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LSU defensive back Donte Jackson (1) attempts to amp up the crowd in the first half against Notre Dame, Monday, January 1, 2018, in the Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

LSU is losing its fastest player.

Donte Jackson, a two-year starter at cornerback, declared for the NFL draft on Tuesday, announcing the move on social media and ending a successful run in Baton Rouge.

Jackson, a former track standout who’s known as one of college football’s fastest players, departs after a junior season in which he started 12 games, made an interception (dropped several more), finished with 10 pass-breakups and had a rousing sack against Arkansas.

Jackson is flamboyant on the field and outspoken off it, a typical brash LSU defensive back who is projected as high as a first round selection. The Riverdale product is ranked as the third-best cornerback in the draft, according to WalterFootball.com, predicting him in the first or second round.

Jackson, 5-11, 175 pounds, flashed his versatility in his final season. He played some safety, covered the slot receiver at the nickel position and spent time out wide. The final defensive play of his career was a rough one.

Notre Dame completed a 55-yard, game-winning touchdown against Jackson, a highlight reel catch from Irish receiver Miles Boykin in the 21-17 loss in the Citrus Bowl. Boykin caught the ball with one hand against Jackson, in man-to-man defense. He then broke a would-be tackle from safety John Battle.

Jackson joins fellow cornerback Kevin Toliver, tackle Toby Weathersby and edge rusher Arden Key as LSU players who have announced their early departures. Running back Derrius Guice is expected to soon announce that he's leaving early as well.

Offensive linemen Will Clapp and Garrett Brumfield submitted requests for draft grades, a sign they're at least contemplating an early departure. Neither player has announced their intention.

Jackson’s departure somewhat leaves LSU in a sticky position at cornerback, a spot with little depth. Rising junior Greedy Williams, the SEC’s interception leader, returns to man one side of the field, but experience is lacking behind him. Rising sophomore Jontre Kirklin and Kary Vincent, both 2017 signees, saw limited playing time last year, and Kristian Fulton, a reserve player as a freshman in 2016, took a redshirt this season for off-the-field reasons.

Xavier Lewis, a rotational player at cornerback and safety, did not dress out for at least the last month of the 2017 season and his status with the program is uncertain. The Tigers did not sign a cornerback in the early signing period but are targeting the position ahead of the traditional national signing day. LSU has three open spots in the 2018 class.

Jackson’s departure is somewhat expected. Coach Ed Orgeron revealed the news amid last season that he expected Toliver and Jackson to leave early.

Jackson’s most impressive highlight this past year came in the 27-23 comeback win over Auburn in Tiger Stadium, when he recorded three straight pass breakups on AU’s final drive. Early in the season, coaches shifted Jackson to the safety spot, even starting him there at Alabama – a move, in part, to get Jackson more action.

He spent much of the first month of the season seeing little to no targets as a wide cornerback, something that he expressed to reporters frustrated him. Jackson spent some time as a return man for LSU and that’s something he could do in the NFL, said Matt Miller, BleacherReport.com draft analyst. Projections for Jackson range from late first to third round.

“Jackson is probably the fastest in college football,” Miller said. “If he’s looking at how high (first-rounder) Adoree Jackson went, he’s excited. Teams are all about speed. … I don’t think he plays big. He’s a slot corner or return man.”


JUMPING EARLY

Early departures at LSU since 2005

  • 2018: 4**
  • 2017: 4
  • 2016: 1
  • 2015: 3
  • 2014: 7*
  • 2013: 10
  • 2012: 3
  • 2011: 2
  • 2010: 1
  • 2009: 1
  • 2008: 0
  • 2007: 1
  • 2006: 0
  • 2005: 0
*includes Alfred Blue, who passed on a fifth-year of eligibility
**includes Arden Key, Toby Weathersby, Kevin Toliver and Donte Jackson

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.