NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
Four defensive players from LSU’s team who finished as runner-ups in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game were selected in the 2012 NFL draft.
In the upcoming draft, there could be as many as seven LSU defensive players taken — including three who play the same position, defensive end.
Two of those defensive ends, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, are juniors, but both of them are likely first-round locks should they declare as underclassmen for the 2013 NFL draft, and could go as high as being top-5 draft selections. The third defensive end, senior Lavar Edwards, is much less heralded than his younger counterparts, but he is an NFL prospect in his own right.
The competition between Mingo and Montgomery to be the top LSU pass-rusher drafted will likely continue for many more months, assuming both declare for the 2013 draft, but they are two quite different players. Which player goes higher could end up being a matter of which teams near the top of the draft are looking for defensive ends, as each player fits better in different schemes.
Montgomery should be one of the top defensive ends on the draft boards of teams that run 4-3 base defensive schemes. Montgomery has great size for a defensive end at 6’5’’ and 260 pounds, and has terrific length. He is also a fantastic athlete who can really bring pressure into the backfield.
Mingo, on the other hand, is much better suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. At only 240 pounds, Mingo is undersized for a defensive end, but he is a fantastic athlete who is already used often as a stand-up player at LSU. In addition to being one of the draft’s elite pass-rushing prospects, he is very good at chasing down run plays in space and already knows how to drop back into coverage, so he should be able to make a smooth transition to playing outside linebacker.
There are many similar traits between the two player. Both players are fantastic athletes for collegiate defensive linemen, are very explosive off the line of scrimmage and have the potential to be double-digit sack pass-rushers at the next level. On the negative end of the spectrum, both players struggle at the point of attack in run defense.
Of the two players, Montgomery is the better player in run defense, and is the more complete player. Montgomery can be overwhelmed at times by run blockers, but he has the frame to add bulk and remain fast, which an NFL team will expect him to do. He is not a great lateral athlete who will make big run plays outside the numbers, but he is a patient defender with a great motor, and he does good job of forcing plays away from him when he wins with an initial burst on the line.
Mingo, on the other hand, is better at making plays in space, both on run defense and against short passes, but strength is a significant issue for him when he lines up on the line of scrimmage. He could certainly line up as a situational pass-rusher on a four-man front, but he gets overpowered at the line of scrimmage when a rushing play is coming in his direction, meaning he is not a great fit as a three-down lineman in a 4-3 scheme.
Overall, both players are solid first-round picks, and should emerge as fantastic players in the right defensive scheme.
Montgomery currently ranks as my No. 3 4-3 defensive end among prospects eligible for the 2013 NFL draft, behind Florida State’s Bjoern Werner and Michigan State’s William Gholston, and would be a great fit for many teams in need of a defensive end, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, Oakland Raiders or Denver Broncos.
Mingo, on the other hand, ranks as my No. 2 3-4 outside linebacker prospect behind Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, and could be a big target for teams who run the 3-4 base defense and looking for a pass-rusher, including the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys or Indianapolis Colts.
With all the hype over Montgomery and Mingo, however, teammate Edwards often becomes a forgotten prospect, which he should not be. Edwards is very productive for LSU in a rotational role — he actually leads the Tigers with 3.5 sacks this season — and would be the star of many defensive lines.
Edwards has the size to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme at 6’5’’ and 258 pounds, while he is also a very good athlete in his own right, although not quite the track star in a defensive lineman’s body that Mingo and Montgomery are. Edwards is a skilled technician in pass-rushing, and he is solid against the run, although he can struggle in the power run game as well.
When watching the LSU defensive ends, Mingo and Montgomery jump off the screen, but if you watch the LSU defense and don’t notice Edwards, you’re not paying enough attention.
Being a productive rotational player behind two NFL starters in Mingo and Montgomery should make for a smooth transition to the league, where he is likely to play a similar role. Edwards should be a solid third- to fifth-round selection as a rotational defensive end or outside linebacker in a 3-4, but a team could very well end up with a steal in a player who has a chance to break out as a starter at the next level.
All three LSU defensive ends will have a big test worth watching on Saturday, when they play South Carolina at 8 p.m. on ESPN. The NFL scouts will certainly be watching, as all three of these players have real potential for the upcoming NFL draft.