LSU will recover from mass junior exodus

January, 21, 2013
1/21/13
11:45
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Sam Montgomery, Barkevious MingoCal Sport Media via AP Images, Getty ImagesSam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, projected to be first-round picks, highlight LSU's group of juniors leaving early for the NFL draft.
Les Miles isn’t sweating the mass exodus, so maybe everybody in Tigerland shouldn’t be sweating the 10 underclassmen leaving early for the NFL draft.

That number swells to 11 if you count Tyrann Mathieu, but Mathieu didn’t play this past season for LSU after being dismissed and had no chance of returning in 2013.

To put LSU’s 10 early NFL draft entrants into perspective, the entire SEC had 11 in 2012.

Then again, the SEC saw that number climb to 33 this year.

And, yes, there were a number of head-scratchers. That's always the case.

Players leave early for all sorts of reasons. Most of the time, they’re simply ready to take their shot at the NFL. Sometimes, they land in the doghouse and really don’t have much choice. Others listen to the wrong people and get bad advice.

There’s a reason LSU has been one of the elite programs in college football the past few years. The Tigers have recruited and developed players about as well as anyone.

The sobering reality for everybody else in the SEC is that nobody has done it as well as Alabama, and the Tigers and Crimson Tide just happen to reside in the same division.

So it’s understandable that fans on all sides would see 10 underclassmen leaving early in one year and wonder if LSU was about to hit one of those embankments that all elite programs fear. The cyclical nature of college football, particularly in the SEC, is a fact of life.

The other obvious question: Is there something amiss in LSU’s program right now that’s driving players away? After all, we hear constantly how players love playing for Miles, but we don’t see a lot of those guys hanging around for another chance at that coveted crystal trophy.

Those guys do exist, although they’re getting rarer.

AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley chose to stay at Alabama for another season. So did Jake Matthews at Texas A&M, Aaron Murray at Georgia and Jordan Matthews at Vanderbilt.

In LSU’s case, most of the guys who are leaving already knew coming into this past season that this would likely be their farewell.

Go back to that star-studded 2009 signing class by LSU that was ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN. Six of the players leaving early were in that class -- defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, offensive tackle Chris Faulk and running back Michael Ford.

All six of those players redshirted their first season, meaning this was their fourth year in the program.

Mingo and Montgomery are both projected as top-20 picks, while Minter and Logan both have a chance to slip into the latter part of the first round.

Ford probably saw the writing on the wall with the emergence of Jeremy Hill at running back this season, and Faulk had already missed most of this past season with an injury. He wasn’t willing to risk coming back to school and being injured again.

That 2009 signing class also included cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and receiver Rueben Randle, all of whom left early last year and were taken in the first two rounds. Claiborne and Brockers were both top-15 picks.

The Tigers’ 2010 signing class was ranked No. 8 nationally and included safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running back Spencer Ware, not to mention Mathieu.

It was pretty much a given prior to this season that Reid was coming out. He’s rated as one of the top safeties in the draft. Simon has all the measurables and will probably help himself in workouts, while Ware had seen his role on LSU’s team reduced ever since his suspension in 2011 after reportedly testing positive for synthetic marijuana.

Even for a program that rakes in the talent the way LSU does, losing 10 players early in one year is bound to have an effect. The Tigers will be forced to depend on a lot of young players next season, and several others will have to step up their roles considerably.

Miles has built a strong enough foundation that LSU isn’t going to all of a sudden drop off the radar. But losing so many good players at once will make it that much more difficult to climb out from under Alabama’s growing shadow, and that’s not what anybody wants to hear on the Bayou.

Miles knows how the game works, though, and he also knows that it’s never a bad thing to be sending so many players to the NFL, or at least in the direction of the NFL. When you're recruiting in the waters that LSU does, the overriding question that just about every one of those recruits has is: How can you help me get to the NFL?

“I like the state of the program,” Miles told The Baton Rouge Advocate. “I like the fact that we send guys to the NFL early and recruit guys with the potential to go to the NFL early.”

Something says that cycle's not going to end any time soon at LSU and that the Tigers aren't going to lose their membership in college football's upper class.

Chris Low | email

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