Georgia Bulldogs: D.J. Fluker
All that running, jumping, catching and throwing in Indianapolis can make a big difference for the majority of guys, and a lot of players saw their stock rise and fall after a few hours of moving around inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. kept a close eye on everyone out there and has updated his Big Board to reflect the performances from the few days in Indy. After the NFL combine, Kiper has 11 SEC players among his top 25 players, including six in his top 10. Before the combine, he had 12 SEC players in his rankings.
Who fell? Well, Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore took quite the stumble after a very rough outing at the combine. Moore went from No. 3 on Kiper's Big Board to unranked. He had a slow 40-yard-dash time of 4.95 seconds, and was weak on the bench press, doing just 12 reps at 225 pounds. That was the lowest of the 37 defensive linemen working out. Moore needs a strong pro day to get back in the good graces of everyone keeping a close eye on the draft.
While Moore tumbled down and out of Kiper's rankings, Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd made a major jump, moving from No. 8 to No. 2. His 4.92 in the 40 was huge for him, and with Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei not being able to work out because of a heart condition, Floyd is now considered the top defensive tackle in the draft.
Even though Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones didn't work out in Indy, he's still at the top of Kiper's board.
Here is where the 11 SEC players rank on Kiper's updated Big Board:
1. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia (Last week: 1)
2. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (LW: 8th)
5. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (LW: 2)
6. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (LW: 6)
7. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU (LW: 12)
9. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (LW: 9)
17. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (LW: 21)
19. Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (LW: 15)
20. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama (LW: 16)
22. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia (LW: 18)
25. Matt Elam, S, Florida (LW: 25)
It's only fitting that the best offensive line in college football would produce some of the most intriguing prospects in the NFL draft. Alabama will likely have three offensive linemen taken in the first few rounds in April, further proof of the talent that resided in Tuscaloosa this past season.
Well, Nick Saban and his gang of future NFL ballers proved to us once again that it is indeed Alabama's world, after claiming their second consecutive national title and third in four years Monday night. That ringing in your ears is just the sound of "Roll Tide" being repeated over and over in your head. I've learned there's nothing we can do about it.
But will 2013 bring college football a team that can really stop the Tide? I mean, REALLY stop Alabama from winning a third straight national championship? Well, ESPN's Mark Schlabach seems to believe that the road to Pasadena is paved in crimson and white, as he has Alabama No. 1 in his Way-Too-Early-Top 25 for 2013.
It's hard to blame him at this point. Sure, Alabama's offensive line won't be nearly as good with Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack leaving. And it will take even more of a hit if/when D.J. Fluker decides to turn pro. But with quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon (we're assuming Eddie Lacy and his sweet spin move are headed to the NFL), wide receiver Amari Cooper and a host of studs on the defense returning, Alabama will again be the team to beat.
But there are some quality teams in the SEC that will fight to dethrone Alabama, and Schlabach has four in his top 10. Texas A&M, which returns the Heisman-winning Johnny Football, ranks fifth, Georgia is sixth, South Carolina is seventh and Florida is 10th. The thing about all those teams is that they all return their starting quarterbacks, with Georgia's Aaron Murray being one of the best in the country alongside Johnny Manziel.
South Carolina will be one of the more balanced teams in the SEC next fall, and if Florida can actually find a passing game in 2013, watch out because that defense will still be fierce, even with a few junior defections.
LSU, checking in at No. 13, is the only other SEC team in Schlabach's top 25. The Tigers are expected to have a better offense, especially with Zach Mettenberger finally finding his comfort zone under center, but a poor offensive showing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl defeat to Clemson and the loss of junior running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware create an uneasy feeling around the offense. Plus, the defense just took a beating as a result of juniors departing for the NFL, especially up front. All-American punter Brad Wing also left.
The good news for LSU is that running back Jeremy Hill is returning, and he'll only be a sophomore.
It's a good list to start off with, but where in the world is Vanderbilt? The Commodores are coming off of a historic season in Nashville. There were nine wins that included a bowl victory, five conference wins and a seven-game winning streak. The quarterback and running back spots might be up for grabs, but Jordan Matthews is coming back, along with fellow receiver Chris Boyd. And most of the rest of the offense remains intact.
There was room for Vandy in there somewhere ...
Two players barely a year out of high school football would decide the fate of Alabama’s 2012 season.
Boy did it pay off.
“Two big plays by freshmen there,” senior center Barrett Jones said.
Big doesn’t even begin to describe them. You need more hyperbole for this one, like mammoth or gargantuan.
The first play came on third-and-5 at the 50-yard line. Georgia held a 28-25 lead, and it appeared that the Tide were squandering their great field position. With about four minutes remaining, quarterback AJ McCarron stuck the ball in T.J. Yeldon’s gut, and the frosh cut to the right side and barreled his way past the first-down marker.
It was a play everyone inside the Georgia Dome or plastered to a TV set knew was coming.
Yet Georgia’s defense, which had been giving up rushing yards like men give up beads at Mardi Gras, couldn’t stop the force that was Yeldon.
“He went out there and just ran people over,” offensive lineman D.J. Fluker said of the 6-foot-2, 216-pounder. “You can’t find that too often.”
It was a simple post play to the left side, where it’s better if Amari Cooper releases on the inside. He cut outside and stopped momentarily as he looked for McCarron. Once he saw the play was coming, he left a helpless Damian Swann in his dust before hauling McCarron’s perfectly thrown pass and waltzing into the end zone to give Alabama the winning score in a 32-28 victory.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and I wanted to come out here and be a big-time player,” said Cooper, who finished with a game-high seven catches for 127 yards and the key score. “I envisioned it before it happened, and it came true.”
He probably envisioned it because it looked easy on film, as he and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier felt confident taking shots at the Dawgs.
“That’s what we want as receivers,” Cooper said. “We want to take those shots, and that’s what we did.”
It helps that Cooper, who goes by the nickname Hollywood because of his on-field skill, is an extraordinary athlete. Before his touchdown, his play of the night came when he went up top and snatched a 44-yard prayer from McCarron away from one of the most physical players in the game in safety Bacarri Rambo in the second quarter. After that, he spent the rest of the night sprinting past or cutting by Georgia defenders and bailing Alabama’s offense out in crucial situations.
“He’s able to do the things that you would think a normal freshman wouldn’t do,” Tide linebacker Nico Johnson said. “He’s making big plays in big games, like he did today.
“He takes it and runs with it and lives to that name. He’s something special.”
To Jones, Cooper just has a different gear than a lot of players. One moment he is side-by-side with a defender; the next, he’s gone -- with the ball.
“He’s one of the fastest people I’ve ever seen,” Jones said.
Cooper stretched the field and gave Alabama more running room, which helped free Yeldon, who entered the game with just three 100-yard performances but carried the ball a game-high 25 times for a backbreaking 153 yards and a touchdown. While giving Eddie Lacy the occasional breather, Yeldon helped Alabama register an SEC championship record 350 rushing yards Saturday.
“It’s like he’s been here three times himself,” Lacy said. “As a freshman, you can’t ask him to play any better than he did tonight.”
You can’t ask more from either. They did so much for Alabama in the biggest game of either's career. Yeldon had nine runs that resulted in first downs, while Cooper had three first-down plays. Together, they touched the ball 32 times for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
Johnson tells both Cooper and Yeldon before every game to play with purpose. On Saturday, they did that and then some. This is only the beginning for these fabulous freshmen.
“I’m glad they’re freshmen because they are going to be here for a while,” offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio said.
That has to be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
“You know how they do me when it comes to pass rush and they throw two, three guys on me,” said Jones, who has been stuck on 10.5 sacks this season since last facing a more traditional offense three weeks ago against Auburn. “But it’s fun to get back in the range of it so we can run our defense and get out of this Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern mess. I hated the last two weeks of practice.”
Jones certainly expects to spend more time rushing Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron in Saturday’s SEC championship game than he did against Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern, who combined to attempt only 25 passes while focusing largely on the running game. Getting to McCarron against the Crimson Tide’s vaunted offensive line is a different story altogether.
At first glance, the Tide’s line has been fairly pedestrian in protecting the quarterback, ranking fourth in the SEC with 20 sacks allowed for a total of minus-161 yards -- a pace just ahead of Georgia’s 22 sacks allowed for minus-145. But Alabama surrendered six of those sacks for minus-48 in a 35-0 win against Western Kentucky. Otherwise, Alabama has not surrendered more than two sacks in any game, and none since Texas A&M sacked McCarron twice in dealing Alabama (11-1) its only loss of the season Nov. 10.
“They’ve got three All-Americans up there that are big and physical,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said, referring to Alabama center Barrett Jones, left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker. “The reason their running backs have had success is one, the running backs are talented, but the offensive line makes some holes for them. They do a good job of getting them some running lanes, they keep the quarterback clean in the pocket.
It should be noted that the media has only picked the correct SEC champion four times since 1992. Those correct picks were Florida in 1994 and 1995, LSU in 2007 and Florida in 2008.
Here are some notes from the league on the All-SEC team:
- The 222 voters is an all-time high for SEC media days. The previous high was 177 voters in 2010.
- South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was the leading vote-getter this season with 201 of 222 votes. He is the fourth running back in the past six years to be the highest vote-getter (2007 – Darren McFadden, Arkansas; 2008 – Knowshon Moreno, Georgia and Percy Harvin, Florida; 2009 – Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes, Florida; 2010 – Mark Ingram, Alabama; 2011 – Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina).
That’s what we did last week at our house.
So in keeping with the All-Star theme, we’ll select a preseason SEC All-Star team with the East going up against the West.
Who would win?
Here are all 19 SEC players on the Nagurski Trophy list:
- Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
- Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
- Matt Elam, S, Florida
- Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
- John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
- Nico Johnson, LB, Alabama
- Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
- Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn
- Robert Lester, S, Alabama
- Rob Lohr, DT, Vanderbilt
- Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
- Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
- Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
- Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
- C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
- Eric Reid, S, LSU
- Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina
- Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
For the complete Nagurski Trophy watch list, go here.
The SEC also leads the country with 19 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation's top interior lineman. Alabama leads the SEC with four players on the list, including reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones.
Here are all 19 SEC players on the Outland Trophy watch list:
- Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas
- Josh Boyd, DT, Mississippi State
- Chris Faulk, OT, LSU
- Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
- D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
- Alex Hurst, OT, LSU
- Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
- John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
- Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
- T.J. Johnson, C, South Carolina
- Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt
- Barrett Jones, C, Alabama
- Bennie Logan, DT, LSU
- Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
- Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
- Dallas Thomas, OG, Tennessee
- Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
- Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
- Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
For the full Outland Trophy watch list, go here.