Mel Kiper: LSU Tigers loaded with NFL prospects

LSU has “a ton of (NFL draft) prospects” and defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are the Tigers most likely to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft, if they forgo their senior seasons, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Tuesday.

Kiper said he has Mingo ranked as the No. 6 overall prospect and Montgomery at No. 21, though those rankings will change multiple times before the April draft. Underclassmen have until mid-January to declare for the draft, and it’s unlikely any LSU players will announce a decision before their Chick-fil-A Bowl game against Clemson on New Year’s Eve.

Other Tigers underclassmen that Kiper identified as potential early entrants into the draft are safety Eric Reid, linebacker Kevin Minter, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, cornerback Tharold Simon and offensive tackle Chris Faulk.

He said former LSU cornerback/punt returner Tyrann Mathieu likely would have been projected as a second-round pick but now projects anywhere from the third round to the fifth round after being kicked off the team.

“The highest-rated is still Mingo,” Kiper said during a conference call. “He has not had the sacks or the tackles for loss that he had last year. But he can still close and has a tremendous burst.”

Mingo has 5.5 tackles for loss, including four sacks, after having 15 tackles for loss, including eight sacks, last season.

“He has tremendous potential as a pass rusher,” Kiper said. “He’ll get coached up in the NFL. He has real good versatility, being able to play up and down. He wasn’t dominant, but he has the talent to be that in the NFL.”

Montgomery has 12 tackles for loss, including seven sacks, and did better than Mingo in postseason honors.

“Sam Montgomery has had better numbers, but he doesn’t have the burst or athleticism of Mingo,” Kiper said. “Montgomery is a great college player. He might not be as good an NFL player (as Mingo) because he doesn’t have that exceptional skill set.”

Kiper said defensive line is the position with the deepest talent pool is this draft even before underclassmen are factored in. He said Mingo and Texas A&M junior Damontre Moore would be “in a battle” to see which is the top end if they choose to enter the draft.

“We have to wait and see from the standpoint of the numbers at tackle and end,” Kiper said. “But it’s a great year at those positions.”

Kiper said he believes underclassmen should stay in school unless they’re “guaranteed” to be selected in the first round.

If an underclassman declares early for the draft but doesn’t hire an agent, he can still return to school before the draft.

Kiper said he thought Logan “would be wise to return” to LSU. He said he had Minter rated as the No. 2 junior middle linebacker.

Simon has unusually good size (6-foot-3) for a cornerback, but Kiper said “another year would help him” as it would Reid.

Kiper said Faulk and senior tackle Alex Hurst both began the season projected to be “early-round” picks, but neither finished the season. Faulk is likely to return to the Tigers after missing nearly all of the season because of a knee injury. Hurst, who played hurt for several games, left the team midway through the season because of a personal issue.

Senior center P.J. Lonergan could be a late-round pick, Kiper said.

As for Mathieu, Kiper said his pre-draft work will be especially important to his draft stock.

He said that even if Mathieu had played and had a good season this year he would be a mid- to late-second-round draft choice. The two concerns about him were his size (5-9) and lack of exceptional coverage skills, though Kiper called him “a tremendous college player.”

Kiper added that Mathieu’s “inactivity” this season as well as his treatment for substance abuse and recent arrest could drop him as far as the fifth round depending on how he performs in workouts and impresses NFL evaluators between now and April.

Mathieu recently forfeited his final two years of eligibility by hiring an agent.

As for LSU’s opponent in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Kiper said Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, and multipurpose wide receiver Sammy Watkins could both benefit by staying in school for another year, though both have NFL talent.

Kiper said NFL teams are now “asking so much” of rookie quarterbacks that evaluators put a lot of stock in quarterbacks who gain maximum college experience.

Louisiana Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton ranked third among the seniors at his position, according to Kiper.

Kiper said Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, who played at Dutchtown High School, helped his stock, should he choose to forgo his senior season, with a standout game in the Southeastern Conference Championship victory against Georgia two weeks ago.

“He showcased what he can do,” Kiper said. “He can run downhill with authority. He runs with power and athleticism and has that spin move. He had some nicks and played through some injuries. He can do a lot of things.”

Kiper said Lacy would project as a third- or fourth-round pick, adding there are no “elite running backs” in this draft. He said the only running back with first-round talent is South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, who’s a wild card because of a recent knee injury, his second major one.