LSU used to losing talent early to NFL
Published: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 4:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 6:47 p.m.
HOOVER, Ala. — In the refrigerator that is the main media room at SEC Media Days, the conundrum has been a hot topic of conversation.
No league knows better about the Catch-22 of recruiting. And no team knows it better than LSU.
In recruiting high school football players, the teams in this league sell one point with great gusto — they point to their success in the spring when the NFL picks and chooses it players.
Come to our team, to this league, and you’re chances of becoming an NFL player have drastically increased.
If you promise, they will come. And the success on draft day is probably the biggest reason the SEC has the most talent of any league in the country.
But with those dreams comes reality.
Young men with the loftiest of goals can’t wait to reach it.
Which brings us back to LSU. In the last two years, coach Les Miles has seen 18 players leave early for the NFL Draft. Two years ago, he had 11 early entrants.
“We lead college football in three-and-outs,” Miles said. “It’s a real challenge for any program to lose the junior and senior classes.”
Last season, we saw that it’s not that easy to just plug in talent. The Tigers had a respectable record at 10-3 and won the Outback Bowl, but expectations are higher than that in Baton Rouge.
The defense was especially crippled by early departures and the numbers showed it. In SEC games, the Tigers were eighth in the conference in rushing defense and seventh in passing defense.
They gave up 44 points in a loss to Georgia, 38 in a loss to Alabama.
“It’s not particularly optimal,” Miles said Wednesday.
He has no choice but to have young guys step in and suffer growing pains. You can’t help but wonder if a program that has been one of the best in the country might take another step back this year with all of the defections.
“We’d like to have those guys back,” Miles said. “I keep approaching the NFL about us drafting back the players they take.”
One of them who is still there at LSU is senior running back Terrence Magee, who appears to be holding the position until freshman Leonard Fournette steps in. Which could be, like, by the fourth play of the opener.
“That’s the thing about LSU, you sign, you better be ready to play,” Magee said. ‘It’s crazy. Of the guys I came in with, I think only five of us are left. But that speaks volumes about our program.”
It’s a dilemma that all coaches face, and the better the talent, the more likely it’s going to hit you in the face at some point.
For every player who goes to the NFL and makes your program look good, a hole is left behind.
“It’s a challenge every year,” said LSU senior linebacker D.J. Welter. “It’s a new team every year. But for a guy like me, it worked out. (Kevin) Minter left and I got to play two years instead of one.”
LSU feels comfortable that its young players can make the jump from high school stadiums to the bright lights of SEC football. Still, coaches around the country deal daily with the entitlement issues that lead to players declaring when they should not.
“The frustration is for players who, for the wrong reason, go out early,” said Missouri’s Gary Pinkel. “Most of those guys who leave early, they’re giving up school at the same time too.”
There is a movement in college football to try to work with the NFL to figure out a way to keep so many players from leaving early, especially when a third of them went undrafted in April, including Florida defensive backs Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. On the other hand, do you really want guys around who don’t want to be there?
“When a coach tries to talk a player into staying,” Steve Spurrier said, “it’s just not smart.”
All a coach can do is give the player as much feedback from the NFL as possible. Often, the ears hear only what they want and the fifth cousins have more power than the general managers.
For Miles, it’s a testament to the recruiting he has done to have 16 juniors drafted in the last two years. It also means he’s almost becoming the John Calipari of college football.
“A lot of freshmen will have to play this year,” he said. “But there is no question (the draft) is the dream of most high school players.”
As a result, more doors have been opened at LSU than anywhere else in the last two years.
We’re about to find out how good the young men are who walk through them.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.