BATON ROUGE, La. — Success is expected of defensive backs when they reach LSU out of high school.
But while the DBU tradition is alive and well in Baton Rouge, there is no guarantee that success will also translate at the next level. The likes of Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid have proven themselves worthy of the hype that preceded them, it’s harder to argue that Morris Claiborne has lived up the expectations of a No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft.
A pair of Tigers are among the most promising defensive backs in this year’s crop — safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Tre’Davious White. SEC Country talked to NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier about what expectations should await those players this spring. On top of that, he believes a much less-heralded prospect, nickel back Dwayne Thomas, could be one of this year’s great sleeper picks.
Jamal Adams should be top-15 pick
“We feel that Jamal will not only be an excellent NFL player, but feel that he has All-Pro capabilities and perhaps a Hall of Famer one day,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said last week when Adams declared for the draft.
Detillier has known Orgeron since the 1970s, and he says that’s not the type of talk he throws around cheaply.
“He rarely goes to that extent to talk about a player,” Detillier said. “When he goes overboard like that — just like when he said Arden Key is the best pass rusher he’s ever coached — you listen. He doesn’t get flowery about certain things. He did about Jamal. For him to say that, you know he believes it.”
Most future All-Pros don’t slip too far down the draft board, and Adams is no exception. But because he is in an unusually talented draft class at his own position, he also might not get picked as highly as he would in another year. Adams is also competing with Ohio State’s Malik Hooker and Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, each of whom might be selected over him.
“Hooker, if he runs well, will be a top-6 or 7 pick,” Detillier said. “The big battle will be between Peppers and Jamal. To me they have the same grade from 11-15. What will break that tie is the workouts, even though those can’t tell you if you can play ball or not.”
For all three safeties to go in the Top 15 would be unusual. It hasn’t happened since 1981, when Kenny Easley, Ronnie Lott and Dennis Smith were all picked that high. But Detillier expects it to happen this year.
“The NFL is more of a coverage and hybrid game,” Detillier said. “Jamal is a big-time player. It’s in that area code of what we saw with Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Intimidator in the secondary, great in run support.”
Detillier said the one area Adams will have to work on is pass coverage.
“He’s better moving forward than reverse, but he still moves good in reverse,” Detillier said.
One area where Adams is tough to beat? Intangibles.
“He’s a leader. He takes charge on the field and locker room,” Detillier said. “You want that, and he’s got it.”
Tre’Davious White could sneak into first round
Leadership is the greatest shared quality of Adams and White.
“They’ll excel with the intangible part of the game,” Detillier said. “And there’s more emphasis being put on character instead of being a character.”
White proved his bona fides in that department by returning for his senior year despite grading as a second-round pick last year. But even though playing for Dave Aranda made White a more versatile player, Detillier says that won’t necessarily bump him into the first round.
“Aranda was almost grooming him for NFL,” Detillier said. “He’s a solid second-round pick and can sneak into the first round if there is a run on corners. If he has a great time on the track, he can be a first-round pick.”
Aranda played White on both boundaries as well as in the slot this season. That versatility gives White a serious shot to crack a starting lineup next season regardless of where he is selected.
“I know as a rookie, worst-case scenario he’s the nickel,” Detillier said. “I can see him as a first-year starter because he’s mentally prepared for that. Some guys may be able to run a tick faster, but he’s got amnesia. He doesn’t let one bad play affect the next. He’s ready to go.”
White’s downside was a slight slump to end the season after a phenomenal start. He didn’t allow a reception over 10 yards until Arkansas hit him for a 44-yard touchdown. From that point, Detillier said things weren’t the same.
“Late in the year they started testing him,” Detillier said. “And then you saw almost the flip-flop of what happened to Malachi (Dupre). He started to lose a little confidence. He was still a good player, but wasn’t dominant like early in the year.”
Detillier believes that White was banged up at the end of the season, and the corner did need to use crutches following the regular-season finale at Texas A&M.
“When players get hurt, it’s the mental awareness they lose first,” Detillier said. “A couple times there were balls over his shoulder he’s looking around for. I haven’t seen Tre do that in 3 1/2 years.”
Detillier rates White as the sixth-best corner in this year’s class, and an average of five are taken in the first round each year.
Dwayne Thomas is a potential sleeper pick
He’s not as famous as his teammates, but as Thomas showed against Alabama, he’s capable of playing great against the highest level of competition. In a game where many declare for the draft early, he is the rare fifth-year senior.
“Dwayne Thomas will be a late-round pick. People don’t see that,” Detillier said. “He was hurt a lot over his career, but they played him all across the board, like the queen piece in chess.”
With coverage of slot receivers such a crucial element of NFL success, Thomas can fill a need most teams have.
“Nickel, dime and great on special teams. You know what he can do,” Detillier said. “A nickel corner is every bit as valuable as a pass rush specialist. On 70 percent of plays in NFL, you’re playing three corners. That’s a valuable piece.”
In the case of Thomas, attitude is everything.
“He’s a cocky dude. He thinks no one plays better than him,” Detillier said. “And at times, he plays it. It shows how much talent they have at LSU when Dwayne is splitting time.”