By Andrew Alexander, DIG Sports Editor
As the 2015 football season approaches, the DIG Sports staff decided to take a look back at the best LSU players of the Les Miles era (2005-present). The Tigers have had 64 players drafted into the NFL with Miles at the helm, and the program led all schools with 38 former players on active NFL rosters during the opening weekend of the 2014 season.
No.1 Patrick Peterson
Eye-Popping Stat: Set a LSU record against North Carolina in the 2010 season opener with 257 total return yards.
NFL Draft: 2011 / Round 1 / Pick: 5 / Arizona Cardinals
Was there ever any doubt?
A consensus five-star prospect from Pompano Beach, Florida, Peterson chose LSU over in-state powerhouses Miami and Florida State.
Like many other top Tiger prospects, Peterson excelled as a freshman, playing in all 13 games and starting in the final four, including the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Georgia Tech.
As a sophomore, Peterson’s prominence grew with dominant showings against the Southeastern Conference’s elite receivers, including Georgia’s A. J. Green and Julio Jones of Alabama.
It was against Alabama that Peterson made arguably his most infamous play at LSU. Trailing Alabama 21-15 late in the fourth quarter in Tuscaloosa, Peterson “picked off” a pass from Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy that was intended for Jones.
Though multiple CBS camera angles clearly showed one of Peterson’s feet landing in bounds, the play was ruled incomplete. Alabama would eventually emerge victorious 24-15, en route to its first national championship under head coach Nick Saban.
Despite two solid seasons to open his career, it was the 2010 season that would forever etch Peterson into LSU football lore. During the season opener against North Carolina, Peterson set a LSU record with 257 total return yards, including an 87-yard punt return touchdown.
After a dominating season opener, Peterson quickly emerged as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate. Peterson’s two interceptions against Mississippi State in week three helped fuel the Heisman flame, but the PP7 for Heisman campaign truly caught fire the next week when LSU squared off against No. 22 West Virginia in Death Valley.
Early in the second quarter with LSU up 10-0, Peterson fielded a Mountaineer punt at his own forty yard line. Weaving in and out of West Virginia defenders, Peterson easily made his way into the North end zone untouched, and electrified the LSU crowd by striking his now-famous Heisman pose.
The pose was a seminal moment for the history of LSU swagger. In a single play, Peterson restored the luster to a program that had battled to regain national relevance for over two seasons following a national championship season in 2007.
Peterson reminded the college football world, and more importantly recruits, that LSU was still a cool place to attend and play your college football. Peterson helped reestablish LSU as “DBU” and set the stage for future Tiger stars like Morris Claiborne, Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Tre’Davious White, Jalen Mills and Jamal Adams.
Though Peterson’s Heisman aspirations eventually evaporated in the second half of the season, PP7 finished his junior campaign as a consensus All-American with 42 tackles, four interceptions and six pass breakups. Peterson also added the Thorpe Award (nation’s top defensive back) and Bednarik Award (nation’s top defender) to his collegiate trophy case.
Peterson’s phenomenal LSU career came to close after three seasons in the purple and gold, and PP7 was selected number five overall by the Arizona Cardinals.
The Florida native has continued his dominance in the NFL with a stellar All-Pro career through his first four seasons.