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Friday, December 14, 2012
Ranking the SEC's top underclassmen

By Chris Low

The list of talented underclassmen in the SEC that could be leaving early for the NFL draft is staggering.

Based on early projections, there could be as many as 12 underclassmen alone from the SEC going in the first round. That's not even counting seniors.

Even with that much talent potentially leaving the league, there's still an impressive nucleus of young players returning.

We've come up with our list of the top 10 players in the SEC who are sophomores or younger this season and not eligible for the draft. As you can see below, it's a star-studded cast:

Jadeveon Clowney
The pass-rushing prowess of Jadeveon Clowney could make him a Heisman contender in 2013.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina, So.: There's already talk of Clowney making a legitimate run at the Heisman Trophy next season. He leads the SEC in sacks with 13 and is the overwhelming favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft in 2014.

2. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M, RFr.: He wasn't even assured of the starting job back in the spring, but made a meteoric rise to become the first freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy. Manziel amassed 4,600 yards in total offense to break Cam Newton's SEC record in two fewer games.

3. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia, Fr.: He's big, strong and fast and turns missed tackles into touchdowns. Remind you of anybody else who played at Georgia back in the day? Gurley leads all SEC rushers with 1,260 yards and is tied for second in the league with 17 touchdowns.

4. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama, Fr.: One of the most dynamic players in the league in space, Yeldon put together a 1,000-yard rushing season to go along with 12 touchdowns. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry and was as good at getting the tough yards as he was at breaking the long one.

5. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama, Fr.: Was there a better true freshman combo in college football this season than Cooper and Yeldon? After not being completely healthy early, Cooper was a blur to close the season. He has nine touchdown receptions and averages 16.9 yards per catch.

6. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama, So.: Talk about a physical specimen who has everything it takes to be one of the great left tackles in the game. The 6-6, 311-pound Kouandjio is exactly what you're looking for on that left side and one of the big reasons the Tide were so dominant up front this season.

7. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU, Fr.: Once the Tigers finally turned Hill loose, he emerged as one of the best big backs in the league. Don't be fooled by his 6-2, 235-pound frame. Hill has plenty of burst to go along with that size and ripped off 50-yard plus touchdown runs against South Carolina and Texas A&M to seal both of those wins.

8. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU, So.: It's almost unfair to have the collection of talent LSU does on its defensive line. Johnson's 10 tackles for loss ranks him third among all SEC interior defensive linemen behind only Sharrif Floyd and Sheldon Richardson. There's a reason they call him "Freak."

9. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee, So.: Richardson more than held his own this season at left tackle against some of the league's best pass-rushers, namely Jarvis Jones and Jadeveon Clowney. He's got great size (6-6 and 332 pounds) and is equally effective at run-blocking and pass protection.

10. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss, So.: Don't forget about Moncrief when you start listing the most explosive receivers in the league. He has 10 touchdown receptions and averages 15.8 yards per catch. Moncrief obviously has the ability to stretch the field, but he's also physical and very good after the catch.

The next 10 (in alphabetical order)