- Gary Laney, Reporter, GeauxTigerNation
In a program that has made an art of the three-year recruiting cycle, they are only players left from LSU's 2009 signing class that was ranked No. 1 in the country by RecruitingNation.
That they are gone doesn't reflect poorly on a class that already has three players in the NFL and at least five who are likely to be high picks in the upcoming NFL draft. For those who stayed four years, they enjoyed three consecutive seasons of 10 victories or more, an SEC championship and a trip to the BCS championship game.
In the bigger picture, they've created the new identity of the program, that of the school most likely to have early draft departures, sort of the football version of Kentucky.
It started after 2011 when three members of the class of 2009 -- cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and wide receiver Rueben Randle -- each left school after three years and were picked by the end of the second round of the NFL draft.
A year later, defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan and linebacker Kevin Minter left after their redshirt junior seasons with the potential of joining the 2011 trio as players from the 2009 class picked in the first two rounds. If that comes true in April, it would give the 2009 class 7 out of 25 as players picked in the first two rounds.
Best class in the country that year? It's hard to argue with it based on that.
Here's the interesting thing: The top-rated players in the class generally weren't those seven.
Of the nine highest-rated players in LSU's 2009 signing class, only Montgomery, the fourth highest-rated player in that class, is likely to be a first-round pick. Randle went in the second round last year to the New York Giants and the 10th-rated player in the class, Minter, is one of the fast-rising prospects of this year's draft class, projected to be selected late in the first round, possibly the early second round.
The next 10 players is where LSU found a lot of gold. Claiborne, the No. 11 prospect in the class, wound up as the No. 6 pick overall by the Dallas Cowboys last spring. One spot behind him in the signing class was Brockers, who went No. 14 overall to the St. Louis Rams last season. Mingo, the 16th-highest-rated player in the Tigers' 2009 class, will likely be a top-10 overall draft pick this spring.
Even the bottom five of the class has NFL gold. Offensive tackle Chris Faulk was projected to be a first-round NFL draft pick when a knee injury ended his redshirt junior season. He'll still likely be drafted.
What happened at the top of the board? The top player, Russell Shepard, never became a starter. The No. 2 player, Loston, struggled with injuries, became a starter in 2012 and will be back, hoping to finally make a profound impact, one worthy of a player once rated the nation's best safety.
Add it up and you have a class that will, by next season, have as many as 12 players -- nearly half -- in the NFL if marginal talents such as Shepard and Josh Downs make rosters. The four headed back to LSU next year have reason to think they might earn NFL paychecks, too, and they could ran the class's NFL number to 14.
Add in Akiem Hicks, a member of the class who never played a snap for LSU after running into NCAA hot water but eventually found his way onto the roster of the New Orleans Saints, and there is a potential for 15 pros out of a 25-man signing class.
Indeed, that's a top class, just not one that necessarily followed the blueprint from signing day.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Lamin Barrow, Josh Williford, Tahj Jones and Craig Loston will be looked at as old, old men next year when they enter their fifth-year senior seasons at LSU.