LSU and the NFL Draft – Q&A with Aaron Aloysius

With a little break between now and the BCS Championship Game, I thought we’d take a glance ahead into April at the 2012 NFL Draft and how it could impact LSU’s roster next season.  

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to talk with Aaron Aloysius, a writer for DraftBreakdown.com, a fantastic site dedicated to covering the NFL Draft.   Aaron does a really great job and has always been very generous with his time when I ask him about LSU’s players.  

I highly recommending checking out their site and giving Aaron a follow on Twitter at @AaronAloysius.  

Onto the questions.  

Kris:  LSU fans have pretty much conceded that Mo Claiborne is leaving early for the NFL.   Just how high can he go in the draft?  Almost every mock out there has him in the first round, but he’s getting some pub as a Top-10 overall type guy.  Can he really go that high?

Aaron:  Yes, he could, and I fully expect he will. In a draft class that lacks a truly dominant big man or an elite edge rusher, Claiborne appears to be the best option for a team looking to upgrade its defense. And as the NFL becomes more and more of a passing league, having a corner of Claiborne’s caliber is becoming even more valuable.

Claiborne possesses good size for the position: word is he may actually be bigger than his 6’0”, 185-pound listing. His best attribute is his long arms, with which he’s able to control receivers at the line and make plays on the ball downfield. The former wide receiver has excellent ball skills – when the ball is in the air, Claiborne often out-wideouts the wideouts he’s facing, highpointing the ball and making difficult grabs look routine

This year, he’s shown marked improvement, especially in avoiding giving up completions in the three-step game. At times, he’s still a step slow to react in zone coverage, and he has a tendency to get out of control when racing up for the tackle, but his overall skillset and ball skills make him worthy of a top ten selection.

Claiborne should come off the board before fellow SEC corner Dre Kirkpatrick, and he could get picked by virtually any team. Some have speculated that he could be reunited with Patrick Peterson in Arizona. While it’s atypical for teams to invest two top ten picks on corners, Claiborne would excel at playing Antonio Cromartie to Peterson’s Revis – the tremendous ballhawk who makes quarterbacks pay for forcing throws his way.

 


Kris:  The big question everyone wants me to ask is about Rueben Randle.  He’s having a terrific junior season.  Is he on the radar of NFL scouts and guys like yourself as someone that could leave early?  With what seems like a WR heavy first round (Jeffrey, Blackmon, Floyd,) how worried should LSU fans be of losing him?   Give it to us straight.   I’ve seen a couple of mocks that have him going in the 2nd round.

Aaron:  The second round sounds about right for Randle. With great pre-draft workouts, it’s conceivable that the he could sneak up into the late 1st round. However, like recent LSU wideouts, there’s some inconsistency in Randle’s play that could keep him from going that high and, in turn, convince the underclassman to stay in school.

At times, Randle rolls off the line without much burst, which prevents him from quickly eating up the cushion. That happened often in the Mississippi State game, which is a big part of the reason why corner Johnthan Banks had so much success against him. In addition, he’s had a couple ugly concentration drops, including a few in the end zone – I’m sure LSU fans have noticed those ones. And he doesn’t always give great effort as a blocker, which is disappointing for a guy who displays so much physicality with the ball in his hands.

However, when Randle does everything right, he looks like a potential dominant NFL wideout. He can explode off the line, pluck the ball away from his frame, and charge upfield with authority. He has the quickness and strength to defeat press coverage, and his good buildup speed makes him a legit downfield threat as well. I think teams that run a west coast offense will be particularly enamored with Randle’s skillset.

So there’s a real balancing act that has to take place when evaluating Randle’s stock. Will teams look past the inconsistency and focus on his tremendous potential, or – like with Brandon LaFell two years ago – will the rough edges in his game drop him down a round or two? I wouldn’t be surprised if Randle sees LaFell’s and Terrence Toliver’s even more disastrous case as cautionary tales: rather than stay another year, maybe he should strike when his stock seems to be on the rise, especially when LSU will be breaking in a new quarterback next year. Ultimately, I suspect he’ll go in that direction, though a scary grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee could convince him to stay in school.

 


Kris:  LSU has a whole lot of third year sophomores enjoying breakout seasons.  Guys like OT Chris Faulk, DT Michael Brockers, DT Bennie Logan, and DE Sam Montgomery come to mind.   Are scouts starting to take notice?  Any chance at all that LSU should worry about losing any of these guys THIS year?

Aaron:  If the rumors of Les Miles being on the NFL’s radar are accurate – and I very much doubt they are – then you could see a mass exodus of redshirt Sophomores who are ready to take their talents to the NFL. Otherwise, I think you’ll be safe in assuming that these talented underclassmen will stick around for at least another year.

On the face of it, Brockers, Logan, and Montgormery would have the most motivation to turn pro: this year’s defensive line class is especially weak, which could open up an opportunity for them to get picked relatively high. However, they’re better off spending more time in Baton Rouge polishing their technique and adding bulk in the weight room. Ultimately, all three will compete to become top 50 picks, with Brockers having the potential to go very high, but they’re better off waiting until 2013 or the year after.

Kris:  The one player who has made the most improvement, in my opinion, in terms of NFL potential has been senior safety Brandon Taylor.   Are you in agreement?  Is Taylor someone that can expect to hear his name called at some point next April?

Aaron:  Taylor certainly has made his presence felt this year. The sledgehammer of a safety does some tremendous work in run support and can bring the lumber in coverage as well. However, I do think he’ll be limited in what he can do at the next level. While explosive, he’s more of a straight-line guy who doesn’t fluidly redirect to make plays in the open field. For that reason, he had some trouble bringing down Trent Richardson, as well as some of the small, shifty West Virginia wideouts.

His struggles out in space may make him a less than ideal starting safety in the current pass-happy NFL. He’ll be a pure strong safety in a league in which some teams are moving corners back there to get as many rangy cover guys on the field as possible. As a result, he won’t come off the board until the third day of the draft, possibly not until the late rounds, but his hard-hitting style and ability to serve as a core special teamer should get him picked and help him stick on an NFL squad.

Kris:  A number of other seniors will be hoping to hear their name called.  DE Ken Adams, DB Ron Brooks (who will probably run a 4.4 or lower), LB Ryan Baker, TE Deangelo Peterson, OL Will Blackwell, OL T-Bob Hebert are just some.   Are any of those guys certain draft picks at this point?

Aaron:  LSU certainly has some athletes who’ll be considered by teams late on Day Three. Deangelo Peterson may be the one most likely to get drafted: with his combination of size an athleticism, he fits the mold of the “Joker” hybrid wideout/tight end role that Aaron Hernandez and others have brought to prominence in the NFL. Unfortunately, Peterson hasn’t been nearly as effective a football player as Hernandez was at UF – when I studied him, he didn’t really stand out in any area – but good workout numbers could convince a team that he’s worth picking almost purely based on potential.

The player who intrigues me the most is far from an impressive size/speed athlete, undersized linebacker Ryan Baker. The pint-sized ‘backer may not time well in Indy, but he possesses good short area quickness and the savvy to slip blocks on his way to the ball-carrier. He reminds me a lot of former Buckeye LB Brian Rolle, who was picked late in the 6th round of last year’s draft and has quickly earned a starting job with the Eagles. Baker may not have as much immediate success, but a team would be wise to take a flier on him late in the draft and hope he becomes a starting-caliber weakside LB.

While far from a finished product, defensive end Ken Adams intrigues me as well. Unfortunately, the JUCO transfer thus far has failed to turn his raw athleticism into consistent pass rush production. He doesn’t exhibit much explosion off the line, and oftentimes he’s the last guy moving off the snap. However, he possesses ideal length for the position, and we’ve seen that the dude can run – not many 6’5”, 255-pound defensive linemen can chase down WVU speedster Tavon Austin. That raw ability should at least earn him a shot in an NFL camp, possibly a team hoping to convert the exceptional athlete into a 3-4 outside linebacker.

Kris:  I know a guy like you probably already has lists for 2013 and beyond.  What youngsters on LSU’s team have caught your eye as potential high round picks in the future?  It’s obvious that a number of have caught the eye of some of your colleagues on the site, judging from this piece.  

Aaron:  I’m a guy who most enjoys watching the freakish big men battle in the trenches. Fortunately, LSU is one of the best schools for finding top-flight defensive lineman. In addition to the redshirt Sophomores that you mentioned, I’m intrigued by under-underclassmen Barkevious Mingo and Anthony Johnson. Straight off the bat, you can see that both possess special athleticism and explosiveness.

Oftentimes, you’ll hear draftniks discuss whether an edge rusher possesses the athletic ability to play with his hand up: well, there’s no question with Mingo, who could be an early first round defensive end or outside linebacker. Johnson possesses comparable athleticism for a big man. “The Freak” may have a more explosive first step than my 2011 draft fave Drake Nevis.

Add in Brockers, Logan, and Montgomery to the mix, and you’ll have plenty of talented guys rotating in and out, as well as competing to be very high picks. I’m sure I’ll be spending a lot of time cutting prospect videos of those guys next fall.

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