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LSU and the 2018 NFL Draft: the Headliners

Auburn v LSU Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The 2018 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night, live from Dallas, where hopefully Jerry Jones has some sort of elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque death trap in store for Roger Goodell when he takes the stage.

As of press time, Derrius Guice is the only Tiger invited to the proceedings, and the betting favorite to be the second running back off the board — and possibly the only Tiger taken on the first night. But a few other players could hear their names in the second/third round on Friday, and of course more throughout the weekend.

Don’t believe what you read or see on Twitter regarding any sort of “character concerns” regarding Guice, or how much he smiles or how much time he spends playing Fortnite. He’ll be a high pick. NFL teams are stupid, but they’re not dumb.

I mean, the Browns are, but they’re going to waste their pick on a quarterback that couldn’t match Danny Etling’s 2017 numbers (Josh Allen) because he played at Wyoming and that’s the same part of the country Carson Wentz is from!

But for the most part, don’t buy the NFL Media Complex’s bullshit when it comes to “anonymous scouts” and the like. Pro teams are invested in putting out as much disinformation as they can to try and manipulate draft selections. The last thing anybody wants is another team snaking them on the player they have their eye on — so you leak vague B.S. about made-up issues, and watch reporters, especially on Twitter eat it up. They’re more than willing to put out what they’re asked to put out to trade on access, and hot takes will always draw more social media impressions and clicks, and that’s good for the bottom line.

It’s all a giant load of crap, and it leads to really stupid things like “Lamar Jackson should be a wide receiver!” but be smart enough to see through it and dismiss it.

Anyways, on to the four Tigers that probably have the best chance to get drafted early, including one who’s stock has plummeted in recent weeks.

Derrius Guice, Running Back

  • Height: 5-ft, 10 5/8 in.
  • Weight: 221 lbs.
  • Arm Length: 31 1/8 in.
  • Hands: 8 5/8 in.
  • Wingspan: 73 1/4 in.
  • Bench Press (reps of 225 lbs): 15
  • Vertical Jump: 31.5 in.
  • 40-yard Dash: 4.49 seconds

In almost any other draft, Derrius Guice would probably be the top running back and easily a top-15 pick. He’s solidly behind Saquon Barkley in this class, but he should still easily be the second back taken in the first round. He’s a compact power runner with incredibly quick feet and a great burst in the open field. Great stop/start/jump-cut explosiveness. Uncanny balance and body control to break tackles — if anything, he may need to learn a little discretion in order to prolong his NFL career. He’s a willing blocker, a capable receiver and a team-first guy that played through a nagging ankle injury for most of 2017. Ignore any talk of character concerns; Guice is an outgoing, engaging and intelligent kid that will be an instant hit with most fans, with a work ethic that should endear him to coaches and players. He’d be a fantastic fit with any number of teams, and there’s talk that both the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks are eager to plug him in as a feature runner.

Donte Jackson, Defensive Back

  • Height: 5-ft, 10 5/8 in.
  • Weight: 175 lbs
  • Arm Length: 30 1/8 in.
  • Hands: 8 7/8 in.
  • Wingspan: 71 1/4 in.
  • Bench Press: 7
  • Broad Jump: 10-ft, 2 in.
  • Vertical Jump: 37 in.
  • 40-yard Dash: 4.31

Jackson may be one of the top overall athletes in the draft — to the point that his 4.31-forty time was considered disappointing by some. His NFL fit will likely be more as a safety/nickel hybrid DB. He’s a willing tackler that can close quickly and get his hands on a receiver, but he struggles pressing at the line of scrimmage, and his reaction time can be a bit slow with his back to the ball. He’s much more comfortable playing down hill, in a position where his eyes are on the quarterback — he has a tendency to gamble, but that can be mitigated by putting him in a role where he doesn’t have to turn and run as much. His biggest issues are holding onto interceptions, and concentration; over his career he gave a up a number of big plays in games where he was rarely tested and fell asleep in deep coverage, including a 90-plus yard touchdown versus Florida in 2016, and a late game-winner versus Notre Dame this year. Work ethic and attention to detail has been a complaint at times, but Jackson is a top-shelf athlete that should fit very well in a specialized role. He definitely has the speed and quickness to be a cornerback, but he looked much more comfortable, and was more productive inside.

Expect Jackson to be a top-100 pick, likely in the second round.

D.J. Chark, Wide Receiver

  • Height: 6-foot, 3 in.
  • Weight: 198 lbs.
  • Arm Length: 33 5/8 in.
  • Hand Size: 9 1/8 in.
  • Wingspan: 78 7/8 in.
  • Bench Press: 16
  • Broad Jump: 10 feet, 9 in.
  • Vertical Jump: 40 in.
  • 40-yard Dash: 4.34 seconds

If there’s a potential dark-horse Tiger to sneak into the first round, it might just be Chark. He’s a pure deep threat wide receiver — and that’s exactly the kind of luxury pickup that teams can become infatuated with late in the first round.

Chark is a true deep-speed runner. He has fantastic speed and explosion, and understands using footwork to set cornerbacks up down the field. Plus he has the height and wingspan to high-point the ball in flight as well. He does, however struggle with his concentration in catching the ball. His game needs a lot of polish — he struggles beating physical corners at the line, and can, at times, look unsure of himself running underneath routes. But Chark is a player that can step in right away as a vertical-route specialist while he rounds out the rest of his game. He’d fit really well on a team with some established veterans at quarterback and receiver, where he won’t be asked to do much.

Arden Key, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker

  • Height: 6-foot, 5 1/4 in.
  • Weight: 238 pounds
  • Arm Length: 34 1/4 in.
  • Hand Size: 10 in.
  • Wingspan: 81 7/8 in.
  • Bench Press: 16
  • Broad Jump: 9 feet, 9 in.
  • Vertical Jump: 31 in.
  • 40-yard Dash: 4.85 seconds
  • Three-cone Drill: 7.16 seconds
  • 20-yard Shuttle: 4.25 seconds

This time last year, many believed Key would be a top-10 pick, fresh off a school-record 12 sacks in the 2016 season. Since then, he sat out the spring semester, supposedly due to drug issues, delaying a shoulder surgery that affected his conditioning and kept him out of the first few games of 2017. He played noticeably overweight, but still managed to flash his talent in spurts, and even played with several games with a broken finger before a knee injury in mid-November ended his season.

Since then, a series of disappointing workouts and vague answers as to his troubles have only furthered Key’s draft slalom, to the point that some think he may only be a third- or fourth-round pick at best.

At his peak, Key looked like an elite speed rusher. Tremendous explosion out of his stance, with great hands and technique for fighting off blocks, with an incredibly high motor in pursuit. He had a relatively well-rounded game as well, showing some talent for flat-area coverage — where his massive wingspan came in handy — and the strength to set the edge in the running game. Up until his lost spring in 2017, most would have described Key as a hard-working, incredibly talent player. Now he’s one of the 2018 Draft’s great wild cards. Teams tend to make allowances for special talents that can affect the passing game, either quarterbacks, pass-rushers, wide receivers or defensive backs. And I’m sure that there are a number of NFL teams that remember what they saw from Key in 2016 — and it only takes one team to make him a higher pick than some expect.

But his stock is decidedly lower than it was last year.