NCF Nation: Eric Reid

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- A player can’t be considered a star when the average fan still reaches for a roster after he makes a play in order to make the connection between name and jersey number.

[+] EnlargeJamal Adams
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLSU has already seen the impact Jamal Adams can have on and off the field.
 LSU’s Jamal Adams might be on the verge of making the transition from hyped newcomer to household name.

“That’s what’s kind of happening to him: ‘Who’s No. 33?’ and then they go look him up in the program because simply put, he’s making plays wherever you line him up at,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “That’s a great characteristic.”

The freshman safety’s name was already well known among recruitniks, as the No. 2 safety and No. 18 overall prospect on this year’s ESPN 300. He was the highest-rated defensive player to sign with LSU in February. He’s quickly gaining recognition among more casual fans -- and not just because of his dramatic flop against Florida after Gators punt returner Andre Debose lightly shoved Adams’ facemask.

That play, which went viral on the Internet and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Debose, has been a source of nonstop comedy in the LSU locker room, with several teammates comparing Adams’ antics to that of NBA superstar and noted flop king LeBron James.

“That was too funny. That was something I expect out of him,” safety Rickey Jefferson said. “Then he tweeted and said LeBron taught me.”

Linebacker Deion Jones agreed, adding, “It was hilarious. I laughed about it on the field.”

Running back Terrence Magee, who was only a few feet away when Debose’s attack occurred, also got a laugh out of the play.

“He’s been watching basketball too much,” Magee said.

Adams said the play exemplified his energetic on-field personality, which Miles has described as “electric.”

“I’m a character and I do whatever for the team,” Adams said. “That flop, everybody’s blowing it up, so it was just definitely something I needed to do at the time.”

His contributions of late are not limited to appearances on SportsCenter’s Not Top 10, however. Adams is getting significant playing time in LSU’s nickel and dime defensive packages and is one of the team’s most valuable special-teams performers. He leads the Tigers with nine special-teams tackles and delivered the key block that sprung Tre’Davious White for a 67-yard punt return touchdown last Saturday against Kentucky.

On White’s first return of the night, Adams noticed that his side of the field was wide open for a return and pleaded with White to bring the next punt his way. Sure enough, White ran toward the Kentucky sideline with his next return and Adams crushed Kentucky’s A.J. Stamps with the block that helped White sprint into the open field.

 “He’s put himself in a great position to make big-time blocks for us,” White said. “I went back and watched the first punt that actually I took [17] yards. It could have been another touchdown if I would have just went outside. He was right and I did it that time and he made a big block like he said I would and sprung me for a touchdown.”

It was Adams’ most notable play in what was probably his best night as a Tiger to date. He continued to shine on the coverage teams, posting two special-teams tackles and also made his biggest impact yet on defensive downs. Adams finished with a career-high eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

“He has a motor that don’t stop,” White said. “He’s a guy that brings so much energy. He’s just not like that in games, he’s like that around practice. Very vocal, and he’s a young leader and we look forward to him making plays down the road for us.”

In truth, Adams is making plays now. Although he hasn’t started a game yet, he ranks fifth on the team with 37 tackles and is starting to live up to the preseason comparisons that LSU insiders made to former All-America safety Eric Reid.

Asked why he is becoming a more productive player, Adams fell back on the attributes that so many teammates cited while describing his game: He consistently shows great effort and energy.

“[LSU’s coaches have] been stressing how to be the player that you want to be,” Adams said. “They stress it hard in practice. It’s practice how you play, so every time in practice I’m going hard, I’m running hard, doing the little things. The little things separate you.”

LSU embraces playing freshmen

May, 28, 2014
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles has never been afraid to play a true freshman -- LSU’s sports information department reports that the Tigers have played 87 first-year freshmen in Miles’ nine seasons -- but it has become one of the program’s trademarks only in recent years.

The Tigers ranked among the nation’s top-five programs at playing freshmen in each of the last two seasons -- 14 freshmen in 2013 (third) and 15 in 2012 (fifth) -- and Miles has all but guaranteed at least 15 more will see the field this fall once a star-studded recruiting class arrives on campus.

It has quickly become a calling card for Miles’ staff on the recruiting trail.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherTyrann Mathieu is one of many LSU players in recent years who've had a chance to contribute as true freshmen.
“I think kids like that about LSU,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “They like our style, they like Coach Miles’ philosophy that young guys are going to play early, which we do. I think we’ve averaged maybe ... at least 15 freshmen a year playing. And so all that plays into recruiting.

“You can’t guarantee a guy he’s going to play, but if he knows he’s given the opportunity and he’s got confidence in his ability, the track record speaks for itself. Come in and help us win and here’s the key thing, I think, that I’ve learned since being here is our veteran players -- our juniors and sophomores and redshirt sophomores and so forth -- they expect young guys to come help them play. They’re not afraid of young guys coming in and playing with them.”

Considering its recent history at the position group, it should come as no surprise that LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson traces the development of this trend back to the arrival of key players in the secondary. The wheels were set in motion when cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne contributed as true freshmen in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but the freshman movement truly took off with the 2010 class that featured Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.

Those players -- and several others who played bigger roles the next season when LSU won an SEC championship -- started to show what they could do in the second half of their freshman seasons, capped by an impressive win against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl where Mathieu, Reid and Simon all intercepted passes.

“It really hit because we had three guys in the secondary because so many spread defenses came (along), so we played a lot of nickel and a lot of dime with five and six defensive backs there,” Wilson recalled. “So Tyrann Mathieu took to the field, Tharold Simon took to the field as well as Eric Reid, and then offensively Spencer Ware began to emerge, et cetera. So probably in that class, the class of [2010], it kind of hit a high point from that point on. These guys have relished and looked forward to the opportunity to contribute as freshmen, and we like it.”

Mathieu went on to become the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist thanks to his dynamic playmaking ability. Reid also became an All-American and first-round NFL draft pick. Simon didn’t earn the same level of acclaim in college, but he was still able to jump to the NFL after his junior season and become a draft pick himself.

All three players had eligibility remaining when they left LSU, which exemplifies the greatest contributing factor in the program’s recent trend of playing youngsters. No program has had more players enter the draft early in the last couple seasons than LSU, and those departures created holes that talented freshmen could fill.

LSU recruited toward that end for this year's class and cashed in on signing day when it landed the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, one that featured the top overall prospect in tailback Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 receiver (Malachi Dupre), top guard (Garrett Brumfield) and 16 players who made the 2014 ESPN 300.

“We knew our needs, we knew what we wanted to get,” Wilson said of signing day. “We targeted certain guys, so there was never a panic on our part. We kind of knew early on by way of communication and feedback who we’re in good shape with and who we’re not and have a plan on people to place and sign in those positions.”

Tailback and receiver will certainly be manned at least in part by freshmen this season, and many other freshmen such as quarterback Brandon Harris, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett also might follow Mathieu, Reid and Simon’s lead by playing key roles this fall.

LSU isn’t the only school that relies heavily on young players, but it has quickly gained a reputation as a trendsetter in that regard.

“I think that’s a little unique,” Cameron said. “Sometimes guys are afraid of young players coming in and taking their position, but here I don’t sense that. I sense guys like the competition and they know we’re going to need everybody to win a championship.”
As the 2014 NFL draft drew to a close last Saturday, I could still hear Joe Pendry’s prophetic words in the press box on Nov. 5, 2011.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Scott Donaldson/Icon SMIC.J. Mosley was taken in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens.
Pendry, who had just retired the previous year as Alabama’s offensive line coach, said there was a very simple reason that nobody could score a touchdown that night in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“Look out there on the field, and probably 20 of the 22 defensive starters will be playing in the NFL,” said Pendry, who was an offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans before ending his career in the college ranks.

Turns out, he might have undersold just how much talent was on the field, which in my 20-plus years of covering the SEC is unquestionably the gold standard for premium defensive talent on the field together at one time.

In that game alone, which LSU won 9-6 in overtime, there were 28 defensive players who played in the game -- 14 on each side -- who would get drafted. That includes 10 first-rounders.

The grand total of future draftees who played in the game was 42, and that doesn’t even count another handful of players who made NFL rosters as undrafted free agents.

“You don’t see that every Saturday,” said Phil Savage, former Cleveland Browns general manager and current executive director of the Senior Bowl.

“That’s why it was a tug-of-war in the middle of the field, all those future pros on defense. We call it a logo game. Neither offense could move the ball very far past the logo at midfield.”

Savage, the color man on Alabama’s radio broadcasts, remembers doing interviews leading up to that epic No. 1-versus-No. 2 encounter and estimating that 40 to 50 players from the game would end up playing in the NFL.

“It’s as close to an NFL game as you’re ever going to see in terms of a college matchup, with so many future NFL players on each side,” Savage said.

The two teams wound up playing twice that season. Alabama avenged its only loss by beating LSU 21-0 in the BCS National Championship in New Orleans. Alabama finished No. 1 nationally that season in scoring defense, and LSU was No. 2. Between them, they gave up 27 touchdowns in 27 games.

The only games in Savage’s recent memory that would come close to that Alabama-LSU affair in terms of producing NFL draft picks were the Florida State-Miami game in 2000 and the Miami-Ohio State BCS National Championship game to cap the 2002 season.

Miami beat Florida State 27-24 in 2000, snapping the Seminoles’ 26-game regular-season winning streak.

In the next three drafts, Miami produced 26 draft choices, although not all of those players played in that 2000 game. For instance, Willis McGahee and Jerome McDougle redshirted in 2000, and Clinton Portis was injured and didn’t play.

Florida State, over the next three drafts, produced 18 draft choices.

But in one game, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever see 42 future draft choices again on the field playing, and certainly not 28 on defense.

As a comparison, in that FSU-Miami game in 2000, there were a total of 17 defensive players who would end up being drafted.

Now, when it comes to one team, good luck in trumping Miami’s 2001 national championship team. The Hurricanes had 16 players from that team who would go on to be first-round picks.

Here’s a look at the draftees from that Alabama-LSU game in 2011:

ALABAMA

[+] EnlargeBarkevious Mingo
AP Photo/David RichardBarkevious Mingo was one of the many LSU defenders on the 2011 team that was drafted.
2014 draft
2013 draft
2012 draft
LSU

2014 draft
2013 draft
2012 draft

Inconsistency an issue for UGA, LSU

September, 24, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- For all the ink spilled over the numerous defensive holes that Georgia had to fill before this season, perhaps no defense in the country suffered greater losses than LSU.

Just as Georgia had 12 key defensive players to replace this fall, LSU actually set an NFL draft record with six defensive players selected in the 2013 draft's first two days. And just as the Bulldogs have discovered, it has been difficult for LSU to pick up exactly where it left off without players like Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Eric Reid, Sam Montgomery, Tharold Simon and Bennie Logan.

So as No. 9 Georgia (2-1) and No. 6 LSU (4-0) prepare to meet on Saturday, they do so with young in places defenses that have delivered uneven results. Neither group lack potential, but they both have dealt with the understandable lapses that typically arise when new players take over for established stars.

“I think our players are as talented as we've ever had and I think there's a maturity that needs to take place so they can play with their cleats headed north and south and ready to make a tackle and show the style of confidence, if you will, that other defenses that have played in this uniform have shown,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think that's coming. I see it, in last week, better in certain spots and certainly that's got to continue.”

In Saturday's win against Auburn, Miles' Tigers could not have been more impressive early. They limited Auburn to just 41 yards of offense in the first quarter in jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead. However, Auburn made it a more competitive game -- LSU still won 35-21 -- by generating 333 yards in the second half and running a whopping 85 plays against a suddenly reeling LSU defense that was facing its first legitimate test.

“Everybody probably mentally may have gotten a little bit down. We had a couple of calls that were questionable, but we've got to be able to shrug that off,” LSU defensive end Jordan Allen said. “We have a couple things happening and not sure what's going on and we're not communicating on some things and we'll get it straight.”

LSU's early schedule was much more generous toward its defensive rebuilding effort than was Georgia's. The Tigers played TCU, UAB, Kent State and Auburn in the first four games, with only the TCU game -- it was held at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Texas -- being played away from Tiger Stadium.

Their defensive statistics reflect that advantage, as LSU is tied for third in the SEC in total defense (310 yards per game), is second against the pass (173.8 ypg), seventh against the run (136.2) and fifth in scoring (19.5 points per game).

Because its first two opponents were top-10 teams with impressive skill talent, Georgia's defense looks much worse on paper. The Bulldogs are 13th in the league in scoring defense (29.7 ppg), 11th in total defense (388.7 ypg), eighth against the run (143.3) and ninth against the pass (245.3 ypg).

However, they actually enter the LSU game after their best performance yet. In Saturday's 45-21 win against North Texas, Georgia surrendered just 7 rushing yards and 245 total yards -- nearly 400 fewer than the Bulldogs' offense generated that afternoon. Further, the Mean Green scored just one offensive touchdown -- the other two came on special-teams plays -- and otherwise sputtered on offense .

“I feel like we really stepped up this game,” Georgia sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said. “We had the off week to kind of get everybody in the right spot or whatever, and I feel like we're really jelling together and really getting that chemistry that we're going to need next week against LSU.”

It was still far from a perfect effort, but Georgia has now allowed opponents to score just 13 points in their last 18 drives, dating back to halftime of the South Carolina game when the score was tied at 24-24 before the Bulldogs pulled away for a 41-30 win.

“You want to have confidence,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of his defense after the North Texas win. “I don't think this bunch is going to be overconfident after this game. I think they did begin to play well together and I think they can be proud of what happened. It was a very good performance. But LSU's a good team, and we want them as confident as possible, but we don't want them to think they've arrived, that's for sure, because we've got a long way to go.”

Miles' coaching staff can certainly empathize with that sentiment, particularly as it prepares to face a Georgia team that ranks sixth nationally in total offense at 574 ypg -- in the Tigers' first true road game of the season, no less.

Inconsistency has characterized both defenses over the first month of the season, but they realize that excuses over inexperience have nearly lost their shelf life. The defense that is better at minimizing its mistakes on Saturday will almost certainly win what should be one of the most impactful games either team will play this fall.
The SEC's 63 NFL draft selections was a record for any league and blew away every other conference this year.

The next closest was the ACC with 31 draft picks. In fact, the SEC's East produced 32 draft picks and the SEC West 31. The old record for the most draft picks for one conference was 55, set by the Pac-10 in 1983.

The SEC had 32 players selected in the top three rounds. That compares to 16 a year ago. The next closest conference in the top three rounds was the ACC with 12 players selected.

The only school in the SEC that didn't have a player taken in this year's draft was Ole Miss.

Alabama and LSU tied for the most draft picks this year in the SEC. Each had nine. Florida State was tops in the country with 11.

Here's the rundown by SEC team:
  • Alabama: 9
  • LSU: 9
  • Florida: 8
  • Georgia: 8
  • South Carolina: 7
  • Texas A&M: 5
  • Arkansas: 4
  • Tennessee: 4
  • Mississippi State: 3
  • Missouri: 2
  • Vanderbilt: 2
  • Auburn: 1
  • Kentucky: 1

And here's a link to the round-by-round listing of all 63 SEC players drafted.
It’s always revealing to go back and see where the top NFL draft picks from the SEC were ranked coming out of high school.

Of the 12 SEC players drafted in Thursday's first round, nine were selected as ESPN 150 prospects. And of those nine, six were ranked among the top 60 prospects nationally when they were going through the recruiting process in high school.

That’s not a shabby percentage by the ESPN recruiting folks.

Last year, six of the nine SEC players going in the first round were unranked nationally by ESPN coming out of high school. So it's never an exact science.

The highest-ranked player this year taken in the first round was Florida safety Matt Elam, who was the No. 9 overall prospect in the 2010 class and the No. 2 athlete. That same year, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner was the No. 16 overall prospect and the No. 2 cornerback, while Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was No. 25 overall and the No. 3 defensive tackle.

The lowest-ranked of the SEC’s 12 first-rounders this year was Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, but his issues were academic-related.

Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack also flew under the radar coming out of high school. He wasn’t even ranked among the top 30 prospects in the state of Georgia by ESPN, and said the home-state Bulldogs didn't offer him a scholarship.

Here’s a breakdown of all 12 SEC players taken in the first round, including their national rank by ESPN coming out of high school, their position rank, other players ranked ahead of them, their grade and where they’re from:

Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (No. 2 to the Jaguars): No. 83 overall in class of 2010, No. 6 offensive tackle. Three of the tackles ranked ahead of Joeckel signed with SEC schools -- No. 2 Ja’Wuan James (Tennessee), No. 3 Ian Silbermann (Florida) and No. 4 Chaz Green (Florida). Grade 81. Arlington, Texas

Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU (No. 6 to the Browns): Unranked nationally in class of 2009, No. 34 outside linebacker. Among the outside linebackers signing with SEC schools that were ranked ahead of Mingo that year were Chase Vasser (Georgia), Greg King (Tennessee), Chaun Gresham (South Carolina), Nigel Mitchell-Thornton (Tennessee), Jerod Askew (Tennessee), Dexter Moody (Georgia) and Tana Patrick (Alabama). Grade 78. West Monroe, La.

Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (No. 9 to the Jets): No. 16 overall in class of 2010. No. 2 cornerback. The only cornerback ranked ahead of him nationally that year was Lamarcus Joyner, who signed with Florida State. Grade 84. Millbrook, Ala.

Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (No. 10 to the Titans): Unranked nationally in class of 2009. No. 16 offensive guard. No. 35 in the state of Georgia. Eighteen other players who signed with SEC schools that year from the state of Georgia were ranked ahead of Warmack. Grade 79. Atlanta.

D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama (No. 11 to the Chargers): No. 12 overall in class of 2009. No. 1 offensive tackle. Offensive tackle Eric Fisher, who was the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s draft, was also in the 2009 class, but was unranked nationally as a defensive end. Grade 86. Foley, Ala.

Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (No. 13 to the Jets): No. 107 overall in class of 2009. No. 8 defensive tackle. The three defensive tackles ranked ahead of him that year who signed with SEC schools were No. 2 Gary Brown (Florida), No. 4 Josh Downs (LSU) and No. 7 Chris Davenport (LSU). Grade 81. St. Louis, Mo.

Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (No. 17 to the Steelers): No. 59 overall in class of 2009. No. 6 outside linebacker. No. 7 in the state of Georgia. Jones signed with USC out of high school before transferring to Georgia. The No. 1 outside linebacker nationally that year was Manti Te’o. Grade 82. Columbus, Ga.

Eric Reid, S, LSU (No. 18 to the 49ers): No. 71 overall in class of 2010. No. 7 safety. The No. 1 safety nationally that year was Jonathan Dowling, who signed with Florida. Grade 81. Geismar, La.

Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (No. 23 to the Vikings): No. 25 overall in class of 2010. No. 3 defensive tackle. The only two defensive tackles ranked ahead of him that year were No. 1 Dominique Easley (Florida) and No. 2 Taylor Bible (Texas). Grade 83. Philadelphia, Pa.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (No. 29 to the Vikings): Unranked nationally and at his position in class of 2009. Patterson didn’t qualify academically and spent his first year out of high school attending North Carolina Tech and then played two seasons at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College before transferring to Tennessee. Rock Hill, S.C.

Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia (No. 30 to the Rams): No. 29 overall in class of 2010. No. 4 safety. Ogletree started out at safety at Georgia before moving to inside linebacker. Grade 83. Newnan, Ga.

Matt Elam, S, Florida (No. 32 to the Ravens): No. 9 overall in class of 2010. No. 2 athlete. Ranked as an athlete that year by ESPN. The No. 1 athlete was Ronald Powell, who also went to Florida. Grade 86. Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
The SEC had 12 players selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night, tying the record set by the ACC in 2006.

No other conference had more than six first-rounders this year. The ACC had six, and the Pac-12 was next with five.

Six of the top 13 selections were from the SEC, including three in a row from Alabama. Cornerback Dee Milliner went No. 9 to the New York Jets, offensive guard Chance Warmack No. 10 to the Tennessee Titans and offensive tackle D.J. Fluker No. 11 to the San Diego Chargers.

Alabama running back Eddie Lacy did not go in the first round as projected. The Crimson Tide have produced 13 first-round picks over the past four years.

For Alabama coach Nick Saban, that gives him 22 players that he has recruited and signed in his 11 seasons as an SEC head coach who've gone on to become first-round NFL draft choices. Saban was responsible for signing all nine of LSU’s first-round selections from 2004-09, and he signed 13 of Alabama’s 14 first-rounders over the past five years.

LSU had two players go in the first round -- defensive end Barkevious Mingo No. 6 to the Cleveland Browns and safety Eric Reid No. 18 to the San Francisco 49ers. The Tigers have produced five first-round selections over the past three years.

Florida and Georgia also had two players each taken in the first round. All four were defensive players.

In fact, eight of the 12 SEC players taken in the first round this year were defensive players. The only offensive skill player selected in the first round from the SEC was Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at No. 29 to the Minnesota Vikings. Patterson became the first offensive player from Tennessee to go in the first round since receiver Robert Meachem went No. 27 overall to the New Orleans Saints in 2007.

Here's a quick review from Thursday's first round:

No. 2: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M to the Jacksonville Jaguars

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 6: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU to the Cleveland Browns

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 9: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama to the New York Jets

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 10: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama to the Tennessee Titans

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 11: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama to the San Diego Chargers

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 13: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri to the New York Jets

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 17: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia to the Pittsburgh Steelers

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 18: Eric Reid, S, LSU to the San Francisco 49ers

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 23: Sharrrif Floyd, DT, Florida to the Minnesota Vikings

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 29: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee to the Minnesota Vikings

Bill Polian video analysis here.

No. 30: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia to the St. Louis Rams

Todd McShay video analysis here.

No. 32: Matt Elam, S, Florida to the Baltimore Ravens

Todd McShay video analysis here.
This marks the final year of the BCS, and you better believe the SEC would love to close the BCS era with eight straight titles. It would also ensure that the league has even more momentum going into the playoff, which starts during the 2014 season.

Colleague Travis Haney took a look at which conference has the best playoff path starting next year. He makes a pretty good case for the SEC, which should be able to get its conference champion in every year.

But who can wait for 2014 title talk? Yeah, me either, so why not take a look at SEC teams with the best BCS title paths in 2013? Spring practice begins this month, so we might as well throw out some very, very early thoughts on teams' championship hopes.

Let's take a look at which SEC teams have real BCS title shots in 2013:

ALABAMA

Pros: The Crimson Tide still have Nick Saban. That should be reason enough to make Alabama the odds on favorite to win its third straight national championship and fourth in five years. But there are many other reasons why Alabama tops our list. The offensive line might have to be rebuilt, but Alabama returns the nation's most efficient quarterback in AJ McCarron, who could have easily opted for the NFL after his junior year, a beast at running back in rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon, a host of talent -- and explosiveness -- at wide receiver, and most of the pieces to last year's top-ranked defense. Some big names have to be replaced on both sides, but this team really is reloading in 2013. Also, if the Tide can escape Virginia Tech (in Atlanta) and Texas A&M (in College Station) early, Alabama could go through the year unscathed, with road games coming against Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn.

Cons: Forget the pressure. Saban doesn't allow pressure to eat at his players. What Alabama has to do is replace three studs on that offensive line. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are all gone. Winning the battle in the trenches is essential to competing in the SEC, so Alabama's less experienced linemen have to grow up in a hurry. Also, no team can do it three times in a row, right?

TEXAS A&M

Pros: Johnny Manziel is back and last year proved that the Aggies are tough enough to compete in the big, bad SEC. Kliff Kingsbury might not be calling the plays anymore, but there is a lot of young talent on offense, including wide receiver Mike Evans and running backs Brandon Williams and Trey Williams, that should still give SEC defenses fits. A&M gets Alabama at home in Week 3 and trade Florida for Vanderbilt.

Cons: The Aggies lost a lot from their 2012 team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is gone, along with receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, who combined for 98 catches for 1,398 yards and 15 touchdowns. The front seven has a lot to replace, including All-American defensive end Damontre Moore and linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Kingsbury's sideline work with Manziel will be missed, and the Aggies have to play LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas on the road.

GEORGIA

Pros: Georgia will be down wide receiver Tavarres King on offense, but it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to help make up for the loss of his production with all those talented receivers. "Gurshall" returns and so does quarterback Aaron Murray, who could become the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in each of his four years on campus. Bringing back the entire starting five on offense will also keep this offense trending upward.

Cons: The Bulldogs lost 12 players who either started or saw significant time on defense. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo are just a few of the big names that are gone. There certainly is talent remaining, but replacing all those players would be tough for anyone. Also, look at that schedule. The Dawgs start the year with Clemson, South Carolina and LSU before September even arrives. Losing more than one game during that stretch could all but end Georgia's title hopes.

FLORIDA

Pros: The Gators lost some key players on defense, but coach Will Muschamp is bringing back a host of defensive talent that should do just fine in 2013. Marcus Roberson could be an All-SEC performer at cornerback, and incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the talent to start opposite him immediately. Ronald Powell returns to help out a young but very talented front seven that includes rising sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Also, the Gators should be very deep at running back and have a more complete offensive line in 2013.

Cons: No one is quite sure what to make of that offense. Sure, the Gators should be able to run the ball, even without workhorse Mike Gillislee, but what about throwing it? Jeff Driskel really struggled last year, and the Gators lost their best receiving option in tight end Jordan Reed. Florida will have to rely on five true freshmen to help at receiver, but Driskel has to increase his confidence and become a better presense in the huddle for this offense to improve at all. Florida also takes on Miami, LSU and South Carolina on the road.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Pros: The Gamecocks might be without Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, but they should be very balanced on offense in 2013. South Carolina has two very capable quarterbacks to work with in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, a talented group of running backs returning, led by rising sophomore Mike Davis, and more experience at receiver. One-man wrecking crew Jadeveon Clowney is back, and could be a legit Heisman candidate. South Carolina also spends the final month of the season at home.

Cons: Replacing Sanders will be tough because he did so much on offense and special teams. Clowney will have help up front, but South Carolina must replace its two-deep at linebacker. That's going to be quite the chore. Also, stud safety D.J. Swearinger, Spur DeVonte Holloman and cornerback Akeem Auguste all have to be replaced. Right now, this staff will have to rely on a handful of youngsters to help out this spring. The Gamecocks must also go to Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas.

LSU

Pros: The offense has to be more well-rounded in 2013. Cam Cameron is in at offensive coordinator, and quarterback Zach Mettenberger made major strides during the last month of the season. All of his receiving weapons are back, the offensive line should be better and there is a wealth of talent still at running back. The Tigers also get Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas at home.

Cons: The defense was gutted after the 2012 season. The defensive line has to be rebuilt, someone has to step in for Kevin Minter at middle linebacker and the secondary must fill in the holes left by Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. There is a lot of young talent on defense, but guys have to grow up quickly in Baton Rouge this year. Playing Alabama and Georgia on the road will be very tough as well.
Tuesday brought us the final day of the NFL combine and even more speed, as defensive backs showcased their stuff in Indianapolis.

Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner arrived at the combine as the top-rated defensive back in this year's NFL draft, but had an up-and-down day. He had an impressive official 40-yard dash time of 4.37 seconds, which was the second-fastest 40 time of the day, but he struggled during drills -- dropping a handful of balls. Milliner also had a 36-inch vertical jump and a 122-inch broad jump. He's probably still the top-rated corner in this year's draft with his 40 time and it doesn't sound like his field drills will knock him out of that top spot.

[+] EnlargeDarius Slay
AP Photo/Dave MartinMississippi State CB Darius Slay showed off his leaping ability during NFL combine workouts.
Mississippi State cornerback Darius Slay made some good noise as well after he won the 40 battle, sporting a time of 4.36. That sort of time will certainly help his draft stock, especially after his name was buried a bit heading into the combine. He also had 14 reps of the 225-pound bench press, registered a 35.5-inch vertical and claimed 124 inches in the broad jump.

While Slay helped himself in Indy, teammate Johnthan Banks didn't. He might have won the Thorpe Award, as the nation's best defensive back, but Banks didn't have a good day at the combine. He ran an unflattering 4.61 in the 40 and struggled during field work. He had just 10 bench reps, but sported a 34-inch vertical and a 125-inch broad jump. Banks will have a chance to make up for Tuesday at Mississippi State's pro day.

When it came to showcasing some real strength, Georgia safety Shawn Williams topped all SEC defensive backs with his 25 bench reps. That number ranked third among defensive backs at the combine. He was also one of the fastest safeties out there with his 4.46 in the 40. He also had a 36-inch vertical. Williams really helped himself out with all that strength and speed he showed.

LSU safety Eric Reid also impressed when it came to speed and strength. He tied for the best vertical jump of the day with a height of 40.5 inches and he also tied for the top broad jump (134 inches). Reid also ran a 4.53 40 and did 17 reps on bench.

Florida safety Matt Elam had a big drop in field drills, but he turned some heads with his 4.54 40 time and he was able to get 17 reps on the bench. The 5-foot-10 Elam also registered a 35.5-inch vertical.

The other big story of the day revolved around the performance of former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. A lot of questions surrounded the Honey Badger, who was dismissed from LSU's team before the 2012 season, but he looked like he was in pretty good shape during Tuesday's workouts. While he tied for last with just four reps on bench, Mathieu was very impressive during field drills, showed good speed with his 4.50 in the 40, and registered a 34-inch vertical and a 117-inch broad jump.

Mathieu might have a lot of past off-field issues, but there's no doubt that he's a ballplayer, and Tuesday certainly helped him as far as the draft is concerned.

You can read about all the defensive back performances during the final day of the combine here.

Where they ranked as recruits: Defense

January, 30, 2013
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Now that we’ve examined where the offensive players on the 2012 Associated Press All-SEC team ranked as high school recruits, we look next at the defensive players.

Whereas only four of the 12 offensive players (counting the all-purpose player) on this season's All-SEC team were ESPN 150 prospects, nine of the 11 defensive players made the ESPN 150 cut as high school recruits. Eight of the 11 were ranked among the top 10 prospects nationally at their position.

The only two who weren't ESPN 150 prospects were Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore and Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks.

Here's a look back:

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsSouth Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney was ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 150 in 2011.
DEFENSE

DE: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina -- A five-star prospect and ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 150 in 2011. Received a grade of 95 and described by some analysts as one of the most talented and physically impressive high school prospects to be evaluated since the advent of recruiting rankings.

DE: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M -- A three-star prospect and unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 48 defensive end prospect nationally. Six of the top 15 defensive end prospects that year signed with SEC schools -- No. 4 Corey Miller (Tennessee), No. 5 Adrian Hubbard (Alabama), No. 9 Corey Lemonier (Auburn), No. 10 Chris Martin (Florida), No. 14 LaDarius Owens (Auburn) and No. 15 Justin Maclin (LSU).

DT: Sharrif Floyd, Florida -- A four-star prospect and ranked No. 25 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 3 defensive tackle prospect nationally. The No. 1 defensive tackle prospect that year was Florida teammate Dominique Easley. The Gators also signed a third top 10 defensive tackle prospect -- Leon Orr -- in that 2010 class.

DT: Sheldon Richardson, Missouri -- Ranked No. 107 in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 8 defensive tackle prospect nationally. There were three tackle prospects ranked ahead of him that year who signed with SEC schools -- No. 2 Gary Brown (Florida), No. 4 Josh Downs (LSU), and No. 7 Chris Davenport (LSU).

LB: Jarvis Jones, Georgia -- Ranked No. 59 in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Originally signed with USC before transferring to Georgia. Ranked as the No. 6 outside linebacker prospect nationally. The No. 1 outside linebacker prospect in that class was Manti Te'o. Jones was ranked as the No. 7 overall prospect in the state of Georgia in 2009. Future Georgia teammates Branden Smith (No. 2) and Chris Burnette (No. 6) were ranked ahead of him.

LB: Kevin Minter, LSU -- Ranked No. 133 in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 11 outside linebacker prospect nationally. Counting Jarvis Jones, eight of the top 15 outside linebacker prospects that year either signed with an SEC school or wound up at one. Florida got two of them -- No. 2 Jelani Jenkins and No. 8 Jon Bostic.

LB: C.J.Mosley, Alabama -- A four-star prospect and ranked No. 99 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 7 outside linebacker prospect nationally. The only outside linebacker prospect to sign with an SEC school ranked higher was Georgia’s T.J. Stripling at No. 5.

CB: Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State -- Unranked in the ESPN 150 in 2009. Ranked as the No. 27 athlete nationally, one spot behind eventual LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Banks, who grew up in the tiny town of Maben, Miss., only received the one scholarship offer from Mississippi State.

CB: Dee Milliner, Alabama -- A four-star prospect and ranked No. 16 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 2 cornerback prospect nationally. Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner was ranked as the country’s No. 1 cornerback prospect that year. Florida signed three of the top 10 cornerback prospects in 2010 -- No. 3 Josh Shaw, No. 5 Jaylen Watkins, and No. 7 Cody Riggs.

S: Matt Elam, Florida -- A five-star prospect and ranked No. 9 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 2 athlete nationally. The No. 1 athlete that year was eventual Florida teammate Ronald Powell. Auburn signed three of the top 10 athletes in 2010. Two of them, Antonio Goodwin and Shaun Kitchens, were part of the 2011 armed robbery of a trailer and kicked off the team. The third was receiver Trovon Reed.

S: Eric Reid, LSU -- A four-star prospect and ranked No. 71 in the ESPN 150 in 2010. Ranked as the No. 7 safety prospect nationally. Reid was one of two top 10 safety prospects the Tigers signed that year. The other was Tharold Simon, who wound up playing cornerback. The No. 1 safety prospect in 2010 was Jonathan Dowling, who signed with Florida and was kicked off the team during his freshman season by Urban Meyer.

LSU will recover from mass junior exodus

January, 21, 2013
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Sam Montgomery, Barkevious MingoCal Sport Media via AP Images, Getty ImagesSam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, projected to be first-round picks, highlight LSU's group of juniors leaving early for the NFL draft.
Les Miles isn’t sweating the mass exodus, so maybe everybody in Tigerland shouldn’t be sweating the 10 underclassmen leaving early for the NFL draft.

That number swells to 11 if you count Tyrann Mathieu, but Mathieu didn’t play this past season for LSU after being dismissed and had no chance of returning in 2013.

To put LSU’s 10 early NFL draft entrants into perspective, the entire SEC had 11 in 2012.

Then again, the SEC saw that number climb to 33 this year.

And, yes, there were a number of head-scratchers. That's always the case.

Players leave early for all sorts of reasons. Most of the time, they’re simply ready to take their shot at the NFL. Sometimes, they land in the doghouse and really don’t have much choice. Others listen to the wrong people and get bad advice.

There’s a reason LSU has been one of the elite programs in college football the past few years. The Tigers have recruited and developed players about as well as anyone.

The sobering reality for everybody else in the SEC is that nobody has done it as well as Alabama, and the Tigers and Crimson Tide just happen to reside in the same division.

So it’s understandable that fans on all sides would see 10 underclassmen leaving early in one year and wonder if LSU was about to hit one of those embankments that all elite programs fear. The cyclical nature of college football, particularly in the SEC, is a fact of life.

The other obvious question: Is there something amiss in LSU’s program right now that’s driving players away? After all, we hear constantly how players love playing for Miles, but we don’t see a lot of those guys hanging around for another chance at that coveted crystal trophy.

Those guys do exist, although they’re getting rarer.

AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley chose to stay at Alabama for another season. So did Jake Matthews at Texas A&M, Aaron Murray at Georgia and Jordan Matthews at Vanderbilt.

In LSU’s case, most of the guys who are leaving already knew coming into this past season that this would likely be their farewell.

Go back to that star-studded 2009 signing class by LSU that was ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN. Six of the players leaving early were in that class -- defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, offensive tackle Chris Faulk and running back Michael Ford.

All six of those players redshirted their first season, meaning this was their fourth year in the program.

Mingo and Montgomery are both projected as top-20 picks, while Minter and Logan both have a chance to slip into the latter part of the first round.

Ford probably saw the writing on the wall with the emergence of Jeremy Hill at running back this season, and Faulk had already missed most of this past season with an injury. He wasn’t willing to risk coming back to school and being injured again.

That 2009 signing class also included cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and receiver Rueben Randle, all of whom left early last year and were taken in the first two rounds. Claiborne and Brockers were both top-15 picks.

The Tigers’ 2010 signing class was ranked No. 8 nationally and included safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running back Spencer Ware, not to mention Mathieu.

It was pretty much a given prior to this season that Reid was coming out. He’s rated as one of the top safeties in the draft. Simon has all the measurables and will probably help himself in workouts, while Ware had seen his role on LSU’s team reduced ever since his suspension in 2011 after reportedly testing positive for synthetic marijuana.

Even for a program that rakes in the talent the way LSU does, losing 10 players early in one year is bound to have an effect. The Tigers will be forced to depend on a lot of young players next season, and several others will have to step up their roles considerably.

Miles has built a strong enough foundation that LSU isn’t going to all of a sudden drop off the radar. But losing so many good players at once will make it that much more difficult to climb out from under Alabama’s growing shadow, and that’s not what anybody wants to hear on the Bayou.

Miles knows how the game works, though, and he also knows that it’s never a bad thing to be sending so many players to the NFL, or at least in the direction of the NFL. When you're recruiting in the waters that LSU does, the overriding question that just about every one of those recruits has is: How can you help me get to the NFL?

“I like the state of the program,” Miles told The Baton Rouge Advocate. “I like the fact that we send guys to the NFL early and recruit guys with the potential to go to the NFL early.”

Something says that cycle's not going to end any time soon at LSU and that the Tigers aren't going to lose their membership in college football's upper class.
Now that all of the early entries for this year's NFL draft are in, we decided to take a closer look at some of the players who decided to leave school early.

We're checking in on how teams were affected and who some of the winners and losers were from all of these early departures:

[+] EnlargeJoeckel
Brett Davis/US PresswireIt was a no-brainer for Luke Joeckel to take his talents to the NFL.
1. Biggest winners: Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel flirted with staying in school for his senior year, but it appears that would have been a major mistake for the nation's top left tackle. He was a guaranteed top-10 pick for most of the season, but with the draft creeping closer, Joeckel has a great chance of being the top pick come April. He definitely made the right decision to leave school early, and so did his teammate Damontre Moore. After a monster 2012 season, Moore could follow Joeckel as the second player taken off the board. He moved to defensive end last fall and is a very attractive pick for teams because of his versatility. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could also hear their names called very early in April, as they too could both be top-five picks.

2. Biggest loser: LSU was ravaged by the NFL draft, as ten underclassmen declared early. Some were pretty obvious, but others left people confused. It didn't shock anyone that defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan declared. Montgomery and Mingo could be first-round draft picks, while Logan could go within the first three rounds. Safety Eric Reid and linebacker Kevin Minter made sense as well, but seeing punter Brad Wing, cornerback Tharold Simon, offensive lineman Chris Faulk and running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford all leave was pretty surprising. The Tigers will be losing seven quality starters and basically their entire defensive line. LSU has a lot of quality youngsters who will be vying for major playing time, but losing all that experience will hurt the Tigers in 2013.

3. Head-scratchers: Ware, Ford and Simon could all have benefited from another year in Baton Rouge. Neither Ford nor Ware hit the 400-yard rushing mark and combined for just four touchdowns on the season. Maybe the emergence of freshman running back Jeremy Hill helped influence their decisions. South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders shocked everyone when he decided to turn pro at the last minute. Sanders was one of the league's top multipurpose weapons, and while he isn't going to get any taller (he's a generous 5-foot-8), he could use another year to improve his receiving skills. He'll be looked at as a returner first in the NFL and won't likely be drafted very high at all. Also, Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins could have used another year of school as well. He was banged up in 2012, only playing in nine games, and registered just 29 tackles. He's a very smart player, but another year could have helped his draft status even more.

4. The replacements:

  • LSU loses a lot, but that doesn't mean that the Bayou is void of talent. Wing will be replaced by sophomore-to-be Jamie Keehn, who started in Wing's place for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With Ware and Ford gone, Hill will be helped out by Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard in the run game. Junior-to-be Anthony Johnson should get more reps at defensive tackle with Logan gone, and he'll also be helped by Ego Ferguson. Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins both had solid seasons at corner, so expect more of each with Simon gone.
  • With Eddie Lacy leaving Alabama, rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon will now be the guy at running back for the Crimson Tide. With his 1,000-yard season, he's already proven that he can more than handle himself in this league. He'll also be helped by Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler, who are both returning from knee injuries, and Kenyan Drake, who looked impressive in mop-up duty last season. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Derrick Henry, who is already on campus and should be a factor in the run game.
  • Sanders' departure at South Carolina means Bruce Ellington is now the top returning receiver for the Gamecocks, and it also puts more on the shoulders of Shaq Roland, who was expected to make an immediate impact during his freshman year. Roland has the skills to be a big-time threat in the passing game.
  • Georgia lost some key juniors on defense, but no one will be missed more than Jones. Jordan Jenkins came on strong in his first year last fall, and will do his best to replace Jones' pass-rushing ability.
  • Florida only lost three underclassmen to the draft, but replacing safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will be tough. There are a host of youngsters who could vie for Elam's spot (keep an eye on freshman Marcus Maye), while Damien Jacobs will help man the middle of Florida's line with Leon Orr.

SEC weekend movement

January, 7, 2013
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All the attention is on tonight's Discover BCS National Championship, but eyes were all over the SEC over the weekend, with a handful of players making decisions about their futures.

Here's a look at some of the movers and shakers from the weekend to check up on:

FLORIDA

Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who was beaten by Jeff Driskel for the starting spot at the beginning of the season, and reserve running back Chris Johnson, who was primarily used on special teams, have decided to transfer. Brissett's decision didn't shock anyone. He was behind Driskel all year and played in just five games and his only start came late in the year when Driskel was out with an ankle injury. Johnson arrived at Florida as a safety, but moved to running back, where he was buried on the depth chart. His lasting image with the team was being ejected in the Gators' loss to Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl for punching a Louisville player.

The loss of Brissett is significant when it comes to depth. After Driskel, the Gators will have three scholarship quarterbacks entering the 2013 season, but basically no experience. Tyler Murphy will be a redshirt junior, but has never thrown a pass at the college level, while Skyler Mornhinweg will be a redshirt freshman and Max Staver will be a true freshman. That means Driskel's health becomes the top priority in 2013 for the Gators.

GEORGIA

While Florida lost a quarterback, Georgia kept one, with Aaron Murray deciding to stay for one last year with the Bulldogs. Murray seriously considered leaving school early for the NFL, but will return for one final attempt at making a run to a championship. With the defense Georgia had in 2012, this past season felt like the best chance Murray had at winning multiple championships with the Bulldogs. Next year's defense will be gutted, so it will be back to the drawing board for that side of the ball.

One thing that has been counted against Murray when it comes to the pro level is his height. At 6-foot-1, he doesn't have ideal height for a quarterback, but what might have helped him in this year's draft was the play of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who stands just 5-11, but has had a tremendous rookie year. Murray isn't going to get any taller, but he does have a chance to break even more records in a Bulldogs uniform and could improve his stock for the 2014 NFL draft.

On Friday, linebacker Jarvis Jones decided to enter April's NFL draft. No shocker at all, as he's No. 1 on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s Big Board. Jones is a two-time All-American and has been right at the top of the list for the nation's best defensive player for the past two years. He would have been silly to come back for a final year at Georgia, and he's going to make himself -- and his family -- a ton of money. He was one of the league's most exciting players to watch, but it was his time to move on.

LSU

There was a mass exodus from LSU over the weekend, as eight underclassmen decided to leave the Bayou. It started with linebacker Kevin Minter last week. Then, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running back Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing decided to leave LSU early Friday. On Sunday, sources told ESPN's Joe Schad that defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan would also enter the NFL draft.

Losing those linemen wasn't much of a surprise, as Mingo and Montgomery are projected to be first-round draft picks, and Logan is rated as Kiper's fifth-best defensive tackle among juniors. Wing's time in Baton Rouge seemed to be coming to an end, and his bowl suspension didn't help, but Simon and Ware could have benefited from another year of football. With the emergence of freshman Jeremy Hill, Ware saw his carries decline in 2012, while Simon still has some room to improve. He's rated the No. 15 cornerback by ESPN Scouts Inc., but didn't blow a ton of people away in 2012. He has great size and instincts, but it was surprising to see him leave early.

Mass exodus continues at LSU

January, 4, 2013
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The number of confirmed underclassmen leaving LSU early for the NFL draft is up to five, and that number could grow to eight before it's over.

LSU announced on Friday that safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running back Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing had joined linebacker Kevin Minter in declaring early for the NFL draft.

Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are also expected to come out, and Randy Rosetta of The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Friday that there are indications that defensive tackle Bennie Logan is also leaning toward declaring for the draft.

If all eight players do come out, that would be six defensive starters leaving early, which even for a program like LSU that has raked in the talent, is a tough pill to swallow.

The good news is that the Tigers still have a lot of young talent in the program that they're high on defensively, and several of those -- cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins, defensive tackle Anthony Johnson and linebacker Kwon Alexander -- all played extensively this season as sophomores or younger.

Get ready to see a lot of new faces next season in bigger roles.

Another one of LSU's top defensive weapons is leaving, as the school announced Friday that junior safety Eric Reid will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

It's hardly a surprise that the All-American decided to throw his hat into the draft, but the Tigers will really miss their leader and ball hawk. Reid is ranked third among junior safeties by ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr. and is No. 42 overall by ESPN's Scouts Inc. He joins linebacker Kevin Minter and cornerback Tharold Simon as the LSU juniors leaving early for the NFL, but he probably won't be the last with all the top junior talent sitting on LSU's defense.

As the only returning starter in LSU's secondary this year, Reid finished the season with 91 tackles and two interceptions. During his three-year career, Reid started 29 games and recorded 194 tackles with six interceptions.

Reid wasn't just an outstanding player for the Tigers, he was a top-notch individual as well. The Baton Rouge native bled purple and gold long before he stepped on LSU's campus and he was the ultimate leader for the Tigers during his career. LSU will certainly miss that aspect of Reid's game and the Tigers will definitely miss his tremendous play as the last line of defense for them.

"I've been very fortunate and blessed to have been able to play football at LSU," Reid said in a news release. "It was always my dream to go to LSU and play football."

LSU's defense is expected to also lose junior defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan and punter Brad Wing also are considering making the jump to the NFL.

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