At this time a year ago, Texas A&M fans wondered how new coach Kevin Sumlin and his team would adjust to the Southeastern Conference. As it turned out, the SEC had to adjust to the Aggies. And didn't do it especially well. Sumlin's hurry-up, no-huddle offense took the league by storm behind freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, and narrow losses to Florida and LSU were the lone blemishes on an 11-2 record.
Not surprisingly, most of the current Aggies with a clear future in the NFL are on the offensive side of the ball. Texas A&M's draft presence is on the upswing, having produced nine picks in the last two drafts, and a top-10 pick in three consecutive drafts. Look for a continued rise in the Aggies' draft impact in the coming years with the allure of the SEC appealing to some of the nation's elite high school talents in the state of Texas.
Top senior prospects
DL Kirby Ennis: One of two returning starters on the Aggies' defensive line, Ennis moves well for his size (6-foot-4, 300 pounds). He made 24 stops last season but was not much of a playmaker (one sack), and will need to post his best season to play his way into the draft. Legal troubles (suspended following a gun charge earlier this year) won't help -- Ennis was held out for the spring and is suspended for the season opener.
LB Steven Jenkins: Undersized and underappreciated, Jenkins (6-2, 220) won't be in any early mock drafts. A fringe prospect entering 2013, Jenkins is nothing if not productive. He is the Aggies' leading returning tackler (79 last season) and has shown a nose for the ball. His play is reminiscent of linebacker Sean Porter, a fourth-round selection by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2013 draft.
RB Ben Malena: At 5-foot-8, 195 pounds, Malena lacks the size to be a high pick, but he is among the most explosive athletes in Texas A&M's senior class and should land with a team as an undrafted free agent at worst. He rushed for 808 yards last season, nearly twice as many as ex-Aggie and Seattle Seahawks second-round draft pick Christine Michael. His 5.7 yards-per-carry average also was tops among all Aggies running backs.
OT Jake Matthews: Thanks to Matthews, it's entirely possible that the Aggies could produce top-10 picks at this position in back-to-back drafts. His pass protection skills are elite, and the senior is very well-conditioned for an offensive lineman. The proof? Take a look at the way he handled LSU's pass rush last year, mostly in a one-on-one matchup against the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Barkevious Mingo. The son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, Jake (6-5, 305) will move from right tackle to left tackle as a senior, filling the void left by the 2013 draft's No. 2 overall choice, Luke Joeckel, as Manziel's primary pass protector.
WR Mike Evans: As a freshman, Evans (6-5, 218) led Aggies receivers in starts (13), catches (82) and yardage (1,105). This fall, without Arizona Cardinals sixth-round pick Ryan Swope around, Evans will be relied on even more heavily, but will also draw more defensive attention. Like Manziel, Evans will be a third-year sophomore and thus eligible to declare his intentions to apply for entry in the 2014 draft, but a 2015 or 2016 declaration is more likely.
CB Deshazor Everett: The Aggies' cornerback (6-0, 185) made 56 stops last season and was one of only three players to intercept Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, clinching the Aggies' upset road win with a pick at the goal line in the closing minutes. Everett, along with teammate Floyd Raven, was suspended by the school after an assault charge earlier this summer, so he might sit a game or two to open the season.
OG Jarvis Harrison: Consider Harrison (6-4, 320) a legitimate threat to make an early declaration for the 2014 draft. The junior is a powerful run blocker and, although he doesn't play a premium position, NFL teams might be hard-pressed to find a better college offensive guard in 2013.
QB Johnny Manziel: Size (6-1, 200) will be the biggest question when it comes to projecting the first-ever freshman Heisman Trophy winner's pro potential. He won't get any taller, but creating excitement and piling up total yardage at a dizzying pace should be no problem. Remember, because Manziel redshirted in 2011, he will be three years removed from high school after this season and thus eligible to declare his intentions to apply for entry in the 2014 NFL Draft if he so chooses. Third-year sophomores making the jump are rare, but given Manziel's collegiate anxiety and his injury risk as a running quarterback, it wouldn't be a shock if this was his final season in College Station. Of course, the NCAA's investigation into whether Manziel profited from autograph signings still has Aggies fans holding their breath.
OL Mike Matthews: A freshman backup center last year cracks this list? He projects as a starter in 2013 at center, and there are three other reasons little brother is one to watch for: bloodlines, bloodlines, bloodlines.
OL Cedric Ogbuehi: Jake Matthews' move from right tackle to left tackle will be closely watched this season, but Ogbuehi (6-5, 300) will move from guard to fill Matthews' old right tackle spot as well. He projects as a Sunday player regardless, but how well he handles blocking on an edge will go a long way to determine his draft status. Ogbuehi will be a fourth-year junior this fall.
RB Brandon Williams: The transfer from Oklahoma sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules, and hopes to emerge as a sophomore starter with the Aggies this fall. He has more raw talent than anyone Texas A&M has at the position, but if the fumble problems he displayed in the spring persist, he's unlikely to unseat Malena as a starter.
Three must-see games of 2013
Sept. 14 vs. Alabama: One of the most anticipated college games of the season will come early as the Aggies -- the only team to beat Alabama last season -- host the Crimson Tide in College Station for a September showdown with pivotal SEC West implications.
Oct. 12 at Ole Miss: If you like scoring, don't miss this one. The league's two fastest-paced offenses -- both hurry-up, no-huddle teams looking for as many offensive snaps as possible -- collide in Oxford, Miss., for what promises to be a points bonanza. Defensive linemen, start your oxygen.
Nov. 23 at LSU: In Death Valley, the Tigers' defense will look to stuff Johnny Football like a Thanksgiving turkey in what promises to be a chilly and hard-hitting affair. If Alabama has not clinched the SEC West by this point, this game could be a difference-maker.