Alabama Crimson Tide: Antonio Richardson

For the eighth consecutive year, the SEC led all conferences with the most NFL draft picks. When all was said and done on Saturday, the SEC had 49 former athletes selected. In 2013, the SEC had a league-record 63 players drafted, and after last year's draft, the league averaged 48.9 players drafted since 2006.

So I guess that whole run of seven straight BCS national championships had some real weight to it, huh?

The last time the SEC didn't lead the nation in draft picks was 2006, when the league had 37 players taken and the Big Ten had 41. This year, the SEC's only real competition in the draft was the ACC, which had 42 players taken.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesJadeveon Clowney is the fourth SEC player to be taken first in the draft since 2006.
On Thursday, the SEC led the rest of the conferences with 11 first-round draft picks, including having Jadeveon Clowney selected No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans. Clowney became the fourth player from the SEC to be taken first in the draft since 2006. The SEC also had four players taken within the first 10 picks of the draft.

LSU led the SEC and the rest of the country with nine draft selections. Alabama was second with eight draft picks.

Every SEC team was represented in the draft, and here's a breakdown of how each school fared:

  • Alabama -- 8
  • Arkansas -- 4
  • Auburn -- 4
  • Florida -- 4
  • Georgia -- 2
  • Kentucky -- 1
  • LSU -- 9
  • Mississippi State -- 1
  • Missouri -- 4
  • Ole Miss -- 1
  • South Carolina -- 2
  • Tennessee -- 3
  • Texas A&M -- 3
  • Vanderbilt -- 3

After all the Johnny Manziel drama from the first night of the draft, the SEC had no shortage of intrigue during the next two days of the draft. Everyone waited for AJ McCarron to get drafted in the second round, but he didn't hear his name until the fifth round (No. 164 by the Cincinnati Bengals), and after Aaron Murray was taken a spot ahead by the Kansas City Chiefs. Zach Mettenberger, the quarterback many thought would go first from the SEC, was selected in the sixth round (No. 178) by the Tennessee Titans.

And perhaps the biggest news from the last two days was Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay player to be selected in the draft. The former Missouri defensive end -- and SEC defensive player of the year -- was selected in the seventh round (N0. 249) by the St. Louis Rams, and shared a powerful, historic and emotional scene on live television when he received the news.

It should come as no surprise that the SEC had yet another successful showing at the NFL draft. The league is absolutely stuffed with SEC talent. According to the SEC's official website, the SEC had 340 former players on active 53-man rosters on opening day of the 2013 season. Also, since 2006 the SEC has averaged nearly 280 players per year on NFL opening weekend rosters.

There were some surprising names not called during the three-day draft. Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, who were viewed as top cornerback prospects before the 2013 season, went undrafted, as did former top offensive line prospect Antonio Richardson from Tennessee. Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard and LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson also were left out.

Here's a look at the SEC players taken after Round 1:

ROUND 2

42. Jordan Matthews, WR ,Vanderbilt -- Philadelphia Eagles
44. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama -- Buffalo Bills
51. Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU -- Chicago Bears
55. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU -- Cincinnati Bengals
60. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri -- Carolina Panthers
63. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU -- Miami Dolphins
64. Justin Britt, OT, Missouri -- Seattle Seahawks

ROUND 3

75. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn -- St. Louis Rams
76. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas -- Detroit Lions
81. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State -- Oakland Raiders
90. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss -- Indianapolis Colts
92. Trai Turner, OG, LSU -- Carolina Panthers

ROUND 4

101. Jaylen Watkins, DB, Florida -- Philadelphia Eagles
106. Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina -- San Francisco 49ers
123. Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama -- Seattle Seahawks

ROUND 5

151. Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky -- Tennessee Titans
155. Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia -- Miami Dolphins
156. Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU -- Denver Broncos
159. Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas -- Jacksonville Jaguars
160. Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama -- Arizona Cardinals
163. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia -- Kansas City Chiefs
164. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama -- Cincinnati Bengals
167. Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama -- New Orleans Saints
169. Ronald Powell, LB, Florida -- New Orleans Saints
173. Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt -- Pittsburgh Steelers

ROUND 6

177. Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, Alabama -- Houston Texans
178. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU -- Tennessee Titans
179. Jon Halapio, OG, Florida -- New England Patriots
181. Alfred Blue, RB, LSU -- Houston Texans
188. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri -- St. Louis Rams
193. Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee -- Kansas City Chiefs
211. Jay Prosch, FB, Auburn -- Houston Texans
215. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee -- Pittsburgh Steelers

ROUND 7

216. Andre Hal, S, Vanderbilt -- Houston Texans
227. Kiero Small, FB, Arkansas -- Seattle Seahawks
228. Zach Hocker, K, Arkansas -- Washington Redskins
239. James Wright, WR, LSU -- Cincinnati Bengals
249. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri -- St. Louis Rams

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
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It's not exactly like the fall, but at least we'll have some football (spring) games this weekend. Let's take a quick spin around the SEC and see what's happening as the final spring scrimmages approach at some of the league's schools.

Flood of underclassmen leaving SEC

January, 16, 2014
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The official list will be released by the NFL this weekend, but the latest count of underclassmen leaving the SEC this year is 28. That's after 32 left early a year ago.

The deadline to declare was Wednesday, although players still have a window to change their mind prior to this weekend as long as they don't sign with an agent.

For the second straight year, LSU is losing the most. Seven players with eligibility remaining are leaving early to enter the draft, which is actually down from the 11 players the Tigers lost last year. Alabama is losing five players and Florida and South Carolina four apiece.

Below is an unofficial list:

ALABAMA
OLB Adrian Hubbard, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, DT Jeoffrey Pagan, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Vinnie Sunseri

AUBURN
RB Tre Mason, OT Greg Robinson

FLORIDA
DL Dominique Easley, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Marcus Roberson, OLB Ronald Powell

LSU
RB Michael Ford, RB Jeremy Hill, OG Trai Turner, WR Odell Beckham Jr., WR Jarvis Landry, DT Ego Ferguson, DT Anthony Johnson

MISSOURI
RB Henry Josey, DE Kony Ealy

OLE MISS
WR Donte Moncrief

SOUTH CAROLINA
DE Jadeveon Clowney WR Bruce Ellington, CB Victor Hampton, DT Kelcy Quarles

TENNESSEE
OT Antonio Richardson

TEXAS A&M
QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans
As this year's NFL draft creeps closer, we'll look more in depth at this crop of NFL talent in the coming weeks and months. ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper is helping us out with his Mock Draft 1.0.

And if you're wondering why all that SEC talent bolted for the NFL, Kiper has the answer: So many players are projected to go in the first round in 2014. Real shocker, I know.

Of the 32 first-round picks, Kiper has 10 SEC players making the cut, including in the first three picks. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is projected by Kiper to go first to the Houston Texans, while Aggies left tackle Jake Matthews is listed as going second overall to the St. Louis Rams (from Washington).

Right behind them? Yep, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is projected to go to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It looks like it's going to be another successful draft for the SEC. Here are where all 10 SEC players are projected to go, according to Kiper:

1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M -- Houston Texans

2. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M -- St. Louis Rams

3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina -- Jacksonville Jaguars

9. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn -- Buffalo Bills

12. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama -- New York Giants

13. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M -- St. Louis Rams

17. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama -- Dallas Cowboys

19. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama -- Miami Dolphins

27. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee -- New Orleans Saints

30. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU -- San Francisco 49ers

Planning for success: Alabama

October, 24, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Ready for a good old-fashioned rivalry? We've got one when the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) hosts the Tennessee Volunteers (4-3, 1-2) on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

Can lightning strike twice for Tennessee? Riding an upset victory over South Carolina this past weekend, the hope for Butch Jones' squad is that the answer is yes.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Saban is building respect for this week's opponent.
And, as always, Nick Saban is guarding against that possibility.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for Tennessee and the job that they've done this year," he said. "They've really played well the last two weeks. I think it's really going to be important for us to focus on the things we need to improve on.

"Certainly a big game for us."

So who are some players to watch and some stats to chew on? We've got that for you right here:

Tennessee players to watch

RB Rajion Neal: The 5-foot-11 senior has quietly been one of the best running backs in the SEC this season. He's currently tied for fourth on in the league in rushing with 693 yards and eight touchdowns.

OT Antonio Richardson: Really, it's not just Richardson. As Saban pointed out Wednesday, "They've got two really good tackles, probably both NFL type guys who will be high draft picks." If you're looking for the key to Tennessee's success this season just look up front. Richardson leads what's arguably the best offensive line in the SEC.

DL Daniel McCullers: It may not be the best defensive line in the country, but Tennessee's got some heft on that side of the ball, too. McCullers is the Vols’ version of Terrence Cody, a mammoth run stuffer at 6-foot-8 and 351 pounds. Alabama's interior offensive linemen will be tested by his size and strength Saturday.

Alabama players to watch

C Ryan Kelly: Will he play or won't he? Kelly has missed the last three games recovering from an injury, but was "full go this week," according to Saban. Odds are Chad Linsday will continue to start, but look for Kelly to work his way back into the mix.

WR Amari Cooper: After starting the season slowly, Cooper has shown signs of resurgence in recent games. With some nagging injuries behind him, he's playing faster and producing more with six receptions in his last two games. Cooper's coming-out party last season was against Tennessee. Maybe familiarity will be the jump-start he needs.

RB Derrick Henry: He flew down the sideline like a blur. Henry, Alabama's larger than life tailback, sprinted past Arkansas' defense for an 80-yard touchdown run last Saturday, the first score of his career. Saban said Wednesday that there's no question he has the ability. How he picks up the little things like blocking -- things he wasn't asked to do in high school -- will determine how much he contributes down the stretch as a freshman.

Key stats

15: Alabama's pass protection has been stout of late, failing to give up a sack since the third quarter against Ole Miss. The Tide ranks 15th nationally and third in the SEC with 1.00 sacks allowed per game.

16: Alabama's defense is on a historic run of late, surrendering just 16 points in its last five games.

17: Just how explosive is Alabama sophomore running back Kenyan Drake? He and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota are the only two players in the country with 17 rushes of 10-plus yards in fewer than 70 carries.

SEC lunchtime links

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
12:00
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No, I'm not going to stand up here and scream, "Hump Day!" like that lazy camel. Instead, I'll simply point out that since it is Wednesday we're only some 24 merciful hours away from a quality college football game between No. 10 Miami and North Carolina. And I think we can all agree that watching football is much more enjoyable than watching an animal sell us insurance.
  • ESPN's Mark May and Lou Holtz debated whether Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was the most valuable player in college football this past weekend. What was McCarron's response? Pretty much what you'd expect: "It's an honor but I'd be the first one to tell you I'm nothing without these guys."
  • Nick Marshall will start at quarterback for Auburn against Texas A&M this weekend, but Jeremy Johnson is supposed to play too. It will be interesting to see how he's used. As coach Gus Malzahn put it, "We don't want to give all our secrets away."
  • Arkansas is standing by its struggling quarterback with a road trip to Alabama coming this Saturday. Brandon Allen hasn't played well of late, but coach Bret Bielema insists, "There's no doubt in my mind that he gives us the best option, 100 percent."
  • Steve Spurrier did what any good coach should when he stood up and vouched for his quarterback. South Carolina's Connor Shaw isn't viewed as an NFL prospect, but Spurrier believes he should be.
  • "How does he exert control on me?" Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease responded when asked whether coach Will Muschamp, a defensive guy at heart, was handcuffing his play-calling. After struggling offensively, it's easy to see why people are trying to connect the dots as to why.
  • A roster decimated by injuries has left Ole Miss with few options.
  • "It's really not anything magical," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham explained. There are reasons why the defense has struggled, but it all comes down to execution.
  • Texas A&M senior wide receiver Travis Labhart took the long road to College Station. When teammates kidded him about acting like he'd been in the endzone before, his response was classic: "And I was just like 'I haven't.' Not in five years."
  • It's easy to look at Johnny Manziel and the wealth of talent in College Station and ask how much coach Kevin Sumlin really has to do with Texas A&M success. When answering that question, though, you come to the conclusion that he's an elite coach.
  • Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson is ready for his rematch with South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
  • The circumstances are irrelevant. The fact that there were any empty seats in Tigers Stadium when Florida came to town reflected poorly on LSU football.
  • In following Missouri's blueprint, Vanderbilt hopes to turn up the pressure on Georgia and quarterback Aaron Murray.
  • As reports of his injury status circulated Saturday, Missouri quarterback James Franklin was totally in the dark. His phone dead, he focused solely on what would come next. While he heals, he says he's looking to help Maty Mauk under center.

Teams looking to recover in 2013

August, 19, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was a mixture of old and new on the University of Alabama campus on Saturday. Coeds went one direction toward their future sorority houses on Bid Day while the school's silver-haired alumnus went another, walking toward Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Crimson Tide's second scrimmage of the preseason.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesNick Saban brought Alabama from middling to powerhouse. Which SEC school will do that next?
Boosters came en masse to watch the practice, agonizing over a team picked by the Associated Press that morning to begin the season at No. 1. Quarterback AJ McCarron would throw for 152 yards and a touchdown in yet another sign pointing toward his contention for the Heisman Trophy, and pass-rush specialist Adrian Hubbard had three sacks to help add to the anticipation of the season.

Up and down University Boulevard, the buzz was obvious. With Nick Saban at the helm, Alabama is back contending for another national championship.

The scene in Tuscaloosa wouldn't have been familiar seven years ago, before Saban arrived and the football program had swung out of neutral. A fraction of the team's boosters went to scrimmages and the school's undergraduate enrollment was some 5,000 students fewer.

But for those on the outside looking in that day, it was a reminder not only of how far Alabama has come but of how far other teams can go in the blink of an eye.

Tennessee tackle Antonio Richardson knows the history. He pointed out as much at SEC media days in July.

"Before Bama turned it around they were terrible … I mean, dead terrible," he said. "So why can't we be the next team that blows up?"

He's not the only one asking the question. Players at Kentucky, Arkansas, Auburn and Missouri are wondering the same thing: Why can't they reverse their fortunes and bounce back in 2013? If you're looking for a sense of defeat from teams that have become familiar with losing, think again.

Jacques Smith is hoping his new coach, Butch Jones, can bring the Vols out of the doldrums and return them to competitiveness in the SEC. Tennessee has a lot to replace with quarterback Tyler Bray and his top three pass-catchers from a season ago gone, but there's something Rocky Top has now that it didn't have a year ago -- energy.

"He's brought the confidence," Smith said of Jones, "and now we have our swagger back."

At Auburn, where the Tigers went winless in league play last season, players are substituting "swagger" for "edge." As coach Gus Malzahn explained, when the Tigers play with the right "blue collar" attitude, history shows they can compete for championships.

"The No. 1 thing that our players have to do for us to be successful this year is get our edge back," he explained at media days. "That is the mental and physical toughness, the blue-collar, hard-nosed hit-you-in-the-mouth Auburn football that's made Auburn great. Worry about your teammate, not worry about yourself. Lose the entitlement issue."

On the field, Auburn took one step forward and one step back in that respect last week, losing safety Demetruce McNeal on the same day it announced that Nick Marshall had won the starting quarterback job. The good news: Malzahn had decent success with his last transfer quarterback, Cam Newton. The bad: Marshall will be the seventh different quarterback to start a season opener for the Tigers in the last seven years.

Kentucky, which had the fewest wins of any SEC team a year ago, doesn't know who its starting quarterback is. The Wildcats entered preseason camp with three players competing for the job: Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles, who ended spring practice in a dead heat. Determining who will handle snaps under center, whether it's one player or a mixture of all three, will be Step No. 1 in getting a team that is returning 13 starters back on track.

But what Mark Stoops has done off the field has already reinvigorated the Bluegrass State. Football may never trump basketball in Kentucky, but UK's new head coach is at least making the game more competitive, creating a buzz on the recruiting trail that's spread out to players and the fan base as a whole. If the saying is true that Jimmies and Joes do more than X's and O's, then Stoops is on the right track. Kentucky finished a respectable 36th in the ESPN Class Rankings in February and is off to a hot start for the 2014 class, coming in at No. 16, ahead of programs like Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and Mississippi State.

To the Southwest, Arkansas is taking the old-school approach under new head coach Bret Bielema, who insists that the Razorbacks return to "normal American football." John L. Smith might have been a disaster as head coach in 2012, losing four of eight games, but he didn't leave the cupboard completely bare. With All-American candidates on both the offensive and defensive line and a fullback that looks as though he could run through a brick wall, Bielema has the pieces to run the type of smashmouth system he wants.

The problem for Bielema is the schedule, which sets up dreadfully with Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in consecutive weeks. By the time Auburn and Ole Miss role around, there's no telling where the Razorbacks will stand, if they're standing at all.

Unlike the previously mentioned schools, Missouri is hoping for a significant rebound despite no significant overhaul on the coaching staff as Josh Henson was promoted from co-offensive line coach to offensive coordinator. Gary Pinkel is back for his second turn in the SEC and this time he hopes to bring senior quarterback James Franklin along with him for the ride.

Last year Franklin missed a significant portion of the season with a shoulder injury and Pinkel didn't do him any favors when he came back this spring, thrusting him into a quarterback competition that didn't end until last week. Now fully healthy, Franklin hopes to return to his form of 2011, when he finished fourth in the Big 12 in passing efficiency behind future pros Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones. And with some help from the running game and a boost from rising star Dorial Green-Beckham, those expectations might not be that far off.

Like so many programs hoping to bounce back in 2013, Missouri relies on more than the play of its quarterbacks. Winning the line of scrimmage and protecting the football will be vital to competing against traditional powers like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU. In this league, you can't give games away, which is exactly what Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas did last year, finishing among the bottom five schools in the SEC in turnover margin.

Luck will be important too.

Alabama didn't get to where it is without the stars aligning properly. Saban had to sign before the program took off, and even then he had some cleaning house to do. Without landing standouts like Julio Jones, Courtney Upshaw and AJ McCarron, there's no telling where the Tide would be right now.

Instead of packing the stands for a scrimmage in mid-August, Alabama could be like much of the SEC, looking up at empty bleachers while it waits for its luck to turn.

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