SEC: Rueben Randle

A Decade of Les: All-Miles team

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU's head coach this week, we’ll use each day to review the decade with Miles helming the Tigers' program. Today we take a swing at naming a roster of the best players from the Miles era.

Let's break down the picks by offense, defense and special teams and discuss some of the tougher decisions.

Among the most difficult positions to settle on were running back and wide receiver.

We went with Jeremy Hill (who set a record for a back with at least 200 carries by averaging 6.9 yards per carry in 2013) and Jacob Hester at running back. Because of his ability to play fullback, Hester -- the leading rusher on the 2007 BCS championship club with 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns -- gets the nod over a host of talented alternatives like Charles Scott, Joseph Addai and Stevan Ridley.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Landry
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJarvis Landry had 77 catches for 1,193 yards last season before being drafted by the Dolphins in the second round.
Receiver was an even more difficult position to evaluate. Wideouts such as Dwayne Bowe, Early Doucet and Rueben Randle all belong on the list, but we went with Jarvis Landry, whose 2013 (77 catches, 1,193 yards, 10 TDs) was the best single-season effort in the Miles era, and Brandon LaFell, a two-time All-SEC pick who is LSU's career receiving leader (2,517 yards) under Miles. We added Odell Beckham Jr. as an all-purpose player thanks in large part to a standout 2013 season (59 catches, 1,152 yards, eight TDs) when he won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player and ranked second nationally in all-purpose yardage (178.1 yards per game).

There are quarterbacks worth mentioning aside from JaMarcus Russell, namely Matt Flynn and Zach Mettenberger, but Russell completed one of the best seasons by a quarterback in LSU history in 2006 (232-of-342, 3,129 yards, 28 TDs) before becoming the top overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

La'el Collins gets the nod at one offensive tackle spot over candidates like Andrew Whitworth and Joe Barksdale, so he needs to prove he deserves that distinction this season. He has the potential to be the best pro prospect LSU has had at tackle under Miles.

QB: JaMarcus Russell
RB: Jeremy Hill
RB: Jacob Hester
WR: Brandon LaFell
WR: Jarvis Landry
TE: Richard Dickson
OT: Ciron Black
OG: Herman Johnson
C: Rudy Niswanger
OG: Will Blackwell
OT: La'el Collins
AP: Odell Beckham Jr.

Defensive line and secondary have been loaded positions under Miles and John Chavis, so picking just two players at those positions wasn't easy.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsPatrick Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik awards during the 2010 season.
At defensive end, we went with two-time All-SEC pick and eventual No. 3 overall draft pick Tyson Jackson and Sam Montgomery, LSU’s sack leader under Miles with 32.5 between 2010 and 2012, over alternatives like Barkevious Mingo and Melvin Oliver.

One tackle position was easy with 2007 Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott award winner Glenn Dorsey claiming one of the spots. The other tackle was a tough call, but we went with 2012 first-round pick Michael Brockers over a ton of great options such as Drake Nevis, Al Woods, Bennie Logan, Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams.

It would have been awfully difficult to pick just two cornerbacks if we hadn’t added a nickelback spot for Tyrann Mathieu to occupy. One of the SEC’s leading defensive playmakers of the 2000s, he definitely belongs on the roster, but Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne feel like no-brainers at corner, too.

At safety, it wasn’t much fun leaving All-American Craig Steltz off the list, but Eric Reid and LaRon Landry both made All-America teams, too -- and both of them became first-round draft picks, while Steltz went in the fourth round in 2008.

Linebackers Kevin Minter (130 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss in 2012) and Kelvin Sheppard (116 tackles in 2010) posted the top single-season tackle totals of the Miles era, while Ali Highsmith earned one All-America designation when he totaled 101 tackles and nine tackles for a loss on the 2007 BCS championship club.

DE: Sam Montgomery
DT: Glenn Dorsey
DT: Michael Brockers
DE: Tyson Jackson
LB: Ali Highsmith
LB: Kevin Minter
LB: Kelvin Sheppard
CB: Patrick Peterson
S: Eric Reid
S: LaRon Landry
CB: Morris Claiborne
Nickel: Tyrann Mathieu

LSU has had a bunch of electric kick returners under Miles. Peterson, Claiborne and Beckham would have been among the top options among kickoff returners, but since they're already on the roster, we went with Trindon Holliday, LSU's career kickoff return yardage leader under Miles (1,806 yards between 2006 and 2009). Peterson, Beckham, Holliday and Mathieu were phenomenal punt returners, so let’s add another new name to the list in Skyler Green, who ranks second all-time among LSU punt returners with 1,064 yards between 2002 and 2005.

It's tough to ignore LSU's single-season and career kicker scoring leader Colt David, but Josh Jasper is the most accurate field goal kicker in school history (83.9 percent) and trails only David on the kicker scoring list with 120 career points.

Brad Wing posted two of the top five seasons by a punter in school history in 2011 (an All-America season where he averaged 44.37 yards per punt) and 2012 (44.8), so he gets the nod over Derek Helton, Patrick Fisher and Chris Jackson.

PK: Josh Jasper
P: Brad Wing
KOR: Trindon Holliday
PR: Skyler Green
BATON ROUGE, La. -- With Les Miles opening his 10th season as LSU's head coach this week, we’ll use each day to review the decade under the eccentric Miles. Today we look back at the five best recruiting classes of the Miles era.

5. 2013
ESPN class ranking: Seventh
We’re making a call based on potential here, since several of the most talented members of this group have yet to make much of an impact (or haven’t played yet at all). Cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson and quarterback Anthony Jennings are the headliners thus far. But players like tight end DeSean Smith; defensive tackles Christian LaCouture, Greg Gilmore, Maquedius Bain and Frank Herron; and linebacker Kendell Beckwith could all become household names among LSU fans before the 2014 season is over.

4. 2007
ESPN class ranking: Sixth
Wide receiver Terrance Toliver was the highest-rated prospect in this 27-man class, and he had a fine college career, but other 2007 signees became the more important college players. The Tigers had three players in this signing class (kicker Josh Jasper, defensive lineman Drake Nevis and offensive lineman Will Blackwell) who became All-Americans according to at least one organization. They also had six players (Blackwell, Jasper, Nevis, defensive lineman Joe Barksdale, safety Chad Jones and running back Stevan Ridley) who made at least one All-SEC team and six (Jones, Ridley, Nevis, Barksdale, cornerback Ron Brooks and receiver Demetrius Byrd) who became NFL draft picks.

3. 2011
ESPN class ranking: 10th
No. 2 overall prospect Anthony Johnson was the biggest fish in this class, but “The Freak” didn’t quite live up to his advance billing in three seasons at LSU before becoming an undrafted free agent in the most recent NFL draft. However, this class was loaded with impact players -- including two of the most productive receivers (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham) in school history, a pair of All-SEC offensive linemen from 2013 (La'el Collins and Trai Turner) and several others who should make an impact this season (running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, defensive end Jermauria Rasco, safety Ronald Martin and defensive tackle Quentin Thomas, among others). LSU also added quarterback Zach Mettenberger as a junior college transfer and signed running back Jeremy Hill in this class, although Hill didn’t contribute as a member of the team until 2012.

2. 2014
ESPN class ranking: Second
Yes, this is completely unfair. These kids haven’t played a single snap in college yet. Much like the 2013 class, it will be several more years before we know the full impact that this class will have at LSU. But with the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect (running back Leonard Fournette), the No. 1 players at three different positions (Fournette, receiver Malachi Dupre and offensive guard Garrett Brumfield) and other exciting additions like quarterback Brandon Harris, record-setting receiver Trey Quinn, safety Jamal Adams and linebacker Clifton Garrett, this could conceivably become one of the best recruiting classes in school history before it’s all over. Miles said on national signing day that he believes this class can help LSU contend for several national championships, and it certainly has the talent to do so.

1. 2009
ESPN class ranking: First
No. 1 athlete Russell Shepard was initially the crown jewel in the nation’s top signing class, but he wasn’t the guy who eventually made this such a successful class. Sure there were several star prospects who panned out in this class -- including No. 1 safety Craig Loston, No. 1 receiver Rueben Randle, No. 2 defensive end Sam Montgomery and No. 11 outside linebacker Kevin Minter -- but the Tigers got as much out of the players who weren’t considered to rank among the highest-rated signees at the time. The Tigers signed 10 ESPN 150 honorees in the 25-man class. Among those who didn’t make the list of the top 150 prospects: cornerback Morris Claiborne; defensive linemen Michael Brockers, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan; offensive lineman Chris Faulk and linebacker Lamin Barrow. Claiborne, Brockers and Mingo all became first-round NFL draft picks, and five members of that group made at least one All-SEC team.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 5

September, 27, 2012
Here's a look at what to watch in the SEC in Week 5:

1. Shouldering the pain: A handful of SEC quarterbacks enter the weekend with shoulder issues. We already know about Connor Shaw and James Franklin and their highly publicized shoulder pain, so we'll keep an eye on them. But there are a couple more QBs dealing with shoulder injuries in Ole Miss' Bo Wallace and Kentucky's Maxwell Smith. Wallace injured his shoulder last week against Tulane and missed practice Tuesday, but returned Wednesday. Smith was injured against Western Kentucky and missed last week's game against Florida. He's expected to play.

2. Lattimore's strength: We still haven't seen the Marcus Lattimore of old, but slowly he's starting to get stronger and stronger. He shed his knee brace last week and probably ran the hardest he has all season in the Gamecocks' win over Missouri. He carried the ball 21 times for 85 yards, scored two touchdowns and caught seven passes for another 60 yards. The hesitation we saw in some of his earlier runs seems to be disappearing and the more confident he is, the better he is. That has to be a scary thought for defenses, and Kentucky could be just another victim for Lattimore as he continues his comeback.

[+] EnlargeRajion Neal, Josh Evans
AP Photo/Wade PayneVols RB Rajion Neal needs to be a factor to keep the Bulldogs' defense from pinning its ears back and rushing Tyler Bray.
3. Tennessee's running game: If the Vols are going to win at Georgia Saturday, they have to be able to run the ball. A one-dimensional offense won't beat Georgia and its defense. The Bulldogs will be trying to make quarterback Tyler Bray's day as miserable as possible by bringing pressure as much as it can. Bray hasn't done very well against the blitz, so Tennessee has to keep Georgia's defense honest through the running game. That means running back Rajion Neal has to run like he did against Akron. He has to get the tough yards, and he has to turn short runs into longer ones in order to extend drives. Bray can't do it all on his own.

4. Missouri's offensive confidence: It's pretty obvious that Mizzou's offense has stalled. It lacks creativity and it's having trouble getting much push up front. Injuries to the offensive line have contributed to that, but this line has to get tougher in order to help create more time for quarterback James Franklin and his skill players. T.J. Moe went as far as to say Mizzou's performance against South Carolina last week was "embarrassing." If this team is going to survive its first year in the SEC, the offense has to step up. UCF's defense has been solid, so this will be a good test for the Tigers before getting back to league play.

5. Mettenberger's rebound: Everyone is piling onto LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger after his subpar play against Auburn last week. He was off for most of the game and seemed to lose his confidence after his fumble at the 1-yard line early in the game. But that was his first SEC start on the road, and Auburn's defense played its best game in a while. Towson won't provide the same challenges, and this game should help boost Mettenberger's confidence. One thing that will help is if he starts to develop more of a downfield passing game. This team has to find some explosion at wide receiver and this could be the weekend Mettenberger starts developing more chemistry with his wideouts.

6. Tennessee's second-half push: Bray made it pretty clear this week that he wasn't very happy with the way the Vols played in the second half against Florida. He said earlier this week that the team "disappeared" in the second half and that the players met to discuss how they "crawled in a shell" in the last two quarters against Florida. That certainly can't happen in Athens this weekend. Georgia is built to play for four quarters and left Missouri behind in the fourth quarter earlier this season. Tennessee has to have a strong second half to keep up with the Bulldogs this weekend.

7. Aggies running wild: Arkansas coach John L. Smith said Wednesday that the two things that aren't working for the Razorbacks' defense are stopping the run and stopping the pass. Well, that's certainly not good with Texas A&M up next. The Aggies have played back-to-back cupcakes, but with a completely new coaching staff and offensive system, they have averaged 526.5 yards and 59 points in their past two outings. Arkansas is giving up a league-worst 458 yards and 36.3 points per game. Players have really picked up Kliff Kingsbury's up-tempo offense and Smith said keeping up with that offense is a major concern for the Hogs.

8. Where will they line up? Georgia coach Mark Richt is holding back from showing his cards when it comes to Malcolm Mitchell, Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree. Mitchell has played all over the field for the Bulldogs this season, but he has received more reps on offense this week. He's listed as the starting boundary corner, but we could see more of him at receiver against the Vols. Rambo and Ogletree were suspended for the first four games, but are expected back this week. Richt isn't saying what their roles will be. Like the past four weeks, we'll have to wait until game time.

9. Manziel's maturation: Talk about a lack of jitters. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been extremely fun to watch during his first season as a starter. After not taking a snap last year, Manziel has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league. He has passed for 641 yards with seven touchdowns and has carried the ball 32 times for 262 yards and five more scores. And what might be more impressive is that he hasn't thrown any interceptions. He'll face better talent this week than he has the past two, but Arkansas' defense is hurting, and Manziel has the ability to gut it.

10. Finding Bayou playmakers: Some of the criticism that has been thrown Mettenberger's way should be directed toward LSU's receivers. We haven't seen a go-to option for Mettenberger like we saw with Rueben Randle last year. Odell Beckham Jr. was thought to be that guy, but he has caught only 11 passes for 158 yards and no touchdowns. He caught two passes against Auburn. Jarvis Landry leads LSU with 17 receptions and 160 yards, but has only one score. Kadron Boone leads the team with three receiving touchdowns. If this offense is going to progress, someone has to step up as more of a consistent receiving threat.

GeauxTigerNation links: LB Jones out

September, 12, 2012
Gary Laney writes : LSU will feel a minimal impact from the losses of LB Tahj Jones and three others to academic issues -- at least for now.

Laney : WR Kadron Boone is quickly becoming new QB Zach Mettenberger’s favorite TD target.

Laney : After Rueben Randle, LSU's corps of wide receivers features a balanced group of talent.

One good reason: LSU

July, 25, 2012
Our "One good reason" series continues with the LSU Tigers.

Good reasons:
Let's see what the Tigers could be up to this fall:

LSU will win the national championship: This team might be better than last year's squad.

Yes, Jim Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne is gone. All-SEC offensive lineman Will Blackwell isn't around and neither are top receiver Rueben Randle or two starting linebackers from last year. But the scary thing is that this LSU team might be even better than the one that almost had one of the most historic seasons in NCAA history. We all knew the defense was still going to be loaded with the return of Tyrann Mathieu and arguably the nation's best line with Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan running things, but the offense is sure to be much better with Zach Mettenberger under center.

The quarterback play for LSU the last few years has been average at best, and there were times last year where it was downright unbearable to watch. But Mettenberger, who is relatively inexperienced, has the arm, talent and IQ to take this offense to the next level. The Tigers will still pound opposing offenses with their multi-head running back monster, which adds another stud in freshman Jeremy Hill, but what will really make this offense imposing is the threat of the downfield passing game. Odell Beckham Jr. is a year older and so is Jarvis Landry. Beckham was impressive yet again this spring, while Landry had an excellent spring and has the makings of being a true deep threat in this offense. Add an offensive line that returns five players with starting experience and LSU should have a much more balanced and productive offense in 2012.

With a defense that should yet again be one of the nation's best, LSU should be even more formidable and could run the SEC table again. If the Tigers get another title shot, you better believe this group will be thirsting to make up for last year's failure at the end of the season.

Why it won't: History just isn't on the Tigers' side.

The last team to make it to back-to-back national championships was Ohio State, which played in and lost in the 2006 and 2007 BCS title games. Before that, USC made it back-to-back in 2004 and 2005, losing the latter and having the first one vacated. Oklahoma lost in both 2003 and 2004 (last one vacated because USC won), Miami won in 2001 and lost in 2002, and Florida State went three straight years from 1998-2001, but lost Round 3. Florida State is the only team in the BCS era to win the national title in its second consecutive trip. History does not favor this Tigers team.

LSU might be loaded on both sides of the ball, but it's still in the SEC, which hasn't had a team go to back-to-back title games since Florida did in 1995-96. That means no repeat trips during the SEC's current run of six straight national championships. The Tigers are good, but are they good enough to defeat history's curse?

SEC impact game: Western Division

July, 6, 2012
Not only has this one become the impact game in the Western Division, but it's the impact game in all of college football.

The West's impact game: Alabama at LSU, Nov. 3.

For starters, one of these two teams has won the BCS national championship three of the past five years. LSU won in 2007, while Alabama won in 2009 and 2011. And not that anybody really needs to be reminded, but Alabama beat LSU last season in the BCS National Championship Game. That's after the two teams played a much ballyhooed No. 1 versus No. 2 game in Tuscaloosa during the regular season, with LSU winning 9-6 in overtime.

What can we expect this season? Well, both teams will be ranked anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3 when the preseason polls come out, and both teams fully expect to be in the national championship equation when they meet Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge.

Both teams lost a ton of talent to the NFL draft. Alabama had four players go in the first round, and three of those players still had eligibility remaining. LSU had two players go in the first round, and both were underclassmen. The Tigers also lost junior receiver Rueben Randle in the second round.

But even with that much young talent taking off for the NFL, Alabama and LSU will again be among the most talented teams in the country. LSU has three potential first-rounders on its defensive line alone -- tackle Bennie Logan and ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo -- while Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu and All-SEC safety Eric Reid are back in the secondary. Alabama has to retool a little more on defense, but the Crimson Tide coaches feel good about the talent level of the players waiting in the wings. Don't be surprised if such players as Jesse Williams, Dee Milliner, Adrian Hubbard and C.J. Mosley become stars this season.

Both teams may throw the football a little more in 2012, and both quarterbacks will have dominant, experienced offensive lines in front of them. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was tremendous in the BCS National Championship Game last season. He has all the tools to become an elite quarterback this season. LSU's Zach Mettenberger steps in as a first-time starter with the kind of arm strength that should make the Tigers much more balanced on offense this fall.

Alabama lost its last trip to Baton Rouge, and the game this season will be at night -- never a good thing for the opponent at Tiger Stadium. Rarely does a season go the way you think it will during the summer, but it's hard to imagine the winner of this game not playing for it all in January.
We're all looking for the next great thing. Whether it's in life or in football, new and better is what's popular.

As we get closer and closer to the 2012 college football season, we'll continue to poke and prod every team out there in order to figure out which teams should be front-runners and which teams will be in the rearview mirror for most of the season.

ESPN's KC Joyner points out that one way we can judge teams is by the amount of returning starts they have. But he also points out that sometimes new can be better in his look at four breakout first-time starters for 2012 .

Joyner's lone SEC member is LSU rising junior cornerback Tharold Simon. It's a good pick by Joyner. While I don't think he'll be the game-changer that Morris Claiborne was, he might be a better cover corner in one-on-one situations. Joyner points out some interesting facts concerning the two that might suggest that Simon does have better coverage skills, but isn't the ball hawk that Claiborne was.

We'll find out this season.

We'll find out if other new starters can get the job done and maybe make their positions better this fall as well, so why not take a look at a few more SEC players who will be stepping into new starting roles this fall?

Don't expect to see the obvious candidates, such as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter and Alabama running back Eddie Lacy aren't on here either because we know what those players bring to the table. Also, no junior college transfers. Sorry Denico Autry.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Phil Sears/US PresswireMike Gillislee (left) made a case during the spring to be Florida's top running back.
Here are 10 first-time starters to keep an eye on in the SEC:

  • Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri: The Tigers' defensive line will get a lot of attention this fall, as it makes the transition to playing against SEC offensive lines. Ealy is a player who could make much more of an impact this fall. He left spring as a starter on the outside and the coaches think he has a good bit of upside to him. He started just one game last year, registering three tackles for loss, but seemed to be much more comfortable this spring.
  • Dee Ford, DE, Auburn: Ford made one start in 2010, but missed most of last season because of back issues. That didn't stop him from being one of Auburn's best players this spring and catapulting him to the top of the depth chart opposite Corey Lemonier. The rising junior was extremely disruptive this spring and looks poised to have a big year in 2012.
  • Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida: The Gators haven't had a power back since Tim Tebow and have struggled to generate any sort of consistent production between the tackles since. In steps Gillislee, who has appeared in 36 games with no starts. He's a bigger body who the coaches think will have much more of an impact up the middle, especially with what the coaches think is an improved offensive line. During his career, Gillislee has averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
  • Steven Jenkins, OLB, Texas A&M: Jenkins started during the second half of last season and had a very solid spring in College Station this year. With the Aggies moving to a 4-3 scheme, the coaches expect to get a lot more out of him in 2012. Jenkins has tremendous speed and athleticism and could be a real spark for a defense undergoing changes in a new league like the SEC.
  • Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama: Kouandjio was one of the top prospects coming out of high school and played in eight games before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee. While his conditioning suffered a little as he rehabbed, the hope is that he takes complete hold of the left tackle spot this fall, with Barrett Jones moving to center. Kouandjio has a ton of talent, but he'll have to get back healthy in order to show all his worth.
  • Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU: With Rueben Randle gone, the Tigers are looking for a new deep threat in their offense. While Odell Beckham Jr. had a bit of a breakout freshman year, keep an eye on Landry. The rising sophomore might be LSU's most athletic receiver and has a chance to take over as the Tigers' new big-play threat. He has solid speed and his bigger frame could frustrate opposing cornerbacks. Landry and Mettenberger seemed to generate good chemistry this spring, and LSU's staff hopes it carries over to the fall.
  • Marcus Lucas, WR, Missouri: Most of the focus when it has come to the Tigers' passing game has revolved around incoming freshman Dorial Green-Beckham. But don't forget about Lucas. He only started three games last year, but the coaches tried to get him on the field as much as possible because of the speed and deep-threat ability he possess. Lucas caught 23 passes in 2011, averaging 18 yards per reception, and registered five touchdowns.
  • Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee: The Vols were looking to enhance the play of their offensive line, and seeing Richardson's development this spring was a major plus for Tennessee's staff. After spending 2011 on special teams as a freshman, Richardson emerged this spring as the starter at left tackle. Richardson's move to left tackle shifts vet Dallas Thomas to left guard, giving what Tennessee's staff thinks is the best combination on the line.
  • Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: The youngster redshirted last year, but could end up as the Tigers' starting left tackle this fall. Robinson said this spring that redshirting was probably the best thing he could have done. It gave him the chance to get much more comfortable with things on the field.
  • Avery Williamson, MLB, Kentucky: The Wildcats are looking to replace four starting linebackers from last year and Williamson stood out plenty of times this spring. He registered 49 tackles as Ronnie Sneed's backup at middle linebacker last year and was one of the better defensive players for the Wildcats this spring.
Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 continues with wide receivers.

Past producers:
The SEC returns five of the top 10 statistical wideouts from a year ago. Top statistical receiver Jarius Wright has departed, but the No. 2 receiver in the SEC is back, which means he'll have a chance to claim the crown as the league's top wideout in 2012.

Here is the conference's top returning producer at receiver:

Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee: While Rogers dealt with some issues last season that didn't pertain to football, he was still one of the best receiving threats in the SEC. He lead the league with 67 catches and was second with 1,040 receiving yards. He was also second in the conference with nine receiving touchdowns. Rogers finished the season averaging 15.5 yards per catch and hauled in six 100-yard receiving games, including having three in Tennessee's last four games. When he's totally invested, Rogers is a handful for defenders to stop. He's not only fast and can break away from defenders in a hurry but with his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame, he's a much bigger load for defensive backs to handle.

The SEC returns four more of the top 10 statistical receivers from a year ago:
  • Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: He caught 41 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns, and averaged 19 yards per catch.
  • Tavarres King, Georgia: He caught 47 passes for 705 yards and eight touchdowns, and averaged 15 yards per catch.
  • Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia: He caught 45 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns, and averaged 14.8 yards per catch.
  • Emory Blake, Auburn: He caught 36 passes for 613 yards and five touchdowns, and averaged 17 yards per catch.

Rogers will have his hands full trying to take the title of the SEC's best receiver, and it'll start in his own backyard, as big-time deep threat Justin Hunter is back from his ACL injury. Hunter might be the most gifted receiver in the league and he's showed in the past that it's hard to find a better deep threat with the speed and length he possesses. Quarterback Tyler Bray is no doubt salivating at the thought having both of these guys completely healthy for the fall.

Arkansas might have lost three NFL receivers from last year, but don't forget about Cobi Hamilton. Though he's been overshadowed at times, the senior-to-be has 85 career catches for 1,519 yards and 13 scores. He's fast and physical and with Tyler Wilson throwing the ball, he'll have plenty of chances to make a strong run as the league's best.

Odell Beckham at LSU came on strong as a true freshman last season, catching 41 passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns, and now that Rueben Randle is gone, Beckham should be LSU's top receiving target this fall. Florida's Andre Debose has yet to have a complete season at receiver, but he's the Gators best deep threat. If he can finally focus in a little more, he'll get more touches. Kentucky's La'Rod King was 11th in the league in receiving last year, and that was with major issues at the quarterback spot. A more settled QB situation in Lexington should help him move up the receiving chart.

As for some newcomers, Ryan Swope at Texas A&M is the first name you have to consider. He was third in the Big 12 in receiving, catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns. He could have easily left for the NFL after last season. At Missouri, T.J. Moe returns as the Tigers' top receiver, but deep threat Marcus Lucas and incoming freshman Dorial Green-Beckham could also do some damage this fall. Lucas is a guy the coaches can't wait to let loose, but if Green-Beckham is as good as the coaches hope, he could be an instant star.

Peeking ahead to second, third rounds

April, 27, 2012
The second and third rounds of the NFL draft will be held tonight with coverage beginning at 7 ET on ESPN, and several SEC players should hear their names called early.

It's baffling to me how Alabama's Courtney Upshaw didn't hear his name in the first round on Thursday. Somebody's going to get a heck of a deal by landing him in the second round tonight.

I realize there are questions about what position he would play in the NFL, but the tape doesn't lie. The guy specializes in making big plays and has a knack for getting to the quarterback. He did it at Alabama, and he'll do it at the next level.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has five SEC players going in the second round in his latest mock draft, including Georgia offensive tackle Cordy Glenn with the first pick of the second round to the St. Louis Rams at No. 33 overall. Like Upshaw, Glenn was projected by most analysts to be a first-round selection.

The other four SEC players pegged by Kiper to go in the second round tonight are:
Some of the other SEC players to keep an eye on tonight in Rounds 2 and 3 include:

Lunchtime links

April, 26, 2012
Making the SEC rounds with some lunch links.

Lunchtime links

April, 24, 2012
Time for links.
A record 26 players are expected to be in attendance at the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Twelve are from the SEC, including five from Alabama.

Todd McShay's most recent mock draft Insider had 11 SEC players going in the first round (not counting Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill). That number would tie a conference record set in 2007. Last year, the SEC had 10 players drafted in the first round.

Here are the 12 SEC players who have invites to this year's draft:
This year's NFL draft is just around the corner and ESPN's draft gurus are hard at work, getting tons of information about past college stars and their NFL futures.

Mel Kiper's two-round mock draft Insider is out and it shouldn't come as a surprise that the SEC is well represented. Kiper has 12 SEC players going in the first around and 15 total getting drafted in the first two rounds.

Four SEC members -- running back Trent Richardson, cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive end Melvin Ingram and quarterback Ryan Tannehill (sorry Big 12, but the SEC claims him now) -- are all slotted to go in the top 10.

Alabama leads the SEC with five players in Kiper's mock draft (all in the first round), while LSU is second with four.

Here's a list of all 15 SEC members and some analysis from Kiper:

4. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (Cleveland Browns)

"At his pro day, Richardson confirmed that his knee is just fine, and while we know a running back is always a risk this high, here is a player gifted enough, and with such a remarkable physical profile and skill-set that you're comfortable making him an exception to the trend."

5. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

"What's not to like? Claiborne is hands down the best cover corner available in the draft, and the Bucs still need plenty of help with age and uncertainty dotting their secondary."

7. Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina (Jacksonville Jaguars)

"As versatile a defender as there is in the draft, Ingram provides immediate pass rush help to a Jacksonville defense that sorely needs it, and he offers great flexibility to any coaching staff that wants to mix up their looks, which is pretty much all of them."

8. Ryan Tannehill QB, Texas A&M (Miami Dolphins)

"We know Miami lacks a long-range plan at quarterback, and while Tannehill isn't a guy I'd endorse as an immediate starter, his ceiling is so high you can take him here with a plan in place because his rate of growth."

14. Mark Barron, S, Alabama (Dallas Cowboys)

"I don't think another corner is out of the question at this spot, but Barron is the best safety in the draft, and the Cowboys can't go wrong if he's available."

15. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State (Philadelphia Eagles)

"Disruptive and explosive from the interior, Cox is another player you can take without worries about a scheme fit. He has a chance to become a Pro Bowl player regardless of where you line him up inside."

16. Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama (New York Jets)

"Rex Ryan should see Upshaw as a great fit for what he's trying to do on defense. Upshaw has size to hold up against the run even as a pass-rusher in a 3-4, making him an ideal fit here."

20. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (Tennessee Titans)

"Really tall for the position, people see his size and assume he'd become a safety, but he does everything a shorter corner can do, and will utilize his length to become a guy who can be left on an island against big targets, even in the red zone."

21. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina (Cincinnati Bengals)

"A starter since the day he stepped on campus at South Carolina, Gilmore is a smart, mature player who has good instincts, can be effective in press and will pick up concepts quickly."

22. Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia (Cleveland Browns)

"Glenn is versatile and can be moved around, but he has the chance to dominate on the inside."

24. Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama (Pittsburgh Steelers)

"He's recovered, and could become a star for the Steelers, with the size to hold up anywhere, and the athleticism to take on whatever role the Steelers need."

25. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU (Denver Broncos)

"So many guys made so many plays, you have to go back and look at where it started. In many instances, it was with the disruptive Brockers, who can create havoc from the inside, blowing up the run and penetrating against the pass."

47. Bobby Massie, OT, Ole Miss (New York Jets)
50. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU (Chicago Bears)
53. Brandon Taylor, S, LSU (Cincinnati Bengals)

Spring shoes to fill: LSU

March, 27, 2012
With LSU beefing up its passing game now that Zach Mettenberger is pulling the trigger, the Tigers are going to need a go-to receiver to emerge:

OUT: WR Rueben Randle. How important was Randle last season? He had more receiving yards than any other player in SEC games and was the only player in the league to surpass 600 receiving yards (629) in SEC contests. Five of his eight touchdown catches came in league games, and he averaged 19.1 yards per catch against SEC defenses. In short, when the Tigers needed a big play in the passing game, Randle was there to deliver. He led the Tigers with 53 catches in all games and just missed 1,000 receiving yards. He joined cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive tackle Michael Brockers in giving up his senior season and declaring for the NFL draft.

IN: Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr. and Russell Shepard. The good news for the Tigers is that they have some explosive players at the receiver position. They just don't have that one guy who's proven that he can be the featured target despite defenses trying to take him away. Beckham had an excellent freshman season and was second on LSU's team with 41 catches. He'll be even better his second time around. The guy to watch is Landry, who's oozing with talent. He's also a football player. If you don't think so, go back and watch how he blew up a few people on special teams last season. Don't forget about Shepard, either. This is his last chance to fulfill his potential. He caught four touchdown passes last season, but was suspended the first three games, and at one point, was planning on declaring for the NFL draft. He changed his mind and is back for his senior season. The Tigers need him to be a more consistent playmaker. And even though he's struggled to make the transition to receiver, Shepard is still plenty dangerous in the open field.

GeauxTigerNation: Pro day standouts

March, 22, 2012
GeauxTigerNation has more on LSU football.

Gary Laney writes: LSU held its pro day in Baton Rouge on Thursday and several former stars performed well, including wide receiver Rueben Randle.

David Helman writes: Notebook from LSU’s pro day, including an impressive performance from Kendrick Adams. The defensive end participated in every drill, ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and had 21 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.

Helman and Laney write: Live blog from LSU's pro day, including 40-yard dash times and bench press results.

Helman writes Insider: Spring practice report (Day 11). Things were a little more relaxed on Thursday during spring practice as the players and coaches prepare for next week’s spring game.



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