SEC: Stephon Gilmore

Most of us are proud of our roots.

I grew up in Rock Hill, S.C., the best little football town/city in America, a distinction that was punctuated once again with this year’s NFL draft and will be again next year when the 2014 draft arrives.

In the past 12 drafts, going back to 2002, 10 players who played their high school football in Rock Hill have been drafted, including first-rounders each of the last two years.

Last Thursday, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who played one season at Tennessee, went No. 29 overall to the Minnesota Vikings. A year ago, cornerback Stephon Gilmore went No. 10 overall to the Buffalo Bills. Gilmore played at South Carolina.

That first-round streak will extend to three years in a row in 2014 when South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is expected to go No. 1 overall. In fact, Clowney would have gone No. 1 overall this year had he been eligible for the draft.

So you’re talking about 11 NFL draft choices -- and five first-round selections -- in 13 years.

That’s an impressive run for any town or city, but Rock Hill’s population isn't even 70,000, and there are only three high schools in the city, which is located about 25 miles south of Charlotte, N.C., just across the border. One of those high schools, South Pointe, didn’t open until 2005. Before that, it was a two-high school town going back to the 1970s -- Rock Hill and Northwestern.

It's more than just something being in the water.

We breed ballers in Rock Hill, and it’s a credit to the youth leagues, the coaches in those leagues who’ve volunteered so much of their time over the years and the overall quality of the high school programs in town and their commitment to taking superb talent and molding that talent into something special.
In the SEC, it's the norm to throw money at coaches. According to USA Today research, there were nine college football head coaches making $3 million or more last season. Five resided in the SEC.

The bank trucks literally park outside the homes of Nick Saban and Les Miles. Saban received a raise and contract extension worth $5.62 million a year in May. He's set to receive $5.32 million in 2012, with a $50,000 raise next year and then $100,000 annually.

Miles is sitting second in the conference with a salary of a little more than $3.8 million.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/Brett FlashnickCoach Steve Spurrier has moved up the salary scale each year since his start at South Carolina in 2005.
But those coaches have brought SEC and national titles to their respective schools. Hauling in the big bucks is no surprise for coaches who have consistently won in college football's toughest conference. Saban has averaged 11 wins a year during his five seasons at Alabama, while Miles has averaged 10.7 wins during his seven seasons with the Tigers.

So who are the bargain gets in the SEC? While it could be tough to consider some coaches in the conference "bargains" because of the high salaries (Florida coach Will Muschamp makes $3.22 million and he only has been in the league a year), there are a few who have done a little more than their salary has implied.

Immediately you look at South Carolina's Steve Spurrier. Now Spurrier did get a significant raise this year, thrusting him into the $3 million club after his contract went up to $3.3 million per year through the 2015 season. He even had his contract bonus enhanced late last month. Before his raise, Spurrier wasn't very high on the SEC salary totem pole.

He was set to make a little more than $2.8 million in 2012, then $2.95 million in 2013, 2014 and 2015. That's much higher than the $1.25 million he came in making in 2005.

But this certainly has been a bargain for South Carolina. Spurrier has truly revitalized the program, making the Gamecocks serious contenders in the SEC East. A program that averaged just four wins a year during its first eight years in the SEC then struggled with inconsistency during the five years before Spurrier's arrival is now a team that could be playing in the program's second SEC championship game. The first came under Spurrier's watch in 2010.

Spurrier is 55-35 in his seven seasons at South Carolina, and with 10 wins this season he will pass Rex Enright as the Gamecocks’ all-time winningest coach.

Spurrier has picked this program up and made it respectable, and he's done so by keeping some of the top in-state talent for himself. Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore came in 2009. Now Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney and Shaq Roland are on the roster.

In only a short time, Spurrier has resurrected this South Carolina program and put the Gamecocks on the national map, and he did it for cheap. His raise was more than just well-deserved.

Here are a few more bargain-priced SEC coaches:

Mark Richt, Georgia: Richt, who is set to make $2.9 million this year, is the longest-tenured coach in the SEC (11 years). In that time, he has compiled a 106-38 record, had seven seasons with 10 or more wins, is 2-2 in SEC championship games and 2-1 in BCS bowls. He currently has the Dawgs poised to compete for a second straight SEC East crown.

Gene Chizik, Auburn: While Chizik is third on the SEC salary list at $3.5 million a year, he's still considered a bargain after what he's done in just three seasons. He has a national championship squeezed between two eight-win seasons and a Heisman Trophy winner. He's done a great job recruiting in his three years and should have another impressive class in 2013.

Gary Pinkel, Missouri: According to USA Today, Pinkel's salary is at $2.7 million a year, but he has done so much for this Missouri program. He enters his 12th year at Missouri with an 85-54 record that includes six straight seasons with eight or more wins. Before Pinkel arrived in 2001, Missouri had been to just two bowl games since 1983. He's now taking his rather deep Tigers team into its first season in the SEC and should contend in the East.
All that chirping you hear coming from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier can only mean one thing: He’s convinced his team is pretty good.

The Head Ball Coach has never really lacked confidence, but the more digs he takes, the more he likes what he has on the field. And that means good things for the Gamecocks.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireSteve Spurrier led the Gamecocks to their first-ever 11-win season in 2011 and his team looks poised to make an SEC title run in 2012.
Two years removed from taking South Carolina to its first-ever SEC championship game, Spurrier will enter the 2012 season with a team poised to make yet another SEC title run, as the Gamecocks continue to trend upward in the conference.

Not to be outdone, Arkansas, which joined the league with South Carolina in 1992, has also made tremendous strides and once again has the talent to compete for an SEC West championship.

Two programs that have dealt with inconsistency in the past have now become legitimate contenders in the nation’s toughest league. Not just for now but the future.

It was clear Arkansas made the right choice in 2007 when it hired Bobby Petrino away from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Sure, his awkward departure from Atlanta will forever be scrutinized -- and rightly so -- but in only a short amount of time he turned Arkansas into a real winner.

After winning just five games in 2008, Arkansas won eight, then 10 and 11 games in 2011. Arkansas reached its first-ever BCS bowl game in 2010 and then won 11 games for the first time since 1977.

Petrino’s on-field success also led to some nice facility upgrades for the program. The school has touched up Razorback Stadium and recently broke ground on a new, $35 million football operations center that the Hogs will move into before the 2013 season.

There was a wave of momentum churning in Fayetteville after last season and Petrino made it clear that he thought his 2012 squad might be even better than last season's 11-win team. But that wave was momentarily silenced in April when Petrino was fired after he withheld information about an affair that he carried on with a football employee he hired, Jessica Dorrell.

After reaching the threshold under Petrino, the Hogs are now putting things back together under interim coach John L. Smith. Smith is surrounded by elite talent, especially on offense and a strong showing in 2012 should keep things rolling in Fayetteville for Arkansas’ next coach.

Before Spurrier arrived in Columbia, S.C., the Gamecocks were hardly intimidating. There were some ups under former coach Lou Holtz, but Spurrier has truly made this program respectable. While he hasn’t seen the immediate success he did when he took over Florida’s program in the early 1990s, South Carolina has made a tremendous turnaround under his watch.

The program that lost 18 straight SEC games from 1997-99 has won no fewer than three conference games in Spurrier’s seven years at South Carolina, has had an SEC title trip and its first 11-win season in program history.

A lot of that success has come from keeping most of the top in-state talent home, which historically wasn’t the case. It started with Alshon Jeffery and Stephon Gilmore in 2009 and continued with Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney, and now Shaq Roland.

The past wasn’t great for either of these programs, but in recent years, both Arkansas and South Carolina have thrown themselves right in the middle of the SEC conversation and both are looking to stay there for the foreseeable future.
ESPN Insider's "20 teams that can win it all" series is previewing each of the top 20 teams in Brian Fremeau's five-year program metric (for a full explanation, and links to all of the previews as they are published, click here), with the help of ESPN's Stats & Information group.

On Wednesday, ESPN's Travis Haney took a look at South CarolinaInsider. Haney discussed three reasons why South Carolina can win it all and three reasons why the Gamecocks won't.

Here's a little of what Haney said about the Gamecocks' chances of winning it all this year:
"Spurrier has a quarterback at South Carolina. There are no question marks, with respects to performance -- or off-field behavior -- any longer. Connor Shaw became a long-awaited answer last season, taking over for the much-maligned Stephen Garcia.

The Gamecocks went 7-1 with Shaw at quarterback, losing only at then-No. 7 Arkansas. It's difficult to argue with those results."
[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireConnor Shaw brought stability to the QB position last season for South Carolina.
My thoughts: Shaw's development is big for South Carolina's offense. There's no doubt that Shaw can make plays with his feet, but Spurrier wants a passer. He was a passer and his quarterbacks at Florida were passers. Shaw showed more of a pass-first mentality during the second half of the season and it sounds like it carried over into the spring. Now, he'll have to continue that this fall. Old habits do die hard, but what would really help him is if Marcus Lattimore is healthy.

Speaking of Lattimore, Haney threw out some pretty interesting facts about Lattimore's running habits when he was healthy. One that I was really impressed with was: "Lattimore was not touched until he was five yards past the line of scrimmage on 94 of his 412 rushes (22.8 percent) in his first two seasons (according to ESPN Stats & Info). Seventy-two of those runs were between the tackles." He also added that it continues to sound like Lattimore is ahead of schedule.

My thoughts: A healthy Lattimore would certainly add some confidence to the thought of saying South Carolina is an SEC title contender and beyond. When he's on top of his game he's one of the best running backs in the country. But no one really knows how he'll respond this season and how healthy he'll actually be. We won't really know until he takes real contact in a real game. Until we know where Lattimore's health stands there will still be speculation surrounding this offense.

Haney also talks about the defensive line, which I think will be very good this fall. Ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor should be pretty annoying to guard and tackles Kelcy Quarles and Byron Jerideau showed a lot of improvement this spring. This line will be pretty darn good this fall, which should help the entire defense.

As for three reasons why the Gamecocks falter, Haney talks the lack of proven receivers, the loss of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and having to play LSU and Arkansas.

My thoughts: I agree with all three and I still feel most of the concern is in the secondary. Starting corners Stephon Gilmore and C.C. Whitlock are gone and DeVonte Holloman is moving back to the Spur, leaving an opening at strong safety. That leaves three spots that need to be filled. Two will be filled by rising sophomores, while veteran Akeem Auguste will take a corner spot. The problem is that he hasn't played since 2010 and hasn't played corner since 2009.

Fremeau's projection:
Most likely result: 8-4 (30 percent likelihood)
Projection window: 7-5 to 10-2 (86 percent likelihood)

South Carolina spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
2011 record: 11-2
2011 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners:
WR Ace Sanders, OG A.J. Cann, QB Connor Shaw, RB Marcus Lattimore, CB Akeem Auguste, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Devin Taylor, DT Kelcy Quarles, LB Shaq Wilson, Spur DeVonte Holloman, S D.J. Swearinger

Key losses:
WR Alshon Jeffery, OT Rokevious Watkins, OG Terrence Campbell, Spur Antonio Allen, DE Melvin Ingram, CB Stephon Gilmore, DT Travian Robertson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Marcus Lattimore* (818 yards)
Passing: Connor Shaw* (1,448 yards)
Receiving: Alshon Jeffery (762 yards)
Tackles: Antonio Allen (88)
Sacks: Melvin Ingram (10)
Interceptions: Stephon Gilmore (4)

Spring answers

1. Shaw's development: The goal for quarterback Connor Shaw this spring was to work on the passing part of the position. The run-first quarterback showed flashes of transformation in his mindset toward the end of last season and it bled over to this year. He seems to be more confident in his passing and that will go a long way for the Gamecocks offense, as the downfield passing game was missing for most of South Carolina's season in 2011.

2. Running back depth: With Lattimore sitting out the spring, South Carolina turned to reserves Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles. Both performed well, but Miles was named the offensive player of the spring. He wrestled with returning to the Gamecocks, and still seems to be creating some drama about his return this fall, but if he comes back he'll be the No. 2 back. Miles made major strides in his game and his return would mean South Carolina has some insurance at running back if Lattimore struggles. Even if he returns at full health, having Miles there will give the Gamecocks a solid option to keep Lattimore fresh.

3. Shell's development: South Carolina's coaches were anxious to see what redshirt freshman Brandon Shell could do and he didn't disappoint. He ended spring as the starter at left tackle -- the same position that Rokevious Watkins manned last season. The Gamecocks lost two starters along the offensive line, but Shell provided a nice spark at the most important position along the line.

Fall questions

1. Lattimore's health: While word out of South Carolina's camp is that Lattimore was ahead of schedule with his knee rehab, it's still unknown if he will be back to his old self. It's hard to believe that anyone could come back from an ACL injury in this amount of time and be as effective and as good as Lattimore was, but his coaches think he can do just that. Until we see him play, there will still be some uncertainty. A healthy Lattimore makes this an SEC contender and maybe more.

2. Secondary: South Carolina has veterans Akeem Auguste and D.J. Swearinger returning in its defensive backfield, but both dealt with injuries in the spring and the Gamecocks must replace three of its top four cornerbacks from last season. The injuries gave young guys the opportunity to get more reps, but questions still remain. Victor Hampton, listed as a starter, might be South Carolina's most athletic returning corner, but he has limited experience and a history of off-field issues. Brison Williams should enter the fall as a starter at strong safety, but has just one career start. He's one of two players at strong safety with game experience. Jimmy Legree and Cadarious Sanders are the only other corners with game experience. Expect redshirt freshman Ahmad Christian to compete for time as well.

3. Wide receiver: The Gamecocks will start the summer still wondering about the wide receiver position. Ace Sanders returns as the team's most productive receiver, but after that there isn't a lot of production. The good news was that Bruce Ellington returned to football this spring, but the bad news is that even with him back, Sanders is still the only receiver returning with 20 or more catches (29). Speedster Damiere Byrd showed progress and the coaches expect to get more from D.L. Moore, but the position is still a mystery. Incoming freshman Shaq Roland will be relied on a lot when he reports in the summer.

SEC East post-spring notes

May, 8, 2012
Now that you've seen some SEC West notes delivered by the SEC office, here are some SEC East notes for your viewing pleasure:

  • Florida returns 10 starters on defense where the Gators ranked eighth nationally in total defense (299.5 yards per game) in 2011. The Gators ranked second in the nation in third-down defense in 2011, holding opponents to 48-for-176 (.273).
  • Florida returns 14 of its top 15 tacklers for the 2012 season, including leading tackler senior linebacker Jon Bostic, who tallied 94 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Also returning for the Gators are their second and third leading tacklers, junior safety Matt Elam who recorded 78 tackles, a team-leading 11 tackles for a loss and a team-high-tying two interceptions, and junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins who totaled 75 tackles and a team-best six pass break-ups.
  • Last year marked Florida’s FBS-leading 32nd-straight season with a winning percentage of .500 or higher. With the win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl, the Gators have had 24 consecutive winning seasons, the longest active streak in the country. Additionally, with the trip to the Gator Bowl, Florida made its 21st straight bowl appearance, which ranks first in the SEC and second nationally.
  • Sophomore outside linebacker/defensive end Ray Drew and redshirt freshman receiver Justin Scott-Wesley are splitting time between track and football. Drew has competed in three discus competitions during the outdoor season, taking second and third in separate competitions. Scott-Wesley competed indoors and already ranks in the top 10 on the school’s 60-meter dash list.
  • The Bulldog defense returns nine starters and 12 of the 14 leading tacklers after posting a No. 5 national ranking in 2011. All-American junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and All-American senior free safety Bacarri Rambo headline the unit.
  • The line should be a strength of the UK defense in 2012. All three regular starters return, senior end Collins Ukwu and junior tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph. Senior end Taylor Wyndham, a starter when Kentucky goes to a four-man line, also will be back.
  • Junior linebacker Avery Williamson continued his improvement in the spring and is expected to anchor the defense at middle linebacker. He led all players in the spring game with eight tackles, featuring two tackles for loss and a sack. He made 49 tackles last season as a reserve and is ready to step into a leadership role.
  • The Wildcats did not appear to have any major new injuries in the spring. Six players sat out the contact portions of spring drills, including quarterback Morgan Newton, tailback Josh Clemons, wide receiver Gene McCaskill, offensive lineman Tyler Davenport, Ukwu and linebacker Jabari Johnson. All six are expected to be ready to go in time for preseason practice.
  • Mizzou comes to the SEC after seven consecutive winning seasons under coach Gary Pinkel, who will be in his 12th year on the Tiger sideline. Mizzou has won 48 games in the past five seasons, which ranks as ninth-most in the nation from 2007-11 among BCS-AQ conferences. Mizzou is one of only six schools from BCS-AQ leagues to have won a minimum of eight games in each of the last six seasons (2006-11).
  • Pinkel enters the 2012 as the eighth-winningest active coach in the FBS ranks, with his 158 wins. In 21 years as a head coach (1991-2000 at Toledo, 2001-present at Mizzou), Pinkel has a 158-91-3 overall record (.633). With an 85-54 mark in 11 seasons at Mizzou (.612), Pinkel stands 3rd alltime in wins, trailing only College Football Hall of Famers Don Faurot (101 wins from 1935-42, 1946-56) and Dan Devine (93 wins from 1958-70).
  • The Gamecocks will open the 2012 season on a four-game winning streak. They had not finished a season with four consecutive wins since 1958 prior to last season’s finish, which included wins over Florida, The Citadel, Clemson and Nebraska.
  • Connor Shaw is the first Gamecock quarterback in the last 40 years to win eight of his first nine starts.
  • The Gamecocks have signed the last four “Mr. Football” winners in the state of South Carolina -- Stephon Gilmore (2009), Marcus Lattimore (2010), Jadeveon Clowney (2011) and Shaq Roland (2012).
  • The Gamecocks are a perfect 8-0 over the last two seasons over their top four rivals -- division foes Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, and in-state rival Clemson.
  • Tennessee is slated to open a new training center this summer. The 145,000-square foot building includes an amphitheater-style team room, coaches offices, position meeting rooms, a dining hall, players' lounge, a 7,000-square foot locker room, a 22,000-square foot, multi-level weight room as well as a new training room and hydrotherapy area.
  • For just the fourth time in school history, Tennessee will enter October with five games under its belt (2006, 1995, 1990). In the previous three campaigns, the Vols won at least nine games, highlighted by a 1990 SEC Championship.
  • Eight of Tennessee’s opponents earned a bid to play in a bowl game last season: NC State (Belk), Florida (Gator), Georgia (Outback), Mississippi State (Music City), Alabama (National Championship), South Carolina (Capital One), Missouri (Independence) and Vanderbilt (Liberty). All but Georgia and Vanderbilt were victorious.
  • For the second consecutive year, Tennessee’s opponents compiled an overall record of 81-71 the previous season. Seven of Tennessee’s opponents had winning records in 2011: NC State (8-5), Florida (7-6), Georgia (10-4), Mississippi State (7-6), Alabama (12-1), South Carolina (11-2) and Missouri (8-5).
  • Among the most impressive offensive players during spring practice for the Commodores were redshirt freshmen Josh Grady and Kris Kentera, both recruited out of high school as possible quarterbacks. Grady, from Tampa, Fla., impressed as a wide receiver and wildcat quarterback during the Black & Gold Spring Game. Kentera, from Colorado Springs, Colo., has athleticism and excellent hands and made a strong case for playing time this fall at H-back.
  • For the second straight spring, the Commodores were limited with potential offensive linemen. During the spring game, only eight linemen participated. The limited numbers allowed three young prospects to showcase their talents to the staff: sophomore center/guard Spencer Pulley and Joe Townsend, and redshirt freshman guard Jake Bernstein.
  • The Commodores introduced a "rover" position on defense during spring drills. Junior Karl Butler was one of Vanderbilt's defensive standouts during the spring working exclusively in the hybrid linebacker-safety role.

SEC lunch links

April, 27, 2012
It's Friday, and we've got your links:

Recapping the first round for the SEC

April, 27, 2012
The SEC had nine players selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft on Thursday night, which led all conferences. The Big 12 was second with five first-rounders.

It was the sixth year in a row and eighth in the past 10 years that the SEC has had multiple selections in the top seven picks of the draft. It was the second year in a row that the SEC has had six of the top 14 selections in the draft. Eight of the nine selections from the SEC were defensive players.

Alabama had four players taken in the first round, giving the Crimson Tide 11 first-rounders in the past four years.

Even more remarkably, that gives Alabama coach Nick Saban 19 players that he has recruited and signed in his 10 seasons as an SEC head coach who’ve gone on to become first-round NFL draft choices. Saban was responsible for signing all nine of LSU’s first-round selections from 2004-09, and he signed 10 of Alabama’s 11 first-rounders over the past three years.

South Carolina had two players go in the first round -- cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Melvin Ingram -- for the first time in more than 30 years. In the 1981 draft, running back George Rogers went No. 1 overall and tight end Willie Scott No. 14 overall.

Mississippi State produced a first-rounder -- defensive tackle Fletcher Cox -- for the second year in a row. Offensive tackle Derek Sherrod also went in the first round last year. The Bulldogs had gone 14 years without a first-rounder until Sherrod was taken with the 32nd pick overall last year.

Here's a quick review from Thursday's first round:

No. 3: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama to the Cleveland Browns

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 6: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU to the Dallas Cowboys

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 7: Mark Barron, S, Alabama to the Tampa Bay Bucs

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 10: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina to the Buffalo Bills

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 12: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State to the Philadelphia Eagles

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 14: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU to the St. Louis Rams

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 17: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama to the Cincinnati Bengals

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 18: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina to the San Diego Chargers

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 25: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama to the New England Patriots

Todd McShay video analysis here.

Video: Draft prospects recall high school

April, 26, 2012

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
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
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

Big draft looming for the SEC

April, 26, 2012
It could be a record haul tonight in the NFL draft for the SEC.

As many as 12 players from the SEC are being projected to go in the first round, which will be carried live tonight on ESPN starting at 8 p.m. ET. Rounds 2 and 3 will be on Friday, also on ESPN beginning at 7 p.m. Rounds 4-7 will be on Saturday with ESPN coverage beginning at noon.

The most first-round selections the SEC has produced in one draft was 11 in 2007.

So if 12 go tonight, that would break the record.

Here's a look at the 12 SEC players being pegged to go in the first round. They're listed in order of their rank on Mel Kiper's Big Board :

Final NFL draft big boards

April, 25, 2012
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:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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."


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


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

SEC lunch links

April, 25, 2012
It's that time again as we make our rounds in the SEC:
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: