NFL Draft News & Analysis

Top 10 2022 NFL Draft prospects in the SEC

Cincinnati Bearcats tight end Josh Whyle (81) looks back as Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) defends in the fourth quarter during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. The Georgia Bulldogs won, 24-21. Georgia Bulldogs Vs Cincinnati Bearcats Chick Fil A Peach Bowl 2020 Jan 1 2021

Anyone who believes the SEC is overrated needs to look no further than the conference's NFL draft history. The NFL has no vested interest in one school or the other yet still utilizes more draft capital on SEC players than any other college football conference in America.

The 2022 class is shaping up to be no different. While we are going only 10 players deep per conference, the SEC still had a ridiculous 10 other players on PFF’s top 50 who didn’t make the cut for this list. So, when you see six SEC teams in the top 20 of the preseason AP poll, know it’s for good reason.

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1. CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU (Junior)

Hopefully you've heard of Stingley by now. He was the highest-graded cornerback in the country in 2019 as a true freshman. We have seen that happen at only one other position in PFF’s seven years of college grading, and it was from Florida State safety Derwin James in 2015.

At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Stingley not only has ideal size for the position, but he may very well be the best athlete at the position in recent memory. He ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash and posted a 42-inch vertical in high school. Now, you don’t necessarily have to believe the 40 time — even though the tape backs it up wholesale — but I’m not sure how you’d fake or cheat on a vertical jump like that. Stingley is an uber athlete who is so physically dominant that LSU is reportedly going to give him snaps at wide receiver this fall. To say we’re excited to see that would be an understatement.

2. EDGE DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M (Junior)

Leal is a jumbo defensive end at 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds who will be coveted for his inside-outside versatility at the next level. For Texas A&M, though, he’s taken 70.8% of his career snaps outside the tackles. Even at that size, Leal possesses a first step that challenges tackles to the exterior, leaving him open to counter with spins and bull rushes. Last season, he took a massive step forward down the stretch to finish with 31 pressures in his final eight games.

Leal’s 88.3 overall grade was the fourth highest of any starting Power Five edge rusher last season and far and away the highest of any true sophomore. Expect another big jump from him in 2021.

3. OT Evan Neal, Alabama (Junior)

True sophomores aren’t supposed to bully the opposition the way Neal did last season. His 12 big-time blocks were the fourth most of any tackle in the country. At his size, though, that should probably be expected. Neal is listed at a burly 6-foot-7 and 360 pounds. All he has to do is lean on college defenders to make them move.

What’s less expected is how he fared in pass protection at that size. Neal allowed only nine pressures last season at right tackle and just 12 as a true freshman at left guard. In 2021, he’ll kick over to the left side to replace Alex Leatherwood at tackle. Don’t be surprised if his stinginess in pass protection continues despite another position change.

4. CB Kaiir Elam, Florida (Junior)

Elam may not “wow” athletically the way LSU's Derek Stingley Jr. does, but he’s a blue-chip type of cornerback prospect in his own right. Elam has seen playing time since his true freshman season in 2019 when he earned an 89.8 coverage grade on 207 coverage snaps. For an encore in 2020, Elam maintained that level of play in a full-time role. He allowed only 23 catches on 54 targets for just 326 yards. He coupled that with two picks and nine pass-breakups in 12 games despite SEC offenses exploding.

Elam has outstanding length for the position that continually disrupts at the catch point. He can make plays from behind opposing receivers with relative ease.

He’s a true outside corner who will be one of the most battle-tested players in the country by the time he declares. There’s not much more we need to see from Elam, aside from continuous high-level play, for him to be a top pick.

5. EDGE Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina (Senior)

Enagbare is the type of physical specimen on the edge that every NFL defense could use in their schemes. Being long, explosive and violent has Enagbare oozing with the kind of skill set NFL teams covet on the line.

He still made the right decision in returning for his senior season. Enagbare was more “bull in a china shop” than “polished pass rusher” last season. The fact that he still earned an 89.2 pass-rushing grade should tell you all he brings to the table physically. We could see that grade shoot into the stratosphere in 2021 with more technical consistency.

6. S Jordan Battle, Alabama (Junior)

Safeties must deal with more eye candy in college football nowadays than at any other point in football history. The combination of pre-snap motions, play-action passes and spread formations routinely puts those players on islands. Finding a safety who can not only process all of that but also bring a prototypical physical skill set is near impossible. Battle, however, possesses all of those attributes.

The Alabama safety can seamlessly go from deep middle to deep half to the slot to the box. He can take on blocks and even tackle in space. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, he boasts the ideal size to do whatever asked at the NFL level, and we’ve already seen him do it at a high level in college. Battle earned a 79.1 run-defense grade last season and an 81.5 coverage grade while playing at least 180 snaps in the slot, box and deep.

7. EDGE Adam Anderson, Georgia (Senior)

Anderson’s weight and best position remain to be seen. What’s clear, though, is that the former five-star recruit brings a freaky physical skill set to the table. On the same defensive line with second-rounder Azeez Ojulari last season, it was Anderson who was the more dominant down-to-down rusher. In fact, his 32.1% pass-rush win rate was 3.5 percentage points better than the next closest edge rusher in the country.

Listed at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Anderson is firmly a tweener, with head coach Kirby Smart even going so far as to say he’ll get more run as an off-ball linebacker this year. Any way to simply get the talented Anderson on the field is crucial, as we’ve seen him for only 337 snaps across three years.

8. OT Kenyon Green, Texas A&M (Junior)

Green is likely the biggest projection of any player on this list. In his two seasons as a starter (right guard in 2019 and left guard in 2020), Green has earned overall grades of 62.4 and 75.0. While that’s a solid start to any college career, it doesn’t scream elite prospect. The grades, however, don’t come close to telling the whole story. I feel comfortable saying that Green — who will kick out to left tackle this fall — is the single most athletic tackle in the country. The way he moves at 325 pounds shouldn’t be possible.

It led to some absolutely jaw-dropping blocks on tape in both the run game and in pass protection. He’s capable of things that other tackles simply aren’t, which is something that is difficult to account for in a 0-100 grade. While we’d obviously like to see more consistency from him in pass protection, there’s no shame in not being a finished product at this point in his college career. His tools should play even better outside at tackle than they did at guard. Green could very well end up much higher on this ranking after his 2021 season.

9. LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia (Junior)

The battle between Dean and Alabama’s Christian Harris for LB1 in the 2022 class is one that should rage throughout the SEC season and maybe even into the playoffs. Right now, we’ll give the slight edge to the compact and explosive Dean. The biggest differentiator between the two is a willingness to crank it up to full speed. You see it from Dean again and again on tape. When he reads something, he’s going 100 miles per hour until he makes the play.

The 6-foot, 220-pounder could still stand to make more plays in coverage after he failed to notch a single pick or pass breakup in 2020. As it stands, he’s a bit of a poor man’s Devin Bush. Dean has a chance to make his way into that kind of draft standing (10th overall pick in 2019) with a big 2021 campaign.

10. WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas (Junior)

Burks gets the slight edge as the top SEC receiver prospect ahead of Alabama’s John Metchie III and Georgia’s George Pickens. The tiebreaker is sheer physical tools. Burks is a brutish 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and can still run away from defensive backs at that size.

Of course, that size is his biggest selling point. He’s a demon at the catch point and can make plays easily in traffic. It’s why Burks has so far lined up from the slot on 82.4% of his routes in his career. He does have the skill set to win on the outside, and getting more run there would be big for his draft stock.

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