The 2016 NFL Draft is in the books, and it was a roller-coaster of a saga for LSU’s newly entrenched alums.
LSU was without a first-round pick for the third consecutive year. Odell Beckham Jr. was the last former Tiger to hear his name called in the draft’s first round back in 2013, which extended the school’s streak to four consecutive drafts with a first-round selection.
Still, the 13 Tigers drafted in the first round under coach Les Miles ranks second in the SEC over the past 10 years.
But the biggest takeaway — bar none — was the wait.
Some of LSU’s top draft-eligible players didn’t have to wait all that long, but some went Thursday through early Saturday evening before hearing their name get called.
LSU fans were forced to wait until Round 2 for the first ice-breaker as outside linebacker Deion Jones was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. Jones, more affectionately known as “Debo,” was a bit of a surprise as the Tigers’ first player off the board, though.
Offensive lineman Vadal Alexander and defensive back Jalen Mills, who lasted until the seventh round, were considered more likely to be drafted ahead of Jones, one of the fastest-rising prospects between the end of the college football season and the draft.
Jones impressed during the NFL Scouting Combine and again at LSU’s pro day, which led Falcons coach Dan Quinn to trade back up to nab the No. 52 pick and take a chance on the one-year starter and plug into his budding defense.
Jones started his senior season at LSU after thriving on special teams duties the first three years of his career. The New Orleans native wound up leading the team in tackles, notching triple digits, at outside linebacker.
Two rounds later, former LSU tackle Jerald Hawkins was scooped up by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 123 selection.
Hawkins, the lone underclassmen to declare for the draft this year, is considered a tackle capable of playing on either side of the offensive line by Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
LSU’s former left tackle was selected largely because of how similar the Tigers’ offense is to the Steelers’.
Hawkins is a candidate for immediate playing time with the AFC North squad and could be groomed as Pittsburgh’s left tackle.
Former LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson got the nod later in the fourth round, getting selected No. 133 overall by the San Francisco 49ers.
Robinson, who was dismissed by the team during his sophomore season, was an impact player as soon as he arrived at LSU. Off-the-field issues during his enrollment and again during the 2014 season plagued the cornerback, leading to his one-year hiatus from football last season.
Still, despite only six career starts, Robinson boasts great size and athleticism for the position, something first-year 49ers coach Chip Kelly felt would be a solid fit with his rebuilding secondary. The former LSU standout seemingly has a bright future ahead of him despite the issues that had plagued him in the past.
A lengthy wait allowed Mills to fall to the seventh round before the Philadelphia Eagles snagged him up.
Mills, an impact player since the time he arrived on LSU’s campus, played cornerback for two seasons before shifting over to safety his junior season.
However, perhaps the skeletons in Mills’ closet came into play during the draft. The defensive back was arrested and suspended before the 2014 season, then was injured right before the 2015 season. Mills managed to play in seven games, starting of six of them, and turned some heads during the combine and his pro day.
A pick later, Mills’ longtime teammate got the nod, too.
The Oakland Raiders drafted Alexander, who wound up being one of the draft’s biggest question marks. There were few red flags hovering over the lineman entering the event except for the fact that the former LSU lineman did not impress during the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Alexander but shed weight soon after, though, and fared much better during LSU’s pro day. His stock obviously took a major hit — for reasons to be determined — but found a home on the line with Oakland, a rising team that could be in contention in the AFC West for years to come.
The drop off of Mills and Alexander into the draft’s final round comes as quite the surprise considering they were presumptive favorites among ex-Tigers to fall somewhere between the second and fifth rounds in this year’s draft class. There’s a lot still to be figured out, but as expected, all five of the five LSU alum that were projected to get drafted did in fact hear the names get announced over the loudspeaker at some point over the weekend.
As always, though, LSU had its share of alum take the first step toward NFL careers in 2016. But with this year’s version of the draft in the rear-view mirror, it is never too early to look ahead to 2017.
LSU could be in store for a record-setting event, with upwards of seven potential first-round picks.
It should come as no surprise as Heisman Trophy hopeful running back Leonard Fournette should be in the mix to land somewhere in the top three picks, and potentially first overall depending on how his 2016 season goes and which NFL team is on the clock first.
Additionally, Tre’Davious White, Lewis Neal and Ethan Pocic will all be mentioned in the first-round discussion following their senior campaigns. Jamal Adams, Malachi Dupre and Davon Godchaux will all be eligible to declare for the draft.