SEC: Courtney Upshaw

TideNation links: Where's the D?

November, 14, 2012
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Alex Scarborough writes: It took a couple of months, but the loss of several key defenders to the NFL has finally cost Alabama, as the Crimson Tide have suffered from a lack of big plays.

Scarborough: Big 3 – Alabama’s Nick Saban believes SEC team could make BCS title game.
Alabama's 2011 team has a chance for some more recognition before the 2012 season begins.

The ESPYS are just around the corner and Wednesday marked the first day of voting. While the SEC has some representatives spread throughout the 32 categories, SEC football is only represented by Alabama, as the Crimson Tide is up for the ESPYS' biggest award -- Best Team of the Year.

After being downed at home by only a field goal against LSU on Nov. 5, Alabama won out and eventually faced the Tigers again in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. Things went very differently for both teams, as Alabama dismantled LSU 21-0 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Alabama possessed arguably the nation's most dominating defense in 2011, putting up historic numbers. The Crimson Tide finished the season No. 1 nationally in a handful of defensive categories, including total defense (183.6 yards per game), rushing defense (72.2), pass defense (111.5), pass efficiency defense (83.7) and scoring defense (8.2 points per game).

That certainly isn't hard to believe, considering Alabama's defense had three players drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. It probably should have been four, with linebacker Courtney Upshaw being drafted early in the second round.

While Alabama's defense garnered most of the attention, running back Trent Richardson, who won the Doak Walker Award, as the nation's best running back, was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Alabama's offense averaged 429.6 yards per game, good enough for second in the SEC, and outscored opponents by almost 27 points per game.

All ESPYS voting categories, with the exception of the award for Best Team, will end July 11, the night of the ESPYS.

In addition to voting on ESPN.com, fans can vote for this award on Twitter by using the hash tag #BestTeam and casting their vote with a nominee's name.

The winner of Best Team will then be revealed at the end of the show.
DESTIN, Fla. -- Nick Saban isn't looking to compare his 2012 football team to past ones, but he'd like to take one key ingredient from 2011 and sprinkle it around his team right now, especially on defense.

What Saban hopes to see more of from his defense when the players and coaches get back together shortly before fall camp is leadership. This defense can be as hungry as it wants, but Saban knows it won't go very far without a few chiefs stepping up.

He saw progress this spring, but it wasn't enough.

"I'm never satisfied," Saban said at the 2012 SEC spring meetings. "That's an area of our team that we need to continue to develop and mature."

Gone are upperclassmen leaders like Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron and Josh Chapman. In are seniors Nico Johnson (linebacker) and Jesse Williams (defensive tackle) and linebackers C.J. Mosley (junior) and Adrian Hubbard (sophomore). All seemed to make strides this spring, but there's still a lot of room for them and others to grow, Saban said.

This defense isn't on the same level as the historic one in 2011, but it's still pretty talented. But so was the 2010 defense and its slow start hurt Alabama's chance to repeat as SEC champs. Though this unit is older than the 2010 defense, Saban made it clear that leadership and maturity can take a team further than talent and experience.

There's still plenty of time for all the leadership kinks to be worked out and there's no doubt that Saban will take a different approach in helping that growth after what transpired in 2010.

"I've been pleased with the leadership on this team so far," he said," but it's a work in progress and it's developing. It's going to have to continue to develop for them to be what we need them to be successful on a consistent basis."

SEC post-spring power rankings

May, 18, 2012
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We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:

1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs, as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.

2. Alabama: While the defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.

3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) at RB makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), while senior Akeem Auguste returns after missing last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.

4. Georgia: The Bulldogs should be higher on this list, but when you take into account the suspensions of four defensive starters at the beginning of the season, they slide a little. Georgia returns nine defensive starters, including one of the nation's best linebackers in Jarvis Jones, and some firepower on offense, led by veteran quarterback Aaron Murray, who could get some early Heisman love. It also sounds like enigmatic running back Isaiah Crowell is slowly turning things around. Yet again, the Bulldogs have a favorable SEC schedule, with no games against Alabama, Arkansas or LSU, so their road to the SEC championship is easier than South Carolina's, but keep an eye on that inexperienced offensive line.

5. Arkansas: If not for Bobby Petrino's embarrassing dismissal, the Razorbacks might be ranked higher. Offensively, it doesn't get much better than what Arkansas has. Tyler Wilson returns as arguably the league's best quarterback, and he'll get to work with one of the most complete backs around, Knile Davis, who is returning from a devastating ankle injury. An older and more improved offensive line returns, and so does a talented receiving corps led by Cobi Hamilton. But there are questions. How effective will interim coach John L. Smith be, especially if something goes wrong? Will Marquel Wade's suspension leak into the fall after his spring arrest? And will the defense improve and be more aggressive under new coordinator Paul Haynes? The good news is that Alabama and LSU play in Fayetteville this fall.

6. Florida: The chemistry is much better in Gainesville. Florida returns 10 starters from a defense that ranked eighth nationally in 2011. Matt Elam looks like a budding star at safety, and Florida's linebacking group is solid. Buck/defensive end Ronald Powell could be out after tearing his ACL this spring, but coach Will Muschamp recently said Powell is off crutches. Stud defensive tackle Dominique Easley is also walking fine after tearing his ACL in last year's season finale. The Gators have their third offensive coordinator in three years, and unproven sophomore quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are still battling. Florida has unproven running backs and receivers, but the offensive line toughened up tremendously.

7. Auburn: The Tigers welcomed two new coordinators, Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder, this spring, and by all accounts players were very receptive. Coach Gene Chizik is still dealing with a lot of youth, as close to 70 percent of his roster is made up of underclassmen. One of those underclassmen is quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who made strides as a passer this spring and seems to have the edge in the quarterback race with Clint Moseley, who missed some of the spring with a sore shoulder. The defensive line will be the team's strength, with end Dee Ford exploding this spring and Corey Lemonier returning. There is a lot of depth up front on defense, which will go a long way for the Tigers.

8. Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel and his players have made it clear they aren't intimidated by the move to the SEC. These new Tigers return solid offensive firepower, but there has to be some concern about quarterback James Franklin, who missed most of the spring after having surgery on his throwing shoulder. Plus, Mizzou's backup QB could miss games this fall after his recent arrest, so the Tigers' offensive success will be riding on Franklin's health. The Tigers are replacing a few starters on both lines, but feel confident about both areas. Mizzou will face a Georgia team down a few defensive players in Week 2, but must travel to South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M.

9. Tennessee: A lot is different in Knoxville, as the Vols welcomed seven new assistant coaches. Coach Derek Dooley insists the changes were for the best, but there's still going to be some adjusting to do this fall. The good news is that Tennessee returns a lot on both sides of the ball, starting with quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. A healthy trio there makes Tennessee's passing game one of the best in the league. Questions remain on the offensive line and at running back, but improvements were made this spring. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri would like to run more 3-4 this fall, but players aren't totally comfortable, leaving some concerns.

10. Mississippi State: Quarterback Tyler Russell finally looks ready to take over as the guy in Starkville, and he'll have a veteran receiving corps to work with. However, that group still has a lot to prove, especially senior Chad Bumphis. The running game looks solid with LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin, and the offensive line got help from the junior college ranks. Defensively, there are a few holes to fill up front and in the secondary, but Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield are a solid cornerback tandem and linebacker is set with a few vets back, including stud Cameron Lawrence. Junior college defensive end Denico Autry has to perform early to help a line with a couple of holes.

11. Texas A&M: The Aggies have some holes to fill this year, but the offensive line will be a strength. Left tackle Luke Joeckel, a future first-rounder, leads a line that returns four starters. Star wide receiver Ryan Swope is back, and running back Christine Michael should be healthy (knee) this fall, but quarterback is an issue. Sophomore Jameill Showers has the edge right now, but like all of his competitors, he lacks experience. The defense will lean on linebackers Sean Porter, Steven Jenkins, Jonathan Stewart and converted end Damontre Moore, but the secondary has depth and experience issues, and the team will still be adjusting to a new staff led by coach Kevin Sumlin.

12. Vanderbilt: There is some solid offensive talent in Nashville, starting with running back Zac Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, but coach James Franklin is still waiting for quarterback Jordan Rodgers to be more consistent. The offensive line is very thin and could barely get through spring. The defense must replace a handful of starters and leaders, but Franklin felt better about guys like linebacker Chase Garnham, defensive end Walker May and cornerback Trey Wilson. Vandy's schedule will be tough this fall, and if that offensive line doesn't hold up, getting back to a bowl will be tough.

13. Kentucky: Coach Joker Phillips was pleased with how spring practice ended, especially when it came to finding offensive playmakers, like receivers Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins. Quarterback Maxwell Smith had a solid spring, but struggled during the spring game, meaning the battle with Morgan Newton and freshman Patrick Towles should go into the fall. The offensive line is still trying to get by after losing three starters, and the Wildcats must replace six starters at linebacker and in the secondary. Given the Wildcats' schedule, they will need to sweep their nonconference games to be in bowl shape.

14. Ole Miss: The arrival of coach Hugh Freeze brought a lot of positive change to Ole Miss, especially off the field, but there are still a lot of concerns. There are depth issues at just about every position, especially running back and defensive tackle. Even one of the most experienced groups, the offensive line, has struggled mightily with picking up Freeze's spread offense and is the team's biggest weakness. Academic issues are also worrying Ole Miss' staff, and top running back Jeff Scott and cornerback/receiver Nickolas Brassell are in that group. Quarterback is still up for grabs, but progress was made on defense, especially in the secondary.


Top performer: Tackles

May, 14, 2012
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Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 continues with a look at the top tacklers.

Past producers:
The SEC returns three of the top 10 tacklers from 2011, but don't let that fool you. There's still a lot of quality out there on those SEC defenses. Last season's tackling king, Kentucky linebacker Danny Trevathan, is gone, and so are his 143 tackles. But the league's No. 2 tackler is back.

Here's a look at the top tackler returning in the SEC:

Cameron Lawrence, LB, Mississippi State: He was second in the SEC with 123 tackles and had 50 solo stops. He also averaged 9.5 tackles per game. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder found ways to take down opposing offensive players by roaming all over the field for the Bulldogs. Lawrence started on the outside, but made his presence known on many different areas of the field with his speed and relentless attitude. Lawrence picked up right were he left off this spring, and the coaches expect him to be just as valuable this fall. It'll be tough to stop Lawrence from taking the tackling crown in 2012.

The SEC returns two more of its top tacklers:
  • Daren Bates, LB, Auburn: He registered 104 tackles, including 59 solo, and averaged eight tackles a game.
  • Jonathan Bostic, LB, Florida: He registered 94 tackles, including 60 solo, and averaged 7.2 tackles a game.

Those three will certainly get their chances to fight for the crown, but there are other players to keep an eye on as well this fall. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at Alabama, but that means Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley will have the chance to take some of that lost production.

Missouri linebacker Andrew Wilson was a stud last season with his team-high 98 tackles, so he'll definitely be in the race this season. So will South Carolina's Devonte Holloman, as he moves back to the Spur position that he lost last season to Antonio Allen, who led the Gamecocks in tackles. Georgia's Jarvis Jones will also take a crack at it. He was the best when it came to making plays behind the line of scrimmage last season, but you better believe offenses will look to protect the backfield more against him. That means he'll have more opportunities to make plays past the line, and he's just as deadly when he isn't rushing the passer.

Ole Miss linebacker Mike Marry had a solid season in 2011, accumulating 81 total tackles. He's turned into a better player, and with the Rebels lining up in all sorts of different defensive formations, he'll be moving all around the field to make plays. Also, keep tabs on Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith and defensive end/linebacker Tenarius Wright. Highsmith had a tremendous 2011 season, racking up 80 tackles, and with the team's top tacklers gone, expect his production to increase. And if Wright stays at linebacker, he'll have more opportunities to add to his tackling numbers.

Two other players to watch out for are Texas A&M linebacker Jonathan Stewart and Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham. Stewart led the Aggies with 98 tackles last season, and Garnham moves into Chris Marve's spot in the middle. A spot where Marve registered a team-high 91 tackles.

Top performer: Sacks

May, 11, 2012
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Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 continues with a look at the sack artists.

Past producers:
The SEC returns six players that ranked in the top 10 in sacks in 2011. Three of the top four sack men from a year ago are gone, but Mr. Sack himself, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, is back. Defenses will key in on Jones more this fall, but it'll still be hard to stop him, so expect him to battle to keep his crown.

The obvious top performer when it came to sacks:

Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: Jones led the SEC with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. He did all of this in his first season playing in the SEC after transferring from USC in 2010. Jones really made SEC tackles suffer, as 12.5 of his sacks came in league play. Jones played like a freight train chugging off of the line. He showed tremendous speed and agility and was nearly unstoppable at times, registering 49 quarterback hurries. His best performance came in a pivotal game against Florida, where he recorded four sacks. Jones is already getting a ton of NFL draft love, as ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. rates him as the No. 2 player on his first Big Board Insider. Jones was also second on the team with 70 tackles.

The SEC returns five more of its top sackers:

Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn: He recorded 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries.

Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: He recorded nine sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry.

Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU: He recorded eight sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hurries.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: He recorded eight sacks, 12 tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries.

Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina: He recorded six sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries.

It feels like the SEC produces pass rushers likes trees produce leaves. Jones leads the pack right now, but those LSU ends are going to put up quite the fight because it'll be tough for anyone to block both at the same time. Clowney was good as a freshman, but people expect bigger and better in 2012.

Florida lost Ronald Powell this spring, but Lerentee McCray is a player to keep an eye on. He missed spring with a shoulder injury, but coach Will Muschamp is very excited about what McCray can do on the outside with his speed and relentlessness. Also, watch out for linebackers Alonzo Highsmith at Arkansas and Adrian Hubbard at Alabama. Highsmith suffered a pec injury this spring, but he should be fine for the fall after leading the Razorbacks with 12.5 tackles for loss. Hubbard replaces Courtney Upshaw at the Jack linebacker position and people at Alabama left spring impressed with the youngster.

Texas A&M has a couple of players that could compete for the sack title this fall in linebacker Sean Porter and end Damontre Moore, who combined for 18 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss. Porter is a player who is already garnering a lot of draft attention and will enter the fall as one of the SEC's top linebackers.

And don't forget about Ole Miss linebacker/defensive end C.J. Johnson. He only registered one sack last year, but the coaches in Oxford feel very good about how much he improved this spring. He'll be used as more of a pass rusher this year, and if he adds some weight he'll be the cause of a lot of headaches for opposing tackles.
We all know that defense wins championships and the SEC is very much a testament to that. Alabama possessed the nation's No. 1 defense last season and now possesses another national championship. Runner-up LSU ranked second nationally.

Alabama ran away with the crown as the nation's and the SEC's best defense, but that title is for the taking in 2012. Alabama is down key players from last year's squad, like linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, defensive tackle Josh Chapman, and defensive backs Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, and DeQuan Menzie.

SportsNation

Who will have the best defense in 2012?

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Discuss (Total votes: 12,039)

Alabama's defense isn't as green as the 2010 group, but it's still drawing some comparisons to it. That's exactly what the Tide wants to hear. Nico Johnson seems primed to be a true leader at linebacker, while Adrian Hubbard could be a budding star at Upshaw's old position. Defensive backs Robert Lester and Dee Milliner are back and will be joined by a couple of JUCO standouts and talented sophomores Vinnie Sunseri and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix. Jesse Williams could be a real force at defensive tackle along with end Damion Square.

Then you have LSU. The Tigers lost All-World cornerback Morris Claiborne to the NFL draft and two starting linebackers. Michael Brockers is gone at defensive tackle as well. But LSU is still loaded. The Tigers return Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon, who should be fine with an expanded role at cornerback. Junior Kevin Minter really stepped up at linebacker last year and should pick up right where he left off. Even without Brockers, the line is solid with future first-rounder Sam Montgomery at one end position and the underrated Barkevious Mingo at the other. The two combined for 17 sacks last season.

Bennie Logan and Anthony Johnson should provide some meat nastiness in the interior, while the very talented Eric Reid is back at free safety.

Georgia and South Carolina both finished the 2011 season ranked in the top five nationally in total defense. South Carolina was third, while Georgia was fifth, respectively. The Gamecocks lost first-round defensive end Melvin Ingram, but return freshman standout Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor, who many thought would be better than Ingram last season. Kelcy Quarles is back at defensive tackle and the coaches think he'll be even better in his second year.

Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens, who combined for 96 tackles last year, will grab time at linebacker again, while the very athletic DeVonte Holloman returns to the Spur for his senior year. There are questions in the secondary, but seniors D.J. Swearinger (safety) and Akeem Auguste (cornerback) return.

Georgia returns nine defensive starters. Brandon Boykin is gone at corner, and the Bulldogs will enter the fall with a lot questions in the secondary, especially with starters Branden Smith, Sanders Commings and Bacarri Rambo suspended to start the season. Star freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell moved to corner this spring and fits right in, but there are depth issues at the position.

Other than that, the Bulldogs are still pretty stacked. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree will serve a suspension to start the year, but Georgia will fill his spot by committee. Mike Gilliard, Cornelius Washington, Christian Robinson, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson provide Georgia with a very solid linebacking unit alongside star Jarvis Jones, who racked up 19.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Georgia's defensive line should also be pretty stout with the massive John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers battling in the middle. Abry Jones really progressed at end as well this spring.

Or maybe someone else will step up and take the crown ...

Peeking ahead to second, third rounds

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
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The second and third rounds of the NFL draft will be held tonight with coverage beginning at 7 ET on ESPN, and several SEC players should hear their names called early.

It's baffling to me how Alabama's Courtney Upshaw didn't hear his name in the first round on Thursday. Somebody's going to get a heck of a deal by landing him in the second round tonight.

I realize there are questions about what position he would play in the NFL, but the tape doesn't lie. The guy specializes in making big plays and has a knack for getting to the quarterback. He did it at Alabama, and he'll do it at the next level.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has five SEC players going in the second round in his latest mock draft, including Georgia offensive tackle Cordy Glenn with the first pick of the second round to the St. Louis Rams at No. 33 overall. Like Upshaw, Glenn was projected by most analysts to be a first-round selection.

The other four SEC players pegged by Kiper to go in the second round tonight are:
Some of the other SEC players to keep an eye on tonight in Rounds 2 and 3 include:

Video: Draft prospects recall high school

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
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Michael Brockers, Quinton Coples, Stephon Gilmore, Stephen Hill, Luke Kuechly, Ryan Tannehill, Courtney Upshaw, Russell Wilson and Jerel Worthy talk about their playing days before NCAA football.

High school ratings of top draft prospects

April, 26, 2012
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It’s always a lot of fun to see how the top NFL draft picks were rated coming out of high school.

Of the 12 SEC players pegged to go in the first round Thursday night, eight were unranked nationally in the ESPN 150 when they were going through the recruiting process in high school.

The highest-ranked player was Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who was the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2009 class and the No. 1 cornerback prospect.

That same year, Alabama running back Trent Richardson was the No. 6 overall prospect and the No. 1 running back.

The lowest rated of the SEC’s prospective first-round draft picks was Georgia offensive tackle Cordy Glenn. He was the No. 74 offensive tackle prospect nationally in the 2008 class.

Here’s a breakdown of all 12 players, including where they’re projected to go in the first round by Mel Kiper, their national rank by ESPN coming out of high school, their position rank, their grade and where they’re from.

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (No. 5 to the Bucs): No. 6 overall in class of 2009, No. 1 running back, No. 2 in Florida behind defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel, who signed with FSU. Grade 91. Pensacola, Fla.

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (No. 6 to the Rams): Unranked nationally in ESPN 150 in 2008, No. 26 athlete. Grade 80. Shreveport, La.

Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State (No. 7 to the Jaguars): Unranked nationally in class of 2009. No. 36 defensive end. Grade 78. Yazoo City, Miss.

Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina (No. 10 to the Bills): No. 18 overall in class of 2009, No. 2 safety. Grade 85. Rock Hill, S.C.

Mark Barron, S, Alabama (No. 11 to the Chiefs): Unranked nationally in ESPN 150 in 2008, No. 19 athlete. Grade 80. Mobile, Ala.

Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina (No. 12 to the Seahawks): Unranked nationally in ESPN 150 in 2007, No. 12 inside linebacker. Grade 78. Rockingham, N.C.

Michael Brockers, DT, LSU (No. 15 to the Eagles): Unranked nationally in class of 2009. No. 24 defensive end. Grade 79. Houston, Texas

Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (No. 17 to the Bengals): No. 4 overall in class of 2009, No. 1 cornerback. Grade 92. Gadsden, Ala.

Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia (No. 21 to Bengals): Unranked nationally in class of 2008, No. 74 offensive tackle. Grade 74. Riverdale, Ga.

Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama (No. 27 to the Patriots): No. 29 overall in class of 2008, No. 4 defensive end. Grade 83. Eufaula, Ala.

Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama (No. 29 to the Ravens): Unranked nationally in class of 2008. No. 26 defensive end. Grade 79. Lewisburg, Tenn.

Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss (No. 32 to the Giants): Unranked nationally in class of 2008, No. 34 offensive tackle. Grade 78. Lynchburg, Va.

Final NFL mock drafts

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
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With this year's NFL draft only a few hours away, it's time to see when and where the experts have last year's top college football players going.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper's final mock draft Insider only covers the first round, while Todd McShay's mock draft Insider takes us through all seven rounds. Kiper has 12 SEC players (13 if you count Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill) going in the first round. If 12 SEC players are drafted in Thursday's first round, it will set a conference record. The current record is 11, set in 2007.

McShay has 11 SEC players going in the first round. The only player difference between the two is that Kiper has Ole Miss offensive tackle Bobby Massie going No. 32 to the New York Giants. McShay doesn't have Massie getting drafted until the second round.

McShay predicts that more than 40 SEC players will be drafted this year.

Here's a look at Kiper's first round, and a little analysis of each SEC pick:
  • No. 3 to the Minnesota Vikings -- Morris Claiborne, S, LSU: "The Vikings could target the offensive line, as we've had them pegged throughout this process, or they could trade down. But my hunch for now says they'll go with Claiborne, the gifted corner out of LSU. It's a need spot, and if they can't get a deal done to move down (I believe that's their preferred route), he fits."
  • No. 4 to the Cleveland Browns -- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: "The Browns are in serious need of help on offense, and given that they have some talent along the offensive line, Richardson can be successful early and take a lot of pressure off the quarterback."
  • No. 7 to the Philadelphia Eages (from Jacksonville) -- Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State: "In this scenario, the Eagles move up to get a defensive tackle they covet, and Jacksonville gets to move down, because it can't maximize value for a top need here."
  • No. 8 to the Miami Dolphins -- Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: "This really is the best setting for Tannehill, too. We know Miami lacks a long-range plan at quarterback, and while Tannehill isn't an immediate starter, you take him for the promise."
  • No. 13 to the Arizona Cardinals -- Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina: "Arizona won't pass on a guy many consider the best sack artist in the draft."
  • No. 14 to the Dallas Cowboys -- Mark Barron, S, Alabama: "Dallas has been aggressive in targeting the secondary in free agency, and Barron is another big upgrade to what was a really weak unit in 2011."
  • No. 15 to the Jacksonville Jaguars (from Philadelphia) -- Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: "Gilmore is capable of coming in and starting right away, and the Jags were simply decimated in the secondary last season."
  • No. 17 to the Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland) -- Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia: "A huge body, he'll knock people back in the run game, and he has the feet to pull and line up linebackers on the second level."
  • No. 20 to the Tennessee Titans -- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama: "The Titans lost their top cover corner in free agency, and Kirkpatrick has the talent and experience to contribute right away."
  • No. 25 to the Denver Broncos -- Michael Brockers, DT, LSU: "Denver needs to strengthen the inside to complement a solid group of pass-rushers."
  • No. 27 to the New England Patriots (from New Orleans) -- Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama: "What he can do is immediately help a defense with his skills as a pass-rusher and his willingness to use leverage and vision to do damage against the run."
  • No. 29 to the Baltimore Ravens -- Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama: "He is a potentially dominant interior linebacker and has been well-schooled."
  • No. 32 to the New York Giants -- Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss: "Massie could actually go much higher, perhaps as high as Detroit at No. 23, so he's a solid value here."
McShay's first round:
  • No. 3 to the Vikings: Claiborne
  • No. 4 to the Brown: Richardson
  • No. 8 to the Dolphins: Tannehill
  • No. 9 to the Carolina Panthers: Gilmore
  • No. 14 to the Cowboys: Barron
  • No. 15 to the Eagles: Cox
  • No. 16 to the New York Jets: Ingram
  • No. 17 to the Bengals: Brockers
  • No. 20 to the Titans: Kirkpatrick
  • No. 22 to the Browns: Glenn
  • No. 24 to the Pittsburgh Steelers: Hightower
  • No. 29 to the Ravens: Upshaw

Final NFL draft big boards

April, 25, 2012
4/25/12
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It's the eve of this year's NFL draft, so it's time to take a couple of final looks at what could happen on such a special extended weekend.

Today, we'll take a look at ESPN NFL draft gurus Mel Kiper's and Todd McShay's final big boards. Naturally, both are loaded with SEC talent, but both have a couple of differences.

Both boards have 11 SEC players on them (12 if you count Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill), and four of those players are in each one's top 10.

One big difference between the two is that Kiper's Big Board has only four Alabama players and has Ole Miss offensive tackle Bobby Massie at No. 21. McShay has five Alabama players in his top 32, but doesn't have Massie. In fact, McShay doesn't have Massie being drafted until the second round. We'll get to all that fun Thursday.

Kiper left Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower off of his list.

Here's a look at the SEC players on the final draft boards:

TRENT RICHARDSON, RB, ALABAMA

McShay: No. 3 -- "The most complete running back prospect to come along since Adrian Peterson."
Kiper: No. 3

MORRIS CLAIBORNE, CB, LSU

McShay: No. 4 -- "Claiborne's size, speed, fluid hips and impressive ball skills make him the clear-cut choice as the top cover corner on the board."
Kiper: No. 4

FLETCHER COX, DT, MISSISSIPPI STATE

McShay: No. 7 -- "Speed, quickness and agility, along with solid versatility, have vaulted Cox to the top of the defensive tackle class."
Kiper: No. 17

MELVIN INGRAM, DE, SOUTH CAROLINA

Kiper: No. 7 -- "A very good pass-rusher, Ingram has the ability to convert to a 3-4 OLB in the right system, but DE is probably the best spot."
McShay: No. 21

MARK BARRON, S, ALABAMA

Kiper: No. 8 -- "The top safety in the draft, he has ideal size, range and instincts for the position."
McShay: No. 8

STEPHON GILMORE, S, SOUTH CAROLINA

Kiper: No. 11 -- "Up-and-down season, but the draft process has pushed his stock back up."
McShay: No. 14

RYAN TANNEHILL, QB, TEXAS A&M

McShay: No. 12 -- "Tannehill needs time to develop, but his arm talent and overall tools and athleticism are impressive."
Kiper: No. 19

MICHAEL BROCKERS, DT, LSU

McShay: No. 13 -- "Brockers has the size and power to dominate the point of attack; he also has upside as a pass-rusher and plenty of overall potential."
Kiper: No. 22

CORDY GLENN, OL, GEORGIA

Kiper: No. 14 -- "He's played all over and could be on most boards as a tackle, but can also dominate at guard."
McShay: No. 25

DRE KIRKPATRICK, CB, ALABAMA

McShay: No. 20 -- "You'd like to see better ball skills from Kirkpatrick, and he has short arms, but he's very good in zone coverage and shows a physical edge in run support."
Kiper: No. 23

BOBBY MASSIE, OT, OLE MISS

Kiper: No. 21 -- "Really rising on a lot of boards because perception is he can come in and start as a right tackle early, with ceiling of a solid left tackle."

DONT'A HIGHTOWER, LB, ALABAMA

McShay: No. 23 -- "Hightower has versatility and an impressive combination of size, power and mobility."

COURTNEY UPSHAW, LB, ALABAMA

Kiper: No. 25 -- "Dipped a bit, as he's carrying the "tweener" label for some teams, but that could also imply versatility, and I buy in to that."
McShay: No. 28
A record 26 players are expected to be in attendance at the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Twelve are from the SEC, including five from Alabama.

Todd McShay's most recent mock draft Insider had 11 SEC players going in the first round (not counting Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill). That number would tie a conference record set in 2007. Last year, the SEC had 10 players drafted in the first round.

Here are the 12 SEC players who have invites to this year's draft:

Big draft looming for Alabama

April, 16, 2012
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In Todd McShay's latest mock NFL draft Insider, he has five Alabama players going in the first round.

He's not the only draft analyst, either, predicting that many Crimson Tide players to be selected in the first round on April 26.

It would be an historic night for the SEC. That's because no SEC school has ever produced five first-rounders in the same draft. Miami has the record nationally when the Hurricanes produced six first-rounders in 2004.

McShay has running back Trent Richardson going No. 4 overall to the Cleveland Browns, safety Mark Barron going No. 15 to the Philadelphia Eagles, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick going No. 20 to the Tennessee Titans, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw going No. 23 to the Detroit Lions, and inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower going No. 24 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Alabama had four players go in the first round last year. LSU produced four first-rounders in the 2007 draft, and Auburn had four go in the first round in 2005.

McShay projects 11 SEC players to be taken in the first round, which would tie an SEC record.

Here's his rundown of SEC players:

Letterman and concerns return for Tide

April, 13, 2012
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Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire
Quarterback AJ McCarron is one of eight offensive starters returning in 2012.

Spring is a time for renewal. In college football, spring is also the time to look ahead to fall and the upcoming season. Saturday, Alabama holds its annual Golden Flake A-Day Game (ESPN3, 3 ET), which will give its fans a first look at the defending national champions.

Alabama captured its record-breaking ninth national championship of the major poll era in January. Once again, the Crimson Tide are expected to be one of the best teams in the country in 2012. But the Tide have been here before. Will history repeat?

In 2010, Alabama was preseason No. 1 in both The Associated Press and Coaches polls with 11 combined offensive and defensive starters returning from the team that had won the 2009 national title. The problem was the retention breakdown. Bama lost eight starters from a defense that allowed the second-fewest yards (244.1) and points (11.7) per game in the bowl subdivision. With quarterback Greg McElroy, the running back tandem of Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, and receiver Julio Jones, the belief was that the Tide would score points and win games with their offense, while buying enough time for their defense to jell.

However, all did not go as planned. The defense allowed slightly more PPG than in 2009 (13.5 in 2010, 11.7 in 2009). The Tide allowed more plays of 20-plus yards (13) in 2010 than it did in 2009 (7). They also blew a 24-point lead in a loss to rival and eventual national champion Auburn in the regular-season finale, the biggest collapse in Alabama’s storied history. That was one of three losses for the Tide that season.

Like in 2010, this Alabama team has a quarterback returning for his second season as a starter (AJ McCarron), along with a strong running back (Eddie Lacy). Also like the 2010 team, the Tide will lose several starters on defense including four likely first-round picks (cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, linebacker/defensive end Courtney Upshaw, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and safety Mark Barron).

So how good will Alabama be in 2012? History suggests the Tide will be one of the best teams in college football, but not good enough to win a second straight national championship. Just like 2010.

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