Even with the three-day NFL draft not in Las Vegas as scheduled starting Thursday night at 7, the coronavirus pandemic won’t stop the projected avalanche of a school record-number of LSU draft choices.
Starting with Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow who is expected to become LSU’s third player ever to be picked No. 1 overall, the Tigers should obliterate their record of having nine players selected each in the 2013 and 2014 drafts.
Mock drafts have indicated LSU will have 12 or more players drafted from its 15-0 2019 national championship team.
“It adds validity to your program,” Tigers’ coach Ed Orgeron of having at least one dozen players taken in a single draft. “It enables you to recruit across the country. Obviously, we’re a national brand right now.
“It means development, it means recruiting great character. The reason you come to school at LSU is you want to win a national championship, you want to graduate, and you want to get drafted.”
LSU’s record for most players drafted in the first round is four in 2007. The Tigers are expected to match that number with Burrow, wide receiver Justin Jefferson, defensive end/outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson and inside linebacker Patrick Queen.
It’s a possibility that either cornerback Kristian Fulton or safety Grant Delpit could sneak into the first round. Both had been projected as first round picks but have dropped in the last three months since the Tigers’ national title game win over Clemson.
In accordance with social distancing guidelines, Thursday’s first round will be conducted by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, originating from the basement of his Bronxville, N.Y. home.
The first name Goodell should call is Burrow, an Ohio native who figures to be chosen No. 1 overall by his homestate Cincinnati Bengals. The former Ohio State graduate transfer had two stellar years at LSU, going 25-3 as a starter and threw an NCAA single-season record 60 TDs passes last year.
There has been trade speculation involving the Bengals and the Miami Dolphins, which hold the fifth pick. The only sure thing Burrow knows it won’t be easy joining the Bengals, the Dolphins or whoever.
“Whatever team I go to is going to be a challenge,” Burrow said last week on a Baton Rouge morning sports radio talk show. “I’m going to have to persevere through it like I’ve done in the past. You might have a really good first year. You might have a really bad first year, you don’t really know, especially without OTA’s this year spending less time with your team. So, there’s going to be ups and downs for sure. You have to battle through it.”
The former Tigers’ star who has continued to trend upward in the draft is Jefferson. He went from a borderline first-round pick to a likely No. 20 to 25 selection after he burned a 40-yard dash of 4.43 seconds at February’s NFL combine.
In the last two weeks, there have been rumblings that Jefferson, who began LSU as the last signee of the 2017 recruiting class and exited after leading all of college football in receptions (111) and yards (1,540), could be taken as high as No. 15 overall by Denver.
“It’s still shocking to me a lot of people were surprised how fast he ran (at the combine),” NFL draft expert Mike Detillier recently told Tiger Rag Radio of Jefferson. “I’m like `Have you watched him?’ He is a complete, well-rounded wide receiver.”
Jefferson, a slightly bigger receiver at 6-1, 201 pounds, understands his ability to play the slot and out wide makes him a hot commodity.
“I really don’t have a specific position in the NFL and that’s just a way to get on the field faster,” he said. “Just being able to go inside and outside.”
Chaisson, a raw talent who was virtually unblockable in LSU’s late season run to the national title, was at his best vs. the top teams. Against the seven ranked opponents on the Tigers’ 2019 schedule, Chaisson had 41 tackles and 11 for tackles for loss, including five sacks.
“Big time players make big time plays in big time games. I never shy away,” Chaisson said. “I felt like I need to be more consistent, but I showed up this year when my team needed me the most.”
Detellier said Chaisson has the skill-set to play a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or an outside linebacker in a 3-4.
“He explodes off the snap and has many moves and countermoves to defeat his man,” Deteiller said. “He has outstanding closing speed.”
Queen was a draft afterthought last August in preseason. He moved up the draft boards all season and clinched first-round status by making a combined 22 tackles with four tackles for losses including 1½ sacks in the Tigers’ three postseason games.
“He just kept getting better and better,” Orgeron said of Queen. “Every time we put him in he was making plays. He kept on improving one game at a time. At the end, he became one heckuva of a football player.”
Either Fulton or Delpit could be LSU’s fifth first-round pick, but the rapid decline of Delpit from a projected preseason top five first-round selection to a possible second-round choice is one of the most puzzling storylines of this draft.
This past injury-plagued junior season, Delpit was named winner of the Jim Thorpe Award as college football’s best defensive back, despite the fact he played much better as a sophomore.
He battled through shoulder and ankle injuries virtually all of 2019, causing him to play sloppy at times early in the season with a litany of missed tackles. But he was superb in the postseason, particularly in the national championship game with six tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
Delpit chose not to participate in any drills at the NFL combine, feeling his ankle wasn’t yet healed. He was counting on being fully healthy for LSU’s Pro Day on April 3, but it was cancelled because of the coronavirus.
Delpit recently released a video of him running a 4.39 40-yard dash at an April 9 makeshift pro day.
Detellier said he understands the challenge of NFL teams trying to accurately assess Delpit.
“If I’m sitting in the shoes of a general manager or a head coach, the 2018 Grant Delpit was one of the top five defensive players in college football,” Detellier said. “The 2019 version of Grant Delpit wasn’t that player because of injuries. He wasn’t the open field tackler as we saw in the past and didn’t have the range he had in the past.”
Thursday night’s first round and Saturday’s rounds four through seven beginning at 11 a.m. will be televised on ABC, ESPN and the NFL Network. Those same outlets, plus ESPN2, will telecast Friday’s second and third rounds starting at 6 p.m.