Reporters aren’t the only ones asking Davon Godchaux the questions.
He even gets it from his own family members: Are you leaving early for the NFL draft?
He found a solution.
“Don’t answer the phone. Don’t answer the text,” a smiling Godchaux said to a group of reporters this week. “My auntie called me this morning, and she was like … she was hearing some things. I’m just like, ‘I’m not focusing on that. I’m focusing on Florida this week. I’m focusing on being a better teammate.’ ”
Chances that Godchaux, a draft-eligible junior defensive tackle, is at LSU next season aren’t good. In fact, agents are making inquiries about Godchaux with national draft reporters and analysts, like Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller — a “good sign,” Miller said, that he’ll leave early.
This is an annual tradition for a talent-laden program like LSU — projecting which underclassmen will leave early — and it often overshadows the departure of a usually small, somewhat insignificant senior class.
That’s not necessarily the case this year. During LSU’s home finale Saturday against Florida, a half-dozen seniors playing their final game in Tiger Stadium could be on an NFL field next fall. The 14 scholarship seniors — nine who start — are an unusually large group for a program that was spared a junior exodus last season.
Many of those seniors returned this season for two reasons: to improve their draft value and to win a national title. The latter motivation evaporated in September, when the team started 2-2 and Les Miles was fired.
The former — boosting their draft stock — is debatable and situational.
Cornerback Tre’Davious White has improved his value at least slightly, said Rob Rang, draft evaluator for CBSSports.com. Center Ethan Pocic did as well, Rang said.
Miller claims the opposite. Projections for the two — Pocic (second round) and White (late first round or second round) — haven’t changed from a year ago.
Both analysts agree that linebacker Kendell Beckwith didn’t necessarily improve his draft stock, but he “cemented” it, Rang said. He’s a second-to third-rounder, according to the projections.
White recently retweeted a link to a mock draft of the first round. He was not on it. Asked this week whether he regretted his decision to return, White quickly said no.
“The path that I made, it worked out for me,” he said. “It’s been working out well. The path for Kendell, coming back, it worked out well for him, too. Everybody has their own path. Just because I came back and my year is going great don’t mean it will be the same for them.
“It’s going to come down to, 'Are they really ready to leave?' I always told Jamal (Adams) or to Malachi (Dupre), guys like that, ‘If you’re second-guessing it, don’t go.’ ”
The goal to win a national championship is long gone. The offshoot of that goal was to change the culture of players leaving LSU early, several of them said last year. In a four-year stretch starting after the 2011 season, 23 juniors or third-year sophomores — essentially the size of an entire signing class — left for the NFL draft.
That trend ended last year: Only one player, tackle Jerald Hawkins, left early. This year’s group hoped to show other underclassmen that returning can produce championship results.
“I think it’s in the process of being changed,” senior receiver Travin Dural said in August. “We won’t change until we win a national championship.”
What that shortfall means for the current underclassmen is unclear.
None of them has announced his decision, but enough is known about three of them to assume they’ll be leaving. Running back Leonard Fournette and Adams aren’t just projected as certain first-round picks; they’re seen as “locks” for the top 15, Miller said.
Godchaux is projected as high as a first-round pick, but Miller has him as a fifth-round pick.
“I’ve had four agents ask me about him in the past few weeks,” Miller said. “That’s a good sign that a kid is going to come out.”
Godchaux was coy and smiled when asked. He also mentioned his arrest for misdemeanor counts of domestic abuse battery/child endangerment and false imprisonment. He was arrested six days before LSU’s game against Missouri on Oct. 1. Within two days of the arrest, charges were dropped, and he was reinstated to the team.
“I haven’t thought about (leaving early),” he said. “Everybody asks me the questions, but I’m just focusing and just listening to (defensive line coach Pete Jenkins and interim coach Ed Orgeron). I just feel like ever since the Missouri incident that happened with me, the Missouri game, I just feel like my level of play just raised up a lot. I don’t know what it was, but coach Pete does a great job of having us locked in each and every week.”
Dupre is the next highest-ranked draft-eligible underclassman. The New Orleans native has made acrobatic catches and had dismal drops during his two seasons as a starter.
“This is an average receiver class, so that’s helpful,” Rang said. "But I see drops on tape. That’s a little bit of a concern.”
No other LSU underclassman is projected to be drafted or is ranked in prospect databases on CBSSports.com and WalterFootball.com. Four may be the program’s high this season, but there are several starters and role players who are draft-eligible, including receiver D.J. Chark, defensive linemen Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore, tackle K.J. Malone, fullback J.D. Moore and third-year sophomore Will Clapp.
Orgeron isn’t sitting by idly, despite his uncertain future as leader of the program.
“I know I'm going to recruit them,” he said of the underclassmen. “I know I'm going to continue to recruit those guys. Nobody has told me anything, but I've been around long enough to know that most of them have made their decision already. Most of them are maybe 75, 80 percent could be salvaged, just like Kendell Beckwith and Tre'Davious White was last year, but I know this is the time to be able to recruit them, because I know once the last game is played, and once they sign a contract, it's over.”
LSU’s massive senior class definitely will say goodbye Saturday. Ten of the members are from the 2013 signing class, three are from 2012 (Colby Delahoussaye, Dwayne Thomas and Dural) and one (Colin Jeter) was a late signee as part of the 2014 class.
That group — the largest collection of starting seniors at LSU since 2009 — has won 33 games (including nine over ranked teams), has played 43 of their 48 games ranked and will have played in a bowl game each year. What this class doesn’t have is a win over Alabama or a championship of any kind — the second straight group to leave LSU having fallen short of those goals.
“They’re going to be happy. They’re leaving!” sophomore outside linebacker/defensive end Arden Key said. “They’re moving on to something bigger and better.”
It’s not all positive, Dural said.
“It’s just been a great ride, playing with those guys and all the guys that I’ve played with since I’ve been here,” he said. “I know they’ve had the time of their life. A lot of guys weren’t ready to give this lifestyle up yet and move on to the next chapter of their life. I don’t really blame them, because I’ve been enjoying every second of it.
"If I could do it one more time, I probably would.”
Feeling a draft
As many as 11 LSU players could be selected in next year's NFL draft. That would shoot through the school record of nine. Those projected to get drafted, according to WalterFootball.com’s rankings:
RB Leonard Fournette*
1st (top 10)
S Jamal Adams*
1st (top 25)
C Ethan Pocic
DT Davon Godchaux*
CB Tre’Davious White
ILB Kendell Beckwith
WR Malachi Dupre*
WR Travin Dural
CB Dwayne Thomas
DE Lewis Neal
DT Christian LaCouture
* — draft-eligible junior
Others who could be drafted: LB Duke Riley, G Josh Boutte, S Rickey Jefferson, OLB/DE Tashawn Bower
What they're saying
On Jamal Adams
“Jamal Adams is a freak. Everyone talks about Leonard Fournette, and he’s a hell of a player, but he’s a slam dunk. Let’s stop talking about Leonard so much, because we all know he’s a great player, and start talking about Jamal Adams.”
— Matt Miller, Bleacher Report
On Ethan Pocic
“I think LSU ever year contributes legitimate NFL offensive linemen. There’s so many O-linemen who come from the spread who take a year or two before they can contribute. Pocic doesn’t have to have that learning curve. He’s one of my favorite linemen in this draft class.”
— Rob Rang, CBSSports.com
On Leonard Fournette
“He’s among the handful of blue-chip prospects. He’s my personal top-rated offensive player. He possesses the combo of size, speed and power that the NFL hasn’t seen in a draft since Adrian Peterson.”
On Davon Godchaux
“When he flashes, he looks amazing. Has length. He’s probably one of the better athletes on the defensive line. That’s the biggest thing with him: How much does he want it? He can blow you away when he keeps his pads down.”
On Tre’Davious White
“I’ve always been excited about his pure athletic ability and coverage skills. This year, I’ve seen more consistency as a tackler in run support. In the past, I’ve seen receivers been able to shuck him at the line of scrimmage or at catch point.”
On Lewis Neal
“He’s a situational guy, but you can see the pass rush potential he has. It’s going to be about learning how to combat (his lack of height). I think he’s a little underrated.”
On Kendell Beckwith
“Physical linebacker, instinctive. I don’t know that he’s elite in (pass) coverage. I love the toughness and instincts. Reliable open-field tackler. He has that compact athletic frame suited to playing inside linebacker.”