Leading up to kickoff on the Ponderosa, TSD is ranking the 10 best players currently on LSU’s roster. We’ll take a close look at each Tiger, breaking down his career to this point and projecting impact for the 2015 season.
Already we’ve profiled OL Ethan Pocic, our pick for No. 10, and WR Travin Dural, who came in at No. 9.
Today, at No. 8, we move on to a fixture in LSU’s secondary over the last three years: Jalen Mills.
WHAT HE’S DONE SO FAR
It might be easier to list what Mills hasn’t done, or been asked to do, since arriving on campus in August 2012. He left DeSoto (Tx.) High School a three-star prospect, Scout’s 34th-best corner in the nation and the No. 7 cornerback in the Lone Star State. And in his first month at LSU, following Tyrann Mathieu’s dismissal from the team, Mills, a true freshman, was moved into the Honey Badger’s former roles – both as a starting cornerback and primary nickel back.
He finished his first season as LSU’s fourth leading tackler with 57 total stops, intercepted two passes and totaled seven passes defended. Mills stayed at corner for 11 of the Tigers’ 13 games in 2013, racking up 67 tackles (third on team), four for loss, three sacks, three interceptions and six passes defended. Last fall he manned free safety for the purple and gold, picking up where he left off the final two games of his sophomore campaign. Mills, a vocal leader and organizer of the secondary, notched 62 tackles (seventh on team), three for loss, a crucial interception in LSU’s comeback win over Wisconsin, six passes defended, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
In short the rising senior has been everything LSU’s asked him to be in the defensive backfield. When numbers were low at corner, he broke right in as a starter opposite Tharold Simon. When Rashard Robinson was playing hot down the stretch of 2013, he moved back to safety to fill a void caused by injury and inconsistent play. You know you’re valuable when you’ve started every possible game of your collegiate career.
PROJECTING HIS IMPACT IN 2015
There’s been some debate as to where Mills should take his talents this coming season, position-wise. Going back to the numbers game at corner/safety, LSU is replete with options in the back while cornerback numbers are low following Jalen Collins’ early entry into the NFL Draft and Robinson’s dismissal. So that would suggest a return to an island for Mills.
But, despite what it looks like from the outside, the word on the inside is that Mills will remain at safety, one-half of a projected starting duo that would include rising sophomore sensation Jamal Adams. Position coach Corey Raymond has Tre’Davious White as a no-doubt starter at one cornerback spot, and the presumption is Raymond is willing to let some new blood battle it out for the other starting gig – namely second-year player Edward Paris and early enrollee Kevin Toliver.
So expect Mills to again make his mark at free safety this fall while also coming down into the box as a dynamite slot-coverage nickel back. They’re certainly are plenty of safeties (Rickey Jefferson, Corey Thompson, John Battle, Devin Voorhies) ready to backfill for Mills in the back in nickel and dime packages.