Texas A&M Aggies: Jake Matthews

It was quite the week for Texas A&M football in relation to the NFL draft.

The Aggies had three players taken in the draft's first round on Thursday, marking just the second time in school history the program had that many first-round selections in one draft. It was also the fourth time in school history the team produced two top-10 picks in the same draft. The Aggies were the only team in the 2014 draft with two top-10 picks and one of only two (Louisville being the other) with three first-round picks. This was also the fourth consecutive year the Aggies have produced at least one top-10 pick.

After the draft's completion, eight more Aggies reached agreements with NFL teams as undrafted free agents and will pursue pro careers. Here's a recap of where all the NFL-bound Aggies landed:

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Elsa/Getty ImagesOffensive lineman Jake Matthews was the first Aggie off the board in the NFL draft, going No. 6 overall to the Falcons.
Draft picks

OT Jake Matthews: Atlanta Falcons (first round, sixth overall)
There's a long line of pro-football-playing Matthews men and Jake is the latest. The 6-foot-5, 308-pound offensive tackle can stake his claim to being the highest-drafted Matthews in the family's well-documented NFL history. His father, NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, was the previous high pick, chosen ninth overall in the 1983 draft. The Falcons hope Jake will help provide more protection for franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, and Matthews has all the makings of a 10-year pro. Matthews could be the team's left tackle of the future.

WR Mike Evans: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (first round, seventh overall)
It seems fitting that analysts' go-to NFL comparison for Evans was Vincent Jackson, because now those two will be in the same huddle for the Buccaneers. Evans completed his compelling story, going from humble beginnings and obstacles to overcome while growing up in Galveston, Texas, to star basketball player to unlikely, under-the-radar football recruit to All-American receiver to now, top-10 draft pick. It looks like Evans will be a good fit in Tampa and could start rather quickly.

QB Johnny Manziel: Cleveland Browns (first round, 22nd overall)
Manziel was the most-talked-about prospect on the draft's first night, and though he waited longer than he would have liked, he finally found a landing spot in Cleveland. Thursday officially closed the book on what was one of the most memorable collegiate careers of any player in recent memory. Manziel helped lead A&M to great heights and brought the program unprecedented exposure in its first two SEC seasons, including a Heisman Trophy. Now Johnny Football takes his game to the highest level, and it seems everyone will be watching to see how he fares in his new home.

Undrafted free agents

LB Nate Askew: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Askew, who had one of the better pro day performances at the Aggies' showcase on March 5, completes an interesting journey at Texas A&M that saw him go from seldom-used receiver to starting outside linebacker who made the play that sealed the Aggies' thrilling Chick-Fil-A Bowl victory.

TE Nehemiah Hicks: Miami Dolphins
Hicks will join his former Texas A&M teammate, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in South Beach.

DB Toney Hurd Jr.: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After undergoing offseason surgery and missing the Aggies' first pro day, Hurd was able to work out for scouts on March 27 (the same day as Manziel and Evans). The versatile Hurd, who played cornerback, safety and special teams at A&M, did enough to warrant an opportunity from the Buccaneers.

CB Tramain Jacobs: Baltimore Ravens
A reserve cornerback who proved to be a valuable rotational player -- and even started two games -- for the Aggies, Jacobs landed with the Ravens.

LB Steven Jenkins: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers certainly took a liking to the Aggies. Including Jenkins, the former A&M starting outside linebacker and impact player, four Aggies are headed to Tampa. Jenkins returns to his home state, where he played his prep ball in Pensacola, Fla.

WR Travis Labhart: Houston Texans
Labhart was a great story, a seldom-used walk-on who emerged into a scholarship player as a senior and eventually a starter, then wound up finishing second on the team with eight touchdown receptions. Now he gets the chance to pursue his future in his home state with the Texans.

RB Ben Malena: Dallas Cowboys
A running back who did more than just carry the ball, Malena brings his versatile skill set back to his home region, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (Malena played his high school ball nearby in Cedar Hill, Texas).

WR Derel Walker: Tennessee Titans
Another player who came a long way (receivers coach David Beaty raved of Walker's progress from his arrival to the end of his senior season, when he was a starter), Walker will get a chance to pursue the NFL with the Titans.
It was another successful first round of the NFL draft for the SEC, even if one star had to wait a lot longer than he expected.

By the time the night was over, Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick, Johnny Manziel was in Cleveland, and the SEC led all conferences with 11 picks in the first round.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesAs expected, Jadeveon Clowney was the top pick among the SEC's NFL draft prospects.
The first 10 picks were littered with SEC talent, as Clowney went first to the Houston Texans, Greg Robinson went second to the St. Louis Rams, Jake Matthews went sixth to the Atlanta Falcons, and Mike Evans went seventh to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The real drama of the night came with Manziel Watch. The former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner was at one point expected to go No. 1 overall. Then, there was no way he was getting out of the first five picks. Then, the Dallas Cowboys were thought to be the favorites to land him in the middle of the first round.

But Manziel tumbled all the way down to No. 22 when the Cleveland Browns traded with the Philadelphia Eagles to get college football's most exciting player. Many thought Cleveland would end up being the destination for Manziel, but dropping that far was a surprise. Something tells me Manziel will be pretty fired up to prove a lot of people wrong about passing on him.

There were a couple of other first-round surprises concerning the SEC, too. For starters, former Tennessee offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James went 19th to the Miami Dolphins after being projected as a second-rounder. Former Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who missed most of the 2013 season after suffering an ACL injury, was drafted by the New England Patriots with the 29th pick. And former Auburn defensive end Dee Ford was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 23 after being projected as a second-rounder.

Here's a complete look at how the SEC fared in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina -- Houston Texans

2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn -- St. Louis Rams

6. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M -- Atlanta Falcons

7. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers

12. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU -- New York Giants

17. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama -- Baltimore Ravens

19. Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee -- Miami Dolphins

21. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama -- Green Bay Packers

22. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M -- Cleveland Browns

23. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn -- Kansas City Chiefs

29. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida -- New England Patriots

SEC NFL draft primer

May, 8, 2014
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A year ago, the SEC produced 12 first-round NFL draft selections, which tied the record set by the ACC in 2006.

Most projections this year would seem to suggest that record is safe.

In his latest mock draft, ESPN's Todd McShay has 10 SEC players going in the first round, including four in the top seven picks. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is pegged as the No. 1 overall selection to the Houston Texans followed by Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson at No. 2 to the St. Louis Rams, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel at No. 4 to the Cleveland Browns, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews at No. 6 to the Atlanta Falcons and Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans at No. 7 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If all three of the Texas A&M players go in the top 10, it would mark the first time that's happened in the SEC since the 2005 draft when Auburn had three players go in the top 10 picks -- running back Ronnie Brown at No. 2, running back Carnell Williams at No. 5 and cornerback Carlos Rogers at No. 9.

Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is projected to go in the top half of the first round and Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley in the top 25 picks, which would make it six straight years that the Crimson Tide had produced a first-round pick. That's the longest active streak in the league. Clinton-Dix and Mosley would also make it 15 first-rounders for Alabama over the past five years.

If Clowney is drafted No. 1 overall, he would become the first defensive lineman from the SEC to be selected with the top pick. The previous six No. 1 overall picks from the SEC were all quarterbacks -- Auburn's Cam Newton in 2011, Georgia's Matthew Stafford in 2009, LSU's JaMarcus Russell in 2007, Ole Miss' Eli Manning in 2004, Kentucky's Tim Couch in 1999 and Tennessee's Peyton Manning in 1998.

The NFL invited 11 SEC players to attend the first-round festivities in New York City on Thursday night. In addition to Clowney, Robinson, Manziel, Matthews, Evans, Clinton-Dix and Mosley, also on that list were LSU receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews.

SEC lunchtime links

May, 5, 2014
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A look at what's happening around the SEC:
In their two seasons together at Texas A&M, Mike and Jake Matthews had distinct roles and personalities.

Jake was the cagey veteran, a quiet leader and productive offensive tackle who helped anchor one of the best units in the country. Mike was the up-and-coming center, the younger brother was a little bit louder and "rowdy," according to a teammate.

[+] EnlargeMike Matthews
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsAs his brother Jake heads off to the NFL, center Mike Matthews is preparing to lead what looks to be another strong line at Texas A&M.
Now that Jake Matthews is preparing for his professional career as a projected first round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, Mike Matthews continues to make significant strides as the Aggies' center, finding a comfort level as he enters his junior season.

"I think I'm just a lot more comfortable with this offense and the guys here," Mike Matthews said. "I just enjoy it, go out here every day, I'm not nervous. ... Now I feel comfortable with what I'm doing -- I feel confident."

He should. Having played only part-time as a freshman in 2012, the 2013 season was his first as a full-time starter. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin elected to have Mike Matthews serve as the backup center in his first season rather than redshirt behind then-senior Patrick Lewis so that Matthews would get a taste of SEC life: the travel, the opponents, the whole nine yards.

That helped prepare the younger Matthews for the starting role once Lewis graduated. While there were some bumps in the road in his sophomore season, he looks poised for a strong 2014 based on what Texas A&M offensive line coach B.J. Anderson saw in spring football.

"Mike has total control of the offense," Anderson said. "He's got as much freedom as any center I've ever coached. He's got it all. He can change whatever he wants to change and I trust him that much. Guys around him trust him."

For the Aggies, that's huge. In their uptempo, no-huddle offense, communication is critical, especially when it comes to protection calls for the offensive line. Anderson said Matthews can handle that responsibility well and on top of it, he continues to be a high-energy presence in all facets of the program.

"He's doing exactly what we need him to do," Anderson said. "He's really a leader for us up front. Great energy guy, outspoken guy, he brings the juice to practice, brings the juice to the game, brings the juice to the meetings. He's a big piece of that puzzle."

The 6-foot-2, 285-pound (depending on the day) Matthews is one of four returning starters on the Aggies' offensive line. Offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and guards Jarvis Harrison and Germain Ifedi join him to bring plenty of experience as the Aggies look to match or exceed their performance from a season ago.

"I think just approach every day like it's our last day," Matthews said. "Go out there and work hard, not take any plays off. I think if we do that, we're going to have a good chance to be just as good as last year."

While Anderson praises Matthews' physical strength, he continues his effort to keep his weight up. Matthews hovered around 283 pounds during spring practice.

"You can get him up, but then he'll go into [the weight room] with [strength and conditioning coach] Larry Jackson and Larry will run him and lift him and do that stuff, and next time he weighs in, he'll be down," Anderson said. "The key is don't get too focused on the weight because he's one of the strongest -- if not the strongest guys -- in my room. He plays with great leverage. We're going to keep working on the weight, but we're not chasing number. He's very effective at the weight he's at."

Anderson said Matthews' energy is contagious to those around him and it's helpful. Since he arrived on campus, Jake Matthews has noted Mike's constant chatter, but as he continues to develop into a leader for the Aggies, it's a safe bet that those around him are listening and enjoying it.

"It's a job, but at the same time, you don't want to come in here and hate it," Mike Matthews said. "You want to have fun and on the field, [so I'm] just being loud and making noise and getting guys to run up to the ball after every play and staying on guys. That way we can have high energy."
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. predicts nine players from the SEC will go in the first round in his latest mock draft Insider.

That would be down from the 12 first-round picks the SEC produced a year ago, which tied the record for first-rounders set by the ACC in 2006.

Kiper's No. 1 pick overall is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney going to the Houston Texans. Six of the first 10 picks in the draft will be SEC players, according to Kiper. He has Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson going No. 2, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel going No. 4, Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans going No. 7, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews going No. 9 and Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix going No. 10.

If all three Texas A&M players end up going in the top 10, it would be the first time that's happened in the SEC since the 2005 draft when Auburn produced three top-10 picks -- running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams and cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Kiper has a total of 17 SEC players going in his first two rounds. He doesn't have Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron going in the top two rounds, but does have LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger going No. 42 overall to the Tennessee Titans.
We're inching closer and closer to this year's NFL draft, and things are getting more and more interesting now that the NFL combine has come and gone.

The battle for that No. 1 pick will continue in the coming months, and ESPN NFL draft guru Todd McShay has already made a change at the top of his mock draft. In his recent Mock Draft 3.0, McShay now has UCF quarterback Blake Bortles going to the Houston Texans with the first pick. In his last mock draft, McShay had Jadeveon Clowney going to the Texans. Now, he has South Carolina's terrorizing defensive end going second to the St. Louis Rams. While Clowney delivered an impressive 40-yard dash time of 4.47 at the combine, he didn't go through all the drills in Indianapolis, causing some eyes to roll.

But McShay isn't knocking down Clowney, who is still the top-rated overall player on his draft board, because of the combine. No, Clowney moved down a spot because McShay believes Bortles is the top quarterback on the Texans' board, and they desperately need to get a top-flight signal-caller in this draft.

Clowney moving down to No. 2 isn't bad. He'll still make a ton of money, and my guess is he won't drop out of the top five come draft day. He might not have had as dazzling a 2013 season, like he did in his first two years in Columbia, S.C., but there's no doubting Clowney is a certified beast. He was NFL-ready before he took any snaps last season, and you better believe that any drive he might have lost going into his final year on campus will be resurrected by his future NFL coaching staff.

Passing on him early could be a big mistake.

As for the rest of the SEC, McShay has four more SEC players going within the first 10 picks, including a trio of Texas A&M Aggies -- quarterback Johnny Manziel (No. 4, Cleveland Browns), offensive tackle Jake Matthews (No. 9, Buffalo Bills) and wide receiver Mike Evans (No. 10, Detroit Lions).

In all, McShay has nine SEC players going in the first round.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Jake Matthews bypassed his first opportunity to enter the NFL draft for two reasons.

One was to move over to left tackle after spending the previous three years as a right tackle and show NFL personnel he was versatile enough to handle both. The other was to play on the same offensive line with his younger brother, Mike, Texas A&M’s starting center in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsJake Matthews felt that his pro day at Texas A&M on Wednesday went well.
By the end of the season and throughout the pre-draft process, Jake Matthews appears to be plenty happy with the decision he made to return to Aggieland for his senior year. On Wednesday, the latest in a long line of football-playing Matthews men took another step toward his future as a pro, headlining Texas A&M’s pro day at McFerrin Athletic Center.

Because he performed all drills last month at the NFL scouting combine, the 6-foot-5, 308-pound Matthews did not perform any of the same testing measures on Wednesday but performed several offensive line drills for scouts and NFL player personnel people.

“I thought I did well,” Matthews said afterward. “They put me through a bunch of different stuff and showcase what I'm capable of and that I'm able and I thought it went well."

After the pro day, he met with the St. Louis Rams and said he did some work on the whiteboard, among other things. The son of NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, Jake has numerous people in his own family to draw advice from in these types of situations.

"It helps a lot,” Matthews said. “It's kind of like I've been training for this process for my whole life. I think we calculated it earlier and I'm the seventh Matthews to go into the NFL. It's really humbling, especially being a part of this family and all the tradition with football that we have and such a great background: I'm truly blessed to be a part of it."

The opportunity to spend 11 out of 13 games starting at left tackle was something Matthews felt was valuable when it came to assessing his NFL future.

"It helped a lot, especially after playing three years of right tackle showing I was capable of going over and playing well on the left side,” Matthews said. “[It showed] how versatile I am and that I'm able and can do anything teams want me to do."

Most projections have Matthews going in the top 10 of the draft and possibly being the first offensive tackle drafted. He wasn’t the only potential first-round pick present at the pro day on Wednesday -- quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans were in attendance too -- but both were simply there to support their other teammates performing and did not work out for scouts or NFL personnel. Both are performing at their own pro day on March 27 at Texas A&M and performed at the NFL combine last month.

Representatives from all 32 NFL teams were present at Texas A&M’s pro day.

Other Aggies performed at the pro day included Nate Askew, defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, cornerback Tramain Jacobs, linebacker Steven Jenkins, receiver Travis Labhart, running back Ben Malena and receiver Derel Walker. Because of their rehabilitation from injuries, tight end Nehemiah Hicks and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. did not perform, and Ennis -- who is recovering from knee surgery -- performed only in the bench press.

Askew had perhaps the most impressive day among Aggies outside the “big three” projected first-rounders. The linebacker, who began his Texas A&M career as a receiver, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds and recorded a 38-inch vertical while measuring 6-foot-3 and weighing 241 pounds.

Malena, the Aggies’ leading running back the last two seasons, clocked 4.54 seconds in the 40 while checking in at 5-8 and 194 pounds. He also had the second-most repetitions in the bench press, lifting 225 pounds a total of 22 times.

Texas A&M pro day on tap

March, 5, 2014
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Scouts and player personnel people from across the NFL will descend on Aggieland today when Texas A&M hosts its annual pro day at 9:30 a.m., one of two pro days on deck for the Aggies this month.

The Aggies’ biggest names are all expected to be present at the McFerrin Athletic Center -- quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews -- though Manziel and Evans won’t be working out for scouts until March 27.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin is expecting all NFL teams to be represented at Texas A&M’s pro day, which will feature a dozen players.

“Ever since we’ve been here every team shows up, with a couple of different representatives,” Sumlin said. “We had a couple guys who did real well at the combine. Obviously, Mike was here last week and was real pleased with how he did things. I talked to Johnny [on Sunday] night and he’ll be back in town. I think it’s big when you have those types of marquee players [like them] and Jake. It creates opportunities for other players who weren’t at the combine and I think that’s a big deal.”

Other Aggies who will be present and are expected to work out are linebacker Nate Askew, defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, tight end Nehemiah Hicks, defensive back Toney Hurd Jr., cornerback Tramain Jacobs, linebacker Steven Jenkins, receiver Travis Labhart, running back Ben Malena and receiver Derel Walker.

Evans, Manziel and Matthews are all projected first-round picks and the fact that their presence brings plenty of NFL personnel is a positive, Sumlin said. The same has happened in the past with previous high draft picks who came out of Texas A&M.

“I forget how many guys we got that got into [NFL training] camp but it was a large number of guys that at least got an opportunity that maybe they wouldn’t have had if there’s not a Luke Joeckel here, if there’s not those types of guys,” Sumlin said. “It attracted a lot of guys and just about all of those guys got in camp which is, after that, that’s about all you can ask. Can they all make it? No. But it gave them an opportunity and I think that’s the bigger picture than just the three guys that went to the combine.”

Manziel did almost everything except throw at the NFL scouting combine, running a 4.68-second 40-yard dash and a 4.03-second 20-yard shuttle. He had a 31 inch vertical jump, his height was measured at 5-foot-11 inches and his weight 207 pounds.

Evans measured at 6-5, 231 and ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash and recorded a 37-inch vertical jump. Matthews measured at 6-5, 308, had a 30 inch vertical and performed the three-cone drill in 7.34 seconds.

The pro day begins at 9:30 a.m. and is closed to the public.

2014 NFL Mock Drafts 2.0

February, 6, 2014
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Now that the NFL season is officially over and national signing day has come to an end, we're turning our attention more and more to May's NFL draft.

To help, ESPN draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have unveiled there updated mock drafts. They both have a Mock Draft 2.0 and they both have their own strong opinions, of course.

The SEC is once again well represented by both, but Kiper and McShay differ on who should go No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans. Kiper has former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel going to the Texans, while McShay has former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney going first. Kiper has Clowney going third to the Jacksonville Jaguars and McShay has Manziel dropping to fifth to the Oakland Raiders.

Score for the SEC, regardless.

As for the rest of the first round, Kiper has 12 former SEC standouts going within the first 32 picks. McShay has 10 going in the first round.

Click here Insider to see the rest of Kiper's Mock Draft 2.0 and click here Insider to see the rest of McShay's Mock Draft 2.0.

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 9

January, 29, 2014
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The next player in our countdown looks like a potential top-10 pick in the first round of May's NFL draft and a player who has famous bloodlines, especially among offensive linemen.

[+] EnlargeJake Matthews
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJake Matthews anchored the Texas A&M offensive line as a senior and will be one of the top selections in the NFL draft.
No. 9: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

2013 summary: Matthews earned himself a spot at the finalists' table for the Outland Trophy with his play this season and was a first-team All-American. He moved from right tackle to left tackle and was part of a unit that helped Texas A&M lead the SEC in scoring offense (44.2 points per game) and total offense (538.4 yards per game). Matthews excelled in pass protection and was equally effective as a run blocker.

Most recent ranking: Ranked No. 6 in the 2013 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Matthews: The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Matthews is what coach Kevin Sumlin liked to call a "low-maintenance great player." The son of Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews, Jake is a worker and film junkie who consistently performed at a high level. He wasn't perfect -- there were times he was beaten, as will happen when facing the elite defensive linemen in the SEC -- but he anchored a line that offered quarterback Johnny Manziel top-notch pass protection and helped open running lanes for a quartet of talented running backs. He would have been a first-round pick in last year's draft but by returning for his senior season and moving to left tackle, Matthews likely played his way into the top 10 of the draft and perhaps the top five.

The rundown:
No. 10: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia, Sr.
No. 11: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn, So.
No. 12: Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU, So.
No. 13: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn, Sr.
No. 14: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia, So.
No. 15: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina, Jr.
No. 16: Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU, Jr.
No. 17: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri, Jr.
No. 18: T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama, So.
No. 19: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU, Jr.
No. 20: Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss, Jr.
No. 21: Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn, Jr.
No. 22: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama, Jr.
No. 23: Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State, Sr.
No. 24: Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt, Sr.
No. 25: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Jr.

2013 SEC Super Seniors

January, 22, 2014
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For the fifth consecutive season, we pay homage to the top seniors in the SEC.

We’ve selected the best 12 seniors in the league, period, and not one senior on each team. These guys all rose above and beyond in terms of on-the-field production, leadership and overall impact on their teams.

There were a lot of tough calls, and this senior class ranks up there with any we've seen in this league. What that means is that several deserving players were left off. We looked hard at how players fared against league competition, their consistency and whether or not they were able to make it through the whole season.

Here’s introducing our 2013 SEC Super Seniors. They’re listed in alphabetical order:

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
AP Photo/Dave MartinChris Davis made one of the most memorable plays in college football history.
Chris Davis, CB/RS, Auburn: Davis' kick-six to beat Alabama was the play of the year in college football, maybe the play of the last quarter-century. But that's what he did -- make plays. Davis led the league in punt return average (18.7 yards), tied for the league lead in pass breakups (15) and was second on Auburn's team with 74 tackles. It goes without saying that he was one of the key figures in the Tigers' improbable run to the VIZIO BCS National Championship game.

Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: Much like Davis, Ford was one of the driving forces in the Tigers' rise from winless in the SEC in 2012 to playing for the national championship this season. Ford finished second in the league with 10.5 sacks, including two against Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, and also tied for second in the league with 14.5 tackles for loss. He was the heartbeat of an Auburn defensive line that was clearly the strength of that defense.

E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri: Even though Gaines might have been overshadowed by some of the other marquee cornerbacks in the SEC to start the season, he demonstrated on the field that he didn't take a back seat to anybody. Gaines led SEC cornerbacks with 75 tackles and tied for second in the league with five interceptions. He was the essence of a shutdown cornerback, as evidenced by his work on Texas A&M star receiver Mike Evans, who had a season-low eight receiving yards, in the Tigers' 28-21 victory over the Aggies.

Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State: If you were to look up road-grader in the football dictionary, you'd almost certainly find a picture of the 6-4, 340-pound Jackson. One of the top interior offensive linemen in college football, Jackson was a rock in the middle of that Mississippi State offensive line. When the Bulldogs needed tough yards and/or key yards, they almost always ran behind big No. 61. Jackson started in all 52 games of his college career at left guard.

Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt: Go back over the last five or six years and count the quality defensive backs to come out of Vanderbilt's program. Ladler would be right up there near the top, and he saved the best for last with a tremendous senior season. He was the only player in the country (in the FBS ranks) with at least five interceptions and five forced fumbles and finished second among SEC defensive backs with 91 tackles.

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: One of the best recruits the Aggies picked up last year was when Matthews decided to return for his senior season. He moved from right to left tackle and had an All-American senior season as Texas A&M led the SEC in scoring offense (44.2 points) and total offense (538.4 yards). Matthews excelled in pass protection, but was equally effective as a run-blocker.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiVanderbilt's Jordan Matthews made an SEC-record 112 receptions in the 2013 season.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: Matthews leaves quite a legacy at Vanderbilt. Not only was he one of the centerpieces of a Vanderbilt team that won nine games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in history, but he set a slew of SEC records. His 112 catches this season were the most ever by an SEC player, and he's also the league's career leader in catches (262) and receiving yards (3,759).

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: McCarron fell short this season of securing his third consecutive national championship ring as a starting QB, but he'll still go down as one of the winningest quarterbacks in SEC history. The 2013 Heisman Trophy runner-up, McCarron was Mr. Clutch for the Crimson Tide and did some of his best work on the biggest stages. He was second in the SEC this season with 28 touchdown passes and third in passing efficiency.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Mosley blossomed into the ultimate do-it-all linebacker for the Crimson Tide and became the first player under Nick Saban at Alabama to record 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. But as good a tackler as Mosley was, he was just as good in coverage, blitzing the quarterback and chasing sideline to sideline. And as the "quarterback" of that defense, he was the guy who made the checks, got everybody lined up and helped clean up mistakes.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: Sadly, Murray's senior season was cut short when he tore his ACL against Kentucky. He'd been a warrior all season for the Bulldogs despite losing just about all of the playmakers around him to injury. Murray was brilliant in some of Georgia's biggest games, including victories over LSU and South Carolina and even the heartbreaking loss to Auburn. He finished second in the SEC in total offense (296.5 yards per game) and leaves as the SEC's all-time leader in passing yards (13,155) and touchdown passes (121).

Michael Sam, DE, Missouri: Always a solid contributor for the Tigers, Sam emerged as a senior as one of the top big-play defenders in the SEC. He earned first-team All-American honors and led the league in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19). His late sack and forced fumble in the AT&T Cotton Bowl resulted in a touchdown and was the decisive blow in Missouri's 41-31 victory over Oklahoma State.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: Arguably the most underrated player in college football, Shaw engineered the third consecutive 11-win season for the Gamecocks and battled through an assortment of painful injuries to have his best season yet. He finished with 24 touchdown passes and only one interception and accounted for 31 total touchdowns. His gutsy performance off the bench in the comeback win over Missouri on the road was one of the performances of the year in the SEC.

TAMU to-do list: Solidify the OTs

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
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Editor's note: This is Part I in a weeklong series looking at the five most pressing concerns Texas A&M faces this offseason.

While quarterback Johnny Manziel's NFL draft announcement was perhaps the most anticipated and newsworthy, the biggest draft-related decision for Texas A&M might have come from one of Manziel's protectors, offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi.

When Ogbuehi, a junior, announced that he is returning to Aggieland for his senior season, it was met with relief from many Aggies because of what it means for the immediate future. Manziel might have owned the highlight reels but the protection he received from his offensive line contributed significantly to the Aggies' overall offensive success in recent seasons.

[+] EnlargeCedric Ogbuehi
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherWith Cedric Ogbuehi returning for his senior season, Texas A&M will return four of five starters on the O-line.
Texas A&M has been blessed with elite offensive tackles in recent years. Luke Joeckel left school a year early after winning the Outland Trophy as a junior and was chosen second overall in the 2013 NFL draft. Jake Matthews, who spent the first portion of his career at right tackle before moving to left tackle for his senior season, graduated and is projected by many to be the first offensive tackle chosen in the upcoming 2014 NFL draft, and perhaps a top-five pick overall.

Ogbuehi, who said he received a first-round grade from the NFL draft advisory board, decided to come back and perhaps make himself the next Aggies tackle to be chosen high in the first round of the draft in 2015.

That brings us to one of the Aggies' key tasks this offseason -- solidify those two offensive tackle spots for the new quarterback.

With Joeckel and Matthews, then Matthews and Ogbuehi serving as bookends, the Aggies have been fortunate to be able to possess great players at the two offensive tackle positions, critical to protecting your quarterback.

Now that Matthews is moving on, the Aggies will re-tool the tackles in hopes of finding the right mix. Where Ogbuehi lines up will be a big part of that.

It seems likely that Ogbuehi follows the plan Matthews employed, which is switching from right tackle to left tackle for his senior year. Earlier this season, Ogbuehi mentioned a desire to make that switch, telling 12th Man Magazine, "I plan to come back next season and make the move to left tackle for my senior year [and] go as high as possible [in the draft]."

Should that be the case, someone will have to fill Ogbuehi's previous spot at right tackle. Could it be one of the Aggies' other returning starters on the line, such as left guard Jarvis Harrison (who started twice at left tackle when Ogbuehi missed two games with a groin injury and Matthews flipped back to the right side briefly)? Is Joseph Cheek, who has been a reserve tackle, ready to move into the starting lineup? Or could it be one of the highly regarded recruits joining the Aggies from the 2014 recruiting class, such as junior college prospects Jermaine Eluemunor or Avery Gennesy?

Those are the questions on the minds of head coach Kevin Sumlin, offensive line coach B.J. Anderson and the rest of the A&M offensive staff.

Here's the good news for the Aggies: They return four starters along the offensive line as well as a reserve (Garrett Gramling) who logged a pair of starts. They don't appear to be hurting for depth; now the question becomes maintaining the high standard that has been set.
Earlier, we looked at ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.'s Mock Draft 1.0, which was full of SEC talent. Now, it's time to check out where Kiper has SEC players listed in his updated NFL draft Big Board.

As you can imagine, his list of the Top 25 players eligible for this year's draft is littered with SEC names. He has 10 SEC players going in the first round of the NFL draft and has eight SEC players ranked on his updated Big Board.

The top draft prospect on his list is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who he has projected to go third overall in the draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Clowney's production dipped after a tremendous sophomore season, but there's no denying that he's NFL-ready when it comes to his overall talent. There's a reason he was constantly double-teamed all season and why offensive coordinators have to scheme specifically for him every time he's on the field. His playing shape needs to improve, but that will certainly come with the extra attention he'll surely get from a pro training staff.

Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews and Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson come in at No. 3 and No. 4 on Kiper's list, as well.

Here's where Kiper has all eight SEC players on his Big Board:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

4. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

11. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

13. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama

15. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

21. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

23. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
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

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