Dig Baton Rouge

NFL takes toll, Tigers move on

LSU IS PUTTING ITS UNDERCLASSMEN IN THE NFL AND GRADUATING THE REST. WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK?

It is no secret that the goal for most high school football players is to one day play in the National Football League. I am sure that if the NFL draft allowed players to go straight from high school to the professional ranks like the NBA did until 2005, many would jump at the opportunity.

Thankfully, for those kids’ sakes, the rule is that you have to spend at least three years out of high school before you can even consider going to the NFL, and that is where the college level comes in to play.

From the fans’ perspective, college football is one of the most entertaining spectacles in this country. But from a football perspective, it is meant to develop those talents coming in from high school and, essentially, build them a bridge to the NFL.

Of course, there are over 300 division-I colleges and only 32 NFL teams, meaning that only a small percentage of those players will even sniff the next level, but I’m sure a (mostly) free college degree is a nice consolation prize.

LSU is doing its jobs on all accounts.

In terms of pleasing its fans, LSU has been one of the more successful programs in the now-defunct BCS era, with two national championships. In terms of college degrees, the football program has consistently boasted the second best graduation rate in the Southeastern Conference, behind only Vanderbilt.

And in terms of bridging the gap from high school to the pros, LSU is tied for third in the country with 41 players in the NFL. In addition, they have had 17 undergraduates declare for the draft in the last two seasons – the most out of any program in that same time frame.

At the end of the 2012 season and even into this past season (I’m guilty of this), much was made about the 11 underclassmen that left. However all of 11 of those players are currently on an NFL roster – yes, even Russell Shepard, Michael Ford and Brad Wing, who went undrafted.

This time around, 11 more underclassmen were faced with the decision to either stay at LSU or enter their names into the NFL draft-pool. Six decided to leave and five decided to stay.

At last Tuesday’s press conference held for the five that are staying, head coach Les Miles talked about how he sets goals for his players to get their degrees and prepare for the NFL. But one thing he said I found particularly interesting – when he was asked about helping players make these tough decisions.

“What we’ve got to tell them is this, ‘Let’s not give the NFL a deal.’ There’s no reason for it,” he explained. “The best position to go into the draft is the first round. What we want to encourage is to really view your decision in relationship to where you can be, and where you are.”

With that in mind, you have to believe that the players that are departing have maxed out their draft stock, while the players that opted to stay – in particular left tackle La’el Collins – still have much to play for in another collegiate season.

While LSU will basically be breaking in new starters at many of the offensive skill positions, the offensive line’s role in the total game plan has increased exponentially. With both Collins and center Elliot Porter back in the fold, LSU returns four offensive lineman that have combined for 75 starts in the past three seasons.

That will be a big reassurance for Anthony Jennings (or whoever starts at quarterback in 2014), should make things easier for running back Terrance Magee ,and relieve some of the pressure that is being exerted on heralded incoming freshman Leonard Fournette.

It also presents a good ground zero for (reportedly) new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes to build from.

I’ll close this with a quote from Collins on why he ultimately made the decision to stay at LSU. In a time when many feel like players are simply using LSU as a vehicle to the NFL, this just seems appropriate.

“The bigger question is, why wouldn’t I come back?” he said. “You’re going to be around an atmosphere of guys that you enjoy going out to games and practice day to day. I’m coming back to finish and get my degree and to have a shot at a national championship.”

You see, Collins is one of those lucky few who have the opportunity to become a first round draft pick and earn a college degree along the way. If the past is anything to go by, LSU is the place to do that.

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