The Southeastern Conference, which has an unprecedented stranglehold on college football with five consecutive national championships, didn’t shy away from Thursday night’s NFL draft.
Five of the top six selections were from the SEC, including Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who went No. 1 to Carolina, and the dynamic receiver duo of Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones. Green went fourth to Cincinnati and Jones went sixth to Atlanta, which moved up 21 spots in a trade with Cleveland.
New Panthers coach Ron Rivera said they selected Newton after “several things” were investigated and after talking to numerous people. Rivera then took some pressure off the 6-foot-5, 248-pounder, who led the Tigers to their first national title since 1957.
“He’s not drafted to be a franchise savior,” Rivera said. “He’s drafted to be a part of what we do and how we do it. If this football team is going to win a championship, we’re going to get back to running the football the way this team did and the way this team can.”
Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller briefly interrupted the SEC showcase by going second overall to Denver, but then Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus went third to Buffalo. Sandwiched between Green and Jones was LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, who went fifth to Arizona.
“I thought was it Cincinnati all along,” Green said of his destination. “I felt I developed a bond with [Bengals offensive coordinator] Jay Gruden, and I feel like he can teach me a lot.”
Gruden’s older brother, former Oakland and Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden, provided plenty of praise for the former Bulldogs receiver as an ESPN analyst. Green became the first receiver taken among the top five picks since Georgia Tech’s Calvin Johnson in 2007.
“I think this is the best offensive player in the draft,” Gruden said. “He has very good body control, outstanding hands and is an outstanding route runner. He has no fear of going across the middle. He’s a great practice player, and the guy just has an unbelievable future ahead of him.
“He could be in the circus with the way he handles the football, and he’s just what the Bengals need. It doesn’t look like Terrell Owens will be back, and [Chad] Ochocinco is playing soccer somewhere.”
Longtime analyst Mel Kiper also credited Green for three impressive college seasons.
The biggest surprise in the draft’s first six-pack was Atlanta leaping up to snag Jones. In order to switch first-round positions with Cleveland, the Falcons gave the Browns second- and fourth-round picks this year and first- and fourth-round picks in 2012.
“Initially a lot of people had a lot of questions about a lot of things about Julio,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “I think the more they got to know him, the more they fell in love with him. Atlanta is going to love him.”
Said Kiper: “The dropped passes have to be eliminated, and the concentration has to improve. Atlanta is counting on him big-time. They’re on the cusp of being a Super Bowl winner.”
Since becoming a 12-team league in 1992, the SEC had never provided more than three of the top six overall picks until Thursday. Tennessee safety Eric Berry was the league’s only top-six pick last April, and the SEC didn’t have a top-10 pick in 2006, when Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler was the league’s first player taken when he went 11th to Denver.
Thursday’s SEC parade continued when Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley went 13th to Detroit, Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey went 15th to Miami, Alabama offensive lineman James Carpenter went 25th to Seattle, Alabama tailback Mark Ingram went 28th to New Orleans and Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod went 32nd to Green Bay.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...