Quick­est route into NFL draft goes through SEC

The Standard Journal - - Sports -

MONT­GOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The South­east­ern Con­fer­ence has be­come the most pop­u­lar jump­ing-off point for un­der­class­men look­ing for a head start on NFL ca­reers, cre­at­ing more spots to fill around the league with pre­sea­son camps ap­proach­ing.

No league has had nearly as many play­ers leav­ing early to pur­sue NFL ca­reers over the past eight years, and LSU has had the most of any pro­gram two years run­ning.

“We do lead col­lege foot­ball in three-and­outs,” Tigers coach Les Miles said.

It’s not a dis­tinc­tion coaches par­tic­u­larly covet — ex­cept per­haps to juice the sales pitch to teenage re­cruits al­ready dream­ing of their first NFL pay­check.

It also cre­ates some po­ten­tial headaches for those who have — some­times un­ex­pect­edly — more job open­ings lead­ing into Au­gust, not that coaches around the coun­try have much sym­pa­thy.

LSU has lost 18 un­der­class­men to the draft over the past two years. Since the league’s ti­tle run be­gan in 2007, the SEC has had nearly as many early de­par­tures drafted (109) as the next two leagues com­bined. The Pa­cific-12 (57) and At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence (54) rank sec­ond and third, ac­cord­ing to re­search by STATs, Inc.

The 49 first- round se­lec­tions among un­der­class­men dur­ing that span tops the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten com­bined (44).

The ex­o­dus can af­fect the qual­ity of play at cer­tain po­si­tions even with a new wave of four- and five-star re­cruits com­ing in an­nu­ally around the SEC, which had its sev­enyear run of pro­duc­ing BCS cham­pi­ons halted by Florida State in Jan­uary.

Alabama had three ju­nior corner­backs picked in the first round from 2010-2013, and a po­si­tion of strength be­came a weak link last sea­son with sev­eral young play­ers thrust into big roles.

“I think we re­cruit a lot of good play­ers in this league,” said Crim­son Tide coach Nick Sa­ban, who played 14 fresh­men last sea­son. “What it does for me, and what it does for our team, I guess is what I should say, is the play­ers turn over more quickly so you play more play­ers.

“It’s not that those play­ers aren’t good play­ers, but in some cases they might be play­ing a lit­tle bit be­fore they’re ready to play.”

Alabama will have five-star fresh­men Tony Brown and Mar­lon Humphrey vy­ing for play­ing time at cor­ner­back when camp starts.

The SEC has had 60 un­der­class­men en­ter the draft the past two years, count­ing play­ers who grad­u­ated but had eli­gi­bil­ity re­main­ing. Not all have been hot com­modi­ties.

The lat­est group had six ju­niors picked in the first round and nine go un­drafted, nearly onethird of the 28 SEC play­ers who de­clared for the draft.

For­mer LSU and NFL de­fen­sive line­man Mar­cus Spears said the play­ers leav­ing cre­ates a big chal­lenge in hav­ing enough depth to over­come in­juries and other is­sues, and forces coaches like Miles to plan ahead in re­cruit­ing.

“You have to be able to look out maybe a year or two years in ad­vance and kind of start hon­ing in on those guys that can come in and re­place them and play right away,” said Spears, now an an­a­lyst for the SEC Net­work. “When you lose those guys, it is a huge void, es­pe­cially those un­der­class­men that ap­ply for the draft. Hav­ing guys in the sta­ble is very im­por­tant.”

The good news for new­com­ers: There are plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for play­ing time, partly be­cause of play­ers not stick­ing around for se­nior sea­sons. Here are a few: — Texas A&M quar­ter­back Kyle Allen is com­pet­ing to re­place 2012 Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner Johnny Manziel.

— LSU tail­back Leonard Four­nette, con­sid­ered the na­tion’s toprated prospect, should carve out a role for him­self af­ter Jeremy Hill and Al­fred Blue both left with eli­gi­bil­ity re­main­ing.

— Alabama’s Cam Robin­son is the ap­par­ent front- run­ner to re­place left tackle Cyrus Kouand­jio.

Some prospects are weigh­ing their ca­reer op­tions long be­fore they ar­rive on cam­pus.

“I’ve had three (prospects), and these guys are like 16 years old, they’re say­ing, ‘If I go out and don’t make it, you’re go­ing to put me back on schol­ar­ship if I want to come back, right?’” Sa­ban said. “I’m say­ing this guy just got his driver’s li­cense and he’s got this fig­ured out al­ready. ... But still they’ve re­ally min­i­mized in some cases their chances of be­ing suc­cess­ful, hav­ing a ca­reer as a foot­ball player.”

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