Gridiron Tigers on the clock
Waiting game continues tonight with Rounds 2-3 of NFL Draft (ESPN, 5 p.m.)
By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Acting Editor
The most exciting draft amongst the major professional sports in America is set for a rejuvenated makeover in 2010.
In lieu of what’s become the norm - two long days of draft coverage on Saturday and Sunday - Commissioner Roger Goodell and his marketing team within the National Football League have instead opted for a move to three days of coverage, much of which is more primetime-friendly.
The first round will take place tonight (ESPN, 6:30 p.m.) with the final six rounds spread out over Friday and Saturday. CLICK HERE for a full listing of start times for each of the three days.
With a new-look format comes an LSU draft class which also qualifies as a departure from the norm, especially considering the program’s recent track record.
The Tigers enter this year’s draft as the owners of an impressive distinction. Dating back to 2004, LSU has had a player selected in the first round of six straight drafts, the longest such streak in college football during that stretch.
(For those counting at home, that’s Michael Clayton in 2004, Marcus Spears in 2005, Joseph Addai in 2006, a quartet - JaMarcus Russell, LaRon Landry, Dwayne Bowe and Buster Davis - in 2007, Glenn Dorsey in 2008, and Tyson Jackson last year.)
Coach Les Miles attributes much of that success to player development and playing in a league as rigorous as the Southeastern Conference.
“We develop our guys,” Miles explained. “We develop them in the classroom, on the football field and in the weight room. We recruit guys who have the potential to play at that next level.
“When you spend the time that we do pursuing a championship and playing to excellence, it prepares that young man for the next level. … Our guys are going to the NFL. Our guys will play in the NFL. I want to say (we had) 48 guys on an NFL roster last season.”
Speed plays a big factor, too, according to Miles. In fact, it’s a dimension NFL types have come to expect from the games of LSU players.
Continued Miles: “The thing that always happens with us is that (our players) translate the speed of the game very comfortably. The guys who come from LSU understand the game. They’ve played it at the highest level. There’s not gonna be any spotlight detour. There will be no distractions to football because they understand how to play it. The NFL is a very fast league and I think our guys play that way.”
And while as many as 12 Tigers could hear their names called this weekend, the current class doesn’t have the slam-dunk prospect at the top.
Receiver Brandon LaFell was seen in that first-round light before the start of the 2009 season, but inconsistent game performance (part of which can be attributed to spotty quarterback play) coupled with less-than-sterling workouts at the combine and at Pro Day have cast a shadow of doubt on that possibility. LaFell is now more likely seen as a mid-round pick, with a ceiling of mid-second round.
Talking about the growth of LaFell in his time on-campus, Miles said, “I think Brandon LaFell is a self-made man. He came in (to college) skinny and got stronger, faster. He runs really explicit routes and is very specific to detail and understands technique and leverage on a route. He’s got real ball skills.”
Miles would go on to mention the wide-out’s occasional bout with the dropsies before insisting it’s nothing that should deter NFL teams from selecting LaFell.
If LSU’s former No. 1 isn’t the first Tiger taken in this year’s draft, it could be because No. 3 stole the show. Safety Chad Jones, the only LSU junior to declare, has slowly navigated his way up mock draft boards. Miles, for one, thinks Jones is a first-round pick in any other year.
“This draft’s an unusual draft,” said the LSU coach, “From everything I’ve been told, they’ll be taking first-round draft picks well into the middle of the second (round). I think Chad Jones is a steal if he’s taken anywhere other than an elite first-round pick. I think he’ll play in the NFL for years.”
LaFell and Jones are household names across SEC territory and most of the country. It’s another less-heralded Bayou Bengal, however, who’s making a late surge to the land of second and third rounds.
Defensive lineman Al Woods has been the workout wizard of the 2010 LSU draft class, posting a 5.12 40-yard dash (stellar for his position) and a mind-rattling 37-inch vertical leap. It’s those measurable athletic skills which could vault Woods into one of the first three LSU players taken, despite his relative lack of production on the college stage.
“Al Woods will come in and accommodate the defense because he has the great measurables - size, speed and strength - and has never been injured,” Miles told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s the kind of guy who will play well in the first year and play better in his third and fourth years. Whoever gets Al will be spending their pick wisely.”
Along with that threesome, there are a number of Tigers expected to get the call in the mid-to-late rounds. Among the next tier is power running back Charles Scott. Miles downplayed the effect Scott’s injury (collarbone) would have on his draft status, saying he’ll be “plenty healthy for that next team he puts a uniform on for.” Miles also discredited any notion that Scott’s decision to return for a senior year negatively impacted his draft status.
Possibly the biggest wildcard of the LSU pro prospects, Trindon Holliday presents an interesting dilemma for NFL teams. At 5-foot-6, 160 pounds, Holliday will catch the time-honored rap of “being too small” for the pro game. But his flat-out speed (clocked at sub-4.35 in the 40) makes him impossible to ignore. It also gives him value in today’s NFL.
Miles explained: “Trindon Holliday is going to have to fit a specific niche, and when he does, some team’s going to be awfully happy because he’s gonna be an exceptional returner, he’ll be able to play special teams and they’ll give him an opportunity to catch some balls and find a piece in their passing game.
“The advocate of the Wildcat on that staff, whatever staff it is, will enjoy a guy who can come into the backfield and carry the ball with great speed.”
What’s intriguing is that while one streak for LSU - six consecutive years with a player taken in the first round - is almost certain to end, another record is well within reach.
In 1948, eight Tigers were picked in the professional football draft. No class since then has been able to top it. This year’s crop of purple and gold has a real shot at double digits. On top of the five players profiled above (Holliday, LaFell, Jones, Scott and Woods), consider the following Tigers: OL Ciron Black, LB’s Perry Riley, Harry Coleman and Jacob Cutrera, CB Chris Hawkins, RB Keiland Williams, TE/FB Richard Dickson, and DL’s Rahim Alem and Charles Alexander.
Now, no one’s delusional enough to think all 14 will be drafted. The realistic number is likely closer to the 8-11 range, but anything of that nature would set a program record.
Not too shabby for a team coming off 8-5 and 9-4 seasons.
Acting editor Ben Love reports on LSU football and basketball for Tiger Rag. He also loves the NFL Draft more than any non-game event in all of sports. Reach him at email@example.com.