By Les East
January 15, 2012
Updated at 6:02 p.m.
Three key players from LSU’s Southeastern Conference championship team have applied for early entry into the NFL draft. All-American cornerback Morris Claiborne, leading receiver Rueben Randle and defensive tackle Michael Brockers are all headed to the pros.
Claiborne and Randle have one year of eligibility remaining, and Brockers two. Claiborne and Brockers announced their intention at a Thursday news conference with coach Le Miles on campus. Randle’s father Emmett Randle, confirmed to The Advocate that his son had field his paperwork with the league Thursday.
All three players solicited the NFL for a grade, and the league projected Claiborne as a first-round pick, while some analysts have projected him as high as third-highest rated player. Brockers said his grade was a late first- or second-round pick, and Emmett Randle said Rueben was projected as a second-round pick.
Claiborne said he discussed his options with Miles before coming to the obvious conclusion.
“We sat down and we thought about, what can I do? Can I improve my stock?” Claiborne said. “We saw that there was no possible way. It was time to go.”
Claiborne, a consensus All-American, earned numerous awards this year, including the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He also was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year as voted on by the league’s coaches.
Randle was the Tigers’ leading receiver, catching 53 passes for 917 yards (17.3yards per catch) and eight touchdowns. His father said Rueben made his decision after discussing his options with the family.
“There was no one particular thing,” Emmett Randle said. “It was a combination of things that told him he needed to move on.”
Brockers was a starter for the first time this season and helped anchor the Tigers’ second-ranked defense, which was a key to them going 13-0 before losing to Alabama 21-0 in the BCS National Championship Game on Monday night.
He started all 14 games, made 54 tackles, including 10 for loss and two sacks, and made one interception. He blocked a field-goal attempt Monday night.
“We went undefeated in the regular season, won the SEC Championship, played in the BCS championship, everything I dreamed of,” Brockers said. “I feel like I’ve done pretty much everything I wanted to do coming to LSU.
“I feel like this is the best opportunity, You only get this opportunity once in a lifetime, and I wanted to take advantage of it.”
The only other Tiger believed to be mulling leaving early for the NFL is junior wide receiver Russell Shepard. ESPN reported Thursday that a teammate of Shepard’s told them that he would enter the draft, a day after Shepard tweeted, “Thanks for your support Tiger Nation...but I have to do what’s best for my family and myself...Geaux Tigers.”
Miles said he didn’t know what Shepard’s plans were.
There are different times for guys to leave our program, and the things that both of these men have done is have consistent growth as people and as student-athletes academically,” Miles said of Claiborne and Brockers. “Both men have been very humble in their approach to learning football. It started at a level much less to the level they are at now. They improved and improved and became tremendously competitive. They have put themselves in a position to enter the NFL draft early at an advantaged position.”