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LSU's early departures have bright futures, show strength of program

Kevin Minter (#46) was the leader of a loaded defense for LSU in 2012.Kevin Minter (#46) was the leader of a loaded defense for LSU in 2012.

There has been so much bantered about by LSU fans concerning the players that decided to depart the football program prior to the end of their eligibility.

The 11 players in all made individual decisions based on what is best for their future. Some Tiger fans thought that the sky was falling once the names kept adding to the list declaring for the 2013 NFL draft.

You could look at the glass being half empty or half full. No question that the football program is taking a major hit with so much valuable game experience hitting the street. But keep in mind that five of those players arrived in the 2010 recruiting class while six others were brought in from the 2009 recruiting group. It goes to demonstrate the outstanding recognition and capture of prospects that the LSU staff has manged in the recent past. Players with NFL potential fit the criteria of what the Purple and Gold need to compete at the highest level. Recent success also shows the talent on the field graduates among the top in the SEC.

The reason why the elite prospects from around the nation are taking a very close look at the Tigers are clear. The latest moves by 11 upwardly-mobile Tigers demonstrate how quickly a future NFL player can achieve his goal by playing for LSU.

Let's look at these departing LSU contributors in greater detail:

RB Spencer Ware was a 4-star signee in the 2010 recruiting class out of Cincinnati, Ohio. He had the opportunity to sign with Cincinnati, Ohio State, North Carolina and North Carolina State. Ware had 392 yards rushing this season with only one touchdown and added 18 catches for an additional 242 yards and another score. The pattern with Ware has taken a downward turn in regard to touches. In 2011, he had over 700 yards rushing with eight touchdowns. This is a good time for him to move on to the NFL. His body has taken minimal wear-and-tear. Comparing him with former LSU standout Stevan Ridley, chosen by the New England Patriots in the 2011 draft (73rd overall), Ware may have more upside entering the NFL as a power runner (5'11-225) with very good speed (4.55) who blocks well and has good hands. Spencer looks to be capable of a lengthy NFL career. His one-time promising baseball career has gone by the wayside.

RB Michael Ford, a 5-star rated prospect out of the 2009 class, amassed 2,953 yards and 29 scores as a senior at Leesville. He rushed for over 200 yards 12 times in the prep ranks, but only carried the ball 11 times in the final five games of this season, with 399 yards (5.5 yards per rush) and three touchdowns. His biggest contribution came in 2012 from his skills as a kickoff return specialist where he averaged 27.5 yards per run-back. Much like Spencer Ware, Ford saw his touches drop with the emergence of freshman Jeremy Hill. Ford (5'10-216) had 756 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011. He chose the Tigers over offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ole Miss. He is an capable blocker and very quick (4.45 forty) yet powerful with a 465 pound bench press and 583 pound squat.

OT Chris Faulk, a 4-star talent who arrived in the 2009 class out of Northshore High in Slidell considered offers from Nebraska, Michigan, Tulane and Arkansas. The injury that curtailed his junior season in 2012 played a role in his move to the draft. The knee issue demonstrated how fragile a football career can be. Any player may one snap away from it all being over. The old saying 'the body only has so many plays in it' is true. He also feels that he is just about back to 100 percent prior to the injury. If he tests out like he anticipates that he will, hearing his name in the 1st or 2nd round of the upcoming draft is a realistic assumption.

Punter Brad Wing, a super athlete who happens to boot the ball extremely well, was only a 2-star recruit in the 2010 class whose other offers were McNeese State and Northwestern State. The Australian booted for a 44.8 yard average with good hang time and recorded a 73 yard punt against Acadiana while in high school. There has been speculation that the entire NFL draft might be completed without hearing his name. With so much emphasis placed on special teams, it is likely that he could be a 6th or 7th round choice with a long career ahead of him. Donnie Jones (punter for the Texans) and Trindon Holliday (return ace for the Broncos) are two former Tigers who have made a mark for themselves in the pros on special teams. Expect Wing to do the same.

Dfensive back Tyrann Mathieu, a 3-star prospect in the 2010 class who had Tennessee and Southern Miss among his considerations before deciding to become a Tiger, had actually informally committed to Tulane before a last minute switch. The "Honey Badger" has a story well-documented. His 133 tackles including 16 tackles for loss, sixsacks and four interceptions in 2011 were just part of the on-field success story. As a punt returner, Mathieu averaged 15.6 yards per return with a pair of touchdowns. He also led the nation in forced fumbles (six) and recoveries (five). But the SEC Championship game MVP and Heisman finalist had the off-season problems lead to his dismissal and the final decision to bolt to the NFL. He will to prove to the scouts that the baggage he had at LSU is a thing of the past. The undersized playmaker's draft stock has been dented but he might be a 4th or 5th round steal, if he lasts that long.

Tharold Simon, the junior cornerback, was one player who may have been better served coming back one more year. The Eunice High product produced 45 stops in 2012 with nine pass breakups. He also had four interceptions this past season. He did improve from the previous campaign where he had 42 tackles and two picks. Simon (6'3-187) was a 4-star rated player in the 2010 class and made tremendous strides in his skill set the past two seasons. His long reach will be a strong consideration by NFL scouts. He can play in press coverage and is faster than he appears.

Eric Reid could be the 1st or 2nd safety prospect chosen in the upcoming draft. He was a 4-star ranked player in the 2010 class. Reid was a balhawk in 2012 with 91 tackles, two picks and a tackle for loss. He also had 7 pass breakups. He totaled 76 stops in 2011 and 32 in '10. He leaves Tigertown with six career interceptions. Reid (6'2-202) possesses great size along with a eye popping 40" vertical. He once told me that he planned to wear jersey #30 int he pros due to his admiration for ex-LSU safety LaRon Landry, a Pro Bowl performer with the Jets.

DE Sam Montgomery, a 2009 4-star signee, arrived at LSU weighing 240 pounds before adding 30 more to his 6-foot-5 frame. He told me that he can run a sub-4.5 forty, boasting a 40" vertical. His first love was basketball (he played with NBA's John Wall in the prep ranks); he had aspirations of playing both basketball and football at North Carolina. He had 37 tackles in 2012 with 13 tackles for loss and eight sacks were less than his 49 stops, 13.5 tackles and nine sacks in 2011. The knee injury that Sam suffered as a freshman against Tennessee most likely played a role in his decision, plus the fact that he is projected to go in round one. His energy and recognition by the opposing offense is what will be missed by the Tigers in 2013. He was a factor on defense.

DE Barkevious Mingo, a 2009 4-star arrival, came aboard as a 210 pounds freshman and will play at about 250 pounds in the NFL. He does possess super quickness, explosion and speed. What he does well doesn't always show up in the stats. He is another "factor" that the offense has to track on every snap. He had 38 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 2012. The previous season like Montgomery, Mingo posted higher numbers with 46 stops, 5.5 tackles for loss and 8 sacks. He is a pressure the passer-type that will disrupt opposing offenses and make the players around him better. He has a 35" vertical with a track background from his West Monroe High days. KeKe could be drafted as high as the top five overall picks.

LB Kevin Minter will be the most difficult Tiger to replace in 2013. The Suwannee, Georgia product came to LSU as a 4-star recruit in 2009 because of the history of linebackers at the school. He also liked John Chavis a great deal and felt confident with Mingo and Montgomery manning the corners in front of him. Minter (6'2-245) was hotly pursued by Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, USC and West Virginia. The quarterback of the defense at LSU had 130 tackles with 15 for loss, four sacks and and interception in 2012 after 61 stops, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack in '11. His stock cannot go much higher. He would not have had much to prove by coming back. Expect Minter to be off the board by the 2nd or 3rd round at the latest.

DT Bennie Logan was a player who teetered back and forth before coming out. He made strides similar to Michael Brockers did in 2011 prior to coming out early and going to the Rams in the 1st round (14th pick overall) in last spring's draft. Logan (6'3-295) possesses great leadership and locker room presence. He had 45 tackles with 5.5 for loss and a pair of sacks. In 2011, his numbers were a bit better with 57 tackles, 6.5 TFL and three sacks, but the presence of Brockers had something to do with that. He has gained 50 pounds since arriving from Coushatta, La. He is very smart with a high football IQ, good technique, quick hands and a quick first step. He plays a lot like Drake Nevis did at LSU before moving on to the Indianapolis Colts.

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How good was the 2009 signing class? Besides the aforementioned players Brockers, Ford, Faulk, Montgomery, Mingo, Minter and Logan, throw in the star of that class, 5-star WR Rueben Randle (now with the NY Giants), Mo Claiborne (1st rounder with Dallas in 2012), Akiem Hicks (3rd rounder by the Saints in 2012 who played at Regina College after leaving LSU) and Craig Loston.

Perhaps the incoming 2013 class may rival the '09 group in productivity and potential, but the group have to reach a high standard set before them.

 
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