Let's just be honest, I lucked out in conference assignments amongst TDN staff this summer. The SEC is loaded with talent from top to bottom, and every position group except running back, interior offensive line and maybe tight end has a shot at landing a first round pick this spring. No other conference can say that.
But because of the wealth of talent, narrowing down a midseason all draft-eligible team was difficult. Here's my best crack at it, combining how a prospect has played this season with his NFL potential to choose the squad.
QB - Jordan Ta'amu, Ole Miss
This was a struggle. Jarrett Stidham hasn't helped himself one bit this season, and Drew Lock's stock certainly hasn't improved through a campaign that looks a lot like the same inconsistent quarterback from a year ago. I try to balance these selections between players who have real NFL upside and those who have improved their stock this season, which limited the crop immediately.
Ta'amu isn't a great NFL prospect, and he'll probably get drafted after Stidham and Lock in April. But he went from being completely off the radar as a potential NFL quarterback to showing some traits that should absolutely get him a look this spring. Ta'amu has thrown a pretty deep ball, has a quick release and is athletic enough to get out of trouble. I'm excited to sit down and give his tape an extensive look.
Second Team: Drew Lock, Missouri
RB - Benny Snell, Kentucky
Whew, this one was tough. None of the running back prospects in the SEC are great, but I tried to look for the best balance of production against quality competition and the elevation of draft stock during the 2018 season. Damien Harris has been awesome, but is playing in a rotation and against far inferior competition so far. Trayveon Williams has had some big games, as has Elijah Holyfield, but neither of those guys have been as consistently impressive as Snell on tape.
I am not super high on Snell's projection to the NFL based on his lack of burst and overall athleticism, but he is Kentucky's entire offense, and shoulders a huge load against teams that know exactly what is coming. The heartbeat of UK's team, Snell plays with passion, physicality and terrific lower body strength. There may be limitations on his usage in the NFL, but Snell is going to carve out at least a nice niche wherever he lands.
Second Team: Damien Harris, Alabama
No arguing with this one. The only threat to the Ole Miss trio from a production standpoint was Emanuel Hall, and he is a one-trick pony with suspect hands in Missouri's current offense. With the South Carolina guys suffering from poor quarterback play and the Georgia trio not having enough targets to go around, this one was easy.
Metcalf has established himself as a bonafide first round talent in his first full season as a full-time starter, while Brown and Lodge have continued to build on already impressive resumes. All three are capable of making big plays at any point, whether from stretching the field or after the catch. They could be special in the NFL.
TE - Irv Smith, Alabama
This one wasn't that tough to decide, but it was a little surprising to me. Before the season, Smith was an underutilized in-line blocker in a big wide receiver's body for Alabama, while Ole Miss' Dawson Knox looked like a blossoming star, and Missouri's Albert Okwuegbunam was the feature weapon in the Tigers' passing attack.
Now, Smith is the second-leading receiving tight end in the conference, Knox can't buy a target playing with all of Ole Miss' receivers and Okwuegbunam is barely averaging over seven yards per catch. What is going on?
I still like Knox and Ok more as prospects, for now, but Smith has elevated his stock as much as any offensive player in the SEC this season. He's a terrific athlete who can stretch the field and also has the ability to take an underneath pass the distance due to his physicality and elusiveness post-catch. Yes, his routes and blocking still need work, but he has the skill set to be very appealing to NFL teams this spring.
Second Team: Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
The easiest position group to select yet, as Williams and Little are far beyond any of the other tackles I've scouted in the SEC. Williams has continued to lock down the left side in Alabama, while Little looks improved in his footwork this season, albeit still not where you'd like him to be for the top 20 hype he gets. Both should be off the board fairly early given the NFL's proclivities.
This was a tough one to pick, because I haven't closely studied a lot of the interior offensive linemen in the conference this season. I've watched a lot of Mississippi State and continue to be impressed with Williams and Jenkins, both at the point of attack and at the second level in the run game.
Cotton is a wrecking ball at the line of scrimmage and appears to be moving better in space this season. All three will likely have some limitations in pass protection at the next level, but they've had excellent seasons thus far.
There's a strong case to be made that these two aren't only the most dominant interior defensive linemen in the SEC, but in all of college football. Williams is a monster at the point of attack and a dynamic pass rusher, while Simmons may be the most well-rounded and versatile defensive lineman in the draft.
You could list 5-6 SEC interior defensive linemen here and it would be hard to argue with them however. It's not a stretch to say the conference could have four drafted in the first round, and potentially double digits in the top 100, depending on who declares. Crazy.
With eight sacks, Sweat is tied for the FBS lead six games into the season. He's been a consistent force off the edge, adding weight this offseason to be more of a power-rushing threat in 2018. While athleticism questions may persist about Sweat, that's not something to worry about with Polite. The Florida junior has been unstoppable this season thanks to his speed and bend, even if he isn't as well-rounded as Sweat.
We have a long way to go, but right now both look like first round picks.
Wilson and White are obvious selections to be the first two linebackers for this honor, and also to come off the board during April's draft. White is still inconsistent, but developing in his mental processing in the run game while showing impressive range and physicality this season.
Wilson is also relatively raw, but projects as a perfect space linebacker for the modern NFL. He's a good tackler, can beat blockers to spots and has rare coverage ability for his position. In a draft without many standout linebackers, those two could come off the board early.
Second Team: Deshaun Davis, Auburn/Vosean Joseph, Florida/Erroll Thompson, Mississippi State
Hard to argue with these two. I really like Derrick Baity from Kentucky, but Williams has been the best corner in college football this season, even if he still has some technical lapses in his game. He's not as gifted as Jalen Ramsey, but he competes in a similar fashion.
I thought Baker was slow and beaten deep way too often last year, but in live viewings he looks faster and even more technical this season. He plays with an edge that I love and has done a much better job in press man situations, while continuing to thrive in zone. He's risen up my board, even if I still think the top ten hype is too much.
Thompson is the clear cut top safety in the 2019 NFL Draft if he declares, and should be a top 10 pick. After that it gets tough to find the no. 2 safety in the conference, despite several solid players across a variety of teams.
Abram looks like he has the combination of size, athleticism and physicality that teams will love. He's reckless and will miss too many tackles at times, but the flashes are something to get excited about. I think he'll be a riser during the pre-draft process.