2014 NFL Draft: Southeastern Conference Sleepers to Watch

Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell has the tools to be an NFL quarterback if he can improve his decision-making. (Photo: Mark Zerof — USA Today Sports)

Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee

A fixture at right tackle for Tennessee, Ja’Wuan James has started on the right side for all 37 games of the first three years of his college career.

James is listed at 6’6” and 318 pounds and has a good build, though he could use a few more pounds. He has very good athleticism and moves very fluidly.

Against the run, he gets off the line well and often beats his opponent with his hands. That said, his hand placement is not very good and he does not gain control over defenders.

He walls off defenders, but does not consistently drive back defenders despite his strength. He does a good job getting to the second level and he takes good angles. He finishes off blocks occasionally, but he needs to display more consistent toughness.

In pass protection, he keeps his “head on a swivel” and does a very good job of picking up blitzes and stunts. James will match up against power rushers with relative ease due to his strength and wide base, but he struggles with speed rushers off the edge. Despite his athleticism, he struggles to slide outside and pick up outside rushers.

With his experience, size and athleticism, James is an interesting prospect. His body type and athleticism scream left tackle, but his liability against speed rushers makes him a right tackle.

Right now James is an early Day 3 pick who could possibly sneak into the third round, but if he cleans up some technical issues and can be more consistent, he should definitely be gone by the end of Day 2.

Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State

Tyler Russell earned the starting quarterback job during his sophomore season and went on to start all every game as a junior last season.

Listed at 6’4” and 220 pounds, Russell has the size of an NFL quarterback. He has decent athleticism and shows he can scramble for a few yards here and there.

He doesn’t feel rushers well in the pocket, but he generally gets the ball out quickly and doesn’t see a lot of rushers. Still, he stands tall in the pocket and always keeps his eyes downfield.

He throws with a very easy, smooth motion and has great strength and velocity to his passes. He is accurate and places the ball decently but needs to do a better job of throwing his targets open. He also shows good touch being able to lob the ball over the top or laser it into small windows.

Russell’s biggest issue is his decision-making. He too often throws into coverage when he has other options. He is too content going to his first option, even when the option is not open.

He also hesitates too much. He will see a player open downfield but pause for a second before throwing it. Windows close during that moment of hesitation. He needs to trust himself in situations where his receivers are open downfield.

Overall, Russell flashes upside and NFL ability and good “arm talent,” but he needs to improve on quite a few things to be considered a top quarterback prospect. He is a mid-rounder going into his senior season, but if he can make better decisions and have a breakout season, he could potentially elevate himself all the way into the first round.

Chaz Sutton, DE, South Carolina

While Jadeveon Clowney is heralded as a once-in-a-generation prospect and Devin Taylor was a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft, the “other” defensive end, Chaz Sutton, may emerge as the best senior defensive end prospect in the NCAA.

Sutton has only recorded six sacks in his career, with five of those coming last season, but he has had to sit behind Clowney, Taylor and Melvin Ingram over the past few seasons. He has often played inside at tackle just to get on the field. Still, when he has been on the field, he has shown he could be a top defensive end.

He has the height, weight and length of elite ends, listed at 6’5” and 263 pounds, with great speed and strength to go with it. At this point, however, his game is almost entirely athleticism. Relying on athleticism and playing chaotically has worked for him as he catches some blockers off-guard, but it will not work against NFL linemen.

He bursts off the line and has good strength, but lacks the ability to consistently gain leverage and does not use his hands well at all. He is undisciplined and can be a liability in against the run.

He does do a good job in backside pursuit and will chase down plays. He also seems comfortable dropping into coverage, leaving the possibility open of a switch to 3-4 outside linebacker.

While his game almost entirely athleticism, Sutton’s combination of size and with that athleticism will excite teams. Heading into his first season as a starter, he’ll have a chance to learn and improve his technique. He grades as an early mid-round pick who could go in Round 3, but if he can show more than athleticism in his first year as a starter, he could end up being taken in the first round.

Other Names to Watch:

John Fulton, CB, Alabama

Overshadowed by Dee Milliner and Deion Belue last season, John Fulton finally gets his shot as a full-time starter in his senior season. Fulton is a quick corner with good size, but is coming off of offseason turf toe surgery.

Jonotthan Harrison, OL, Florida

Capable of playing any of the interior offensive line positions, Jonotthan Harrison possesses good strength and surprising agility inside. While he likely won’t go in the first round, he’ll draw comparisons at Florida to the Pouncey twins, both of whom were top-20 draft picks.

Kenny Hilliard, RB, Louisiana State (Jr.)

Listed at 6′ and 231 pounds, Kenny Hilliard is a violently powerful runner. Despite being an integral part of LSU’s running game for two seasons, Hilliard doesn’t have a lot of wear on him. He has only carried the ball 144 total times in two seasons, yet he already has 14 touchdowns under his belt.

Wesley Johnson, OL, Vanderbilt

An All-SEC honorable mention last season, Johnson is a technically sound, versatile lineman who has started at both tackle spots, guard and center. Having started all 13 games in 2012 and 38 in his career, he has never been called for a holding penalty and didn’t allow a sack all of last season, according to Vanderbilt’s media guide.

Donte Rumph, DT, Kentucky

Donte Rumph may just have a breakout season in 2013. Listed at 6’3” and 323 pounds, Rumph plays quickly and powerfully, which allowed him to amass 36 tackles and four sacks in 2012. He underwent offseason shoulder surgery but told the media at SEC Media Days that he should be ready for the start of the season, according to Kentucky blog John Clay’s Sidelines.

Previous Sleeper Articles:

Atlantic Coast Conference

Big Ten Conference

Big 12 Conference

Pac-12 Conference

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Alabama, Chaz Sutton, Donte Rumph, Florida, Georgia, Ja'Wuan James, John Fulton, Jonotthan Harrison, Kenarious Gates, Kenny Hilliard, Kentucky, Lamin Barrow, LSU, Mississippi State, Prospects to Watch, SEC, Sleepers, South Carolina, Tennessee, Tyler Russell, Vanderbilt, Wesley Johnson

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