Thoughts from an uncharacteristically quiet NFL Draft weekend for the Tigers
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
- The drought (will be) Over
The past weekend’s draft-stravaganza passed eerily quietly for the program formerly known as NFLSU.
No Tiger came off the board in the round one for the second consecutive year, the first such drought for LSU since going four consecutive drafts without a first-round pick from 2000 through 2003.
Only linebacker Deion Jones went off the board in the draft’s first three rounds — No. 52 overall to the Atlanta Falcons — a program low since 2009.
And, from an LSU perspective, all of this is excellent news. While the annual ascension of collegiate stars into early-round draft picks makes the spring fun and provides coaches with a handy recruiting pitch, it comes with the obvious caveat of top-tier talent leaving the program.
The aforementioned statistics reflect the byproduct of losing just one underclassmen to the draft and returning 18 starters, nine on each side of the ball.
Given the quality of that returning talent, it’s nearly impossible to imagine LSU’s first-round drought lasting a third year. It’ll be the first year that loaded 2014 signing class becomes draft eligible.
The website Walter Football’s current 2017 mock draft has a whopping seven players being selected in the first round. That feels a tad over-aggressive, but it’s conceivable LSU could match or surpass its program-record of four first-round selections, a mark set back in 2007. Ohio State had four players selected in the first 20 picks this past weekend, another lofty haul to compare LSU’s 2017 draft class to.
Here’s a hilariously-way-too-early projection of Tigers who could hear Roger Goodell call their names in the first 32 selections of next spring: (* denotes underclassmen who’d have to forgo their senior season of eligibility)
- RB Leonard Fournette*: Provided he stays healthy — if you’re reading this, this is the part where you should knock on wood — the most gifted back in a generation will be a top-10 pick. More on that below.
- S Jamal Adams*: Adams possess both the freakish athleticism and playmaking abilities to be the top safety selected in the 2017 draft. Consider him a lock if his coverage skills develop a bit.
- CB Tre’Davious White: White may have been a first-round pick this season if he’d declared — press corners come at such a premium in the NFL — and his stock should only improve after waiting a year to enter along with a less corner-rich class.
- OL Ethan Pocic: Pocic is versatile, athletic and intelligent enough to play at all five positions along the offensive line. It’s not hard to imagine an NFL team falling in love with that.
- LB Kendell Beckwith: There would need to be some significant growth displayed this season, but the combination of Beckwith’s sideline-to-sideline range and Dave Aranda’s defense could be prolific.
- WR Malachi Dupre*: There’s no question Dupre possesses the size, speed and leaping ability to be a No. 1 receiver, but can teams overlook his lack of statistical productivity in a run-first offense?
2. How High?
Pay close attention to how the Dallas Cowboys’ formidable ground game pans out this season in terms of wins and losses. It just may determine how high Leonard Fournette gets drafted in 2017.
Running back has become a devalued position in today’s NFL of pass-happy offenses and backfields-by-committee.
Jerry Jones bucked that trend by taking Ohio State tailback Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth-overall pick Thursday night, making him the first running back to be taken top-five since the Browns selected Trent Richardson third overall in 2012.
Elliott, projected as a three-down, do-it-all stud, now gets to run behind the league’s best offensive line. Dallas hopes that powerful combination will be enough to offset a brittle quarterback and suspect defense.
If the plan proves successful, given the copycat nature or the NFL, finding that workhorse tailback to establish the run may start to trend back toward vogue.
And what a perfect time for it. The 2017 running backs class could down as one of the most talented in league history, with Stanford’s Christian McCaffery, Florida State’s Delvin Cook and Georgia’s Nick Chubb all joining Fournette as possible first-rounders.
So how high is too high to take a running back of Fournette’s immense talents? Only time will tell.
3. Like a glove
Of the five former Tigers drafted this past weekend, the fourth-round selection (No. 123 overall) of Jerald Hawkins by the Pittsburgh Steelers stands out as a win-win marriage between player and organization.
Hawkins possesses the tools and athleticism of a prototypical tackle at the next level, but he left college as a semi-raw product who’s play didn’t always mirror his ability. A slab of marble in need of chiseling to reach its potential ceiling.
Just so happens the Steelers — a rock-solid franchise in its own right — recently hired a master sculptor.
Pittsburgh offensive line coach Mike Munchak is one of the best in the business, and the long-time O-line guru gushed about his new charge as Steeler brass discussed the selection at an introductory press conference Saturday.
“I think he’s a left tackle to us, he played there as a junior coming out and we feel he has a lot of talent, has a lot of growth ahead of him,” Munchak said. “He can play both sides, left tackle and right tackle, can come in here and help right away competing and pushing the guys makes it better.”
He added: “He’s been involved with a lot of different aspects where they will be in a two back offense, they’ll be in a two tight end offense, they’ll be in a spread offense, so as an offensive lineman, he understands those concepts. He’s been asked to do some of the things we’ll ask him to do, so he’s ahead of a lot linemen also that come out of college that aren’t exposed to a lot of things.”