BATON ROUGE, La. — The lone remaining offseason mystery for the 2017 LSU Tigers is whether junior wide receiver Malachi Dupre will be back for a final year. As other juniors have announced whether they are staying or going, his decision awaits.
NFL Draft analyst and Louisiana native Mike Detillier, who has published his own draft report since 1985, said that declaring this year would not be a mistake on Dupre’s part. But he also emphasized that the 6-foot-4, 195-pound wideout has enough to work on that a breakout senior season could pay massive dividends.
The player who Detillier sees the most of in Dupre is the one who is likely to be the first receiver taken off the board this spring.
“I look at Mike Williams,” Detillier said of the star Clemson wideout who played a crucial role in the Tigers’ national championship win over Alabama. “Last year had a high grade but got hurt. He had a third-round grade despite playing one game. He came back and he’s a top-15 pick.
“That was because of injury. But you see it a lot with players coming back and making that move. He showed he was healthy and a big-time player. When I look at Mike Williams and Malachi, athletically they’re the same-type player. Mike didn’t make all those catches as an underclassman. He did in 2016.”
But can Dupre realistically be expected to make a Williams-type jump if he comes back for another season?
Detillier certainly thinks so.
Where Malachi Dupre needs to improve
One lingering concern that Dupre will carry into workouts was his drop-filled start to 2016. Four of the first 15 passes to hit his hands this September thudded to the ground harmlessly, and it took a temporary move to the slot against Mississippi State to shake that mental block.
Given how strongly his season ended — Dupre had a career-best seven catches for 139 yards against Louisville in the Citrus Bowl — the drops look like an anomaly. But NFL teams are going to want to make darn sure that’s the case.
“He really struggled with catches above his head. As a big receiver, that’s where you would excel,” Detillier said. “He struggled with that. And on some passes he was jumping when he didn’t have to. That tells me you have issues with confidence at some point. He battled that and came out of it midseason and had a signature game against Louisville.”
While the Citrus Bowl will probably do wonders for Dupre’s self-confidence, Detillier said the breakout game didn’t change his overall grade.
“I never judge a guy off of one game. That’s where you make a big mistake,” Detillier said. “What you want to see is consistency. He played better down the stretch. Caught the ball better. Got separation down the field.”
While Dupre’s hands have gotten better as the season progressed, Detillier believes it’s his feet that will need to improve the most before he becomes a pro contributor.
“Getting into cuts and breaks quicker,” Detillier said of Dupre’s biggest flaw. “As a small receiver it’s not so bad, because you can get out of them quickly. When you’re tall like Malachi the body tells you to slow down before you make that cut and break. That’s something he has to work on.”
Where Malachi Dupre grades out
At the moment, Dupre’s value to LSU is greater than it is for any NFL team. With DJ Chark being the only other returning LSU receiver with a proven track record at the college level, it’s no secret Ed Orgeron would like to have him back.
“I know Coach O has spent a lot of time with him, re-recruiting him,” Detillier said. “Malachi’s always been the guy that I always thought was going to come out. Listening to him today, he seems conflicted. Kind of back and forth with it. Not having a signature junior year is not normally when you want to hang your hat. But he ended it strong.”
As things stand, Detillier projects Dupre as a third-rounder. A series of good pre-draft workouts could project him into the back of the second round, while if things go poorly he could fall to the fourth.
“If he makes the decision to come out, then you’ve got to concentrate on the second season. That’s going to be critical for him,” Detillier said. “He’ll wow him with his leaping skills. That will catch everyone’s eye.
“People will want to see if he has that extra gear on the track. It is the audition when you do these combine workouts. You’ve got to understand it’s all on the line here. Your body of work is not as thick as a senior.”
In the short term, being a second- or third-round pick is worth the gamble of leaving school early. Detillier says it would not a bad decision by Dupre to enter the draft. But he also believes that patience could end up being very fruitful for Dupre’s long-term future.
“I’m never critical of a guy coming out early if it’s what he wants. None of us know all those little intricacies of the decision,” Detillier said. “He would certainly be a feature player in that offense (next year). You saw glimpses of him being a better receiver this year, but just glimpses.”