kentucky: He moved to defensive end this spring and could be a top pass rusher in the SEC this fall with his speed and strength off the line.
Dee Ford, Auburn: He came back pretty strong from a back injury in 2011. Ford registered six sacks and eight quarterback hurries last year.
C.J. Johnson, Ole Miss: He made a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 and has the makings of a being a real star on the Rebels' defense.
Chris Smith, Arkansas: The rising senior led the Razorbacks and ranked fourth in the SEC in sacks last year with 9.5. He can be very frustrating for tackles to deal with up front.