LSU owns third round as prospects impress coaches more than “experts”
By GLENN GUILBEAU
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
BATON ROUGE - The best thing about the NFL Draft is when the ESPN-sponsored, four-month festival of BS finally ends and we can quit hearing from all the experts, particularly Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.
Those two are actually very talented and do their homework, but they are extremely over-exposed. And there is such a thing as too much research. No matter how much knowledge Kiper and McShay and all the rest glean, they are not coaches.
And sometimes coaches see what film, interviews, combines and the measurables do not. This was made very clear in the draft selections of former LSU players Kelvin Sheppard and Stevan Ridley in the third round on Friday. Both were picked by some of the experts to go in the fourth, fifth or even later rounds.
Sometimes one gets the feeling that NFL coaches do not hang on every word of the Kipers and the McShays and the like.
Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey picked Sheppard largely because Gailey and his staff were the coaches of the South team in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last January. Future college seniors need to take note of this. The Senior Bowl, which includes practices with shoulder pads and helmets and the like, is a much more significant proving ground than the NFL Combine or the series of Pro Days at various colleges that feature stop watches, weights and players in shorts.
“He played sideline to sideline actually better in the Senior Bowl than he did sometimes on the tape,” Gailey said.
Imagine that! Gailey took something from a practice and not from the film room. The draft experts tend to watch more tape than practices in person and go by word of mouth as well.
“We heard some good things about him, but we also heard there were some limitations about him,” Gailey said. “And we saw just the opposite.”
The next best thing to being there may be ESPN, but Gailey would rather be there to see a guy when he makes a pick.
Gailey also liked Sheppard’s leadership abilities. By the second day of the Senior Bowl, Sheppard had made himself in charge of the defense. That doesn’t always show up on film or in vertical leaps. The Bills have a first-hand known commodity in Sheppard, and Sheppard has the same in the Bills.
“I kind of felt like I was coming back home,” Sheppard said. “Once, I stepped into the door, everyone was like, ‘Shepp, what’s up, man?”
Meanwhile, New England coach Bill Belichick, who does not rely on ESPN to make picks, noticed something about Ridley’s running style that a stop watch cannot record.
“Gets a lot of tough yards,” Belichick said. “Good running style. He’s a bigger, physical back.”
Belichick, who took Ridley as the ninth pick in the third and 73rd selection overall, caught onto what those who watched Ridley play regularly know. He knows how to gain yards without blocking and he knows how to gain yards when every defender knows he’s getting it. Ridley was a 1,000-yard rusher at LSU last season on one of the worst passing teams in the nation.
And Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell noticed things about former LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis that cannot be coached.
“Quickness and explosion and twitch you don’t teach,” he said. “Drake is a guy who has unbelievable quickness, and we think he will be a disruptor inside.”
Nevis was seen as too short in height and reach to go in the second round. The Colts took him as the 23rd pick of the third round and 87th overall.
Offensive tackle Joseph Barksdale was expected to not get drafted until the fifth round by the experts, but Oakland took him with the 28th pick of the third round and 92nd overall.
LSU continued to be one of the best suppliers of new employees into the NFL in all of college football. For the third straight year, six or more Tigers were drafted.
This NFL class from LSU, though, stands out like no other. The Tigers set a school record by having their most players selected in the first three rounds of the draft with five. Those were cornerback Patrick Peterson to Arizona as the fifth pick of the first round, followed by Sheppard, Ridley, Nevis and Barksdale.
The previous high for LSU for picks in the first three rounds was four, and that happened five previous times - in 1951, 1983, 2004, 2007 and 2008. In ‘07, LSU had four players drafted in the first round, and the next one went in round seven.
The sixth player to go in the draft was defensive tackle Pep Levingston, who went as the second pick of the seventh and final round on Saturday and 205th overall.
LSU coach Les Miles has now had six players recruited and coached by him go in the third round over the last two drafts. Safety Chad Jones and wide receiver Brandon LaFell went in the third round to the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers last season.
The only LSU players with legitimate hopes of being drafted who were not selected in the 2011 draft were kicker Josh Jasper and wide receiver Terrence Toliver.
Both will likely get an opportunity with an NFL team as an undrafted free agent as soon as the labor dispute is settled between NFL players and owners.
“I think Josh will make a team,” NFL draft expert Mike Detillier said. “Josh is a very consistent field goal kicker. I would suspect the team that will get Josh is Dallas. The Cowboys had a lot of interest in him, and I really thought they would draft him.”
Toliver was a major recruit out of high school in Hempstead, Texas, but he never lived up to his potential.
“He never upped his play as his career went along,” Detillier said. “He was very inconsistent at catching the ball.”
DRAFT NOTES: Of the LSU players signed by Miles since he became coach in 2005, 15 have been drafted - eight in the third round or better. … Of the LSU players coached by Miles, 37 have been drafted - 19 in the third round or better. … Patrick Peterson was the first LSU player recruited and signed by Miles to go in the first round. Miles has coached eight LSU players who have become first round picks, but the first seven were recruited and signed by former coach Nick Saban.