by | CBS Sports

SEC's dominance to continue into top 10 of draft

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NEW YORK -- There are times when you simply have to state the obvious. Today is one of those days.

Example: There is an obvious reason why the Southeastern Conference has won five straight BCS national championships.

The reason: The SEC produces a lot of really, really good players.

The numbers do not lie.

In the five NFL Drafts since 2006, the SEC has had a total of 199 players selected. That's an average of almost 40 per year. The ACC is second with 180 players taken in five years.

Over the past five seasons the SEC has had an average of 264.6 players on NFL rosters, more than any other conference. The ACC is second during that same span (242.4).

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A year ago the SEC had its all-time high with 49 players drafted. The Big Ten was a distant second at 34 followed by the ACC (31), Big 12 (30), and Pac-10 (29). In those five years the SEC's 49 players drafted in 2010 were second only to the ACC's staggering 52 players taken in 2006.

I share all those numbers to let to you know that the SEC may be sailing into some unchartered waters when the 2011 NFL Draft begins Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall.

It looks like the NFL knows this. Of the 25 players who have been invited to New York, nine are from the SEC. The Big 12 has six and no other conference has more than four.

I don't think the SEC will break its record of 11 first-round draft choices set in 2007. But there is a very good chance the conference will set a new mark for draft choices in the top 10.

The SEC record for Top 10 picks is four, first set in 2005 when Ronnie Brown (No. 2), Cadillac Williams (5), and Carlos Rogers (9) were all taken from Auburn's undefeated 2004 team. South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williamson was taken at No. 7.

In 2008, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden (No. 4), LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (5), Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey (8), and Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo (10) were taken among the top 10.

But based on my preparation for our NFL Draft coverage for CBSSports.com (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET), it is more than possible that the SEC will have six of the first 10 players chosen in Thursday night's first round. Now the NFL guys who do this for CBSSports.com like Rob Rang and Pete Prisco are a lot smarter than me when it comes to analyzing pro potential. But here is what I see:

No. 1. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn (to Carolina): The Heisman Trophy winner is a polarizing choice but I just don't think Carolina can pass up his star power. They need to sell tickets. Newton will become the SEC's fourth No. 1 overall pick since 2004. The others are Eli Manning of Ole Miss (2004), JaMarcus Russell of LSU (2007), and Matthew Stafford of Georgia (2009).

No. 2. Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama (to Denver): Nick Fairley of Auburn was the most dominant defensive lineman in the SEC last season but was hobbled by an injury and played through it.

No. 4. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia (to Cincinnati): I've been watching the University of Georgia play football since I was 12 years old, and trust me when I tell you Green is the greatest wide receiver to ever play for the Bulldogs. He has incredible athleticism with huge hands. If Green can stay healthy he will be a great pro.

No. 7. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU (to San Francisco): I saw Cameron Newton play in person six times last season and have tremendous respect for his talent. But Peterson was the best football player I saw in 2010. The best combination of lock-down corner and kick returner the SEC has had in a long time. I can't believe he'll last to the No. 7 pick. The Cardinals may take him at No. 5.

No. 8. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn (to Tennessee): The junior college transfer was a force of nature last season at Auburn. He has a nasty streak that the NFL boys will love. And his position coach at Auburn, Tracy Rocker, now works for the Titans. This is pretty much a no-brainer.

No. 10. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama (to Washington): One of the toughest players I have seen in my time of covering the SEC. There were times the past two seasons when the kid was playing on one leg but he never complained and he gave you everything he had in practice and in the games. The Alabama coaches raved about Jones when I visited them this spring.

That's six of the first 10 and I didn't include running back Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, who should go in the first round. I didn't include the best guard/center in the draft, Florida's Mike Pouncey. I didn't include the best arm in the draft, quarterback Ryan Mallett of Arkansas.

So if you're a fan of the SEC, Thursday is going to be fun. Come check out our live coverage on CBSSports.com at 7 p.m. ET.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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