LSU Tigers: Gabe Wright

It’s never too early to look ahead.

The 2014 NFL draft is over. It’s dead to us already. On to 2015.

The SEC had the first pick (Jadeveon Clowney), the most intriguing pick (Johnny Manziel), the most talked-about pick (AJ McCarron) and the most historically significant pick (Michael Sam) in the entire draft this year. The league even had the most overall picks with 49.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAmari Cooper could be a coveted WR for the 2015 NFL draft.
What will it do for an encore in 2015? While it’s hard to imagine SEC players dominating headlines in quite the same way, the league will undoubtably have a strong contingent of players drafted.

With that in mind, the SEC Blog decided to project next year’s top 20 NFL draft prospects. Edward Aschoff picked his 10 from the East earlier. Now it’s time for 10 from the West to keep an eye on, in alphabetical order:
  • La’el Collins, OL, LSU: Collins very well could have skipped school, entered the draft and been taken anywhere from the second to fourth round. But he chose to return to school, which could pay huge dividends if he improves his pass blocking. Already a known road-grader in the running game, he’ll benefit from the versatility to play either guard or tackle.
  • Landon Collins, S, Alabama: He’ll make plays in the passing game. He’ll make plays at the line of scrimmage. And just in case you want an immediate return, he’ll make plays in special teams. The former five-star prospect showed his all-around game this past season with 70 tackles, eight passes defended, four tackles for loss and two interceptions. With a big junior season, his stock could soar.
  • Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: He is silky smooth on the football field. But don’t let that fool you; he’s got all the moves. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he can run in the 4.3-second range. He can go get the ball in traffic and has come up big in clutch situations. With his nifty footwork, he’ll remind some of Colts wideout Reggie Wayne.
  • Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas: A third-round grade from the NFL draft board wasn’t enough to get Flowers to leave school early. After racking up 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks last season, he returns to Fayetteville with the opportunity to improve upon those numbers. Strong, quick and well-built at 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds, he could turn heads in 2014.
  • C.J. Johnson, DE, Ole Miss: This one might come as a bit of a surprise after he missed more than half of last season to an injury. But the NFL clearly loves pass rushers (23 defensive ends were drafted this year), and Johnson is one of the best in the SEC. He has that quick first step scouts covet. If he can show he’s athletic enough to play both defensive end and outside linebacker, he could make himself attractive to several NFL teams.
  • Bernardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State: The tape doesn't lie. McKinney has been a tackling machine for two years now. He could have entered this year’s draft, but stayed. If Mississippi State makes a run this year, he’ll get noticed. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, he can run in the 4.6 range, which will catch scouts’ eyes.
  • Jalen Mills, DB, LSU: You just know the Tigers are going to produce an NFL defensive back, and Mills has all the tools to develop into that guy. The former Freshman All-American has played both cornerback and safety, which will help him at the next level.
  • Cedric Ogbuehi, OL, Texas A&M: It will look familiar -- another Aggies offensive lineman going in the first round of the NFL draft, and Ogbuehi has all the tools to do it. He has played guard and right tackle already, but this year will star at the big-money position of left tackle.
  • Gabe Wright, DL, Auburn: It’s easy to forget that Wright was once a top-30 prospect in the country. Playing in the interior of the defensive line can get you lost. But with a big season, we could see Wright catch the attention of scouts and make a Dee Ford-like rise up draft boards.
  • T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: It’s not a good time to be a running back coming out of college. And leaving early seems strange, but after all the carries Yeldon has racked up and the pressure behind him on the depth chart, it might be time to leave. He might not have great top-end speed, but scouts will love his vision, blocking and general all-around game.

Planning for success: LSU Tigers

September, 19, 2013
Through the first three games, No. 6 LSU has looked mighty impressive on both sides of the ball. A title contender? Maybe. But the real season begins Saturday, when the Tigers kick off their SEC schedule with a home games against Auburn (3-0).

"You better be ready," head coach Les Miles said. "It's going to be a highly contested, very competitive game. It generally goes down to the end. So if you enjoy competition at the very highest level, you love these games."

Seven of the last nine games between Auburn and LSU have been decided by a touchdown or less, including LSU's 12-10 victory last year on the Plains. Auburn is looking to win in Death Valley for the first time since 1999.

What LSU needs to do to win: The offense has been much improved this season, and the Tigers have to continue that progression into SEC play. In last year's game, LSU scored just 10 points from its offense (and 12 total), and quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw for just 169 yards. This year, he's averaging 266 yards and three touchdowns per game, and LSU has scored at least 37 points in each of the first three games. Couple that with an Auburn defense that has given up its fair share of yards, and the Bayou Bengals might reach 12 points in the first quarter alone. But it starts with the offense.

What Auburn needs to do to win: Start fast. Auburn has looked nearly unstoppable on its first-quarter drives, no doubt scripted by head coach Gus Malzahn, but putting up points early is a must against LSU. It's the Tigers' first road test of the season, and they have to find a way to take the crowd out of it. It won't be easy with quarterback Nick Marshall making his first start outside of Jordan-Hare Stadium, but he showed poise on the final drive Saturday against Mississippi State. He has to limit turnovers and make plays for Auburn to hang with LSU.

Players to watch

LSU WR Odell Beckham: As a wide receiver, nobody has been able to cover him. He's fast. He's explosive. He flat out makes plays. Between Beckham and fellow wideout Jarvis Landry, LSU has one of the top tandems in the SEC. Beckham is also a threat in the return game, as well.

Auburn TE C.J. Uzomah: Now known for his game-winning touchdown grab against Mississippi State, Uzomah is emerging as a go-to target for Marshall. If there was ever a game where the inexperienced quarterback needed a safety valve, it's Saturday against LSU.

LSU S Craig Loston: The LSU defense starts up front with its two star defensive tackles, but Auburn likely will try to get outside the box, making Loston that much more important. Whether it's against the run or the pass, he needs to prevent Auburn from hitting on any big plays.

Auburn DT Gabe Wright: After a solid performance in Week 2, Wright was virtually non-existent against Mississippi State. The former ESPN 150 star has to step up this weekend if Auburn wants to have any chance of slowing down LSU's power rushing attack.

Quotable: "It's just very competitive -- two talented teams. You need to do well in the West. We've had some games that were won in the last minute and some games that had some unusual twists and turns. Again, it's a competitive rivalry in the SEC." -- LSU head coach Les Miles, on the Auburn-LSU game.


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