Arden Key is one of the more fascinating prospects entering the 2018 NFL Draft.
Many observers consider the former LSU outside linebacker to be a first-round talent. However, he had a disappointing end to his Tigers career when he totaled just 33 tackles with 5 1/2 sacks in 2017 as a junior. He had a career-high 55 tackles and 12 1/2 sacks in 2016.
His final season was a wild ride. In the spring, he took a leave of absence from the program to “address a personal issue.” During that time away, he underwent shoulder surgery and missed LSU’s first two games of the 2017 season. He returned 25 pounds heavier than his 2016 playing weight. Key struggled to adjust to his larger frame when trying to stop the run.
Eventually, Key shed most of that excess weight and saw improvement in his performance. In his final four games, he totaled 23 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks and 1 forced fumble. He did all that while playing with a broken pinky finger. However, he sustained a knee injury against Arkansas on Nov. 11 and faded from the program.
In a piece by NFL Media’s Chase Goodbread, Key broke his silence on what went wrong for him in 2017:
After enjoying an outstanding sophomore year in 2016, Key had a junior season he’s glad to have behind him. He took a leave from the team for personal reasons last offseason and a shoulder injury prevented Key from full participation in LSU’s summer training. When he was finally able to take the field, he wasn’t in the best of shape.
“I got too heavy. I got to 270, 280 [pounds] at one point, then with injuries, I rushed to come back. I wasn’t ready to come back. It was just competitiveness in me that came out,” he said in his first media interview in more than a year.
It’s interesting to hear that Key didn’t consider himself “ready to come back.” He likely learned quite a bit from his personal struggles last season, but he still showed flashes of his dynamic potential. Many NFL teams will be eager to get a closer look at him before the draft.
If Key stays healthy and in shape, look for him to make a big impact on Sundays for years to come.