- Steve Muench, Scouts Inc.
My ESPN.com colleague Chris Low broke down the numbers on the SEC's best defenses earlier today on the SEC blog, and Alabama, Florida and South Carolina figure prominently in the debate.
With that in mind, here's a look at the top two draft-eligible NFL prospects from each of those three defenses, along with the other eligible players from each unit who earn draftable grades at this point.
Draft-eligible non-seniors are noted with an asterisk.
CB Dee Milliner* (Grade: 93)
Milliner turned heads with a strong performance against a Michigan team that tried to pick on him early in the season opener, and his instincts are arguably his greatest strength.
His ability to diagnose routes and anticipate breaks translates into him getting earlier breaks on the ball than most corners when he lines up in off coverage. And while Milliner (6-foot-0¾, 197 pounds) hasn't had to make tough catches on either of his picks this year, much of that is because of sound positioning.
He also has the arm length, fluid hips and top-end speed to develop into an effective press corner, and all that makes him a potential first-rounder.
DT Jesse Williams (85)
Williams has the size, initial quickness and upper-body strength to quickly develop into a starting nose tackle in the NFL. Ole Miss found that out the hard way two weeks ago when the Rebels tried to run at Williams with the ball at the 1-yard line early in the second quarter. Williams (6-3.5, 320) stayed low and clogged up the middle on both first and second down, forcing the Rebels to run off-tackle on third down.
He hasn't recorded a sack this year, but Williams is a disruptive pass-rusher who can move quarterbacks off the spot and make it tough for them to step up when they sense pressure off the edge. He also does a nice job of getting his hands up in passing windows. He currently carries a mid-second-round grade.
ILB Nico Johnson (79; 6-2, 245)
S Robert Lester (69; 6-1.5, 215)
DE Quinton Dial (36; 6-5 3/8, 307)
S Matt Elam* (86)
Elam's tape from last week's win over LSU is nothing short of impressive. Chasing down Tigers WR Odell Beckham after a 56-yard gain and ripping the ball out of Beckham's hands stands out as one of the biggest plays of the year so far for the Gators.
Elam also set the tone early against LSU when he cut down RB Spencer Ware (57) after a 1-yard gain on the first drive of the game. It was an impressive hit despite the fact that a personal foul on a teammate gave LSU a first down on the play.
Elam (5-10, 207) doesn't have great size, but he closes in a flash and doesn't gear down before he makes contact. He also did a good job covering punts and he should make an immediate impact on special teams at the next level, and that versatility is part of the reason he's in the second-round mix.
DE/DT Shariff Floyd* (82)
Floyd (6-3, 298) doesn't have great size for a defensive tackle and he plays too high at times, so it's not surprising that LSU had some success washing him down the line of scrimmage and double-teaming him when he lined up on the inside against the Tigers.
On the other hand, Floyd also used his quick hands to get off blocks and his above-average lateral mobility to fall back into plays after giving ground initially. He's a better fit at defensive end and has the tools to quickly develop into a starter for a base three-man front at the next level. Floyd uses his long arms to set the edge against the run and has the power to walk offensive tackles back to the quarterback when he lines up at end.
OLB Jelani Jenkins* (70; 6-0, 230)
ILB Jonathan Bostic (64; 6-0 3/4, 245)
S DeVonte Holloman (70)
Holloman (6-2, 235) is a linebacker/safety hybrid who doesn't have ideal cover skills for a safety and is undersized for an outside linebacker prospect. However, he has enough range to play safety in a zone-heavy defense like the one the New England Patriots run, and the range to play outside linebacker for a team that favors speed over size like the Philadelphia Eagles do.
Holloman did a nice job of setting the edge and staying home against Georgia's run game last week, and also did a nice job tracking a tipped pass and coming up with a tough interception early in the first quarter. He's definitely in the Day 2 conversation right now.
S D.J. Swearinger (61)
Swearinger (5-11, 210) has just an average blend of height, weight and top-end speed, but he's a tough run-stopper for his size and has the balance and quickness to hold up in underneath coverage. The SEC suspended him for one game for a hit against UAB and he has to be careful about launching into receivers, but there's a lot to like about his physical style of play and the suspension doesn't appear to have affected his aggressiveness.
Swearinger flew upfield on runs and screens against the Bulldogs, and continued to show a willingness to sacrifice his body to make the play. He currently sits in the early Day 3 area.
DE Devin Taylor (55; 6-6, 265)
C T.J. Johnson (31; 6-5, 315)
Steve Muench looks at three defensive tackles outside the first round who have the skills to contribute at the next level.