255 players from across the map will hear their name over the next three days, a call to arms from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that most football prospects dream of their entire lives.
An impressive streak is also on the line, at least for people keeping score on the bayou.
LSU has had a player taken in the first round of the last six drafts. That run, barring a big rise up the board from prospects like Chad Jones or Brandon LaFell, will come to an end on Thursday evening.
Projected as a second to third round selection, LaFell is the highest rated Tiger on most draft boards. At 6-foot-3, 210-pounds, the fifth-year senior has the size NFL scouts want from their wideouts. Freshman All-SEC honors in 2006 and First-Team All-SEC honors in 2008 speak to his talent compared to the rest of the conference. As for that talent stacked up alongside the LSU greats, LaFell’s career touchdowns (25) and receptions (175) both rank in the top three in school history.
Chad Jones, expected to be one of the other top Tigers taken, leaves Baton Rouge a season early, the lone underclassmen to make the jump to the pros at LSU this season.
Over his three seasons in purple and gold, Jones started in 19 games, including all 13 in 2009, and appeared in 40. A standout in baseball and football, his national titles in both sports led to the New Orleans native becoming one of the most recognizable faces in college athletics.
That same fame hit Jones the hard way in March, where a media onslaught followed the junior’s poor workout at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, where he ran a 4.54 but recorded only nine reps on the bench-press.
“If [Jones] arranges an NFL calendar for himself, and he understands what he needs to do for his body and understands what he needs to do in each phase of the 12-month calendar, he will be a long time NFL player,” said LSU head coach Les Miles.
While Jones didn’t find a full-time starting spot until his final year with the program, Miles points to the 6-foot-3, 220-pounders ceiling for development as good enough reason to buy into Jones’ future.
“He has all the measurables,” Miles said. “He is a very physical player, has never been injured and he has tremendous ball skills. If the ball goes up in the air, he will come down with it.
“This draft is an unusual draft,” he added. “Everything I have been told is that they are going to be taking first round draft picks into the middle of the second. I think Chad is a steal if he is taken any place later than an elite first round pick.”
Ciron Black, once pegged as a top tackle prospect in the country, saw a senior season where the Tigers finished 112th in offensive production strike a blow to his stock. Projected as a fourth-round selection by multiple draft sites, the 6-foot-4, 327-pounder, who some say lacks an overall athleticism, has coaching staffs uncertain of whether Black would excel at tackle or guard.
Al Woods is experiencing a different fate. After a senior season left him on the outside of draft discussions, sets of strong pre-draft workouts have the 6-foot-3, 307-pound defensive tackle set to be picked over the next three days, though most draft sites predict that won’t come until the sixth or seventh round.
“Whoever gets Al will be spending their pick wisely,” Miles said. “He is the kind of guy that will play strong in his first year and better in his third and fourth. He has great measurables with his size, speed and strength, and he has never been injured.”
Harry Coleman, also pegged as a possible late-round pick, isn’t certain he’ll hear his name called this weekend. Adding to the drama of the moment, if Coleman’s phone does ring, the sixth-year senior isn’t certain which position his services will be wanted for.
“Some teams are saying linebacker and some are saying safety,” he said. “All of them are telling me I can make a career on special teams.”
After an entire college career spent at safety, first-year defensive coordinator John Chavis moved Coleman, a 6-foot-2, 211-pounder, to outside linebacker, where he excelled to the tune of 82 tackles.
“It helped me a lot,” said Coleman of the move by Chavis. “It showed I am versatile guy, that I am physical enough to play linebacker and fast enough to play safety. I just add more value to a team.”
Fellow senior Trindon Holliday’s value is also tough to put a finger on. While the world-class speed is Holliday’s certain strong point, many question if his 5-foot-5, 164-pound frame will translate to the professional level.
“Trindon will have to fit a specific niche, and when he does, some team will be awfully happy,” Miles said. “He is going to be an exceptional returner, he’ll be able to play special teams and he will find a piece in their passing game that can be Trindon Holliday’s.”
Running backs Charles Scott and Keiland Williams and tight end Richard Dickson round out the Tigers from the offensive side of the ball. At 5-foot-11, 232-pounds, Scott is being looked at as both a running back and fullback. Draft analysts project him to fall anywhere from the sixth round to free agency. Williams is also slotted to fall into the final rounds.
On the defensive side, Perry Riley, Charles Alexander and Rahim Alem all have their eyes on the board. Riley could go as early as the fourth round, while analysts peg Alem as a possible sixth or seventh round selection.
As the dozen former Tigers await the decisions of NFL teams this weekend, Miles, who brought all but Coleman and Alexander to LSU, had some parting advice for his men to take to Sundays.
“No matter if you are taken in the first round or seventh round, it will always be your second contract that will make your money,” he said. “You look at an NFL career based on how you progress. You learn to accommodate a football team.
“The guys that do that and continue to work through what is the requirement of each organization, those are the guys that have had success.”