At this time last year, there wasn’t a single mock draft that had players like Joe Burrow, Javon Kinlaw, Justin Jefferson or Patrick Queen projected to be picked in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.
So who are some of those guys for next year? Who are some unheralded SEC players who could be on the verge of emerging as stars this season?
Let’s take a look, with help from some SEC staffers.
AL.com talked to several staffers from around the conference and gathered names of under-the-radar players that coaches see as being poised to break out this coming season.
Here are the names that were mentioned (listed alphabetically):
Alabama defensive lineman Christian Barmore
After contributing as a situational pass rusher last season, the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Philadelphia native will now get an opportunity to step into a larger role as a redshirt sophomore. Despite being just a situational player and not playing much early in the year, Barmore finished last year with 26 tackles, six tackles for a loss, two sacks and five additional quarterback hurries. “When he was on the field last year, he made plays,” an SEC defensive staffer said. “He jumped out at you. Third down, he was getting sacks. He’s an interior pass rusher. He can line up at end. He’s played tackle. It’s very hard to find a guy that can rush from the inside and the outside, and he can play multiple different positions.”
Texas A&M defensive tackle Bobby Brown
Brown was originally committed to Alabama but surprised the Crimson Tide when he flipped to Texas A&M on National Signing Day in 2018. While he posted only modest numbers as a first-year starter last year — just 21 tackles and two tackles for a loss — multiple SEC staffers said they expect him to be one of the top defensive tackles in the SEC this season. “Just big, strong and athletic,” one SEC personnel figure said. “He was a little bit of a raw guy in the stuff I saw last year, but you can see that he’s got ability if he puts it all together.”
Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks
A four-star member of Arkansas’ 2019 recruiting class, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Arkansas native caught 29 passes for 475 yards as a freshman for the Razorbacks last season. “He’s a freak and will probably be the best wide receiver I’ve ever been around,” a high-ranking member of last year’s Arkansas staff said.
Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis
After arriving at Georgia as just a three-star recruit, the 6-foot-6, 330-pound North Carolina native started four games as a freshman in 2018 and then eight games last year. Davis finished last season with 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. “He’s a f—– first-round pick waiting to happen,” an SEC offensive assistant coach said.
South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn
While South Carolina’s other cornerback, Israel Mukuamu, is a returning All-SEC player who’s getting first-round love in some early 2021 NFL mock drafts, Horn is still relatively under the radar. Probably not for much longer, though. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior is entering his third season as a starter for the Gamecocks and was brought up by an SEC defensive coordinator as “an up and coming guy.” Horn is the son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn. “Jaycee has a chance to be one of the best corners in next year’s class,” an SEC personnel official said. “He doesn’t get the hype he deserves.”
Georgia outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari
Ojulari led Georgia with 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman last season and was a co-winner of the Bulldogs’ most improved defensive player award. “He was their best pass rusher,” an SEC personnel figure said. “May be the best in the conference next season.”
LSU defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin
After redshirting in 2017 and then seeing only minimal playing time in 2018, the 6-foot-3, 345-pound Shelvin began to emerge as a force in the middle of LSU’s defensive line as a redshirt sophomore last season. Shelvin started at nose tackle for the Tigers, tallied 39 tackles and was a big presence in games like LSU’s playoff semifinal win over Oklahoma, when he helped the Tigers limit Oklahoma to its lowest rushing output in more than three years. “Shelvin is a monster inside on the run,” one SEC defensive staffer said.
Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney
A former high school quarterback at Blount High School in Mobile, Toney has made some Tavon Austin-like plays for Florida when healthy. However, staying healthy has been a problem these past few years. An injury caused him to miss six games as a junior last season and he ended the year with just 10 catches and only one touchdown. “Toney is electric,” an SEC personnel official said. “Can score from anywhere.”
Auburn cornerback Christian Tutt
Tutt will be the lone returning starter in the secondary for Auburn. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound former four-star recruit was the Tigers’ starting nickel back last year as a sophomore and tied for the team-lead with two interceptions. In addition, Tutt averaged 13.6 yards per return as Auburn’s punt returner. “I like him as a player,” an SEC defensive staffer said. “They’re losing several guys (in the secondary), so he’ll probably have a big role.”
Georgia running back Zamir White
After missing 2018 due to a knee injury, the former five-star recruit ran for 408 rushing yards last season, including a career-high 92 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries during Georgia’s Sugar Bowl win over Baylor. Now, with the Bulldogs’ top two rushers from last year both gone, White is poised to be even more of a featured person within Georgia’s offense as a redshirt sophomore. “Big power runner,” an SEC personnel figure said. “Really like him.”
*** Georgia linebacker Monty Rice, South Carolina offensive lineman Sadarius Hutcherson and LSU cornerback Kary Vincent were among the players brought up by coaches as relatively unheralded figures that those coaches would be interested in if they were running an NFL team.
Rice posted a team-high 89 tackles for Georgia last season. One SEC staffer mentioned the belief that the Huntsville native could end up being one of the top two inside linebackers in the SEC this year along with Alabama’s Dylan Moses.
“I like how he plays the game,” an SEC coordinator said. “He’s physical. He’s a throwback. I like him a lot, his style of play.”
Hutcherson is a 6-foot-4, 320-pound redshirt senior who is expected to shift back to guard after spending most of last year as South Carolina’s starting left tackle. The belief seems to be that he has a chance to be at least a Day 2 draft pick next year.
“He’s a guy I think is going to be a solid player,” an SEC personnel figure said. “I like him a lot better than I like Leatherwood (from Alabama).”
Vincent, who also runs track at LSU, has started 15 games over the last two seasons, including eight last year as the Tigers’ nickel back.
“I see him showing up a bunch on tape,” an SEC coordinator said.
Vincent tied for second in the SEC last year with four interceptions.
“He’ll probably test as the fastest guy in next year’s draft,” an SEC defensive staffer said. “Ran a 10.00 last year in track.”
*** SEC staffers believe there are a lot of talented young cornerbacks around the conference with NFL futures, led by the combination of LSU sophomore Derek Stingley and Alabama junior Patrick Surtain.
Surtain has a chance to be one of the top cornerbacks taken in next year’s NFL draft.
“If you just look at his production, there’s nothing that would jump out at you,” an SEC defensive staffer said. “But similar to what happened with Stingley at LSU last year, teams stopped throwing at his side and started trying to pick on Diggs. Teams started avoiding him. He’s a 6-2, 200-pound corner who’s bigger and faster than Diggs, had a better year than Diggs last year and Diggs was a second-round pick.”
In addition, schools like South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee all have multiple highly thought of young cornerbacks.
Even though he lost his starting job early last year, a couple SEC staffers mentioned Georgia junior cornerback Tyson Campbell as a player they see as being in position to break out this season and maybe emerge as a 2021 NFL draft prospect. Campbell is a former five-star recruit who was a high school teammate of Surtain.
Coaches also think highly of Georgia’s other junior cornerback, Eric Stokes, who became a full-time starter last year after starting three of the Bulldogs’ last four games as a freshman in 2018.
Matt Zenitz is an SEC football and basketball reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mzenitz.