Les Miles slid into a seat between NFL Network analysts Mike Mayock and Charles Davis around noon Saturday at Radio City Music Hall. For more than two hours, he had a prime seat for the best recruiting tool possible over the final four rounds of the NFL draft.
In the span of 90 minutes, the eighth-year coach saw the program tie its record for most selections in a single year with two picks in the fifth round after Seattle snagged cornerback Tharold Simon with the No. 138 pick and Tennessee plucked defensive end Lavar Edwards at No. 142.
One hour into his visit, Miles grinned and calmly uttered the best pitch line at his disposal.
“I wish I could get about half of those guys back,” he said, “but I’m afraid they’re gonna pay ’em much more significantly.”
Instead of dubbing it a slip-up, Miles’ remark subtly implied the potential rewards for trekking to Baton Rouge: Show up, stay three seasons, compete and — maybe — you’ll file paperwork leading to a bear hug with Commissioner Roger Goodell and a hefty paycheck.
When Seattle tabbed running back Spencer Ware with the No. 194 pick in the sixth round, the Tigers were bestowed another talking point with a school record with nine NFL selections, including eight of the staggering 11 juniors who left the Tigers early for the professional ranks.
The Tigers tied rivals Florida and Alabama for the most picks in the Southeastern Conference, whose 63 combined selections drubbed the second-place Atlantic Coast Conference’s tally of 31.
“It prepares players well because every week — no matter if it’s Alabama or Vanderbilt — you’re going to be in for really good competition,” Edwards said.
Yet LSU is emblematic of the SEC’s key trait and source of its strength — depth across the board — with 32 picks coming in the first three rounds Thursday and Friday nights along with the other 31 coming Saturday.
“When you’re watching these guys, you want to watch them against the best competition,” said Philadelphia General Manager Howie Roseman, whose team drafted LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan in the third round.
“That’s why we watch them against the best competition. We’re not watching them against guys that aren’t going to play, and that’s why you get a better sense of what they’re going to be.”
LSU offered ample proof with Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Bennie Logan, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Sam Montgomery going in the first three rounds.
That Simon and Edwards went off the board Saturday is an example of front office brass mining the SEC’s bedrock.
Simon, a 6-foot-2, 202-pound junior, inherited a starting spot after Morris Claiborne left after his junior season and was taken No. 6 in the first round last season by Dallas, and Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu was booted in August 2012 for reportedly failing a drug test.
Starting in 13 games, Simon racked up 45 tackles and four interceptions, upping his stock with stellar reaction times and a violent hitting style.
With bigger and more physical corners made in vogue by Seattle, Simon declared early for the draft with the goal of mimicking the Seahawks’ All-Pro coverman, Richard Sherman.
“I watched them a lot this year because I’m a big corner and they have some big corners,” Simon said. “Get up there and press, I know that’s what they like to do. I know I fit in there, and I’m ready to go and compete and show them that I fit in their system.”
And Simon was confident his body type and mentality would offset concerns with sloppy technique, giving too much cushion on short-yardage throws, grabby hands in coverage and lack of focus in man coverage.
And he didn’t help his stock when he was arrested Thursday for obstruction of a roadway, public intimidation and resisting an officer when a member of Eunice Police asked him to move his car blocking Beulah Drive.
“I was very worried that it would prevent me from getting drafted,” Simon said.
Simon, though, took responsibility for the incident, which escalated after he and the officer exchanged words when one of Simon’s friends stopped by to congratulate him and the cornerback said, “Man, you trippin’.” The officer placed Simon under arrest, but Simon said he wasn’t trying to resist.
“I kind of jerked my arms or my wrist,” he said. “I never ran, I never flinched or moved, so he said I was resisting arrest and took me to jail.”
Miles, commenting publicly for the first time on the incident, tried to pass along some practical advice.
“The only thing I can say is, ‘Find somewhere else to park the car,’ ” Miles said.
If Simon represents a commodity worth the risk, Edwards’ selection affirmed the oft-referenced talent laden on the LSU depth chart.
Working as a backup behind Mingo and Houston’s third-round selection, Sam Montgomery, the 6-4, 277-pound senior tallied 96 tackles and 10.5 sacks in a career when he rotated between right and left end along with playing on the interior in some packages.
“I wasn’t really looking for any recognition,” Edwards said. “I take a lot of pride in knowing my snaps would be limited throughout the game I wanted to make sure I could do whatever was in my power and just make sure to go all out.”
Jon Salge, the Titans’ director of college scouting, said Edwards can play a base end on first and second down and shift inside, where his quickness and physicality help at the point of attack.
“It’s almost like you would assume because the numbers don’t compare to guys, that we got a lesser player, and that’s false,” Salge said.
Besides, Edwards’ SEC pedigree might have also given him the benefit of the doubt — even if it required waiting longer than Mingo and Montgomery.
“It was great seeing those guys go,” Edwards said. “They’re great talents, but I just stayed patient and waited my turn.”
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