The final clincher on how great a football team LSU had in 2019 comes not from boastful local pride but the collective antiseptic, analytical eye of the NFL.
When it was all done Saturday evening with the 255th and final pick of Georgia linebacker Tae Crowder (more on Southeastern Conference dominance later) to the New York Giants, LSU had:
- 14 players drafted, tying the seven-round record set in 2004 by Ohio State
- 10 drafted in the first three rounds, tying the record Ohio State set in 2016
- Five first-round picks, one shy of the record set in 2004 by the Miami Hurricanes.
You can argue LSU may have been one hobbled Grant Delpit, whose high ankle sprain helped drag him down to the 44th overall pick in the second round to LSU North (the Cleveland Browns), away from tying that record, too.
There is no sentimentality in NFL front offices when it comes to the talent evaluation. If that were the case, the New Orleans Saints would have picked somebody from LSU with about 20 total guys to choose from just to shut everyone up. But that’s not how the draft game is played. Sentimentality gets you beat, and gets you much closer to the top of the draft chart than you’d care to be.
LSU, albeit with a glut of draft-eligible juniors leaving the program early, had the guys teams wanted for their skill, and for their worth as teammates. Character certainly helped tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire get snapped up with the last pick of the first round by the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and couldn’t have hurt defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence in being a fourth-round choice by the Arizona Cardinals or deep snapper Blake Ferguson being a sixth-round nod to the Miami Dolphins.
So don’t give me Florida State in 2013. Don’t even give me 1995 Nebraska anymore. LSU went 15-0, beating seven teams ranked in the top 10 at the time they played, including the preseason Associated Press top four. It had the No. 1 overall pick to the Cincinnati Bengals in Joe Burrow, who won the Heisman Trophy in the biggest landslide of all time (No. 2 pick Chase Young, the Ohio State defensive end, was a finalist).
And how about this stat: 13 of the 15 teams LSU played had at least one draft pick, 63 in all. The only teams that didn’t were Ole Miss and Northwestern State. Of those 63, 14 were first-rounders, players like Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, Florida cornerback CJ Henderson, Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs and Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Counting LSU’s five, that means if you saw all 15 of the Tigers’ games you witnessed 19 of the 32 future first-rounders on the field, not counting who may come next (Ja’Marr Chase, for example). By the time all those returning players from 2019 are done and go on to be first-rounders, it may be double that.
The best team against the array of talent anyone could hurl against it, coached by at least two future hall of fame coaches in Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. By the way, the SEC in all had 63 draft picks, bookended by Burrow and Crowder, in a year we all thought was “down” for the conference.
The only thing down is the mic LSU and coach Ed Orgeron can drop. That and the book of knowledge they will be able to drop on recruits for the foreseeable future.
“If you want to go to the pros, come to LSU,” Lawrence told WAFB’s Jacques Doucet on Saturday. “You will get your name called. And you will have a chance to compete for a championship every year. The numbers don’t lie. We’re the premier program in the country now.”
If all this bounty weren’t enough, LSU can also point to player development. Of its five first-rounders, only outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson (Jacksonville Jaguars) always looked the part of a can’t-miss prospect. Burrow was a projected sixth-rounder going into last season. Edwards-Helaire wasn’t even guaranteed to be a starter. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson (Minnesota Vikings) was a modest recruit, and linebacker Patrick Queen (Baltimore Ravens) blossomed as a junior.
The only problem with LSU’s 2019 team is it’s now in the past. The Tigers face an enormous rebuilding job for 2020, whatever that still uncertain season holds.
But past performance can be indicative of future results. And all of LSU’s success over the past year, from the field to the draft, bodes well for the program’s staying power.
Schools with most picks in 2020 NFL draft
LSU — 14*
Michigan — 10
Ohio State — 10
Alabama — 9
Clemson — 7
Florida — 7
Georgia — 7
Utah — 7
Auburn — 6
Notre Dame — 6