Top Southern Draft Prospects, Part I
By David England
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Players from schools in the South should make up a huge portion of the players selected in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft.
As we continue to inch closer to the 2013 NFL Draft, here is part one of a look at the top 20 prospects from the ACC and SEC in the current class.
20. Johnthan Banks, DB, Mississippi State
Banks has the ability to become a good cover corner, and with the right amount of coaching, he could develop into an elite player at the next level. With his great backpedal and burst, he can play any receiver. He will need to be a zone corner, as he struggles in bump and run. Banks would fit very well in a defensive system like Mike Nolan's in Atlanta. With a solid combine, he could sneak into the first round.
19. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
If there is a school that would be ranked No. 1 in producing prospects on defense it would be LSU. We could see up to three LSU defensive players drafted in the top 20 in this draft. Montgomery comes in at No. 19 on my list, and with exceptional raw talent and quickness to round out the arch on an edge rush, he has the chance to be another Jason Pierre Paul type player. The key for Montgomery will be his versatility to play in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, which is not easy to find. You know what you are getting with a Les Miles coached player, and Montgomery should be no exception.
18. De'Andre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Hopkins barely squeaked in my top 20 list, but with enough dedication at the next level, Hopkins could be a very good receiver for a long time. He has excellent hands and rarely ever drops a pass. In his final season at Clemson, he showed up in a big way and out-shined who most consider the most explosive receiver in the ACC in Sammy Watkins. Hopkins took his abilities to another level in his junior season and showed us why he was such a highly touted recruit coming out of high school. His short burst is incredible and he can fight off cornerbacks with his hands. The weakness with Hopkins is his size. At 6'1", he could struggle against taller cornerbacks.
17. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
The world of cornerbacks is beginning to change in the NFL and so are scout's thoughts on who should be taken where. The mold just three years ago was 5'11' 185-190 pounds with phenomenal speed and burst off the line. As the passing game has evolved in the NFL, the forethought is now we need a bigger, stronger corner to hang with the talent at the NFL level at wide out. Xavier Rhodes fits into that mold. Standing at 6'2" and 215 pounds, his physicality with receivers makes him a top tier prospect at the corner position. Rhodes has the speed and backpedaling ability to stay with the speed of an NFL receiver due to his re-routing skills. The only con with Rhodes is that he will struggle to play zone defense where he must line up at least five yards off a receiver. Rhodes should be drafted middle to late first round.
16. Kevin Minter, LB, LSU
There are not many inside linebackers taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, as talented players will similar skill sets can be found in the later rounds of the draft, but Kevin Minter stands out above any inside linebacker in this year's draft class. There is no question that Minter has a lot of talent. He plays the run extremely well and is very instinctive at his position. Minter should have a very easy time slowing the momentum of a lineman due to his incredible strength. The other plus to Minter is his ability to play pass coverage, which can be pivotal to inside linebackers in today's game. Minter's weakness is his speed, as he cannot coverage a lot of ground in a short period of time and can be beat to the sideline. Expect Minter to be drafted somewhere in the middle of the first round.
15. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Another talented running back comes from Tuscaloosa; no surprise there. Filling the shoes of the former running backs from Alabama is no easy task, as under Nick Saban's regime, we have seen Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson go in the first round of the draft. There is not much that differs between the style of play of a Mark Ingram or Eddie Lacy. The issue with Lacy is there is not a lot of film on him, nor does he have the track record to prove if he can become a top ten back in the league. What we do know for certain is that Lacy has a work ethic that is unmatched in college football and his mix of balance and power makes him a rare specimen in the draft.
14. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The offensive class of Alabama this season could be one of the deepest in the history of the NFL. We begin the list with a talented offensive tackle that has the chance to turn into an elite right tackle at the next level. With long arms and incredible strength, Fluker has the makings of a star player in the NFL. The con for Fluker is his footwork. He will more than likely never play left tackle in the NFL, which drops his stock come April. But with a solid performance at the combine, Fluker could have scouts drooling over his natural ability.
13. John Jenkins, DL, Georgia
Mr. Jenkins is very unique in that his talent level is very easy to spot on film. Think of a Jonathan Babineaux for the Atlanta Falcons. The 6 foot-plus, 300 pound-plus
Jenkins can stuff the run lanes with the best of them in college and proved it on film several times. The reason Jenkins falls to No. 13 is off the field issues and lack of effort on some plays. If Jenkins would give 100% throughout the game, he would be in the top 10. As it stands, Jenkins can disappear in games and not show up for quarters at a time. With a coach who preaches discipline and effort, Jenkins could evolve into a very talented player.
12. Jonathan Cooper, OL, UNC
UNC has produced some serious talent over the years and it has shown in the NFL Draft. The atmosphere in Chapel Hill is no longer just basketball. Football is beginning to show signs of life, and Jonathan Cooper is the perfect example of why. Cooper has the heart and ability to play with some of the best in the NFL. With incredible burst, knee bend, and phone booth quickness, all the tools are there for a talented inside offensive lineman. There are two things that Cooper lacks, though. One is strength the other is size. You cannot improve size by coaching, but with the effort we have seen from Cooper on film, size should not be a major issue. Get Cooper in an NFL weight room and in 2-3 years you could have an All-Pro guard on your hands.
11. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
As you can tell early on in the list, Mark Richt recruited a very nice crop of talent four years ago and it shows in the draft rankings this season. When it comes to raw talent, Ogletree has it all: speed, footwork, IQ, and instincts. We have seen in years past that players from Athens tend to transition well at the next level. The bad news on Ogletree is his off the field issues. In just the last two weeks, he was charged with a DUI. If his background checks out clean, Ogletree could be drafted in the 10-15 range.