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NFL-ready talent aplenty on display for LSU-Alabama

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Considering everything on the line when No. 1 LSU travels to take on No. 2 Alabama, fellow BCS contenders Oklahoma State, Stanford and Boise State might be the most vested observers.

Another group with a significant interest in the game: NFL scouts.

Nick Saban has turned Alabama into a veritable football factory. The Crimson Tide produced four first-round picks in 2011, including two of the first six overall -- defensive lineman Marcell Dareus (Buffalo Bills, No. 3 overall) and Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons, No. 6 overall). Alabama's two "other" first-round picks, offensive tackle James Carpenter (Seattle) and running back Mark Ingram (New Orleans), have established themselves as clear-cut starters and Dareus and Jones have shown flashes of brilliance out of the gate.

But here's a news flash: Alabama appears to be even more loaded with prospects entering the 2012 draft.

NFLDraftScout.com currently rates seven Alabama senior prospects as "draftable" led by defensive tackle Josh Chapman, defensive end/linebacker Courtney Upshaw and safety Mark Barron. All three are candidates to go among the first 50 picks of the 2012 draft.

This list doesn't include Alabama's group of underclassmen -- a collection that must be considered one of the most talented in the country and includes Heisman candidate running back Trent Richardson, cornerback 'Dre Kirkpatrick and even redshirt sophomore right tackle D.J. Fluker, a 6-6, 335-pound monster who some feel will ultimately be picked higher than Carpenter.

The top-rated LSU Tigers don't boast the same shimmery senior class as Alabama. This isn't a surprise. LSU has not developed the same caliber of NFL talent since Les Miles took over for Saban in Baton Rouge.

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In Miles' second year with the Tigers, four LSU players were drafted in the first round, including quarterback JaMarcus Russell No. 1 overall. Since then, they've produced two -- cornerback Patrick Peterson, who was the fifth overall pick last year to the Arizona Cardinals and defensive end Tyson Jackson, the third overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. Neither has made the impact expected of a top-five pick, but Peterson has exhibited the big-play flair that made him a top pick with two returns for touchdowns.

The NFL-quality talent on LSU's roster in 2011 is sparse relative to Alabama's incredible crew. In fact, some scouts don't rate a single LSU senior prospect this season as draft-worthy. In preparation for this article, I spoke to representatives of two NFL teams and neither planned to visit LSU this fall because the team was "so down senior-wise."

That's the kind of perspective that should keep the rest of the SEC awake at night. If LSU is the top-rated team in the country with no draft-worthy senior prospects, just how talented are the Tigers' underclassmen?

Extremely talented.

LSU's most disruptive player this season has been cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, a 5-9, 178-pound true sophomore who has already broken the team record with nine (yes, nine) career forced fumbles. Fellow true sophomores Spencer Ware (running back), Chris Faulk (left tackle) and Barkevious Mingo (defensive end) are all-conference standouts. Yet, because they aren't three years removed from their high school graduation date, they are ineligible for April's draft. What should be coming as crystal clear as the BCS trophy is that Alabama and LSU are loaded. Scouts will be either flocking to Tuscaloosa or tuning in themselves to see which team takes the next step toward keeping college football's top prize in SEC country for the sixth consecutive year.

Here's a peek at the top pro prospects from Alabama and LSU potentially eligible for the 2012 NFL draft.


FS Mark Barron, 6-feet-2, 218 pounds, senior
Physical and a reliable open-field tackler, Barron is considered by many scouts to be Alabama's top senior prospect and the elite safety in the 2012 draft.

DT Josh Chapman, 6-1, 315, senior
A classic nose guard. He fits in nicely in Alabama's scheme, and his square frame and incredible strength make him one of the country's top run defenders.

OT D.J. Fluker, 6-6, 335, redshirt sophomore
A massive road-grader in the Andre Smith mold, Fluker is quickly emerging as one of the country's top young offensive linemen.

ILB Dont'a Hightower, 6-4, 258, junior
An immediate standout in 2008, Hightower tore his ACL in 2009. He is starting to play with the same explosiveness he had prior to the injury. Hightower isn't as instinctive, but his size and big hits have drawn comparisons to former 'Bama standout and 2010 first-round pick Rolando McClain.

OT Barrett Jones, 6-5, 311, junior
Formerly a starting right guard for the Tide, Jones took over at left tackle for Seattle Seahawks' first-round pick James Carpenter and the Tide hasn't skipped a beat. Was named a semifinalist for the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman (offensive or defensive).

CB 'Dre Kirkpatrick, 6-2, 192, junior
A second-team All-SEC pick as a true sophomore, Kirkpatrick is a long, lanky corner who ranks among the elite defensive back prospects in the country. His size and physicality could cause some pro teams to view him as a potential safety.

SS Robert Lester, 6-2, 210, junior
An opportunistic ballhawk who finished second in the country with eight interceptions in 2010, Lester has been a bit of a disappointment thus far this season (one interception) but is nonetheless being closely watched by pro scouts.

WR Marquis Maze, 5-8, 190, senior
A big-play specialist at receiver and punt returner, Maze averaged more yards per touch last season than Julio Jones and is now seventh on the Alabama career receiving yards list with 1,699.

RB Trent Richardson, 5-11, 224, junior
As good as Andrew Luck has been for Stanford, no player in college football is more physically dominant than Richardson. In terms of size, speed and power, he has more natural ability than former teammate and 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.

DE/LB Courtney Upshaw, 6-2, 268, senior
Gifted pass rusher with a knack for finding open lanes, Upshaw's versatility intrigues scouts. Teams running a four man front want to keep him at defensive end. Scouts for 3-4 teams feel he could play either inside or outside linebacker.

C William Vlachos, 6-1, 300, senior
Took over for former All-American and Houston Texans third-round draft pick Antoine Caldwell and hasn't looked back. A second-team All-SEC pick last season, he's currently NFLDraftScout.com's No. 4-rated center for the 2012 draft.


CB Morris Claiborne, 6-0, 185, junior
Overshadowed last season by Patrick Peterson, Claiborne has emerged as arguably the elite cover corner in the SEC in 2011. He leads the team with three interceptions this season.

WR Rueben Randle, 6-3, 208, junior
Despite his lanky frame, Randle has emerged as the Tigers' best big play threat, averaging 19 yards a catch. He leads the team in catches (28), receiving yards (532) and receiving touchdowns (five).

OT Alex Hurst, 6-6, 340, junior
A mountain of a man who has contributed significantly to LSU's power running game, Hurst entered the season having already been recognized by SEC coaches and media as a likely all-conference pick.

OLB Ryan Baker, 6-0, 236, senior
An undersized weakside linebacker, Baker devoted himself to the weight room in the offseason with Kelvin Sheppard leaving for the Buffalo Bills (via the third round) and gained 12 pounds of muscle.

TE DeAngelo Peterson, 6-3, 236, senior
With only 11 receptions for 125 yards and a single touchdown this season it might be hard to imagine Peterson as an draft-worthy prospect, but scouts are intrigued by the former wide receiver's combination of size and speed.

SS Brandon Taylor, 5-11, 195, senior
The younger brother of former LSU standout safety (and San Francisco 49ers' 2009 draft pick) Curtis Taylor, Brandon has emerged as one of the Tigers' most dependable defenders, leading the team with 44 tackles and earning the right to wear jersey No. 18 -- an honor bestowed upon the player teammates and coaches feel best exemplifies what a Tiger is supposed to be on and off the field.

Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.


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