John Clay: NFL draft confirms once again the SEC is the best football league by far

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — ESPN should have just put the NFL draft on the SEC Network.

Forget Trey Wingo, Mel Kiper Jr., Daniel Jeremiah, Kurt Warner, Adam Schefter, Booger McFarland, Louis Riddick and the cast the World Wide Leader used to analyze what was a highly unusual and entertaining 2020 draft.

Dari Nowkhah, Peter Burns, Greg McElroy, Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, Cole Cubelic, Andre Ware, Dave Neal, Taylor Zarzour, Marty Smith, Gene Chizik, even Paul Finebaum, those are among the various SEC Network personalities who week in and week out actually watched the top guys play.

How many guys?

SEC players selected in the first three rounds: 40

ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 selections combined in the first three rounds: 37.

Just another measuring stick for the ridiculous competition Mark Stoops and his Kentucky Wildcats face most every Saturday in the fall, and confirmation of the job Stoops and his staff have done, especially over the past four years, going 14-16 against that type of talent.

Thirteen of the 14 SEC schools — Ole Miss being the outlier — had at least one player taken in the first three rounds, including Kentucky. Former Wildcats wide receiver/quarterback Lynn Bowden heard his name called by the Las Vegas Raiders in the third round with the 80th pick overall.

Then early Saturday afternoon, former UK offensive guard Logan Stenberg was taken in the fourth round by the Detroit Lions. Stenberg went No. 121 overall. That’s the highest a UK offensive lineman has gone since Larry Warford was picked in the third round, No. 65 overall, by the Detroit Lions in 2013.

Both ex-Cats should be good fits. Coming off a 3-12-1 year, the Lions need most everything. As for Bowden, Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden knows how to utilize offensive weapons. Bowden can catch passes, returns punts, return kickoffs and run the ball. He can even throw the ball, as he did to Josh Ali for the TD that gave UK its dramatic 37-30 Belk Bowl win over Virginia Tech last New Year’s Eve.

Doesn’t that seem like a long time ago now?

But then what we’re going through now made this particular NFL draft more fun. This year’s draft was spread out virtually, giving us a look at not only Roger Goodell’s home, but all the different homes of all the different NFL coaches and general managers, not to mention their children.

Those coaches/general managers selected 15 SEC players in the first round. That’s an NFL draft record. It’s also almost half of the total number of players taken in the first round, considering there are 32 NFL teams. The Big Ten and the Big 12 each had five players taken in the first round.

Eighteen of the first 87 selections played for either LSU or Alabama. LSU had 10 players taken in the first three rounds. Alabama had nine. (And Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, tabbed by Philadelphia in the second round, played his first three seasons at Alabama.)

Such dominance by the recruits of Ed Orgeron (LSU) and Nick Saban (Alabama) led the envious to trot out the old accusation that the SEC is a top-heavy league. But after Ohio State’s seven picks in the first three rounds, Clemson, Oklahoma, TCU, Utah and SEC member Florida were next with four. Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State were among those team with three players selected.

Up in Cleveland, home of new-age analytics and (thankfully) a return to old-school uniforms, the Browns went all in on the SEC. The Browns’ first four selections were from SEC schools, led by Jedrick Wills, who anchored Alabama’s offensive line at right tackle and was the 10th player selected overall.

That prompted Browns receiver and former LSU star Odell Beckham Jr. to welcome Wills via Twitter.

“Bama boy,” tweeted OBJ. “LOL, guess we koool now.”

According to the NFL, the SEC is the koool place to be.


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