SEC West edges ACC Atlantic as most talented division

Aug 15, 2017 - 7:30 PM Due in large part to a seven-year reign from 2006 to 2012 in which teams from the Southeastern Conference won the national championship, the SEC is regarded by many as the toughest and most gifted league in college football.

This sentiment was reinforced a year ago via the NFL Draft as 12 former SEC players were among the first 32 players selected, tying a national conference record last met in 2013 by -- you guessed it -- the SEC. Last year was the sixth out of the past seven years in which the SEC led all conferences in producing first-round picks.

As such, perhaps it is not surprising that the SEC -- and specifically the West division -- once again is loaded with prospective NFL talent, with a national-best nine players currently among's initial Top 32 entering the 2017 season. This list includes four players inside the top 15, starting off with LSU junior edge rusher Arden Key at No. 6 overall.

But as Clemson of the ACC Atlantic division proved in the national championship game in each of the past two years, the gap between Alabama and LSU of the SEC West and the rest of the country appears to be closing.

Florida State redshirt sophomore safety Derwin James checks in at No. 4 overall (highest among any defenders) and is one of eight players from the ACC Atlantic among's top 32, just one less than the mighty SEC West.

James joins reigning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson (No. 8) from Louisville and Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (No. 15) among the top 15.

Four ACC Atlantic teams -- Florida State (James, CB Tarvarus McFadden, No. 16 overall), Louisville (Jackson, CB Jaire Alexander, No. 20), Clemson (Wilkins, DE Clelin Ferrell, No. 17) and North Carolina State (DE Bradley Chubb, No. 24) have at least one player among's top 25, the most impressive distribution of burgeoning pro talent in the country.

As has been the case for the past several years, Alabama and LSU dominate the SEC West's list of top-ranked prospects, with an eye-popping six members of the Crimson Tide checking in among the top 32 and two Bayou Bengals (Key, RB Derrius Guice) among's top 12.

The SEC West is deep as well as talented. The division leads with 22 players among's initial Top 100, with the ACC Atlantic coming in second with 15, one more than the Big Ten East.

The Tide's assembly line of future early draft picks from the secondary is in good hands with junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (No. 9 overall), safety Ronnie Harrison (No. 28) and cornerback Anthony Averett (No. 32) earning top marks. Wideout Calvin Ridley (No. 13) and defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand (No. 19) and Da'Ron Payne (No. 31) round out Alabama's top prospects.

Playmaking Texas A&M wideout/returner Christian Kirk (No. 18) is the only other player from the SEC West to earn a preseason first-round stamp. Florida offensive tackle Martez Ivey is the lone representative from the SEC East, though Georgia running back Nick Chubb just missed the cut at No. 35 overall.

Skill-position stars were the early storyline of the 2017 draft -- seven were selected among the top 10 picks -- and history appears likely to repeat itself next spring.

The top three spots on's board are reserved for playmakers, beginning with a pair of Pac-12 South quarterbacks in Southern California's redshirt sophomore Sam Darnold and UCLA junior Josh Rosen, with Penn State's dynamic junior running back Saquon Barkley coming in at No. 3 overall.

Toolsy Wyoming redshirt junior quarterback Josh Allen is the top prospect outside of the so-called power conferences; the Mountain West star joins Florida State's James to round out the top five.

Barkley is joined by Ohio State redshirt junior defensive end Sam Hubbard (No. 10 overall) as the only representatives from the Big Ten to crack the top 20. Similarly, Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea joins quarterbacks Darnold and Rosen as the only three players from the Pac-12 with preseason first-round grades.

Whereas the cupboard, at least initially, appears relatively bare in the Big Ten and Pac-12, the Big 12 looks primed for resurgence.

A year after producing just one first-round pick (Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes) and 14 overall selections (compared to 15 for the American Athletic Conference, 35 for the Big Ten, 36 for the Pac-12, 43 for the ACC and 53 for the SEC), five players from the historically strong league check in among's Top 32. That list starts with Oklahoma's mammoth left tackle Orlando Brown (6-7, 358) at No. 7 overall.

Things are encouraging at Texas (offensive tackle Connor Williams, No. 14 and inside linebacker Malik Jefferson, No. 29) and Oklahoma State (wide receiver James Washington, No. 26, and quarterback Mason Rudolph, No. 30). Those schools combined for just three selections in the entire 2017 draft, the earliest of which was Longhorns' running back D'Onta Foreman, the 89th overall selection.

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!