Junior cornerback Morris Claiborne and third-year sophomore Mike Brockers both announced Thursday that they will enter the 2012 NFL Draft. A source close to junior receiver Rueben Randle said he has also filed paperwork with the league to enter the draft.
Tigers coach Les Miles accompanied Claiborne and Brockers to announce the decision Thursday.
"There are different times for guys to leave our program and the things that both of these men have done is have consistent growth as people and as student-athletes academically," Miles said. "Both men have been very humble in their approach to learning football. It started at a level much less to the level they are at now. They improved and improved and became tremendously competitive. They have put themselves in a position to enter the NFL Draft early at an advantaged position."
Claiborne is projected to be taken in the first 5-10 picks after an All-American season in 2011, in which he registered 51 tackles, a team-high six interceptions and six pass breakups. He also led the nation in interception return yardage with 173.
"It was just time for me," Claiborne said. "I need to go while I'm hot and I'll never be hotter than right now. I've done a lot here at LSU and LSU has done a lot for me to get me to this point. These things don't come around every day when you have these opportunities you have to go for them."
Added Miles, "Mo is expected to be in the top 10 players if not in the top five players selected in the NFL Draft. The opportunity to improve his draft position really doesn't exist."
Claiborne won the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2011 and was voted the SEC Defensive Player of the Year by the league's coaches.
That completed a transformation from a relatively unheralded recruit from Shreveport's Fair Park High, where he played quarterback to a budding star in the NFL.
"I didn't really know the position of cornerback when I got here," Claiborne said. "(Secondary coach Ron Cooper) did a good job of sitting down and putting time in with me to learn the position. It's very hard coming from high when you're used to having the ball in your hand every single down and to make that transition to defense is hard."
That transition is still a work in progress, Claiborne said.
The feedback he got from NFL sources was that he's ready now, in large part because of his knack for going up and attacking the ball when it's in the air.
But Claiborne also knows he has areas to polish.
"I want to get faster and I want to make my technique as sharp as it can be," he said. "I'm ready to work as hard as I need to."
Brockers is eligible for the draft as a sophomore because of a redshirt season in 2009. He a second-team All-SEC selection this season after totaling 54 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, two sacks and four quarterback hurries.
While the decision by Claiborne was widely expected given his draft stock throughout the 2011 season, the news from Brockers came as a surprise to some – and gave Miles a reason to attempt to convince only one of the two Tigers to return for more college football.
"I think Michael Brockers has the potential to improve his overall draft position (by coming back), but is making, in my opinion, a decision that allows him to fulfill an obligation to his family," Miles said.
Brockers said he didn't begin discussing details with his family about turning pro until after Monday's loss, but that his time spent in Baton Rouge was one that he was satisfied with after three seasons.
"I was focused on winning the national championship," he said. "We came up short, but there is no reason to hang your head down. We were 13-0 in the regular season, got the SEC Championship, we beat the national champions once and we had an amazing season all the way around.
"I want to thank everyone at LSU and everyone who has helped me. It has been an amazing season and my time at LSU has been great. I will be a Tiger for life."
Brockers and Claiborne were part of a 2009 class that included five-star prospects such as Randle, Michael Ford, Craig Loston, and Russell Shepard. A Standout at Houston Chavez, Brockers arrived in Baton Rouge as 250-pound defensive end and leaves three years later as a 306-pound defensive tackle.
"In the middle of my freshman season I switched (positions) and put on some weight and transformed by body," Brockers said. "And most of my switch at LSU was about being a tackle in the SEC. Coming from defensive end and still being able to have my speed and be quick, that was more for the NFL."
Brockers said he has heard mixed reports on the exact spot he will fall in the draft, but he has been told to expect to be taken in the first two rounds.
"Late first or early second round," Brockers said of his grade. "You hear first (round), and you hear the beginning of the second (round). I don't know where it's locked in at."
Brockers, who said he had numerous discussions with defensive line coach Brick Haley, a former NFL defensive line coach, feels as if versatility will make him a priority for teams – regardless of the defensive scheme – early in the draft.
"I am versatile as a big guy, I can move," Brockers said. "I can play 3-4 or 4-3. It doesn't matter. You can put me there and I think I can be pretty good if I learn the techniques.
"The NFL is a fast game. I feel like that is going to be the biggest part about it. You just have to learn how to play in the NFL."
Randle was LSU's leading receiver this season with 53 catches for 917 yards and 8 receiving TDs. He has 97 career catches for 1,634 yards and 13 scores.
The only other player who has indicated he is considering a departure is receiver Russell Shepard, who has tweeted several times references to moving on.