Drafts have made Cincy part of SEC country

CINCINNATI -- The scene inside the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room on fall Friday mornings often resembles those that are played out in front of countless watercoolers in office buildings across the country, particularly those in the South.

Players place friendly wagers as they brace for Saturday college football showdowns that pit their alma maters against one another.

Most times it's Dre Kirkpatrick doing the chirping, proclaiming the greatness of his Alabama Crimson Tide to the former Georgia and Florida standouts whose lockers are within close proximity. On another Friday, LSU product Andrew Whitworth might be the one who calmly walks by and adds a "Geaux Tigers" to the discussion. Before too long, those conversations could become even more heated.

In all, 15 players on the Bengals' 53-man roster have ties to SEC schools. That accounts for more than 28 percent of the roster, and marks the highest conference representation on the team, drawing four players more than the 11 Big Ten alumni who wear the orange and black.

Since his first draft as the Bengals head coach in 2003, Lewis' staffs have selected 26 players from SEC schools. Overall, they have drafted 100 players in those 11 classes, putting their percentage of SEC selections right at 26 percent. Next on the list is the Big Ten, with 15 draft selections, followed by the Pac-12 with 11. Before picking four SEC products last year, the Bengals had been tied with the Atlanta Falcons for making the most SEC draft selections since 2003.

What makes these figures somewhat interesting is the fact that Cincinnati is located in an area that proudly boasts its love for the Big Ten, Mid-American and American (the old Big East) Conferences. Ohio State, Indiana, Miami (Ohio), Ohio, Ball State, Louisville and Cincinnati are all in the area and have large alumni bases spread across southwest Ohio. The University of Kentucky isn't far either, but the love affair with SEC college football isn't nearly as strong for the the region as it is with the Big Ten brand.

It has become normal to assume in the weeks before a draft that the Bengals will try to add at least one Georgia Bulldog. That's one reason why even though he wasn't healthy enough to play in last week's Senior Bowl, former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray's name still started popping up on Bengals fan sites as a possible backup signal-caller to Andy Dalton. Murray showed up at the Senior Bowl and spoke with media and representatives from various NFL teams despite not playing.

Under Lewis' watch, no school has sent more draft picks to Cincinnati than Georgia. Eight former Bulldogs have come to the Bengals through that process, including at least one in the last four drafts: Geno Atkins (2010), A.J. Green and Clint Boling (2011), Orson Charles (2012) and Shawn Williams (2013).

This is all to say that as you start following various draft projections in the coming months, keep your eyes on players from the SEC. Because if history is any indication, one or two may soon be coming to add to the Friday morning trash talk.