About 12 hours after LSU finished the regular season with a victory over Texas A&M, Rickey Jefferson fired off a post on his Twitter account.
The message was clear: the LSU safety would return for his senior season.
“I plan to follow in my big bros footsteps and get my degree,” posted Jefferson, the younger brother of former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson.
Rickey Jefferson is not projected for selection in any of the 253 picks spread across the seven rounds of the NFL draft.
His message on Twitter speaks to the culture of the LSU football program over the past few years. Everyone — rotating reserves, All-American starters, career backups — is at risk to bypass their final year of eligibility.
Guys you never thought would skip their senior years have. Guys you never thought would seriously consider leaving early have.
“I gave it a little thought,” said senior linebacker Lamar Louis, referring to last year after his junior season.
It’s that time of year again. Players are beginning to mull their futures at LSU. The spotlight is on a handful of names: receiver Travin Dural, a fourth-year junior; linebacker Kendell Beckwith, cornerback Tre’Davious White, left tackle Jerald Hawkins and center Ethan Pocic.
Defensive linemen Christian LaCouture, Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal are also draft-eligible, but they’re not highly regarded in NFL draft projections for 2016.
Dural, Beckwith and White are in the top 10 at their position among those expected to enter the 2016 NFL draft.
White, a three-year starter from Shreveport, is projected as a first-round pick. Given that projection, the LSU staff expects him to bypass his senior season, according to two sources close to the staff. White, though, has not made a final decision, and the NFL Network’s Rand Getlin reported Wednesday that White is considering returning for his final season.
White said three weeks ago that he “didn’t come here to go three years and out.”
Dural, once thought to be leaning to leave early, suffered a season-ending hamstring injury — a setback that could keep him in college for his senior season. The redshirt junior needed surgery and three months of rehabilitation, coach Les Miles said last week.
Dural, a second-to-third round projection, could miss the NFL Scouting Combine on Feb. 23-29 and LSU’s pro day that follows.
The decision for several players might rely on the grade given to them by the NFL Draft College Advisory Committee. The committee, made up of personnel evaluators from NFL clubs and scouting directors, evaluates a maximum of five draft-eligible underclassmen at each school.
The committee returns one of three grades to players: first round, second round or remain in school. Schools are allowed to petition the committee to expand the minimum of five requests. Before the committee instituted the minimum last year, LSU led the way with 11 requests two years ago, ahead of the 2014 draft — not unexpected.
LSU, before last season, led all schools with a whopping 20 underclassmen leaving early from 2012-14.
The deadline for underclassmen to enter the draft is Jan. 18. Requests to the committee can be made as soon as a team’s regular season concludes.
Draft grades are important to players, but they’re not the ultimate factor. For instance, cornerback Jalen Collins said he received a “stay in school” grade last year. He bypassed his senior season anyway and was drafted in the second round.
Beckwith is a second-round projection, according to CBSSports.com. The website did not list projections for two draft-eligible offensive linemen — Pocic and Hawkins.
The future of Beckwith and the two linemen could hinge on the committee’s grade. Hawkins, a fourth-year player who redshirted like Dural, had to be encouraged to return last season. LSU moved him from right tackle to left tackle this season. He’s slotted as the 11th-best offensive tackle in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Matt Miller, a draft analyst for Bleacher Report, said Hawkins “looks the part” and has surprised him at “how good he’s been this year.” He predicts that Hawkins could go as high as the late first round. Pocic isn’t on many radars, Miller said.
Many don’t expect the defensive linemen — LaCouture, Bower and Neal — to leave early, those close to the staff say. That doesn’t mean decisions have been made.
In fact, decisions are often made much closer to the bowl game or after the game. The committee normally releases their grades in mid-to-late December.
What else might have an effect: the strength of the position group for that specific draft class. Beckwith and White could be entering a draft with a plethora of highly talented senior players and fellow underclassmen at their positions.
“The linebacker class this year is actually really good. That could push him down,” Miller said referring to Beckwith.
“White is in that first round mix, but this is a strong (cornerback) class,” said Rob Rang, a draft analyst for CBSSports.com. “I’d recommend he get the NFL advisory grade.”
Miles has said he suggests players return if they’re not projected in the first round. Of the 20 players who have left the team early over the previous three years, just three were first-round selections.
To stay or to go — it’s never an easy decision, players say. Louis remembers seeking advice from former LSU receiver Russell Shepherd, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“He told me he was behind me 100 percent. He wanted me to go back to school, get my degree and better my situation,” Louis said. “Whatever stock I had, try to raise it. Just finish what I started.”
PROJECTING THE JUNIORS
Draft-eligible underclassmen starters for LSU and their current 2016 NFL draft projection, according to CBSSports.com:
Name: Projected round, Position Rank in Class (Position)
Kendell Beckwith: Second, No. 2 (ILB)
Tre’Davious White: First round, No. 4 (CB)
Travin Dural: Second-third rounds, No. 8 (WR)
The following players are not listed among the 2016 rankings, but are listed for 2017
Jerald Hawkins: N/A, No. 11 (OT)
Ethan Pocic: N/A, No. 2 (C)
Lewis Neal: N/A, No. 5 (DE)
Christian LaCouture: N/A, No. 10 (DT)
Dwayne Thomas: N/A, No. 10 (CB)
Rickey Jefferson: N/A, No. 5 (FS)
PROJECTING THE SENIORS
Senior starters for LSU and their current NFL draft projections, according to CBSSports.com:
Name: Projected round, Position Rank in Class (Position)
Vadal Alexander: Second round, No. 2 (OG)
Jalen Mills: Second-third rounds, No. 2 (FS)
Deion Jones: Fourth round, No. 10 (OLB)
Dillon Gordon: N/A, No. 22 (TE)*
Lamar Louis: N/A, No. 37 (OLB)
Quentin Thomas: N/A, No. 36 (DT)
*possibly eligible for a medical redshirt
JUMPING EARLY — locally
Early departures at LSU since Les Miles took over in 2005:
**Includes RB Alfred Blue, who passed on a fifth-year of eligibility.
*Excludes Tyrann Mathieu, who was dismissed before the 2012 season.
JUMPING EALY — nationally
Underclassmen granted special eligibility to enter the NFL draft.
* These numbers don’t include all underclassmen as some of them had graduated early from their respected colleges and did not need special eligibility.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.