NFL scouts attending Saturday's SEC Championship Game will be watching no fewer than a half-dozen players who could hear their names called in the 2014 NFL Draft. And although there doesn't appear to be a first-round pick in the bunch, delivering a memorable performance on college football's second-grandest stage could help any of them.
Especially Auburn defensive end Dee Ford.
After missing two games with a knee injury in September, Ford has steadily climbed the SEC's pass rushing ranks and now has eight sacks, fourth in the SEC, as well as 12 tackles for loss, fifth in the SEC.
NFL.com reporter Albert Breer spoke with an AFC scout about Ford, and while it wasn't exactly a rave review, it was clear Ford has something to gain and lose personally in his performance against Missouri.
"He's a niche player at the next level, an undersized pass-rush type that's still developing as a run defender," the scout said. "And that limits him in where he can go, and who drafts him. And he has injury history. But he's more explosive off the ball than (former Auburn DE Corey) Lemonier, who went to the Niners. I really like his burst, his explosiveness, and he'll need to get better refining his technique and pass-rush moves. He wins now with speed."
Another scout called Ford's game against Missouri "a big moment", given that his knee injury didn't allow for good early-season evaluation.
Playing on indoor turf should help Ford show some of that speed and explosiveness against Missouri, although getting to its mobile quarterback, James Franklin, won't be easy. Franklin ran for 81 yards last week against Texas A&M and knows how to escape a rush to throw as well.
Ford, for his part, leads the entire SEC in quarterback hurries with 16, and by a wide margin. That's one fewer than Georgia's entire defense had on the season. Mississippi State standout freshman Chris Jones had 10, the only other players in the league in double figures.