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LSU center Will Clapp surprised many by declaring early for the NFL draft.

How surprising was Will Clapp’s draft decision, and how will he be replaced?

SEC Country reporter Alex Hickey will answer your LSU Tigers sports queries each weekday in our LSU Question of the Day. Join the conversation by sending your questions via Twitter to @SECCountryLSU@bigahickey or by email to Alex at alex.hickey@coxinc.com.

Question of the Day: Friday, Jan. 12

Mere moments after Steve Ensminger was introduced as LSU’s new offensive coordinator, the Tigers offense lost one of its most vital components. Junior center Will Clapp, the unquestioned leader of the offensive line, announced that he was declaring for the NFL draft.

Given that center is not a premium draft position, Clapp’s declaration caught a lot of folks off guard. Two of our Facebook Live viewers, Gary Cox and Eugene Cummings, expressed virtually simultaneous surprise.

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You’re not alone, Gary and Eugene. Out of LSU’s draft-eligible juniors, Clapp seemed the least likely to head for the pros a year early.

But now that I’ve had a day to think it over, it’s not as stunning as it was initially. Clapp has his degree, so he would have been enrolling in graduate school to play a fourth season. Furthermore, he’s a guy who has constantly played through injuries. The body can take only so much abuse in the trenches, and it seems Clapp decided the risk of a career-ending or -altering injury outweighed the potential of being drafted a round or two higher next year.

Clapp’s draft declaration also shows that his versatility will be one of the things he sells to NFL teams. He played guard his first two seasons at LSU, so teams should not view him strictly as a center. If Clapp markets himself as a guard who can play center in a pinch, that increases his draft stock.

The bigger question is how effectively can the Tigers replace him. Outside of Derrius Guice, I believe Clapp to be the biggest loss for LSU among this year’s early draft entrants. And yes, that includes Arden Key.

At least they have the bodies in place. Junior-to-be Lloyd Cushenberry will likely get the starting job at center. Early-enrollee freshman Cole Smith, who was a likely candidate to redshirt if Clapp stayed, will now have the spring to prepare to be LSU’s No. 2 center.

And that’s the most important thing. Even though we were surprised by Clapp’s decision, Ed Orgeron was most certainly ready for it.

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