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SEC No. 1 again - with 16 selections

By RICK FREEMAN - AP Sports Writer
    2012-04-27 22:49

NEW YORK (AP) - Asked about the leap from the Southeastern Conference up to the NFL, Trent Richardson said he didn't expect it to be too much of a change.

He may have a point - most of the SEC seems to be coming with him.

Through the first three rounds of the NFL draft, 16 players from the SEC were taken, from Alabama running back Richardson (third overall to the Cleveland Browns) to Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette, who went 90th to New England.

Richardson excelled at Alabama, where he won the Doak Walker award as the nation's top running back. Being the class of the best league in college football was a selling point.

``I saw him play running back in a physical style and in an outstanding conference, the SEC, and they won a lot of games. He helped that team win a national championship,'' Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. ``In my mind, you saw what you needed to see to project the fact that he is going to be an outstanding player in this league.''

Fans of the league's teams take pride in noting its accomplishments, among them winning the last six BCS titles.

The BCS championship game was an all-SEC affair this year, and that game between Alabama and LSU alone sent nine players to the NFL - so far. There's four more rounds on Saturday.

Seven of the 12 SEC teams had players chosen in the first three rounds. Auburn, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida did not.

Alabama had five players picked. It's no surprise, coming from a program with two national titles in the last three seasons, coached by Nick Saban, a former star assistant in the NFL before a stint in college and then a brief stay as head coach of the Miami Dolphins before coming to Alabama.

In addition to Richardson, defensive backs Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick, and linebacker Dont'a Hightower went in the first round, and linebacker Courtney Upshaw followed quickly on Friday night.

``Coming from the program I come from, it's kind of just the mindset that I have,'' Barron said. ``You want to be the best at everything we do. Every day we go out to practice (at Alabama), we're just working at being the best. ... I think that'll make it an easy transition for me to come in and have a great impact.''

Bills scout Darrell Moody was also impressed by the conference. Buffalo took South Carolina defensive back Stephon Gilmore and Georgia offensive lineman Cordy Glenn.

``I coached for 28 years and I coached in the SEC,'' Moody said, when speaking of Glenn. ``I would say he's been coached hard. They don't pamper them in the SEC. He's been coached hard.''

The SEC cachet even extended to a player from North Alabama, a Division II school. Janoris Jenkins was a three-year starter at Florida who was kicked off the team in April 2011 after his third arrest in less than two years and second in four months, the last two on marijuana charges.

He might as well count as a 13th SEC player through the first 95 picks. During his time with the Gators, he went up against three star receivers who do or will play on Sundays: Alshon Jeffery, A.J. Green and Julio Jones.

``I played against those guys,'' Jenkins said. ``I also performed very well. I played against Alshon, A.J., and Julio. Neither one of them scored. Just fun games.''

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OLD SCHOOL: In the second round, teams' picks were announced by notable former players.

No one got a louder roar than former Lions star Barry Sanders.

It's not that there was a large contingent of Michiganders, either. But the fans attending the second day of the draft at Radio City Music Hall gave him a standing ovation.

The only comparable reception for a former player was when ex-New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan came out to announce their pick. He retired after the Giants won the Super Bowl following the 2007 season.

Not all the stars were of such recent vintage.

Cleveland was represented by a former player who actually won a championship with the Browns - former wide receiver Gary Collins, who was part of their 1964 NFL championship team two years after he was picked fourth overall out of Maryland.

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ROAF HOF: Former New Orleans left tackle Willie Roaf was at the NFL draft Friday night. He said he was confident the Saints would be fine without Sean Payton.

The Saints coach was suspended for a year starting April 16 and running through the Super Bowl after the NFL's bounty investigation of the Saints.

``I think they've got a veteran group of guys who police themselves,'' Roaf said. ``I still think they're going to be a real strong football team.''

Roaf, recently elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, announced the Saints' choice of defensive tackle Akiem Hicks at No. 89 later on Friday night.

---

WELCOME TO PRIME TIME: The NFL said the first round's broadcast on both ESPN and the NFL Network on Thursday night drew a combined total of 25.3 million viewers.

Citing The Nielsen Company, the league said the combined average rating was 5.28, up 18 percent over the first round last year.

The broadcast averaged 8.1 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched first round, behind only 2010, when the average was 8.3 million.

Most viewers watched on ESPN, but the NFL Network drew 1.4 million viewers, up over last year's 1.0 million.

---

EXTRA POINTS: There were 10 trades in the second and third rounds on Friday night, after teams swap eight times in the first round the night before ... Fans reacted to the Jaguars' selection of Cal punter Bryan Anger in the third round with a derisive roar, possibly not aware that Anger averaged more than 44 yards a punt in 2011, and had at least one punt of 50 yards or more in 11 games. Anger is the highest punter drafted since 1995, when the Chicago Bears chose Todd Sauerbrun in the second round. ``I didn't know they liked me that much,'' Anger said. ... Through three rounds, no player from Texas, Florida or Florida State was chosen. But SMU, Midwestern State and the University of Regina, in Canada, all were represented.

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