SEC: Kevin Minter

A Decade of Les: All-Miles team

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
10:00
AM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU's head coach this week, we’ll use each day to review the decade with Miles helming the Tigers' program. Today we take a swing at naming a roster of the best players from the Miles era.

Let's break down the picks by offense, defense and special teams and discuss some of the tougher decisions.

OFFENSE
Among the most difficult positions to settle on were running back and wide receiver.

We went with Jeremy Hill (who set a record for a back with at least 200 carries by averaging 6.9 yards per carry in 2013) and Jacob Hester at running back. Because of his ability to play fullback, Hester -- the leading rusher on the 2007 BCS championship club with 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns -- gets the nod over a host of talented alternatives like Charles Scott, Joseph Addai and Stevan Ridley.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Landry
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJarvis Landry had 77 catches for 1,193 yards last season before being drafted by the Dolphins in the second round.
Receiver was an even more difficult position to evaluate. Wideouts such as Dwayne Bowe, Early Doucet and Rueben Randle all belong on the list, but we went with Jarvis Landry, whose 2013 (77 catches, 1,193 yards, 10 TDs) was the best single-season effort in the Miles era, and Brandon LaFell, a two-time All-SEC pick who is LSU's career receiving leader (2,517 yards) under Miles. We added Odell Beckham Jr. as an all-purpose player thanks in large part to a standout 2013 season (59 catches, 1,152 yards, eight TDs) when he won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player and ranked second nationally in all-purpose yardage (178.1 yards per game).

There are quarterbacks worth mentioning aside from JaMarcus Russell, namely Matt Flynn and Zach Mettenberger, but Russell completed one of the best seasons by a quarterback in LSU history in 2006 (232-of-342, 3,129 yards, 28 TDs) before becoming the top overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

La'el Collins gets the nod at one offensive tackle spot over candidates like Andrew Whitworth and Joe Barksdale, so he needs to prove he deserves that distinction this season. He has the potential to be the best pro prospect LSU has had at tackle under Miles.

LINEUP
QB: JaMarcus Russell
RB: Jeremy Hill
RB: Jacob Hester
WR: Brandon LaFell
WR: Jarvis Landry
TE: Richard Dickson
OT: Ciron Black
OG: Herman Johnson
C: Rudy Niswanger
OG: Will Blackwell
OT: La'el Collins
AP: Odell Beckham Jr.

DEFENSE
Defensive line and secondary have been loaded positions under Miles and John Chavis, so picking just two players at those positions wasn't easy.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsPatrick Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards during the 2010 season.
At defensive end, we went with two-time All-SEC pick and eventual No. 3 overall draft pick Tyson Jackson and Sam Montgomery, LSU’s sack leader under Miles with 32.5 between 2010 and 2012, over alternatives like Barkevious Mingo and Melvin Oliver.

One tackle position was easy with 2007 Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott award winner Glenn Dorsey claiming one of the spots. The other tackle was a tough call, but we went with 2012 first-round pick Michael Brockers over a ton of great options such as Drake Nevis, Al Woods, Bennie Logan, Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams.

It would have been awfully difficult to pick just two cornerbacks if we hadn’t added a nickelback spot for Tyrann Mathieu to occupy. One of the SEC’s leading defensive playmakers of the 2000s, he definitely belongs on the roster, but Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne feel like no-brainers at corner, too.

At safety, it wasn’t much fun leaving All-American Craig Steltz off the list, but Eric Reid and LaRon Landry both made All-America teams, too -- and both of them became first-round draft picks, while Steltz went in the fourth round in 2008.

Linebackers Kevin Minter (130 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss in 2012) and Kelvin Sheppard (116 tackles in 2010) posted the top single-season tackle totals of the Miles era, while Ali Highsmith earned one All-America designation when he totaled 101 tackles and nine tackles for a loss on the 2007 BCS championship club.

LINEUP
DE: Sam Montgomery
DT: Glenn Dorsey
DT: Michael Brockers
DE: Tyson Jackson
LB: Ali Highsmith
LB: Kevin Minter
LB: Kelvin Sheppard
CB: Patrick Peterson
S: Eric Reid
S: LaRon Landry
CB: Morris Claiborne
Nickel: Tyrann Mathieu

SPECIAL TEAMS
LSU has had a bunch of electric kick returners under Miles. Peterson, Claiborne and Beckham would have been among the top options among kickoff returners, but since they're already on the roster, we went with Trindon Holliday, LSU's career kickoff return yardage leader under Miles (1,806 yards between 2006 and 2009). Peterson, Beckham, Holliday and Mathieu were phenomenal punt returners, so let’s add another new name to the list in Skyler Green, who ranks second all-time among LSU punt returners with 1,064 yards between 2002 and 2005.

It's tough to ignore LSU's single-season and career kicker scoring leader Colt David, but Josh Jasper is the most accurate field goal kicker in school history (83.9 percent) and trails only David on the kicker scoring list with 120 career points.

Brad Wing posted two of the top five seasons by a punter in school history in 2011 (an All-America season where he averaged 44.37 yards per punt) and 2012 (44.8), so he gets the nod over Derek Helton, Patrick Fisher and Chris Jackson.

LINEUP
PK: Josh Jasper
P: Brad Wing
KOR: Trindon Holliday
PR: Skyler Green
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU's head coach this week, we’ll use each day to review the decade under the eccentric Miles. Today we look back at the five best recruiting classes of the Miles era.

5. 2013
ESPN class ranking: Seventh
We’re making a call based on potential here, since several of the most talented members of this group have yet to make much of an impact (or haven’t played yet at all). Cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson and quarterback Anthony Jennings are the headliners thus far. But players like tight end DeSean Smith; defensive tackles Christian LaCouture, Greg Gilmore, Maquedius Bain and Frank Herron; and linebacker Kendell Beckwith could all become household names among LSU fans before the 2014 season is over.

4. 2007
ESPN class ranking: Sixth
Wide receiver Terrance Toliver was the highest-rated prospect in this 27-man class, and he had a fine college career, but other 2007 signees became the more important college players. The Tigers had three players in this signing class (kicker Josh Jasper, defensive lineman Drake Nevis and offensive lineman Will Blackwell) who became All-Americans according to at least one organization. They also had six players (Blackwell, Jasper, Nevis, defensive lineman Joe Barksdale, safety Chad Jones and running back Stevan Ridley) who made at least one All-SEC team and six (Jones, Ridley, Nevis, Barksdale, cornerback Ron Brooks and receiver Demetrius Byrd) who became NFL draft picks.

3. 2011
ESPN class ranking: 10th
No. 2 overall prospect Anthony Johnson was the biggest fish in this class, but “The Freak” didn’t quite live up to his advance billing in three seasons at LSU before becoming an undrafted free agent in the most recent NFL draft. However, this class was loaded with impact players -- including two of the most productive receivers (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham) in school history, a pair of All-SEC offensive linemen from 2013 (La'el Collins and Trai Turner) and several others who should make an impact this season (running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, defensive end Jermauria Rasco, safety Ronald Martin and defensive tackle Quentin Thomas, among others). LSU also added quarterback Zach Mettenberger as a junior college transfer and signed running back Jeremy Hill in this class, although Hill didn’t contribute as a member of the team until 2012.

2. 2014
ESPN class ranking: Second
Yes, this is completely unfair. These kids haven’t played a single snap in college yet. Much like the 2013 class, it will be several more years before we know the full impact that this class will have at LSU. But with the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect (running back Leonard Fournette), the No. 1 players at three different positions (Fournette, receiver Malachi Dupre and offensive guard Garrett Brumfield) and other exciting additions like quarterback Brandon Harris, record-setting receiver Trey Quinn, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett, this could conceivably become one of the best recruiting classes in school history before it’s all over. Miles said on national signing day that he believes this class can help LSU contend for several national championships, and it certainly has the talent to do so.

1. 2009
ESPN class ranking: First
No. 1 athlete Russell Shepard was initially the crown jewel in the nation’s top signing class, but he wasn’t the guy who eventually made this such a successful class. Sure there were several star prospects who panned out in this class -- including No. 1 safety Craig Loston, No. 1 receiver Rueben Randle, No. 2 defensive end Sam Montgomery and No. 11 outside linebacker Kevin Minter -- but the Tigers got as much out of the players who weren’t considered to rank among the highest-rated signees at the time. The Tigers signed 10 ESPN 150 honorees in the 25-man class. Among those who didn’t make the list of the top 150 prospects: cornerback Morris Claiborne; defensive linemen Michael Brockers, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan; offensive lineman Chris Faulk and linebacker Lamin Barrow. Claiborne, Brockers and Mingo all became first-round NFL draft picks, and five members of that group made at least one All-SEC team.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU’s head coach this week, we’ll use each day to review the decade under the eccentric Miles. Today we look back at the five best seasons of the Miles era.

5. 2010: Thanks to a series of heart-stopping wins early in the season -- most notably last-second victories against Tennessee and Florida in consecutive weeks -- LSU started the 2010 season with a 7-0 record. Eventual BCS champion Auburn handed the Tigers their first loss in an exciting 24-17 ballgame, but LSU bounced back by knocking off defending BCS champ Alabama in its next game. The Tigers dropped their regular-season finale, 31-23 at No. 12 Arkansas, but rebounded to beat Texas A&M 41-24 in the Cotton Bowl. LSU finished 11-2 in a season that set up what would become a huge 2011 under Miles.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesLes Miles and LSU enjoyed one of the school's finest seasons in 2011, though it ended with an ugly loss.
4. 2005: Miles’ debut season provided glimpses of what would become staples of the coach’s LSU tenure: wild outcomes (including three overtime contests, a crazy comeback win over Arizona State in Miles’ first game and seven games decided by seven points or less), five wins over ranked opponents and the first of his three SEC West titles. The Tigers finished the season 11-2, capped by a 40-3 destruction of No. 9 Miami in the Peach Bowl.

3. 2006: The Tigers could make a case as the hottest team in the SEC West by the end of 2006 as they bounced back from a loss to eventual BCS champion Florida by winning their final seven games. That run included road wins against No. 8 Tennessee and No. 5 Arkansas and a season-ending 41-14 win against No. 11 Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. Although starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell would leave to become the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NFL draft, this 11-2 season -- much like 2010 -- helped LSU build toward an appearance in the BCS title game the following season.

2. 2011: Led by Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu, Morris Claiborne, Eric Reid, Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan, Kevin Minter, Brandon Taylor, Michael Brockers and seemingly a defensive cast of thousands, Miles’ 2011 LSU club was one of the best college football teams of the 2000s. There’s just one problem: the Tigers’ sputtering offense laid an egg in the BCS title game, a rematch against Alabama -- a team the Tigers had beaten 9-6 in overtime in the fall. That spoiled what had been an undefeated season. The Crimson Tide’s 21-0 victory in the rematch was probably the most miserable night of the Miles era, but this still goes down as an incredible team even if the 13-1 season ended with a thud.

1. 2007: Miles had to know he had something special on his hands when the Tigers obliterated No. 9 Virginia Tech 48-7 in the second game of the season. And he did. One of the most exciting seasons in school history ended with a second BCS title in four seasons -- with the Tigers navigating through insane wins against Florida, Auburn and Alabama, bouncing back from triple-overtime losses to Kentucky and Arkansas and eventually throttling top-ranked Ohio State 38-24 in the BCS title game. Once again, LSU featured a fearsome defense that included defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, safety Craig Steltz and linebacker Ali Highsmith -- all of whom earned All-America distinction from at least one organization. The offense was led by quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Jacob Hester and a deep group of productive receivers en route to Miles’ first SEC title and the third national title in school history.

Season report card: LSU Tigers

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
11:00
AM ET
Another season, another 10 wins for LSU under Les Miles. It wasn't quite as good as Tigers fans have come to expect lately, but Miles' club still graded out fairly high.

OFFENSE: B
[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLSU wasn't in the national title chase in 2013, but it was still another successful season for Les Miles' team.
With new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron at the helm, the Tigers became the SEC's first team to boast a 3,000-yard passer (Zach Mettenberger), a 1,000-yard rusher (Jeremy Hill) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry) in one season. Even with those four players posting impressive numbers, LSU still finished in the middle of the pack on offense (sixth in the SEC in scoring at 35.8 ppg and seventh in total offense at 453.3 ypg). The Tigers lose all four of those players to the NFL draft, too, so 2014 could be an adventure as LSU breaks in an entirely new set of offensive skill players. Give Cameron some credit, however. He helped Mettenberger make enormous strides as a senior and injected some life into an LSU offense that was stagnant prior to his arrival. With the group of freshmen that LSU might sign next week -- led by tailback Leonard Fournette, Recruiting Nation's No. 1 overall prospect -- he should have some promising raw materials to work with in the fall.

DEFENSE: C
If the offense was a bit better than expected, the defense might have been a bit worse. Everyone knew it was a rebuilding year after John Chavis' group lost a whopping seven players to early entry into the draft. Losing Eric Reid, Barkevious Mingo and Kevin Minter hurt badly, as some of the totals opponents posted early showed. LSU's defense did improve as the season progressed -- an impressive late-November performance against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M was the highlight -- but it was still not as consistent as Chavis certainly would have preferred. Nonetheless, LSU finished the season ranked third in the SEC in total defense (340.7 ypg) and fourth in scoring (22 ppg). Those aren't bad numbers, but they aren't up to the standard Chavis' recent defenses have set.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Having Beckham on its side helps LSU quite a bit here. The Paul Hornung Award winner and all-purpose All-American helped the Tigers lead the SEC in kickoff return average (25.5) and rank fifth in punt return average (7.5). His 109-yard touchdown return of a missed UAB field goal was one of the season's most electrifying plays. Kicker Colby Delahoussaye (13-for-14 on field goals and 56-for-57 on PATs) had a solid freshman season, but the Tigers were fairly average on special teams aside from his kicking and Beckham's work as a return man.

OVERALL: B
With division rivals Alabama and Auburn having either won or played for the BCS title in each of the past five seasons, LSU might be getting a bit tired of its bridesmaid status of late. It's not as if the Tigers have been pushovers, however. This marked the first time in school history that LSU won at least 10 games for a fourth straight season, and included in those 10 wins was the only victory against eventual SEC champ Auburn in the regular season. Considering the roster turnover that took place on defense, a 10-win season and a New Year's Day bowl in Florida were perfectly acceptable results.

Past grades:
Kentucky
Georgia
Florida
Auburn
Arkansas
Alabama

Ultimate 300: SEC's top classes 

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
10:30
AM ET

The SEC has dominated the recruiting world over the past several years. Since 2008, the SEC has had at least three schools finish in the top 10 of the ESPN recruiting class rankings each year. Last year, the conference had an impressive six schools ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. This year is much of the same, as seven SEC schools are ranked in the top 10.

Here’s a closer look at the five best recruiting SEC schools in the Ultimate ESPN 300.

Inconsistency an issue for UGA, LSU

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
7:00
AM ET
ATHENS, Ga. -- For all the ink spilled over the numerous defensive holes that Georgia had to fill before this season, perhaps no defense in the country suffered greater losses than LSU.

Just as Georgia had 12 key defensive players to replace this fall, LSU actually set an NFL draft record with six defensive players selected in the 2013 draft's first two days. And just as the Bulldogs have discovered, it has been difficult for LSU to pick up exactly where it left off without players like Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Eric Reid, Sam Montgomery, Tharold Simon and Bennie Logan.

So as No. 9 Georgia (2-1) and No. 6 LSU (4-0) prepare to meet on Saturday, they do so with young in places defenses that have delivered uneven results. Neither group lack potential, but they both have dealt with the understandable lapses that typically arise when new players take over for established stars.

“I think our players are as talented as we've ever had and I think there's a maturity that needs to take place so they can play with their cleats headed north and south and ready to make a tackle and show the style of confidence, if you will, that other defenses that have played in this uniform have shown,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think that's coming. I see it, in last week, better in certain spots and certainly that's got to continue.”

In Saturday's win against Auburn, Miles' Tigers could not have been more impressive early. They limited Auburn to just 41 yards of offense in the first quarter in jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead. However, Auburn made it a more competitive game -- LSU still won 35-21 -- by generating 333 yards in the second half and running a whopping 85 plays against a suddenly reeling LSU defense that was facing its first legitimate test.

“Everybody probably mentally may have gotten a little bit down. We had a couple of calls that were questionable, but we've got to be able to shrug that off,” LSU defensive end Jordan Allen said. “We have a couple things happening and not sure what's going on and we're not communicating on some things and we'll get it straight.”

LSU's early schedule was much more generous toward its defensive rebuilding effort than was Georgia's. The Tigers played TCU, UAB, Kent State and Auburn in the first four games, with only the TCU game -- it was held at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Texas -- being played away from Tiger Stadium.

Their defensive statistics reflect that advantage, as LSU is tied for third in the SEC in total defense (310 yards per game), is second against the pass (173.8 ypg), seventh against the run (136.2) and fifth in scoring (19.5 points per game).

Because its first two opponents were top-10 teams with impressive skill talent, Georgia's defense looks much worse on paper. The Bulldogs are 13th in the league in scoring defense (29.7 ppg), 11th in total defense (388.7 ypg), eighth against the run (143.3) and ninth against the pass (245.3 ypg).

However, they actually enter the LSU game after their best performance yet. In Saturday's 45-21 win against North Texas, Georgia surrendered just 7 rushing yards and 245 total yards -- nearly 400 fewer than the Bulldogs' offense generated that afternoon. Further, the Mean Green scored just one offensive touchdown -- the other two came on special-teams plays -- and otherwise sputtered on offense .

“I feel like we really stepped up this game,” Georgia sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said. “We had the off week to kind of get everybody in the right spot or whatever, and I feel like we're really jelling together and really getting that chemistry that we're going to need next week against LSU.”

It was still far from a perfect effort, but Georgia has now allowed opponents to score just 13 points in their last 18 drives, dating back to halftime of the South Carolina game when the score was tied at 24-24 before the Bulldogs pulled away for a 41-30 win.

“You want to have confidence,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of his defense after the North Texas win. “I don't think this bunch is going to be overconfident after this game. I think they did begin to play well together and I think they can be proud of what happened. It was a very good performance. But LSU's a good team, and we want them as confident as possible, but we don't want them to think they've arrived, that's for sure, because we've got a long way to go.”

Miles' coaching staff can certainly empathize with that sentiment, particularly as it prepares to face a Georgia team that ranks sixth nationally in total offense at 574 ypg -- in the Tigers' first true road game of the season, no less.

Inconsistency has characterized both defenses over the first month of the season, but they realize that excuses over inexperience have nearly lost their shelf life. The defense that is better at minimizing its mistakes on Saturday will almost certainly win what should be one of the most impactful games either team will play this fall.

Chavis understands skeptics' concerns

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
11:00
AM ET
His defense lost eight players to the NFL draft after ranking eighth nationally in total defense a year ago, so John Chavis understands the skepticism that LSU’s defense faces this season. He just doesn’t find it a cause for major concern.

“It’s a natural thing when you lose the number of people that we lost. It’s natural for some people to think, ‘Well, they’re going to be down a little bit.’ But we don’t think that way,” said Chavis, entering his fifth season as LSU’s defensive coordinator. “We’re going to work to be the very best that we can be, and certainly if we reach the potential that we have in terms of the quality of the players, then we’re going to be fine.”

[+] EnlargeAnthony Johnson
John Korduner/Icon SMIAnthony Johnson is expected to provide a veteran presence on a defense that lost a lot from 2012.
That’s where Chavis’ confidence level is appropriate entering Saturday’s opener against No. 20 TCU in Arlington, Texas. With veterans Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson anchoring the front line and a huge group of talented youngsters jockeying for early playing time alongside established players like linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston, talent is not an issue at LSU.

Yes, the Tigers will be young and will face an extremely difficult schedule, but an infusion of talent up front -- including early enrollee Christian LaCouture at defensive tackle and ESPN 150 defensive end Tashawn Bower -- gives LSU’s coaches hope there won’t be a big drop-off after losing Barkevious Mingo, Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery and Lavar Edwards to the draft.

“I like what we’re getting out of our veterans there,” LSU coach Les Miles said after Friday’s practice. The young guys are stepping to the front, and they seemed much more polished even from when they arrived.”

As with all young players, however, the trick is preparing them for the physicality, speed and knowledge base necessary to compete at the college level.

“When you have 92,000 people coming in, you’re not really going to have a lot of time to think,” LaCouture said. “I just want to make sure I have everything down when we go through that process and make sure I’m ready for Week 1.”

The freshmen are merely role players filling secondary roles on the depth chart for now, though. Now is the time for players like Barrow to seize the spotlight after Kevin Minter’s starmaking 2012 performance helped him become a second-round draft pick. And for Johnson and Ferguson to make good on their enormous potential now that the aforementioned big-name defensive linemen are in the pros. And for young cornerback standouts and a deep linebacking corps to perform at a high enough level that the Tigers can sort out their questions with the rotation up front.

Johnson is the No. 15 prospect for next year’s draft on ESPN Scouts Inc.’s most recent top 32, and even if the two-deep figures to be loaded with underclassmen, LSU has enough of a veteran presence from players like Loston, Barrow and Ferguson to help the Tigers remain a defensive force even while replacing so many major contributors.

“I come to work every day with the No. 1 goal of getting this defense ready to compete in the SEC. These guys are ready to compete,” said Chavis, whose units have finished 26th, 12th, second and eighth nationally in total defense since he arrived at LSU in 2009. “But everybody saying that we’re going to drop off, well, we don’t expect that, and we’ve got to work hard to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
You've seen Mel Kiper Jr.'s second-round mock draft so we thought we'd throw another one at you before tonight's festivities begin. This time, we're taking a look at Scouts Inc.'s predictions for the second round.

Kiper had eight SEC players projected to go in the second around, while Scouts Inc. has nine, including former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.

Here's a look at Scouts Inc.'s second-round predictions for SEC players:

No. 34: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (San Francisco 49ers)

No. 37: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (Cincinnati Bengals)

No. 43: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

No. 45: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia (San Diego Chargers)

No. 48: D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina (Pittsburgh Steelers)

No. 49: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU (New York Giants)

No. 51: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (Washington Redskins)

No. 53: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU (Cincinnati Bengals)

No. 61: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama (San Francisco 49ers)
After seeing a record 12 SEC players taken in the first round of the NFL draft, it's time to look at who could go in the second round.

NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has his second-round mock draftInsider all ready and has eight SEC players going in tonight's second round. There are some real SEC gems remaining and I'm sure there will be a few surprises as well.

Here's a look at Kiper's mock draft:

No. 41: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (Buffalo Bills)

No. 43: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

No. 46: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (Buffalo Bills)

No. 48: D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina (Pittsburgh Steelers)

No. 51: Kevin Minter, LB, LSU (Washington Redskins)

No. 54: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (Miami Dolphins)

No. 55: Cornelius Washington, OLB, Georgia (Green Bay Packers)

No. 58: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M (Denver Broncos)

Kiper also has his list of the 10 best available players on Day 2Insider. Three of them are SEC players, including Lacy, who is listed at No. 2 on Kiper's list. He was a projected first-rounder heading into the draft, and even though he is listed as Kiper's top running back in the draft, he fell out of the first round.

Talk about a second-round steal.

Here are the SEC players listed and a little from Kiper on each:

No. 2: Lacy -- "The top runner on my board, I think Lacy has more talent coming into the pros than former Alabama star Mark Ingram."

No. 8: Minter -- "Minter has solid sideline-to-sideline range, even though he didn't jump out on film."

No. 9: Jenkins -- "Jenkins fits as a 3-4 nose tackle who can stuff the run and take on double teams."
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has put together his latest "Grade A" draft, in which he presents the best pick for every team in the upcoming NFL draft.

He has 12 SEC players going in the first round, which would tie the record for a conference. The ACC produced 12 first-round selections in 2006.

In Kiper's "Grade A" draft, the first three players to come off the board are from the SEC -- Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel and Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

Below are the 12 SEC players Kiper has being taken in his "Grade A" draft:

Mel Kiper Jr. Mock Draft 4.0

April, 8, 2013
4/08/13
4:00
PM ET
We are getting even closer to this month's NFL draft, so get ready for yet another mock draft.

This time, ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. is at it again, but has added a second-round mock as well in his Mock Draft 4.0 . Kiper projects that 21 former SEC players will be taken within the first two rounds, including what would be a record 13 in the first round.

Eleven players were drafted out of the SEC in the 2007 draft, and the record for the most taken from one conference in the first round belongs to the ACC, which had 12 taken in 2006.

Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is still projected to be taken No. 1 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Here's a look at where Kiper has SEC players in the first two rounds:

FIRST ROUND

No. 1: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (Kansas City Chiefs)
No. 3: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (Oakland Raiders)
No. 5: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (Detroit Lions)
No. 9: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU (New York Jets)
No. 10: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (Tennessee Titans)
No. 12: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama (Miami Dolphins)
No. 14: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (Carolina Panthers)
No. 15: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (New Orleans Saints)
No. 21: Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia (Cincinnati Bengals)
No. 23: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (Minnesota Vikings)
No. 25: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU (Minnesota Vikings)
No. 26: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (Green Bay Packers)
No. 29: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (New England Patriots)

SECOND ROUND

No. 34: Matt Elam, S, Florida (San Francisco 49ers)
No. 44: D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina (Carolina Panthers)
No. 48: Cornelius Washington, OLB, Georgia (Pittsburgh Steelers)
No. 50: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama (Chicago Bears)
No. 53: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State (Cincinnati Bengals)
No. 57: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia (Houston Texans)
No. 58: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M (Denver Broncos)
No. 59: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU (New England Patriots)
  • Alabama leads the way with five players projected to go within the first two rounds.
  • Moore has really seen his draft stock fall since his dismal showing at the NFL combine in February. He went from a top-five pick to out of the first round. Now, he's projected to go 58th to the Broncos. LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, who was viewed as a first-round pick before last season, has also seen his stock plummet.
  • Swearinger is rising up the draft charts. His impressive workouts this spring and keen field instinct make him a very attractive prospect to teams looking for a ball hawk in the second round. While Swearinger is moving upward, LSU safety Eric Reid is falling. Another projected first-rounder before last season, Kiper doesn't even have him in the first two rounds, despite a solid workout at the combine.
  • Mathieu looked to have played himself out of the first couple of rounds because of his off-field issues, but after impressing scouts this spring, he's back in the good graces of the draft. He might not be an every-down cover corner, but there's no denying Mathieu's athleticism and game-changing ability.

RecruitingNation links: SEC edition

April, 8, 2013
4/08/13
1:30
PM ET
DawgNation
From David Ching Insider: Among the observations from Georgia’s G-Day was an offense that didn’t quite click and a defense that has found some young and ready contributors.

From Radi Nabulsi Insider: G-Day brought some big-name recruits to Athens and the Bulldogs made the most of it.

GatorNation
From Michael DiRocco Insider: Among the observations from Florida’s Orange & Blue game was the emergence of several young stars in the making.

From Derek Tyson Insider: Capped by the addition of running back Dalvin Cook, the Gators’ spring game weekend turned into a successful recruiting outing.

GeauxTigerNation
From Gary Laney: Senior linebacker Lamin Barrow is taking on an increased role on the field and as a leader with the departure of Kevin Minter.

More from Laney Insider: With the Tigers losing at least two linebackers following the 2013 season, they are placing an emphasis on recruiting the position.

GigEmNation
From Sam Khan Jr. Insider: Even though he's already committed to Alabama, Texas and Texas A&M are charging hard after 2015 safety Deionte Thompson.

TideNation
From Alex Scarborough: Alabama’s offense was pretty successful last season despite missing some big-play receivers. Now that DeAndrew White, Chris Black and Kenny Bell are back from injuries, the Tide’s offense could be even more explosive.

More from Scarborough: Nick Saban wasn’t impressed with the effort at the Tide’s first spring scrimmage.

From Greg Ostendorf: With Mekhi Brown, Alabama added another member to the 2015 recruiting class.

Opening spring camp: LSU

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
9:00
AM ET
Schedule: The Tigers open spring practice Thursday and will conclude the spring April 20 with their annual National L Club spring game at 3 p.m. ET in Tiger Stadium.

What’s new: Cam Cameron steps in as LSU’s offensive coordinator after spending part of last season in that role with the Baltimore Ravens. Cameron replaces Greg Studrawa as LSU’s play-caller on offense and will also coach the quarterbacks. Studrawa remains on staff and will coach the offensive line. Steve Kragthorpe will move into an administrative role after coaching the LSU quarterbacks the previous two seasons.

On the mend: Reserve quarterback Rob Bolden (knee) and defensive end Justin Maclin will both miss the spring while recovering from injuries.

On the move: Junior La’el Collins will get first shot at left tackle this spring after starting all last season at left guard. Senior Josh Williford will shift from right guard to left guard. Junior Terrence Magee is moving back to running back after playing receiver last season and catching just one pass.

Question marks: The Tigers are replacing five of their top seven defensive linemen. Junior tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson and junior end Jermauria Rasco need to take that next step and become every-down forces up front. Head coach Les Miles said sophomore tackle Mickey Johnson has lost weight and had a promising offseason. Playing with more consistency at receiver will also be important. The Tigers had too many dropped passes last season and didn't make a lot happen down the field. Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry will be counted on to make big moves as juniors. LSU also has to find a new place-kicker and punter. Sophomore Jamie Keehn heads into the spring as the punter, while junior James Hairston will have to hold off redshirt freshman walk-on Colby Delahoussaye for the starting place-kicking job.

New faces: Junior-college newcomer Logan Stokes will battle for a starting job at tight end, while junior-college newcomer Fehoko Fanaika could factor in at offensive guard. At receiver, redshirt freshman Travin Dural will be one to watch after injuring his knee last season along with a pair of early enrollees -- Avery Peterson (Patrick Peterson’s younger brother) and John Diarse. Two more true freshmen, Anthony Jennings and Hayden Rettig, will be among a handful of players vying for the backup quarterback job. The Tigers have a total of six true freshmen on campus who will be going through spring practice as early enrollees. Redshirt freshman Dwayne Thomas is a prime candidate to be the Tigers’ third cornerback on passing downs.

Breaking out: In reality, senior linebacker Lamin Barrow has already broken out. He had 104 total tackles last season, but was overshadowed by Kevin Minter. With Minter leaving early for the NFL draft, Barrow will move this spring from weakside linebacker to Minter’s middle-linebacker spot. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Barrow has everything it takes to become an All-SEC performer. If he sticks in the middle, it just makes the Tigers that much deeper at linebacker. Talented sophomores Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones and Lamar Louis can all play on the outside along with senior Tahj Jones, who returns after missing all but one game last season for academic reasons.

Don’t forget about: Senior running back Alfred Blue returns to give the Tigers one of the deepest backfields in the league. He injured his knee in the third game last season and was No. 2 in the SEC in rushing at the time. The 6-2, 220-pound Blue has excellent speed and also catches the ball well out of the backfield. He’ll team with sophomore Jeremy Hill to give LSU a dynamite one-two punch. The 6-2, 235-pound Hill had four 100-yard games as a true freshman and led the Tigers in rushing. Following a splendid freshman season, Kenny Hilliard was the forgotten man last season. He’ll be looking to regain his form this spring, while Magee will add some speed to the Tigers’ backfield.

All eyes on: Now that senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger has a season as a starter in the SEC under his belt, can he capitalize on the improvement he showed toward the end of last season? In particular, Miles wants to see Mettenberger get better at throwing the deep ball and understand all of the throws better. Mettenberger struggled early last season, but he didn’t get a lot of help from his receivers. The best news for Mettenberger was the hiring of a veteran offensive coordinator like Cameron, who’s tutored a ton of quality quarterbacks. There’s no question that LSU has to be more consistent on offense if it’s going to return to the SEC championship picture. How much Mettenberger improves from his junior to senior season will go a long way toward determining whether the Tigers will be a part of that equation.

Returning tacklers in the SEC: West

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
2:00
PM ET
Now that we’ve examined who's bringing back what defensively in the East, let’s take a look at the schools in the West.

It was a mixed bag on defense in the West last season.

Alabama and LSU both had top 10 defenses nationally. Texas A&M had one of the more underrated defenses in the league. The Aggies finished 26th nationally in scoring defense, and after the Louisiana Tech debacle, put together an impressive stretch of defensive football to close out the season. Most of the points they gave up came after the outcome had long since been decided, but a lot of the players who played key roles on that defense are gone.

Here’s a closer look at the West:

AUBURN
  • Eight of the Tigers' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Safety Demetruce McNeal was second on the team with 90 total tackles. He tied for the team lead with seven tackles for loss.
  • Gone is linebacker Daren Bates, who was the Tigers’ leading tackler last season. Auburn returns six of its top seven tacklers among defensive linemen, including end Dee Ford, who led the team with six sacks. Also back is tackle Angelo Blackson, who had seven tackles for loss to tie with McNeal for the team lead.
OLE MISS
  • Eight of the Rebels' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche led the team with 82 total tackles as a redshirt freshman.
  • The Rebels return their top six tacklers. That includes all three players who had double-digit tackles for loss last season -- Nkemdiche (13), linebacker Mike Marry (10.5) and tackle Issac Gross (10).
ALABAMA
  • Seven of the Crimson Tide's top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Linebacker C.J. Mosley led the team with 107 total tackles and was third with eight tackles for loss.
  • The Crimson Tide return three of their top five tacklers as well as outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard, who led the team with 11 tackles for loss. End Ed Stinson was second with 8.5 tackles for loss, and he also returns.
ARKANSAS
  • Six of the Hogs' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Safety Rohan Gaines was second on the team with 75 total tackles as a redshirt freshman.
  • The Hogs lost three of their top four tacklers. Defensive ends Trey Flowers and Chris Smith led the team in tackles for loss with 13 apiece, and they both return in 2013. Smith was fourth in the SEC with 9.5 sacks.
MISSISSIPPI STATE
  • Six of the Bulldogs' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney was second on the team with 102 total tackles as a redshirt freshman.
  • Starting defensive backs Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay and Corey Broomfield are gone, and all three were among the Bulldogs’ top 10 tacklers last season. Also gone is linebacker Cameron Lawrence, who led the team in total tackles (120) and tackles for loss (10). End Denico Autry is back after finishing second on the team with 9.5 tackles for loss last season.
LSU

  • Four of the Tigers' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Linebacker Lamin Barrow was second on the team with 104 total tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss.
  • The Tigers return three of their top five tacklers. Gone are linebacker Kevin Minter and ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, who combined for 36.5 tackles for loss. Five of LSU's top six tacklers among defensive linemen are gone. Tackle Anthony Johnson was third on the team with 10 tackles for loss, and he's back.
TEXAS A&M
  • Three of the Aggies' top 10 tacklers return.
  • Leading returning tackler: Safety Toney Hurd, Jr. was fourth on the team with 67 total tackles.
  • The Aggies lost their top three tacklers and five of their top six. End Damontre Moore left early for the NFL draft. He led the team and was second in the SEC with 21 tackles for loss. Nobody on the team returns who had more than 4.5 tackles for loss last season.
This marks the final year of the BCS, and you better believe the SEC would love to close the BCS era with eight straight titles. It would also ensure that the league has even more momentum going into the playoff, which starts during the 2014 season.

Colleague Travis Haney took a look at which conference has the best playoff path starting next year. He makes a pretty good case for the SEC, which should be able to get its conference champion in every year.

But who can wait for 2014 title talk? Yeah, me either, so why not take a look at SEC teams with the best BCS title paths in 2013? Spring practice begins this month, so we might as well throw out some very, very early thoughts on teams' championship hopes.

Let's take a look at which SEC teams have real BCS title shots in 2013:

ALABAMA

Pros: The Crimson Tide still have Nick Saban. That should be reason enough to make Alabama the odds on favorite to win its third straight national championship and fourth in five years. But there are many other reasons why Alabama tops our list. The offensive line might have to be rebuilt, but Alabama returns the nation's most efficient quarterback in AJ McCarron, who could have easily opted for the NFL after his junior year, a beast at running back in rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon, a host of talent -- and explosiveness -- at wide receiver, and most of the pieces to last year's top-ranked defense. Some big names have to be replaced on both sides, but this team really is reloading in 2013. Also, if the Tide can escape Virginia Tech (in Atlanta) and Texas A&M (in College Station) early, Alabama could go through the year unscathed, with road games coming against Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Cons: Forget the pressure. Saban doesn't allow pressure to eat at his players. What Alabama has to do is replace three studs on that offensive line. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are all gone. Winning the battle in the trenches is essential to competing in the SEC, so Alabama's less experienced linemen have to grow up in a hurry. Also, no team can do it three times in a row, right?

TEXAS A&M

Pros: Johnny Manziel is back and last year proved that the Aggies are tough enough to compete in the big, bad SEC. Kliff Kingsbury might not be calling the plays anymore, but there is a lot of young talent on offense, including wide receiver Mike Evans and running backs Brandon Williams and Trey Williams, that should still give SEC defenses fits. A&M gets Alabama at home in Week 3 and trade Florida for Vanderbilt.

Cons: The Aggies lost a lot from their 2012 team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is gone, along with receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined for 98 catches for 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns. The front seven has a lot to replace, including All-American defensive end Damontre Moore and linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Kingsbury's sideline work with Manziel will be missed, and the Aggies have to play LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas on the road.

GEORGIA

Pros: Georgia will be down wide receiver Tavarres King on offense, but it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to help make up for the loss of his production with all those talented receivers. "Gurshall" returns and so does quarterback Aaron Murray, who could become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in each of his four years on campus. Bringing back the entire starting five on offense will also keep this offense trending upward.

Cons: The Bulldogs lost 12 players who either started or saw significant time on defense. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo are just a few of the big names that are gone. There certainly is talent remaining, but replacing all those players would be tough for anyone. Also, look at that schedule. The Dawgs start the year with Clemson, South Carolina and LSU before September even arrives. Losing more than one game during that stretch could all but end Georgia's title hopes.

FLORIDA

Pros: The Gators lost some key players on defense, but coach Will Muschamp is bringing back a host of defensive talent that should do just fine in 2013. Marcus Roberson could be an All-SEC performer at cornerback, and incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the talent to start opposite him immediately. Ronald Powell returns to help out a young but very talented front seven that includes rising sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Also, the Gators should be very deep at running back and have a more complete offensive line in 2013.

Cons: No one is quite sure what to make of that offense. Sure, the Gators should be able to run the ball, even without workhorse Mike Gillislee, but what about throwing it? Jeff Driskel really struggled last year, and the Gators lost their best receiving option in tight end Jordan Reed. Florida will have to rely on five true freshmen to help at receiver, but Driskel has to increase his confidence and become a better presense in the huddle for this offense to improve at all. Florida also takes on Miami, LSU and South Carolina on the road.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Pros: The Gamecocks might be without Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, but they should be very balanced on offense in 2013. South Carolina has two very capable quarterbacks to work with in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, a talented group of running backs returning, led by rising sophomore Mike Davis, and more experience at receiver. One-man wrecking crew Jadeveon Clowney is back, and could be a legit Heisman candidate. South Carolina also spends the final month of the season at home.

Cons: Replacing Sanders will be tough because he did so much on offense and special teams. Clowney will have help up front, but South Carolina must replace its two-deep at linebacker. That's going to be quite the chore. Also, stud safety D.J. Swearinger, Spur DeVonte Holloman and cornerback Akeem Auguste all have to be replaced. Right now, this staff will have to rely on a handful of youngsters to help out this spring. The Gamecocks must also go to Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas.

LSU

Pros: The offense has to be more well-rounded in 2013. Cam Cameron is in at offensive coordinator, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger made major strides during the last month of the season. All of his receiving weapons are back, the offensive line should be better and there is a wealth of talent still at running back. The Tigers also get Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas at home.

Cons: The defense was gutted after the 2012 season. The defensive line has to be rebuilt, someone has to step in for Kevin Minter at middle linebacker and the secondary must fill in the holes left by Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. There is a lot of young talent on defense, but guys have to grow up quickly in Baton Rouge this year. Playing Alabama and Georgia on the road will be very tough as well.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12