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SEC could topple record for players picked atop 2017 NFL draft

Even if this has not been a banner year for the SEC’s on-field product, there is a chance it will be in another way. It’s possible the SEC will have more players selected in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft than any conference has ever had.

The SEC (2013) and ACC (2006) already hold that record with 12, but the SEC’s upcoming draft class could blow past that number. At least that’s how ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay seem to see it.

Check out either analyst’s list of top prospects and you’ll quickly notice that it’s littered with SEC players, especially at the top of the list. More than half of the 25 players included on Kiper’s new “Big Board” – 13 – hail from the SEC, including six of the top seven: Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Jamal Adams, and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster and Tim Williams.

McShay’s newest rankings are similar, with SEC players occupying five of the top six spots and 15 of the overall 32.

It’s important to mention here that we’re still 146 days away from the draft. We’ve only started to see draft-eligible underclassmen begin announcing their NFL decisions – Missouri’s Charles Harris, the No. 11 prospect on McShay’s board, did so on Thursday – and are still months away from all-star games, combine and pre-draft workouts that will impact NFL teams’ draft decisions.

That said, the conference’s premium talent is at least as good in this draft as it has ever been, and that’s saying something since the SEC led all conferences in players selected in each of the last 10 drafts. If McShay’s top 32 resembles the list of actual first-round picks in April, the SEC will nearly double its total of eight first-round selections from this year’s draft: Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell, Georgia’s Leonard Floyd, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal, Alabama’s Ryan Kelly and Texas A&M’s Germain Ifedi.

The top-to-bottom quality of the SEC’s draft pool also remains high. Roughly a third (44 out of 150) of the players on Kiper’s new list of top 10 prospects by position hail from the SEC. That includes the No. 1 overall player, Texas A&M defensive end Garrett, and the top prospect at seven of the 15 positions: Garrett, running back Fournette, Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson, LSU center Ethan Pocic, Alabama inside linebacker Foster, Alabama outside linebacker Williams and Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson.

Of course, top-ranked Alabama – the only team that can add to the SEC’s string of eight national titles in the last 10 seasons this year – leads the way in these prospect rankings. The Crimson Tide has six players on Kiper’s list and five on McShay’s. Seven of the eight draft-eligible starters from Alabama’s dominant defense made Kiper’s top 10 by position, which says plenty about the talent Nick Saban has stockpiled in Tuscaloosa in recent recruiting classes.

The Tide’s opponent in Saturday’s SEC championship game, Florida, is also well-represented with four of McShay’s top 32. As is frequently the case on the first Saturday in December, the Georgia Dome this weekend will be a showcase of future NFL players.

The same can be said for SEC playing fields in general. Even if the league produced fewer top-tier teams this season than we typically expect from the SEC, it’s still where the best players can be found. If ESPN’s analyst predictions hold true, next April’s draft will only add to the mountain of evidence that already proves that point.