ATLANTA, Ga. – Now the numbers game begins in earnest for LSU.
At a time when most college programs are more concerned with the number of players coming in through recruiting, Les Miles' team is on high alert for which ones – and how many – will walk out the door.
No less than eight underclassmen for the Tigers are on the NFL radar and contemplating an early leap to the league. Those players are, in no particular order: DT Bennie Logan, DE Sam Montgomery, DE KeKe Mingo, MLB Kevin Minter, CB Tharold Simon, S Eric Reid, RB Spencer Ware and P Brad Wing. Aside from Wing, a redshirt sophomore, the rest of the Tigers listed are all juniors by classification.
With the deadline to decide set for Jan. 15, players have less than two weeks to figure out their futures.
"We're going to sit down and visit with them the best we can, get them all the information that we can," Miles said following LSU's heartbreaking 25-24 loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. "It's certainly their call. The only thing that I don't want to see happen is I want to make sure our guys are doing the right thing for them.
"I don't want to give the NFL a deal in any way."
Miles also recognized that while certain players may already have their minds made up, the outcome of the bowl game coupled with the promise of next season could be enough to sway a Tiger or two.
"I think our football team realizes that there are some very talented men in that locker room and that there's going to be some improvement made," continued Miles. "Whether or not that's enough to have them stay or go, I'm not certain. I think certain guys have a predisposed position there, some of whom I'm certain will leave. I can tell you that this is a team that could well be playing for the very finest honor. The opportunity to improve to do so is certainly what we're after."
On the short list of LSU players likely "predisposed" are the three defensive linemen – Logan, Mingo and Montgomery.
Logan, who in 2012 wrapped up only his second year as a starter in Baton Rouge, recently received a first-round grade by the draft advisory board. The same is expected for bookends Mingo and Montgomery, each of whom finished the season strongly against Clemson despite battling some consistency issues this fall.
Montgomery said following Monday night's game that he'll turn to the people in his inner circle for advice and direction.
"I don't know," Montgomery replied when asked about his process. "I've just got to sit back and talk to my family, talk to people who really mean something to me, and see what everybody thinks. You know, everything comes full circle."
Minter, an All-SEC performer in 2012, is also expected to declare for April's draft, a source close to the program informed TSD recently.
Ware and Wing, both players who've had their share of off-the-field issues, will likely follow suit, leaving the program to pursue a career in the NFL. Wing was recently suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl while Ware was withheld from the Auburn game in 2011.
The remaining two players, defensive backs Reid and Simon, may be a bit more on the proverbial fence.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who will return for his senior season in 2013, told reporters he definitely plans to speak to several of the undecided juniors about joining forces one more time in TigerTown.
"Yeah, I'm going to try and politic as much as I can," said Mettenberger. "This team's got a lot of potential for next year, and we're going to need some of these guys to really come back and help mold the leadership and mold young guys up. And if not, I wish them all the best and we'll take care of business if we have to."
Sophomore wide receiver Jarvis Landry said he'd be more hands-off with his teammates. "That's solely up to them. I've got two years to be here, and I plan on being here for those two. So whatever decisions that they make, I wish them the best."
Two additional names, LT Chris Faulk and OLB Lamin Barrow, have cropped up in some circles as possible early entrants, but, per a source close to the program, neither junior is expected to leave LSU.
Faulk is currently recovering from a knee injury suffered in practice the week after the Tigers' season opener while Barrow is coming off a stellar campaign in 2012, his first as a full-time starter.
For more on this subject, check out the video below from myself and Fox Sports Southeast Field Reporter Kristen Ledlow.
Decisions to make for LSU underclassmen
LSU underclassmen on the clock
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