It's that time of year again. It's NFL Draft season, and I, for one, am excited all over again. I guess it's the inner amateur scout in me, but just as I love recruiting, so too do I love the NFL Draft process. College football's finest prospects are combed over time and again, their every strength analyzed, their every weakness magnified. Take a look at the NFL's most successful organizations over the past decade and you'll almost certainly see a common thread: They almost all draft well (Replace the word "draft" with "recruit" and you've all heard me say this before). Much like recruiting, value can be found up and down the draft board, even for some in the Undrafted Free Agent pool.
Sheer probability dictates that key contributors can be located in any round. For the 2012 NFL Draft class, LSU donates a handful of prospects, some of which will go high, some of which will go low, some of which won't go at all.After the jump, I'll take an extended look at all of LSU's draft hopefuls and project where they will go.
There's been very little negative press for Claiborne leading up to this draft. In fact, most publications agree that there are six truly "elite" prospects in this class: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Matt Kalil, Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon and Mr. Claiborne himself. Not bad for a 2* out of Fair Park.
Claiborne displays very few weaknesses. His size is ideal for the position. He's an extremely fluid, natural athlete. His movements (opening his hips, changing directions) are done effortlessly. Add to that insane ball skills and you have a top 10 NFL Draft pick. Claiborne will be compared to Patrick Peterson often, but the two aren't really anything alike. Claiborne is a very good athlete. Peterson is a freak. Claiborne is natural in man coverage. Peterson struggles there.
Mo can turn and run with anyone. You don't see him get "beat." When the ball is in the air, he plays it like a WR. It's a truly elite skill. Imagine facing a corner that is running the same route as your WR, and then going up for your perfectly timed pass. That's Mo. As a pure corner, I think Mo is superior to Peterson. If he has a weakness, it's his ability to press at the line, but that can be negated either by scheme or hard work.
Ultimately, I don't see Mo lasting past the 5th pick. The Vikings will either take Kalil or move backward. The Browns desperately need offensive help, so they will take Richardson, Blackmon OR go crazy and take Ryan Tannehill. That makes Tampa a natural landing spot. They a) Need help at CB, b) Hired LSU's DB's coach so are sure to have a glowing evaluation and C) are in the right spot. The only chance Mo has of going higher is either the Vikings really having a high evaluation of him or another team making a big play up to get him.
Brockers, more than any other LSU prospect has seen his stock fluctuate. After announcing his entrance to the draft, many project Brockers to go top 10. After a poor showing at the Combine, his stock fell back into the 20s. Lately, mocks have him going anywhere from 10-20. I think there's a good chance that's where he falls.
One difficulty with evaluating Brockers is that he's nowhere near a finished project. He's only 23. He weighed into the combine at 322. Virtually none of his athletic measurements illustrated elite athletic ability. Yet, many have said his tape shows absolute dominance at times. In that sense, he's nearly the polar opposite to uber-athletic Memphis DT Dontari Poe. Seeing where these two go will be an interesting tell in terms of NFL evaluations. Do they take the insane athleticism and subpar tape in Poe or the insane tape and subpar athleticism in Brockers?
Brockers could play any position along the 3-4 DL, but he could also continue to be a 4-3 NT as he was at LSU. He doesn't display any elite pass rushing ability. His real talent is being a bull in the middle of the defense. Regardless of what combine numbers suggest, you'd be foolish to believe Brockers lacked strength. His core power is special. The question will be, "What does that become?" Is Brockers a guy that can eventually collapse the pocket as a bullrusher while also clogging up lanes in the running game? Or will he be more of a 2-down, gap-clogging run stuffer?
Where Brockers goes will entirely depend on what evaluations teams have on him. For instance, the Chiefs love taking SEC players and have selected two LSU DL in the past 5 years. Dorsey doesn't fit the 3-4 and Jackson has proven to not be worth the high pick spent on him. Could Brockers be the answer? I wouldn't think so, but I wouldn't be shocked either. Brockers could go even higher, to the Panthers, whose lackluster run defense proved a weakness time after time. If they see Brockers as THE premium run-stopper on the interior, would they spend no. 9 on him? Before you say no, no, no, don't forget the Jaguars 10th overall when many projected him as a late 1st/early 2nd round pick.
Realistically, I see Brockers falling somewhere between 10-25.
Randle is another player that's tough to get a read on. Coming out of high school, Randle ranked as one of the elite prospects in the nation. From a pure production standpoint, he never lived up to that potential. The question is: Why? One side could argue that he never played with the type of quarterback talent that could feature his athletic abilities. The other could say that Randle didn't display that elite, innate, "Give me the damn ball!" mentality that makes all true no. 1's both awesome and obnoxious.
I think it's a little of both. Randle is talented enough that if he had played at, say, OU, he likely would have had multiple 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. That said, Malcolm Kelly was thought to be an elite talent coming out of OU and he's currently job-hunting.
My biggest beef with Randle is that I don't think he plays with the mentality to be an elite, no. 1 type WR. He's got the size (6'2+, 215), the athletic ability (good speed, good RAC, solid quickness) and hands (tested well in the reaction drill at the combine. He should be dominant. But he's not. Or at least, he hasn't shown it. That doesn't mean he can't or won't.
Regardless, Randle has the physical skills to stick around the league a long, long time, even if he never maxes out as a true no. 1. Randle could go anywhere from 20 on tonight or he may be more of a 2nd round pick tomorrow. But he will absolutely be gone in the first 2 rounds. Like Brockers it will really depend on how teams evaluate him. There's a group of WRs in the late 1st/early 2nd that will likely have varying grades: Kendall Wright, Stephen Hill, and Alshon Jeffery. I could see Randle going first of the four; I could see Randle going last of the four. Like I said, it really depends on what evaluations teams have.
Full disclosure: I love Brandon Taylor. He's not the biggest. He's not the baddest. He's not the fastest. But he does all the little things. I can't tell you how many times I'd re-watch LSU games and there he was, again and again, Brandon Taylor. Always in position. Always making a play. Never sexy. Never flashy. Never with big hits or big turnovers. Just stable, solid, consistent. Which is exactly why Brandon Taylor will be a good NFL player.
Call me a homer. Call me biased. I don't care. Brandon Taylor will be a better NFL player than Mark Barron. Reportedly, Bill Belichick is quite intrigued by Mr. Taylor. Post-season, I thought Taylor may have been a 3rd-4th round pick, but from all I've read, it seems more and more like he'll be a 2nd or early 3rd type of guy.
Taylor is a player many LSU fans never fully appreciated, mostly for the reasons I mentioned above. He wasn't the guy who made the big hit or the ridiculous interception. He just did the right thing... over and over and over and over... He's a student of the game. Coaches will eat that up. It wouldn't shock me at all if Taylor wound up as the best safety in this (admittedly weak) class.
How good is Ron Brooks? Good enough that after spending his entire career as a back-up at LSU, he will likely be a middle round pick. That's wild.Brooks is smallish (5'10), but well put together (190). He's willing in run support. He shows blitzing ability. He has ball skills. He's got elite speed (fastest 40 at the combine). He has return skills. He's shown some coverage ability, but that may be his biggest weakness. Ron likely projects to the nickel, but he could play outside in a pinch. Some teams may even view him as a safety (and we gave him a spin there one spring).
It's tough to judge exactly how good Brooks is because, in many ways, he's the forgotten man in the LSU secondary. Think about the past two years: Peterson (top 10 pick), Claiborne (top 10 pick), Eric Reid (likely 1st rounder), Tyrann Mathieu (chance at 1st round), Tharold Simon (1st round talent). If offenses had to pick one guy to not key on, it would probably be Brooks. That being said, lack of tape does not equal cannot perform. I do think Brooks has NFL ability. He has added value as a return specialist. I know Dallas brought him in for a private workout. I'm sure other teams did as well. Ron will be drafted, maybe higher than you were anticipating.
Sadly, I think those four may be the only ones drafted from those that declared. My rationale for why is listed below:
Jordan Jefferson: Possesses physical NFL tools and size, but lacks in consistency. Jefferson never evolved in four years. That's not a good reflection. May latch on as an UDFA, but I doubt he's drafted with his slow release and lack of production to go with character concerns.
Jarrett Lee: Everyone is rooting for Lee, but let's face it, he's not an NFL talent. In fact, he wasn't quite good enough to hold down the starting gig above a guy who I already said won't be drafted AND has more NFL tools that Jarrett. Jarrett is an example of what all LSU athletes should be, but his football playing career is likely over.
Will Blackwell: If you've read the site, you know, I'm not a huge fan of Blackwell's. He's got some ability, but he's not a great athlete and he really struggles against elite competition. There were mixed reviews from the Senior Bowl. Will is the one of the rest I think has the most likely chance to get drafted, but I'm just not confident he will.
DeAngelo Peterson: I liken Peterson to the popular new Christmas toy that breaks as soon as you get it out of the box. Many have disagreed with me on him, and that's fine. Peterson is a good (not great) athlete, who was under-utilized at LSU partially due to the limitations of our QBs and partially due to the fact that he's just not a very good football player. From the Senior Bowl to the Combine to Pro Days, he hasn't really done anything to change that perspective. I'll be surprised if he's taken.
Ryan Baker: If you asked me at the end of the 2011 season if Ryan Baker would be drafted, I would have probably chuckled at you for asking. Fast forward to 2012 and the answer is no. Baker has some natural athletic ability, but he completely disappeared in 2012. He was also suspended for a game, which doesn't help. His ability on special teams will help, but I see him more as a UDFA that could make a roster through ST effort than a guy teams will be willing to spend a pick on.
T-Bob Hebert: T-Bob struggled to keep up with the size/strength of the Division 1 game, so that doesn't speak to his ability to play at the next level. I wish him the best.
Ken Adams: Adams is intriguing. Since high school he's been listed at 6'5, but at the Pro Day he measured at 6'1 3/4. I can't say I've ever seen that big of a discrepancy. He ran in the 4.6s, which is pretty good speed for a guy who weighs 244. He's a really disciplined run defender, but with his lack of height and bulk, I don't think he'll make it as a DL at the next level and I'm not sure he has the athleticism to play LB.
As for the graduates that were unnamed, I'm not sure any are NFL prospects. I hope that I'm wrong about them all, and everyone is drafted; I would love that.
Later tonight I'll open an NFL Draft Live Blog and cover what goes down. Should be a lot of fun, so make sure to cancel your dinner plans and join in.