In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
LOUISIANA STATE TIGERS
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 30
2012 NFL Draft picks: Five -- CB Morris Claiborne (First Round, No. six overall), DT Michael Brockers (First Round, No. 14 overall), WR Rueben Randle (Second Round, No. 63 overall), SS Brandon Taylor (Third Round, No. 73 overall), CB Ron Brooks (Fourth Round, No. 124 overall).
Give the Alabama Crimson Tide all of the respect they deserve for beating LSU in the BCS title game but there is no question that for the vast majority of last season, the Tigers were clearly the best team in college football.
And what is scary for the rest of the country is that this year's team -- even with the loss of Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne, emerging star defensive tackle Michael Brockers and the recent suspension of SEC Defensive Player of the Year Tyrann Mathieu -- looks even better than last year's version. What's more, the loss to Alabama and the suspension of the Honey Badger could give the Tigers the "us versus the world" mentality to capitalize on their talent.
The loss of Claiborne and Brockers (as well as SS Brandon Taylor and nickelback Ron Brooks) is significant but the speed LSU returns on defense is outstanding. In a season in which several top teams (Florida State, Texas and South Carolina among them) boast premier bookend pass rushers, no program can claim the speed off the edge that the Tigers possess with Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. Furthermore, LSU will continue their tradition of fielding college football's elite defensive back even with Mathieu no longer on the team. Patrick Peterson rode a spectacular junior season into winning the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back and earning the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Claiborne made LSU two for two with the Thorpe Award and was selected one pick later in 2012. This year, free safety Eric Reid looks poised to carry the torch as both a major award winner and top ten pick.
The most significant difference between the 2011 LSU Tigers and this year's version, in fact, could be at the quarterback position. If the early reports are correct and redshirt junior Zach Mettenberger is the most physically gifted quarterback on the LSU campus since former No. 1 overall selection JaMarcus Russell, then head coach Les Miles might once again be eating a blade of grass from the BCS championship field this year.
If so, he could wind up watching the first round of the 2013 (or 2014) NFL draft feature as many (or more) Tigers than the historic 2007 class that saw a school record four LSU players make the top 32.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. DE/OLB Barkevious Mingo (6-4, 240)*
Like most of LSU's top players, Mingo was a highly regarded prep prospect. Unlike the majority of the Tigers, however, he hadn't been highly touted for long as Mingo only began playing football as a junior in high school. Nevertheless, the speed Mingo had demonstrated as a track athlete that led the coaches at West Monroe High School (West Monroe, La.) to convince him to play quickly resulted in his catching the attention of college teams, as well. Mingo signed with LSU in 2009 but redshirted. Mingo proved himself to be a playmaker once he did get on the field, however, posting 35 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles despite only starting one game (saw action in all 13) in 2010. Though he'd demonstrated great speed off the edge and uncommon awareness to get those long arms into passing lanes (second on the team with six passes defensed), no one could have foreseen his breakout 2011 campaign. The LSU coaches certainly didn't. Mingo began the season behind veteran Ken Adams at left defensive end and actually only started four games last year. That didn't stop him from registering 46 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss (leading the team) and eight sacks (second on team). While Mingo might be a bit raw considering he's only started five collegiate games, he is perfectly built for today's frenzied pass rush. He is a long-armed, explosive athlete who plays with surprising power despite his lack of ideal weight. While a bit inconsistent at the snap, when he times it right Mingo can explode off the ball past the tackle, using a good shoulder dip and surprisingly powerful hands to rip through contact and take the corner. What is exciting about Mingo is that he's not just a physical freak but a surprisingly instinctive, technically refined football player. Mingo's use of his arms and hands belie his experience. He uses them well to keep distance between himself and the tackle and has a natural feel for pass rushing, showing good lateral agility, flexibility and creativity with his fakes to get the bigger man leaning. He has a very good spin move that he likes to use against interior offensive linemen when stunting back inside. He locates the ball quickly, shows good vision and balance to get to the action and closes with a pop. Mingo may lack the size of a traditional 4-3 defensive end but with teams becoming increasingly interested in hybrid defenders who can play multiple roles, his weight isn't likely to be a problem. The NFL loves pass rushers and therefore they'll love Mingo. He just might be the best pass rusher in the country and checks in at No. 3 on my Big Board.
2. FS Eric Reid (6-2, 212)*
For years, talent evaluators have acknowledged that the greatest difference between the SEC and the rest of college football has been the size and athleticism of each group's defensive linemen. LSU, of course, has boasted many of these spectacular run-stuffers and pass-rushers. Three of them, in fact, made this list. The other position in which SEC schools routinely produce higher ranking prospects than other conferences, however, is at defensive back and LSU, specifically, has been especially strong in this regard with Reid entering his junior season every bit as highy regarded as former top six picks Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and LaRon Landry. Reid, the son of a former three-time All-American (1984-87) sprinter for LSU with the same name, signed with the Tigers as a highly regarded prep prospect and immediately made an impact, playing in all 13 games and earning starts in the final three regular season contests. He posted 32 tackles, including a tackle for loss and demonstrated the ability to make big plays in big games immediately, snaring his two interceptions against the likes of Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) and Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M) in the Cotton Bowl. Reid was even more dynamic in his second season as LSU's starting free safety, tying Mathieu with the team lead in tackles (76), including 53 solo stops. He also registered two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles (one recovered), and two interceptions (Tennessee, Alabama). Reid's interception against Alabama came at the one-yard line in the fourth quarter, preserving the 6-6 tie that eventually led to LSU's overtime victory. The play was characterized by ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit as the top defensive play of the 2011 regular season and Reid was recognized as the SEC's and Bronko Nagurski Trophy's Defensive Player of the Week for his effort against the Tide (six tackles, one for loss, forced fumble, INT). As the "centerfielder" on a team blessed with such talent at pass rusher and cornerback, it would be easy to characterize Reid as simply a product of the system. In reality, Reid is a terrific prospect in his own right. He possesses the ideal build and athleticism for the position, shows excellent instincts and is a scrappy, tenacious defender whose big hits and ball skills make him a legitimate weapon in the deep patrol. Scouts would like to see him wrap up a bit more securely rather than leading with his shoulder, but this is precisely the concern I had with Alabama's Mark Barron a year ago. Barron, who frankly, struggled more with his open field tackling than Reid has thus far, was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the No. 7 overall pick. That's about where I anticipate Reid could end up should he enjoy another stellar season for the Tigers and elect to make himself eligible for the NFL a year early.
3. OT Chris Faulk (6-5, 323)*
Overshadowed by all of the talent on the defensive line coming out of LSU in recent years has been the development of Faulk as one of the best looking pro prospects on the offensive line in the entire country. The baby-faced Faulk may not look the part of today's NFL left tackle but he played the part well in 2011 – his first full season as a starter after earning the nod at right tackle in LSU's final two regular season games as a redshirt freshman. He signed with the team as an extremely highly regarded prep athlete and Faulk is very smooth out of his stance. He eases to his left, latches on with strong hands and has the lateral agility and balance to sustain blocks in pass protection. He possesses long arms and surprising flexibility to reach speed rushers. It is worth noting that Faulk was protected often last season with a tight end but showed the ability to handle speed rushers when left one on one, rarely allowing any pressure off the edge. He's physical and determined as a run blocker, coming off the ball with good pad level and consistently driving his opponent off the ball. Faulk certainly doesn't have the body type normally associated with dominant blindside pass protectors in today's NFL. That said, neither does Andrew Whitworth, a 6-7, 330 pound former LSU standout who was turned into one of the league's better left tackles for the Cincinnati Bengals. Whether at left tackle or right, in the 2013 draft or 2014, Faulk should earn first round consideration of his own should he prove his first full season as a starter was no fluke.
4. DE/OLB Sam Montgomery (6-5, 260)*
While talent evaluators rate his linemate Mingo as the better NFL prospect at this point, Montgomery actually led the Tigers in sacks (nine) and finished second in tackles for loss (13.5) last season and he accomplished this feat despite typically facing the opponent's best blocker (left tackle) and coming off a 2010 campaign in which he missed the final eight games with a torn ACL in his right knee. Montgomery has reportedly worked very hard to improve upon his redshirt sophomore season's totals, adding 30 pounds of muscle while maintaining his jaw-dropping athleticism. He'd signed with the team as a highly regarded recruit in 2009 but was redshirted as a freshman. While he missed most of the next season with the knee injury, Montgomery certainly flashed the playmaking ability to leave LSU fans excited about his potential, racking up an impressive 18 tackles, including six tackles for loss and two sacks in only five games. Montgomery is quick off the snap, demonstrating enough speed to blow past opponents with his initial get-off and the speed to chase down even athletic quarterbacks from behind. While a bit undersized (at least in the past), Montgomery plays with good strength and typically is able to hold up nicely at the point of attack, stringing off-tackle runs to the sideline with solid containment integrity. One area in which scouts would like to see Montgomery improve upon is in his ability to get off blocks once his initial burst is contained. Montgomery flashes a quick spin back to the inside but otherwise is a bit reliant on his speed rush. He does not possess elite flexibility to dip under the reach of talented pass protectors and while possessing long, strong arms doesn't consistently keep his hands working to break free. Too often he's locked up and doesn't break until the ball has passed him. Montgomery plays hard, showing off very good athleticism and hustle in pursuit. His frame and athleticism could lead to his lining up as a stand-up pass rusher in the NFL -- a skill he's been asked to do at LSU (as well as play with his hand in the dirt). Scouts are anxious to see what improvements Montgomery can make in his second year removed from the injury and now both bigger and stronger.
5. DT Bennie Logan (6-3, 295)*
LSU has quite a history of producing highly regarded defensive tackles and all indications are that Logan is going to be their next star. Logan started alongside Brockers last season, posting 57 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks while starting 13 of 14 games. It was a terrific breakout performance for the long-armed and stout defender, as he'd only posted five combined tackles in 2010 after redshirting in 2009. Quick off the snap and capable of handling double-teams due to his strength and use of leverage, Logan is a load in the middle and a big reason as to why LSU ranked fifth in the country last year in run defense. Those close to LSU are excited about Logan's potential not only due to his natural skill-set but because of his commitment to improving. As an indication of Logan's work ethic, he was given the honor of wearing No. 18 this season after wearing No. 93 previously in his career. Wearing the No. 18 is a tradition that dates back to quarterback Matt Mauck, who wore the number and helped guide LSU to a championship back in 2003. The number has been passed down through various players since, including former running back Jacob Hester. Last year it was worn by strong safety Brandon Taylor (San Diego Chargers' third round pick), who despite earning less fanfare than the others starting in LSU's fine secondary, was generally credited with being the leader of the deep patrol.
WR Russell Shepard (6-0, 195)
CB Tharold Simon (6-2, 193)*
RB Spencer Ware (5-11, 225)*
ILB Kevin Minter (6-1, 245)*
QB Zach Mettenberger (6-5, 230)*
OG Josh Williford (6-6, 332)*
OT Alex Hurst (6-6, 332)
OC P.J. Lonergan (6-3, 305)
TE Chase Clement (6-5, 265)
DE Lavar Edwards (6-4, 258)
DT Josh Downs (6-1, 288)
For all of NFLDraftScout.com's team-by-team previews of the top prospects to watch in the 2012 season in preparation for the 2013 NFL draft, click here.
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