SEC Saturday: A.J. Brown Stepping Up, But WR1?

Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

SEC Saturday time! Lot of close games to break down....wait a minute...I'm being told that's a lie...there was one actual close game that no one watched? Got it.

BUT, there were a ton of prospect performances worth reviewing, including two pass-catchers posting big-time performances, the top two tackles in the conference having very different days and a safety that could be a riser, but is still maddening to evaluate. All that and more in this week's SEC Saturday!

A.J. Brown gonna be a tough eval

It's clear that even with D.K. Metcalf out of the lineup with injury, Ole Miss is going to keep Brown in the slot and ask Braylon Sanders to replace Metcalf on the outside. Brown caught 10 balls for 155 yards and a touchdown against Auburn, looking smooth on his routes and crafty after the catch.

It's become apparent what Brown does well on a football field, the question will be: can he do things well in the NFL that he hasn't gotten the chance to do in college?

Brown doesn't have any experience playing on the outside and rarely sees press coverage, so if an NFL team prefers to play him there, some projection will be involved. It's reasonable to think Brown can learn that role over time, but is he fast enough to threaten vertically on the outside? Is the slot his best spot on the field due to what appears to be an average athletic profile?

I know I like Brown's game, but how much I like it will probably depend at least partially on how he tests at the Combine, where he needs to have a strong showing.

Darrell Taylor gets worked

Since Taylor's 3-sack game against Georgia that momentarily kept Tennessee alive in that game, it's become clear that he is not only their best player on defense, but the best hope they have of creating the type of splash play needed to pull off an upset.

But not only did Taylor fail to make an impact play against Alabama, he failed to make a play, period. The defensive end was held off the stat sheet entirely, partially by Jonah Williams but mostly by sophomore right tackle Jedrick Willis. Taylor was pancaked multiple times and didn't so much as sniff the quarterback, as his lack of elite bend and counter moves were exposed.

Greg Little struggling

NFL Draft analyst Tony Pauline reported this past week that Little is looking for agents to declare for the 2019 draft. He's big, athletic and has the recruiting pedigree of a top pick, but he's still got pillow hands in pass protection and struggles to find the proper range in his set points.

Auburn redshirt sophomore defensive end Nick Coe worked him a couple times on Saturday, using powerful hands to chop through his punch and win the edge. Little was also penalized once, and struggled to generate movement in the run game. There's a lot of first round buzz surrounding Little, but he sure didn't live up to it on Saturday.

Keep an eye on Benito Jones

Pauline also mentioned this past week that Jones could be a surprise early entry into the draft as a junior, which would be an interesting decision to me. On one hand, this class is loaded with defensive line talent and Jones' production and physical profile is not overly impressive, but his first step is incredibly quick and he was consistently disruptive against Auburn.

Ole Miss often plays Jones as a nose tackle, but I think in the NFL he's going to play in the B-gap a lot more to take advantage of his quickness. He's not going to be one of my top defensive tackles, but I think he could end up carving out a nice role in the NFL.

Johnathan Abram a frustrating watch

There hasn't been much buzz out there around Abram this season, but he's the type of player the NFL will fall in love with during the pre-draft process. Big, rangy and athletic, Abram talks trash constantly and plays with an aggression that results in some big-time plays at times.

On the other hand, he's also reckless, will miss some tackles and hasn't made as many plays in coverage as you'd like. He reminds me a lot of Justin Evans coming out of Texas A&M, but Abram has definitely improved from a year ago, where Evans never really took a big step in college. I think the NFL will really value his raw traits, while my grading scale may not be quite as kind.

Abram was a terrific at times against LSU, running the alley for a couple stops and jumping over Nick Brossette's low block in pass protection for a sack. He also got beat in coverage a few times, I think once because he jumped a double-move. On one play, he was in great position to break up a pass, yet failed to turn around and find the football, bumping the receiver for DPI. He's a bit of a project, but one the league will embrace.

Quick Hitters

-Still waiting for someone to block Quinnen Williams. Dude is just wrecking everyone. Power, quickness, leverage, but also knows what he is doing, finds the football and is showing off better range every week. He's an incredible talent.

-Drew Lock back on track! Yes, it was against Memphis, that is probably a big reason why. He did throw a couple pretty deep balls, which is one of the strengths of his game when he's kept clean in the pocket. Memphis didn't test him, so keep that in mind when you see the box score.

-The best competition is still to come for him, but we haven't talked about Jonah Williams all season for a reason. Nobody is beating him. He's absolutely locked it down in pass protection. Anybody touting a tackle in this class over him has either seen someone I haven't or is trippin'.

-Deshaun Davis continues to put together an excellent season for Auburn, with 13 tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a pass breakup on Saturday. Many of those stops were right around the line of scrimmage, including a big short yardage stop early in the game. Davis might not be a great athlete, but he's tough, physical and instinctive enough to make a strong play for the NFL.

-Good to see Albert Okwuegbunam get on track. He's been quiet to start the season, but six catches for 159 yards and three touchdowns will get scouts back out of their seats. Memphis blew a coverage for a big chunk of his yardage and 1 score, but he kept pouring it on in the second half as well, showing good tracking skills on a couple vertical balls.

-Another day, another incredible performance from Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons for Mississippi State. Constantly in the backfield, making life as difficult for LSU as possible. If only their team had a quarterback...

SEC Power Rankings

1. Alabama

2. LSU

3. Georgia

4. Florida

5. Kentucky

6. Texas A&M

7. Mississippi State

8. Auburn

9. Missouri

10. South Carolina

11. Tennessee

12. Ole Miss

13. Vanderbilt

14. Arkansas