Sometimes, discussions don’t have to last very long, because any debate or search for truth is found so convincingly and immediately that we can all move on with our lives.
By Matt Zemek
This happened on Thursday in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Southeastern Conference produced 15 of the 32 first-round draft picks, an all-time record. It was and is — and will remain — an astonishing feat of football prowess. Having LSU carry the banner for the league as the national champion certainly helped. The Tigers reminded everyone that the SEC is more than just Alabama (and also Georgia). That certainly played a part in the SEC gaining such a historic haul. Yet, being able to field roughly HALF of an entire NFL Draft first round is still an eye-popping achievement. It will be talked about for a long time, and with even greater reverence should these prospects forge elite careers.
It was once said — and the older sports fans in the crowd will remember this — that “Two-thirds of the earth are covered by water, and the rest is covered by Willie Mays.” This was updated in the latter half of the 1970s to refer to Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Garry Maddox, whose long legs and longer strides enabled him to swallow up ground and get to any fly ball in his zip code at Veterans Stadium or anywhere else the Phillies played.
Change the two-thirds to half, in this case. Roughly half of the NFL’s elite prospects were claimed by the SEC. It’s something which takes a little time to digest, but the statement it makes about the quality of SEC football at its highest levels is thunderous.
You know the familiar argument: “But what if (insert Group of Five team here) had to play in the SEC?” This season reinforces the SEC’s argument.
This wasn’t necessarily the case in 2016, when every non-Alabama SEC team lost at least four games by the time bowl season had ended. The SEC used to have its seasons and moments in which Alabama was carrying the rest of the conference — not to the extent that Clemson carries the Atlantic Coast Conference today, but certainly in a context in which depth was lacking elsewhere in the league.
LSU rising to meet the Alabama challenge, and Auburn continuing to poke its head above ground and produce its familiar “once every two to four years we become relevant” season, lifted the SEC to a higher level. Georgia becoming the program people always thought it could become (the program it once was under Vince Dooley in the early 1980s) has also contributed to this feast of SEC talent. Florida is a part of the story, but it is instructive that the Gators — once a giant under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer — are not a goliath in the conference, and yet the SEC has STILL managed to bring the heat in the NFL Draft.
That amazing fact — 15 players in 32 picks — is an untouchable 103-mile-per-hour fastball with wicked late movement on the outside corner.
It is a shutdown pitch, an argument-ender, about which conference currently carries the freight in college football.
Good morning, good afternoon, goodnight!
2020 SEC First-Round Picks
No. 1: LSU QB Joe Burrow (Cincinnati)
No. 4: Georgia OT Andrew Thomas (New York Giants)
No. 5: Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa (Miami)
No. 7: Auburn DT Derrick Brown (Carolina)
No. 9: Florida CB CJ Henderson (Jacksonville)
No. 10: Alabama OT Jedrick Wills Jr. (Cleveland)
No. 12: Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III (Oakland)
No. 14: South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw (San Francisco)
No. 15: Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy (Denver)
No. 20: LSU Edge K’Lavon Chaisson (Jacksonville)
No. 22: LSU WR Justin Jefferson (Minnesota)
No. 28: LSU LB Patrick Queen (Baltimore)
No. 29: Georgia OG Isaiah Wilson (Tennessee)
No. 30: Auburn CB Noah Igbinoghene (Miami)
No. 32: LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Kansas City)