- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU had a program-record nine players drafted in each of the last two years. The Tigers could make a less exciting brand of history in this week’s NFL draft.
LSU hasn’t had fewer than five players picked in any draft since 2005 – a few months after Les Miles became the Tigers’ head coach – when three players heard their names called. ESPN Scouts Inc. gave only five Tigers a draftable grade in this week’s draft, so it seems likely that between four and seven LSU players will go in one of the seven rounds, with several more looking to sign undrafted free agent contracts afterward.
The sunnier news is that at least two of them – offensive tackle La'El Collins and cornerback Jalen Collins – have a chance to become first-round selections. Six times in school history (including 2012 and 2013) LSU has had at least two first-round picks in one draft.
La’el Collins looks like a lock to become a first-round selection. ESPN Scouts Inc. rates him as the No. 20 overall prospect and No. 4 offensive tackle, and NFL.com’s Mike Mayock is even more bullish, ranking Collins as the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect.
Although some draft analysts have projected the former LSU left tackle as an NFL guard or right tackle, he said at the Tigers’ pro day that pro clubs are telling him that left tackle is in his future.
“Every team, every scout, every coach from teams that have worked me out have said definitely I’m a left tackle,” said Collins, who started at left guard as a sophomore before spending the last two seasons at left tackle. “So for me, that’s just talk. Whoever drafts me, they’re going to put me where they want me and where they need me.”
Jalen Collins is not as safe a bet to become a first-round selection, particularly in light of reports last week that he failed multiple drug tests at LSU, but he still has a chance. ESPN Scouts Inc. rated him as the No. 38 overall prospect – there are 32 picks in each round – but five of the six NFL.com draft analysts who posted a mock draft in the last two weeks and all four from NFL Draft Scout included Collins in the first round.
NFL.com’s Charles Davis, Charlie Casserly, Lance Zierlein and Brian Baldinger all projected Jalen Collins to go 30th overall to Green Bay, while Bucky Brooks had him going 27th to Dallas. Daniel Jeremiah was the only draft analyst in the group who did not have the former LSU cornerback going in the first round.
For the players bordering between draft pick and undrafted free agent, the most important thing is not necessarily draft positioning, it’s the chance to make an NFL roster.
“I just want to be fortunate to play on a team,” Hilliard said. “Any team that drafts me, I’m going to love that team to death because that’s going to be my first home. Right now all I want to do is make a roster.”
Here is how LSU’s top prospects rank in a number of projections as draft day approaches:
ESPN Scouts Inc.: No. 20 overall, No. 4 offensive tackle
NFL Draft Scout: No. 23 overall, No. 4 offensive tackle
NFL.com: Gil Brandt’s No. 15 overall
Outlook: Collins seems almost certain to become a first-round pick, and maybe a player who goes within the top 10 picks. Although some draft analysts believe he’s a better fit at guard or right tackle than at left tackle, they all seem to believe that he has a productive pro career ahead.
ESPN Scouts Inc.: No. 38 overall, No. 5 cornerback
NFL Draft Scout: No. 64 overall, No. 9 cornerback
NFL.com: Brandt’s No. 30 overall
Outlook: It will be interesting to see whether last week’s drug reports affect Collins’ draft stock. He was hovering near the back end of the first round in most mock drafts prior to those reports and was a bit lower in others. Either way, he looks like an early-round pick, which isn’t bad for a guy with just 10 college starts to his credit.
ESPN Scouts Inc.: No. 76 overall, No. 9 outside linebacker
NFL Draft Scout: No. 91 overall, No. 6 outside linebacker
NFL.com: Brandt’s No. 105 overall
Outlook: After posting an impressive 40 time at the NFL combine and leading the Tigers with 90 tackles last season, Alexander has intrigued teams as a possible early round pick. An NFL.com mock draft last week had him going in the third round.
ESPN Scouts Inc.: No. 79 overall, No. 9 defensive end
NFL Draft Scout: No. 55 overall, No. 7 defensive end
NFL.com: Brandt’s No. 51 overall
Outlook: An Adonis-like physique and freak athleticism help Hunter as much, if not more, than his game film. He recorded just 1.5 sacks last season, along with 13 tackles for loss, so he has work to do as a pass rusher. But some team is sure to jump on Hunter as an early or mid-round pick because of his potential.
ESPN Scouts Inc.: No. 152 overall, No. 13 running back
NFL Draft Scout: No. 186 overall, No. 18 running back
Outlook: In a draft with 256 overall selections, Magee could land somewhere toward the middle or back end of the draft. He’s probably not going to excite a club as a potential starting tailback, but he does a bit of everything – carry the ball, block, catch passes and play special teams – and that has obvious value when teams can carry only 53 players.
Other draft/free agent candidates: RB Kenny Hilliard, RB Connor Neighbors, S Ronald Martin, DE Jermauria Rasco, LB D.J. Welter, C Elliott Porter, OG Fehoko Fanaika, OG Evan Washington, WR Quantavius Leslie, TE Logan Stokes, TE Travis Dickson