Scouting The Outback Bowl
By David Seigerman
As part of Football.com's coverage of all 35 bowl games, we will provide a draft prospect primer, so you know whom to watch during every postseason game.
LSU saw nine players selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. Six of them were defensive players who went in the first three rounds, two of whom (Barkevious Mingo, Eric Reid) were taken in the first.
This year, another underclassman exodus could give the Tigers 10 draft picks, maybe seven of whom would be gone by the end of Day Two.
The Outback Bowl would have a lot more marquee value if one particular prospect who's out were back -- LSU senior Zach Mettenberger, who helped his draft stock more than any quarterback in the country, flourishing under the tutelage of first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Mettenberger suffered an ACL injury against Arkansas, and his preparations for the draft circuit will be trumped by rehabbing his knee. Mettenberger, though, put enough on game film to demonstrate his strengths (big arm, a vastly improved understanding of defenses, far better decision making than years past), and he should wow coaches when they start breaking down video together. Missing the Outback is a setback, but it doesn't negate the fact that Mettenberger is one of the top three quarterback prospects in the 2014 draft.
As for the nine other Tigers likely to find themselves in another record-setting draft class . . .
Jeremy Hill, RB
It wasn't until the Auburn game (25 carries, 184 yards, 3 TDs) that I even began to consider that Hill might be ready to turn pro after this season. But he's looked NFL-ready for much of the year, and he might even emerge as the top back in the draft. He's a big (6-foot-2, 235 pounds), powerful runner with tremendous vision. He seems to be full-speed into the second level before he ever gets touched, and he averages 6.8 yards per carry. He has rushed for 26 touchdowns in 22 career game and, most impressively, he has not lost a fumble in his college career.
Anthony Johnson, DT
When Florida's Dominique Easley went down with an injury mid-season, Johnson had the chance to establish himself as the premier 4-3 tackle in the SEC, if not the country. He went on to have a solid if unspectacular season. He looks immensely strong, both in the upper and lower body, though he's not as explosive as some of the defensive tackles who have come out of LSU in recent years. That might limit his ability to play at the 3 Technique in the NFL.
Ego Ferguson, DT
Part of the best defensive tackle tandem in the country, Ferguson actually looked like the more impressive player at times. Maybe that's because more was expected from Johnson, who was considered a first-round draft pick from the get-go. He played with energy and more quickness than expected. He's the bigger of the two LSU tackles (6-3, 309) and probably could wind up lining up directly on the center in the NFL, probably in a 3-4 front where he wouldn't be asked to penetrate or pressure the passer.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR
There's no shortage of ways in which Beckham enhances a gameplan. He's become quite a playmaker as a receiver, making difficult catches all season long, despite lacking ideal size for winning contested throws as consistently as he does (6-0, 193). And he may be at his best returning kicks. His 2,222 all-purpose yards are a school record and tops this season in the SEC, and he's averaging nearly 21 yards every time he touches the ball. The Paul Hornung Award goes to the most versatile player in the country, and that versatility ensures he'll be off the board before the end of the second round.
Jarvis Landry, WR
If Beckham is the more dynamic of the two Tigers receivers, Landry is the more spectacular pass catcher. He's a bit bigger (6-1, 195), slightly more productive as a receiver, and caught more touchdowns. He's not as disciplined a route runner as Beckham, though he's able to get separation with his initial burst off the line and his agility in and out of cuts. He has terrific body control and seems to make a highlight reel catch every game. Like Beckham, he should come off the board on Day 2, no later than early in the third round.
La'el Collins, T
After spending two season at left guard, Collins moved to left tackle, where he looked immediately comfortable. He was the SEC O-Lineman of the week in the season opener against TCU. And he emerged as a top-tier tackle, particularly in the run game, in a conference full of them. Should he come out early, he'll be the fifth SEC tackle taken in the draft, behind Jake Matthews, Cyrus Kouandjio, Antonio Richardson and Cedric Ogbuehi (assuming all the underclassmen in the bunch come out, too).
Craig Loston, SS
The prototype box safety. Loston has the size (6-2, 205) scouts look for in a run-stuffing safety, and he plays with the aggressiveness that role requires. Occasionally, he's more of a hitter than a tackler, opting for a big play rather than simply bringing down the ballcarrier. Despite some limitations in coverage, he's the best strong safety prospect in the draft.
Lamin Barrow, ILB
At 6-2, 232, Barrow is a bit of a tweener, a middle linebacker's instincts and recognition skills in the body of a weak side backer. He's not been used to rush the passer much, so perhaps he fits best as an inside backer in a 3-4 scheme. He's a forceful tackler, if not necessarily a devastating hitter. His anticipation and motor enable him to make plays more so than his speed or strength. And if you're wondering about his leadership, look no further than his jersey. No. 18 is given to a selfless, team-first type, and you can see that dedication and determination in the way Barrow plays every down.
J.C. Copeland, FB
Of all the ingredients in LSU's offensive gumbo, it's Copeland who packs the biggest punch. He weights 270 pounds -- more than any defensive end in the Tigers' rotation -- and impacts (literally) every play, even when he doesn't touch the ball, which is about 99% of the time. He'll get the occasional carry on the goal line, maybe catch a pass every three games. But NFL coaches who like to run the ball out of 21 or 22 personnel would want Copelan blowing open holes for their tailback.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE
He doesn't compare athletically to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but Fiedorowicz (6-7, 265) is the second-biggest tight end in the draft, and is an all-around prospect in his own right. He won't be confused for one of the vertical threat tight ends everyone is looking for these days, but he gets himself open and makes plays in the short and intermediate passing games, not to mention the red zone (6 TDs in 2013). Plus, he's a capable if not dominant blocker, both in the run game and in pass protection.
Christian Kirksey, OLB
Kirksey certainly knows how to make a turnover really hurt. He recovered a fumble against Northern Illinois and returned it for a touchdown early in the season -- one year after returning two interceptions for touchdowns. He's a strong technique tackler who puts himself in position to make plays. Kirksey hasn't been used much in pass rush situations, but he may be too small (6-2, 235) to remain at strong side linebacker, where he's started 37 straight games for the Hawkeyes. Perhaps he moves inside in a 3-4 system.