LSU fans can breathe a sigh of relief: At least they kept one offensive star — maybe.
Left tackle La’el Collins doesn’t plan to join a group of seven underclassmen leaving early for the NFL draft, a teammate says.
Running backs Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue, receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, and right guard Trai Turn plan to forgo their junior or senior years.
Hill, Blue, Turner, Beckham and Landry officially declared for the draft Monday, making for a gloomy day for a program that lost 11 underclassmen a year ago.
The positive dose was Collins, who plans to return for his senior season, Beckham said.
“It’s huge,” said Beckham, reached Monday afternoon while training in Arizona for the NFL Combine. “He’s a big-time player.”
Collins could change his mind. Underclassmen have until Wednesday to declare.
Meanwhile, for the second straight season, LSU will lose a host of underclassmen to the draft.
One in specific stunned the school Monday: Hill, the former Redemptorist High star.
As recently as Friday, a source said LSU expected Hill to return. Monday morning he tweeted his decision to forgo his junior season. Hill, like Turner, is draft eligible as a sophomore because he did not play his true freshman season.
“I am a Tiger for life. I will forever be grateful to my LSU fans, friends, coaches and family,” Hill tweeted just before his announcement post. “This decision has been very difficult for me.”
Turner announced his decision through his Colorado-based agency, Authentic Athletix. He said the decision left him at a “crossroads,” but he ultimately decided to go pro.
Beckham confirmed to The Advocate that he and Landry were turning pro. Both are already out of state training for the NFL Combine, set for Feb. 22-25.
Johnson and Ferguson announced their decisions more than a week ago, and LSU confirmed Monday that Blue would not return, bypassing on a fifth-year of eligibility he received from the NCAA.
Hill created the most buzz Monday.
He began a new Twitter account Friday just an hour after his oldest of two probations was terminated. He announced that he’d reveal his “big decision” on Twitter on Monday night.
Hill did it Monday morning, stunning the program.
Hill and coach Les Miles met Monday to discuss the player’s future and then Hill met later in the week with other LSU officials. According to those conversations, Hill was expected to return.
Most analysts and scouts believe Hill made the right decision to enter the draft.
Hill was second in the Southeastern Conference in regular season rushing yards and finished the season with 1,401. He piled up 216 yards in the Outback Bowl against Iowa, then the seventh-best defense in the nation. That was the best single-game rushing performance for an LSU running back since 2004.
In one of the latest draft projections released Monday, Gil Brandt of NFL.com has Hill as the draft’s top running back and a first-round pick. But Hill’s off-the-field issues – two arrests – may hinder his draft stock, said Rob Rang, analyst for CBSSports.com.
Hill was likely to be LSU’s primary offensive weapon next year.
The Tigers will have a new starting quarterback and are losing their top two receivers in Beckham and Landry.
Collins’ return would be a sigh of relief for the offense.
The Redemptorist star is projected as a second or third round selection. That’s why he plans on returning, Beckham said.
“He’s thinking he should be a first-round guy,” Beckham said.
Landry and Beckham have a shot at the first round.
Beckham said the NFL Draft Advisory Board gave him a first-round grade. Landry received a “second or first round” grade. Beckham is in Arizona and Landry is in Florida, both training for the combine.
Beckham called the decision to turn pro “very difficult.”
“When you get a grade like that, it’s kind of like … you either take it and come back and risk … anything could happen,” Beckham said. “It’s just a matter of, I got the grade back and it’s what I wanted.”
Outside of news that Collins plans to stay, LSU received another positive dose. According to a tweet from his account, reserve running back Kenny Hilliard will return to LSU for his senior year. His fellow reserve, Blue, was granted a fifth-year of eligibility, but won’t use it, team spokesman Michael Bonnette said.
Turner’s departure wasn’t a complete surprise. About 10 days ago, he joined Athletes’ Performance, a company that prepares players for the NFL Combine. He’s not projected to be drafted.
As for the Hill’s departure, LSU now turns to a duo of veteran running backs - Terrance Magee and Hilliard - to go with true freshman Leonard Fournette, the St. Augustine star and recent LSU commitment who’s ranked as the nation’s No. 1 prospect.
Asked Monday about Hill’s departures, Fournette said, “We would have made a good combination, but he did what he felt was best for him.”
Ted Lewis contributed to this report.