By GLENN GUILBEAU
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
BATON ROUGE – Even when I was a kid, I thought LSU tended to be a tad overrated.
I was 11 in 1972 when Sports Illustrated tabbed the Tigers the No. 1 team in the nation entering the season. Instead, LSU finished 9-2-1. The Tigers, who had won the 1970 SEC championship, were very good for the fourth straight year and won nine games for the fourth straight time. But they weren’t quite there.
Such has often been the case with LSU. It’s probably true of other schools, too. Even at Alabama in that span after Gene Stallings and before Nick Saban, the football team was usually supposed to be great with all their great recruits – who tended to get ranked higher AFTER committing to Bama – but it wasn’t. The Tide had four losing seasons from 1997 through 2006 with a 6-6 campaign and two 7-5 seasons in there, including losses to Southern Mississippi, Central Florida and two to Louisiana Tech from 1997 through 2000. And all that with the SEC office in Birmingham!
Still, for a school that has won just three national championships in football (1958, 2003 and 2007), it sure seems like the Tigers are always supposed to win another one, and somehow everything goes to hell.
Part of this is LSU’s really cool mystique – the stadium, the bayou, the name recognition. This all lends itself at times to exaggeration by the media, and I have been guilty of that, too.
I have written about Leonard Fournette, Ben Simmons and Alex Lange being perhaps the three greatest players in football, basketball and baseball at LSU at the same time in history. Only Fournette has answered that. Billy Cannon, LSU’s only Heisman Trophy winner, answered it, too. So did Tommy Casanova, who is LSU’s only three-time All-American (1969, ’70 and ’71).
There have been many others. But there have been more who were thought to be great, but it didn’t happen.
LSU’s recruiting classes have also had a tendency to be a little better on signing day than on fall Saturdays. Sometimes, we just assume because they’re at LSU, they’re really good. Not always the case.
LSU as of last season has more players in the NFL than anyone. There were 12 first round picks from LSU from 2007 through 2014. This creates a mystique, which can lend itself to exaggeration. There were no first round picks in 2015 or ’16, though offensive lineman La’el Collins could have been a first rounder last year had he, his agent and his attorney handled things better last year when his name surfaced in connection with an ex-girlfriend’s murder. When the trio finally listened to and cooperated with Baton Rouge Police, he was cleared instantly, but it was about a week too late.
Tre’Davious White could have gone in the first round over the weekend, but he chose to stay at LSU for his senior season. Kendell Beckwith would have likely gone in the third round, but he elected to stay as well.
In the end Saturday, LSU had just four players drafted into the NFL, which chose only four last year as well. That represents LSU’s worst two back-to-back performances in the NFL Draft since 2000 and 2001 when just five were taken. This was just before Saban’s recruits became the NFL’s recruits in record numbers.
As far as number of players picked and the round, LSU’s 2016 draft was its worst since 2001 as three of the four taken last year went in the second-through-fourth rounds (cornerback Jalen Collins, defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebacker Kwon Alexander) with one going in the seventh (tailback Kenny Hilliard). Of the four taken over the weekend, two went in the seventh round (safety Jalen Mills and offensive guard Vadal Alexander) with the other two going in the first four rounds (outside linebacker Deion Jones in the second round and offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins in the fourth round).
Mills and Alexander, though, were projected as high as the second or third rounds by local and national media. Hawkins was also viewed as a possible second or third round pick because of a so-called late soar. A local paper actually had all four LSU players going on day two, which would have meant the second or third round.
NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier of WWL Radio in New Orleans is usually as accurate as anyone on ESPN if not more. He correctly predicted the Saints taking Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins with their first pick Thursday, and he had Hawkins slated for late in the fourth round, which is when he was taken. But even Detillier missed on Mills and Alexander badly. He had Mills going in the second round and Alexander in the third. They both lasted until the seventh. Mills had an arrest issue in which he allegedly hit a woman, but that was nearly two years ago and the charge was later dismissed. He also did miss much of last season with a broken leg.
“The NFL is sensitive to off the field issues, especially a domestic offense,” Detillier said.
Yeah, now it is, at last, Mr. Goodell.
“It killed Jalen in the eyes of many, and he is coming off an injury. But he’s a quality player,” Detillier said.
Alexander had no bad behavioral issues to consider, though he was carrying too much weight. This is amazing since we always hear of how great LSU’s conditioning program is, and for the most part it usually is.
“Both took unbelievable falls,” Detillier said Monday. “Vadal really worked hard on getting his weight down, but concerns about his weight and future conditioning hurt him. And he didn’t win in the off-season workouts. He didn’t run or test out well. But turn on the tape, and the guy is a football player.”
NFL teams are famous for making silly draft decisions based on the ridiculous, shorts-and-shirts beauty contests of the Combine and repetitive Pro Days, but maybe Alexander and Mills just weren’t as good as we all thought.
“Both of those guys were four-year starters at one of the top schools in college football,” Detillier said. “Strange world.”
That school has fallen to 17-8 overall and 9-7 in the SEC the last two years, though.
Perhaps LSU’s recent showings in the NFL Draft represents its fall to mediocrity – hype or no hype.
That said, I still think LSU will be great in football this season because of everyone it has coming back, particularly White and Beckwith.
Or, am I just wrong again?