In the middle of January, a slew of LSU underclassmen heard their logic occasionally skewered as an 11-man exodus from Baton Rouge.
Four months later, though, a two-hour window Friday during the second and third rounds of the NFL draft affirmed a few choices to clean out lockers at the Tigers’ practice facility.
Starting with linebacker Kevin Minter going at No. 45 to the Arizona Cardinals, four LSU juniors went off the board in 50 picks, marking the first time a collegiate program saw six defensive players taken in the draft’s first three rounds.
And it stages a potential reunion, too.
Pulling into the lot of the Arizona training facility might stoke memories of trudging onto the Charlie McClendon Practice Fields for Minter, former Tigers cornerback Patrick Peterson and nickel back Tyrann Mathieu, whom the Cardinals selected with the 69th pick in the third round.
“When they were close to picking, my agent said they might grab me,” said Minter, who led LSU with 130 tackles last season. “You just never at this point. This draft has just been crazy. I was on pins and needles the whole time.”
Impressive stat lines put Minter, who only started this season after replacing Kelvin Sheppard, on the radar, including a season-high 20 tackles in a loss at Florida in October. Yet a lone season of consistent production made teams take pause in spite of scouting reports noting he was a cerebral defender with good anticipation and ample agility to slip blocks.
Over the course of the evaluation process, Minter’s skill set was often contrasted against Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, whose production lagged behind Minter’s but had been consistent over the course of three collegiate seasons.
“It is what is,” Minter said of slipping to the second round. “It’s every kid’s dream to go in the first round, but it didn’t happen.”
Projected as a late first-round pick, questions existed about his athleticism, and his size — 6-foot and 246 pounds — gave pause to teams who thought he used spin and swim moves to avoid physically squaring up to would-be blockers.
“He’s a short inside linebacker, and he’s going to get beat down the seam a little bit by tight ends in the pass game,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “But if you want to talk about a two-down thumper that understands the run game and is a superior tackler, that’s who he is.”
Draft night intrigue centered around Mathieu.
The Heisman Trophy finalist was booted from LSU in August after reportedly failing a drug test, and he further hurt his stock when Baton Rouge police raided his off-campus apartment to find marijuana and scales.
Mathieu, a 5-9, 180-pound New Orleans native, left school, eventually entered drug rehabilitation and decamped to Miami to salvage his draft chances working out with Peterson. Facing concerns about his maturity and whether his skills have atrophied, Mathieu shunted such critiques.
“I’m able to do everything I’ve done in college,” said Mathieu, who had 131 tackles, six sacks and forced 10 turnovers in his LSU career. “I’m able to play outside. I’m able to play inside. I’m able to play safety. I can play any special teams. The fact of the matter is any position they put me at is all about effort and how hard are you going to go.”
Projected as a third-round choice, experts based Mathieu’s chances of success on the presence of stable environment around him toward temptation and stress he has said led to a marijuana addiction.
“Young people sometimes do stupid stuff,” NFL Network analyst Brian Billick said. “Is that just young and stupid, or is this character? You’re betting that there’s going to be a maturation here in this young man.”
Two picks earlier, junior defensive tackle Bennie Logan was snared with the No. 67 pick by the Philadelphia Eagles.
“He can give you some inside pass rush,” Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman said. “He can work the edges. So, he’s an interesting guy (and) we feel fortunate to get him here.”
Switching to a 3-4 scheme under first-year coach Chip Kelly, Logan, who is 6-3 and 295 pounds, could be moved around the line from a traditional nose tackle spot to end.
“We think he has the ability to be a three-down player,” Kelly said. “He’s stout against the run, but I also think on third down he can be an inside pass rusher for us.”
While Logan, who had 103 tackles and 5.5 sacks in three seasons for LSU, said he prefers inside, but he’s fine with coaches experimenting with his spot in multiple fronts.
“I was more of an interior guy taking on the double teams in the trenches and doing the dirty work,” he said. “It’s not something I’m accustomed to — getting a lot of attention. I took it in stride as I went through my career.”
Finally, junior defensive end Sam Montgomery, the more boisterous bookend opposite first round pick Barkevious Mingo, was taken with the 95th pick in the third round by the Houston Texans.
A 45-minute drive away, Southeastern Louisiana produced its own NFL pick when cornerback Robert Alford went No. 60 overall — the second-highest a player has been drafted in school history — to the Atlanta Falcons after climbing up draft boards behind stellar workouts at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine in February.
“It was a big key for me,” Alford said. “Obviously Southeastern’s a small college, and not a lot of people hear about it. There’s a lot, even if you know it, that you have to prove to coaches and GMs.
“There’s not a lot you can do about the level of competition I faced, and those two things helped a lot.”
One pick later, former Dutchtown High standout and Alabama star Eddie Lacy was selected No. 61 by the Green Bay Packers, but it was lower than where many analysts expected Lacy to be in January
A nagging hamstring injury cost Lacy a chance to show off his wares at the NFL scouting combine and contributed to him running a subpar 4.57-second time in the 40-yard dash last month at his pro day.
However, concerns over injuries that cost Lacy, who rushed for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, seven games in his career appeared to bother the Packers’ front office brass.
Unlike in Tuscaloosa, Lacy’s durability should hold up better by not having to shoulder more than 20 carries a game as a primary running back.
Also, former Scotlandville High standout Dallas Thomas went 77th to Miami. He played left guard at Tennessee.