Just a wild stab here, but I’m guessing LSU will somehow figure it out and still manage to field a varsity football team next season.
But the Tigers could definitely have some problems on defense.
An unexpected outbreak of senioritis won’t be one of them.
Presumably the dust has cleared, the body count concluded, and a whirlwind post-bowl week has ended with 10 LSU juniors declaring for early entry into April’s NFL draft.
Research is ongoing, but it is believed to be the biggest hit of junior defections any college team has ever suffered. LSU, for instance, had never lost more than four in one year.
LSU, which had one senior starter on defense, will open spring practice having to replace the entire front four (plus the top two backup ends, productive seniors Lavar Edwards and Chancey Aghayere) along with half the secondary and the team’s leading tackler and MVP at linebacker.
Gone are seven starters in all, six of them juniors.
In an apparent unrelated transaction, backup offensive lineman Chris Davenport has declared him eligible for Tulane and has already transferred.
But anybody who bothered to glance at a depth chart during the season could see it coming, even if it still seems a bit of a shock when you start crossing off so many familiar names from the starting lineup.
So, of course, it didn’t take long for panic and finger-pointing to set in among the fandom.
What in the world is going on over there? All these guys jumping ship? What’s Les Miles’ problem that everybody wants to desert the place? Something’s wrong!
Well, I guess if LSU is able to take young men and, after three years of college, send them directly to the top of their chosen profession to become millionaires, then, yes, LSU has a problem.
It’s a problem a lot of places would like to have.
LSU just has to explain how that NFL defense ever gave up a touchdown, especially in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The mass exodus, anticipated or not, certainly does complicate matters for next year’s team, but it doesn’t really hurt the program long term.
Given the inflated egos and career expectations of your average high school football hotshot, a school getting a reputation as a fast-track factory to the NFL isn’t exactly a hindrance to recruiting.
It may well be a headline screaming across the top of next year’s media (i.e., recruiting) guide:
“Come to LSU — Your contraflow lane to the NFL.”
Not that all 10 of LSU’s eager beavers will make it. The NFL’s law of averages dictates that.
Still, while some made better decisions than others, none made a really bad choice.
Defensive ends KeKe Mingo and Sam Montgomery are dead-solid cinch first-rounders, and safety Eric Reid and defensive tackle Bennie Logan are high probables for it — certainly no worse than early second round.
With juniors like that, you don’t try to talk them out of it. You run them off campus and disarm their pass code to the football operations building.
Wish them well. The served LSU well. Replacing them is the coaches’ problem.
The most productive Tiger, linebacker Kevin Minter, may not light up the NFL’s measurables — second round at best, probably third or fourth — but he can’t have a much better send-off season than this. If you’re concerned about his backup plan, although he had a year of eligibility remaining, he has already graduated from the often overlooked academic side of the university.
Tharold Simon could probably use another year of seasoning at cornerback after an up-and-down year, and his bowl-game torching while chasing Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins won’t be at the top of his résumé. But he might light up the combine.
Running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are in odd spots in that they might be more attractive to the NFL than they were to LSU now that Jeremy Hill has distanced himself from the rest of that deep stable.
But they’re both versatile NFL-style backs who will get a chance somewhere in the later rounds. Staying at LSU another year with Hill around wasn’t likely to change that much. Might as well get on with it.
Brad Wing will probably be the first punter drafted (not very high; he’s still a punter) and, judging by Jamie Keehn’s bowl performance, he’ll be missed more by his legions of loyal Twitter followers than by the football team.
Oddly, the only one of the 10 who was a real surprise, offensive tackle Chris Faulk, was the one who should have had the easiest choice to make.
He was projected as a first-rounder in the summer, but that’s not happening now after he missed all but the season opener with a severe knee injury and reconstructive surgery.
What round he goes in now depends on how healthy that knee is by the draft, but at least he’ll be in, and the NFL’s entry-level pay, even in the late rounds, isn’t exactly minimum wage.
He could have gone back to LSU, prove himself fit as a base fiddle, and be back up to the first round next year for the really big money.
But he could also get hurt again and never see a dime.
LSU will find somebody to take his place.
The others, too.
That’s the reality of the game. When you recruit like LSU has, it’s going to more and more of a three-year cycle.
The Tigers supposedly have plenty more waiting in the wings, but that’s all speculation until we see it.
The embarrassing wealth of depth the Tigers are accustomed to up front in the trenches will instead be at linebacker next year.
LSU always seems to manage to find suitable defensive backs.
But it will be an interesting spring, that’s for sure.
• • •Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com