SEC full of potential NFL first round draft picks led by Bell, Bowers, Trigg

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Two weeks into the season, it’s hard to gauge the tight talent that has taken over the Southeastern Conference.
The chances are slim that the same will be said after two months.
The powerhouse league has arguably the deepest and most skilled tight-knit group in years. The collection includes major playmakers and is sure to produce NFL first round draft picks such as Kyle Pitts (Florida), Hayden Hurst (South Carolina), Evan Engram (Ole Miss) and OJ Howard (Alabama).
Jaheim Bell of South Carolina, Brock Bowers of Georgia and Michael Trigg of Mississippi top the list. They are big. They are fast. They are versatile. And they are hardly alone.
Here’s a look at the best of the SEC’s current picks, five of whom will share a field when South Carolina (1-1) takes on top and defending National Champion Georgia (2-0) on Saturday:
BELL, SOUTH CAROLINA
Bell is arguably the most versatile tight end in the SEC, possibly in the country. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior from Lake City, Florida, is lined up all over the field. He has four catches for 18 yards to go with 11 carries for 44 more. He also owns the top two receiving games by a tight finish in school history: 136 yards against Vanderbilt and 159 against North Carolina.
“He’s a freak athlete,” said teammate and fellow straight-end Austin Stagner. “You can really put it anywhere.”
BOWERS, GEORGIA
Anyone who watched the eventual champions play last season should remember Bowers. The 6-4, 230-pound native of Napa, California, burst onto the scene as a freshman, finishing with 56 receptions for 882 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has five catches for 95 yards this year and gets plenty of time off during Georgia’s back-to-back blowouts.
ARIK GILBERT, GEORGIA
Arik Gilbert seems like the odd one out in Georgia’s ultra-deep positioning group. The former LSU starter and the No. 1 tight end prospect in the 2020 recruiting class has no reception while playing behind Bowers and Darnell Washington. He caught 35 passes for 368 yards and two TDs as a freshman with the Tigers before entering the transfer portal.
He was briefly committed to Florida, but ended up in Athens, about 80 miles from his home in Marietta, Georgia. Coach Kirby Smart said Gilbert’s lack of playing time has more to do with his practice habits than the depth chart.
“It’s really based on Arik’s performance,” Smart said. “It’s not really based on those guys… That’s all based on how he practices and how he progresses to match day.”
STOGNER, SOUTH CAROLINA
The transfer to Oklahoma landed in South Carolina along with quarterback Spencer Rattler. They already have chemistry, though Stogner only has six catches for 75 yards in two games. The 6-6, 251-pound senior from Plano, Texas, had 47 receptions for 654 yards and eight scores with the Sooners. And he enjoys blocking as much as anything else he does.
“It’s amazing; it’s an extra O-lineman on the field,” said Gamecocks walking back Marshawn Lloyd.
MASON TAYLOR, LSU
Freshman LSU coach Brian Kelly called the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jason Taylor “the camp’s No. 1 surprise.” Mason Taylor has five catches for 47 yards, including a 17-yarder who set up a late touchdown against the state of Florida.
“He’s been excellent,” Kelly said, adding that Taylor added 20 pounds. “I’m blessed. I’ve had some great tight ends. I now have seven active in the NFL. And Mason Taylor is pretty much any freshman tight end I’ve had.”
TRIGG, OLE MISS
The Southern Cal transfer had three TD receptions in last week’s 59-3 romp over Central Arkansas, all from the 10-yard line. The 6-3, 240-pound sophomore from Tampa, Florida, has nine receptions for 61 yards. He caught seven balls for 109 yards and scored in six games with the Trojans in 2021. He landed in Oxford as part of the package deal with quarterback Jaxson Dart.
Rebel coach Lane Kiffin likes what he’s seen from Trigg, but wants more.
“There is some inconsistency because he is a young player,” Kiffin said. “He needs to play more consistently because you can see the great potential.”
WASHINGTON, GEORGIA
No one his size should move like that. But Washington has rare features. The 6-7, 260-pound junior is a blocking beast and a threat to run through linebackers and place defensive backs — or jump over them. He has four catches for 66 yards, well on his way to surpassing his two-year total of 17 receptions for 320 yards and a score.
He already created a career highlight when he interfered with Oregon cornerback Bryan Addison in the team’s opener.
“Darnell Washington is in the best shape he’s been in,” Smart said recently, adding that the big man can “play harder for longer”.
The SEC also looks poised for talent in the position in the coming years as well.
Texas A&M signed three of the top six tight-end prospects in its ballyhooed 2022 class: Jake Johnson, Donovan Green and Theo Melin Öhrström. Georgia landed the No. 2 man on the list, Oscar Delp.
Tennessee and Georgia have second- and third-ranked tight-end recruits pledges for 2023. The Vols have a pledge from Suwanee’s Ethan Davis, while the Dawgs line up to land Pearce Spurlin of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.

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