Opinions vary on Barkevious Mingo’s future, but he’s a 1st-round talent

Defensive end Barkevious Mingo laughs with Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan during LSU's NFL football pro day in Baton Rouge on Wednesday, March 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Sean Gardner)
Defensive end Barkevious Mingo laughs with Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan during LSU's NFL football pro day in Baton Rouge on Wednesday, March 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Sean Gardner)

In the harried days leading up to the NFL draft, LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo’s schedule Monday was comparatively light.

A morning massage, leaving his Baton Rouge condo shared with former Tigers left tackle Chris Faulk for a flight to New York and an afternoon appearance on ESPN’s ever-popular “NFL Live.”

Soon, he might be shopping for a home in Arizona, New York or just down the road in New Orleans.

Appraising Mingo’s thoughts on such matters is more difficult, considering the former backfield terror out of West Monroe hasn’t spoken publicly recently, and his ESPN appearance ended up being canceled because of travel woes.

So in a vacuum, assessing Mingo’s professional future — namely, whether his gaudy workouts can atone for average production — is a task best carried out by others.

Case in point: NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock has expressed doubts the 6-foot-4, 241-pound Mingo can be a dynamic stand-up rusher as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. A month ago, Mayock described Mingo, who had only 60 tackles and 15.5 sacks in 40 games at LSU, as a “developmental” pick, and he wouldn’t draft him in the top 20 selections.

“When he was lined up on an island by himself against a quality tackle, I thought he struggled a little bit,” Mayock said. “He’s got to learn how to be a good tackle and, from a technique perspective, he will. I’m willing to bet on the upside. I don’t think he’s a very good run defender. Doesn’t mean he’s not a tough kid.”

Doubts largely stem from a dip in production from eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss in 2011 to 41/2 and 51/2 last season — in spite of moving into a starting role after serving as a situational pass rusher in a four-deep end rotation as Ken Adams’ backup.

The root: Mingo’s elite speed, clocked at 1.56 seconds in 10-yard splits and 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, is offset by his lithe frame against tackles who might be several inches taller and up to 60 pounds heavier. In addition, there’s worry about whether he can transition from playing in a three-point stance to upright.

“He has to get a little stronger to play that position, get a little bulk to his frame,” ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said. “I look at him as a 3-4 outside linebacker, an attacker off the edge. I think he’d be a factor right away at that spot. The majority of outside linebackers in that situation are.”

Lingering worries exist, too, about whether Mingo can be effective in the run game. Setting the edge, an imperative component in LSU’s defensive scheme, isn’t a difficult task for Mingo, but he can get stood up by a tackle.

LSU coach Les Miles has countered that his program’s deep rotation, which featured Mingo, Adams, Sam Montgomery and Chancey Aghayere among others, pared into the number of snaps doled out to the former sprinter, who had to work hard to keep weight on his frame.

“Everybody has to ask what is and what isn’t he, and they have to ask it of every guy that they rate,” Miles said. “To me, he’s a great outside linebacker. He plays with unusual speed and quickness at the end in the 4-3. He will surprise offensive tackles with how quickly he gets into them at the line of scrimmage and run-stopping blows.”

Sacks and tackles for loss don’t necessarily indicate the degree to which an end can get upfield.

While his sack totals might have been average, Mingo notched 27 quarterback hurries and had 13 pass breakups in three seasons — metrics indicating he was able to be in the vicinity of an opposing signal-caller or athletic enough to disengage, elevate and alter throws.

“He gets from Point A to Point B lightning quick,” Kiper said. “I would have liked to see him be more productive this year. If he would have been, maybe he would have been a top-three pick.”

As far as quelling the run game, a potential weakness is offset by a noted ability to make up ground in backside pursuit, and his speed means he’s rangier than some ends.

“You’ll find there’s some tackles that cannot touch him,” Miles said. “When you put him on the split end side, he’s excellent. When you put him in a tight end (vs.) tackle possibility, he will defeat one of the guys, which means it’s not a double team.”

But the point-counterpoint over Mingo is the latest edition of an ongoing debate in the NFL, reminiscent of flapping lips over where to select pass rushers such as San Francisco’s Aldon Smith and Seattle’s Bruce Irvin. Ultimately, the bets paid off.

Smith, whose side-to-side agility made him the No. 7 pick in 2011, has notched 32.5 sacks in his first two seasons — passing Hall of Famer Reggie White as the fastest player to clear the 30-sack mark in NFL history. Irvin notched eight sacks in his rookie season despite weighing in 248 pounds and standing 6-3.

“The Irvin comparison is there,” Mayock said. “He’s explosive. He’s quick. He can win at the snap. He can dip. He can bend. I mean, this is a guy with tremendous potential as a pass rusher, and that is what this league’s about.”

And those are facets the New York Jets need, considering they were tied for 25th in the NFL with 30 sacks and only had two players with more than eight tackles for loss.

“Mingo is a really logical guy,” Mayock said. “They need an edge guy.”

Sunday’s trade of cornerback Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay might also make the Jets, who have needs at wide receiver, safety and offensive tackle, more inclined to tab Mingo. Instead of trading down to acquire more picks, they now have the Buccaneers’ No. 13 pick in hand, ensuring they could swipe another quality player in close proximity to Mingo.

He surely would love to make his wait as short as possible — even if he doesn’t say it himself. Perhaps, then, it falls to Miles to vocalize the final argument.

“People that pick a guy apart too much,” he said, “can be missing out on a great draft pick.”