Donte Jackson’s phone is always active, just like most 22-year-olds in this digital-savvy world.
Lately, as the NFL draft underclassman deadline inches closer, his phone has been more active than normal.
“Your phone doesn’t stop ringing,” said Jackson, LSU’s draft-eligible junior cornerback.
Who’s calling? Former LSU and current NFL defensive backs like Jamal Adams, Tre’Davious White and Jalen Mills.
“That’s the biggest thing that comes with this whole process,” Jackson said. “Your phone doesn’t stop ringing.”
Jackson is seeking and receiving advice on his future from ex-LSU players who are starring now on the pro level, each of them having been in his shoes.
The New Orleans-area native will get more official advice in the coming week. He and three LSU offensive linemen said Wednesday they’ve requested evaluation grades from the NFL Draft College Advisory Committee, an annual occurrence from the Tigers underclassmen.
Austin Thomas is leaving Baton Rouge for Knoxville.
Grades are expected back in the next week. Center Will Clapp, guard Garrett Brumfield and tackle Toby Weathersby, all 2017 starters and juniors, joined Jackson in requesting grades. Other players likely also requested grades, but they were not present at interviews Wednesday.
Edge rusher Arden Key and running back Derrius Guice are projected by many as first-round draft picks, and coach Ed Orgeron said he expects cornerbacks Kevin Toliver and Jackson to forgo their senior seasons to enter the draft. Jackson is projected as high as a first-round selection.
“The door is not shut for me,” Jackson said Wednesday. “I’m not in no rush to make any decisions.”
Players say all of the decisions — at least the announcements — will come after the No. 16 LSU (9-3) meets No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3) in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Florida. The Tigers were set to hold their second bowl practice Wednesday and third Thursday before a three-day weekend break. They will resume practice next week, break for Christmas and travel to the bowl Dec. 28, a day later than previously scheduled.
By the time the Tigers arrive in Orlando, evaluation grades will have long been returned to them and underclassmen will likely know their decisions. The deadline to declare is Jan. 15, something 25 LSU underclassmen did in the past four years.
“It’s a situation where you try not to think about stuff like that,” Weathersby said Wednesday. “Got one more game left. It’s one of those things where you have to block that out to produce for the team. We’re human. Everybody knows, the whole world knows that we’ve got guys on the team eligible for the draft this year.”
The NFL Draft College Advisory Committee is made of personnel evaluators from NFL clubs and scouting directors. They evaluate a maximum of five draft-eligible underclassmen at each school, but schools can petition for more requests, something a fertile program like LSU has done in the past.
The committee returns three grades to players: "first round," "second round" or "remain in school."
Draft grades are important to players, but they’re not the ultimate factor.
A smiling Jackson predicts he’ll receive a first-round grade, and his expectations, based on things he’s “hearing,” is that his grade will be “a good one,” likely sending him packing for the pros.
What if the grade is to stay in school?
“No question,” he said, “I’m coming back to school.”
That’s not the case for everyone. Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux received a grade to remain in school last year. He was selected in the fifth round of the draft and is now used heavily as a rotational player for the Dolphins.
Others pay more attention to their grades. In 2016, linebacker Kendell Beckwith received a grade to stay in school and he did. In the same year, White said his grade ranged from “mid-to-late first and second for sure.”
He stayed, too. Jackson’s position is most similar to White’s, he said, but there are differences that kept White, nicknamed “Shaq,” from going pro.
“Pretty much me and Shaq are in the same shoes. Come out as a junior, you’re a high pick. Stay and you’re a high pick,” Jackson said. “Shaq had different things. He was going to graduate early and he was going to have a lot of things he wanted to do — wanted to wear No. 18 again for another year. He had some different things going.
“That’s one thing I can give you guys,” Jackson said, “it’s going to be a hard decision.”
Arden Key’s status for LSU’s bowl game remains uncertain, and the same goes for running back Derrius Guice’s future, coach Ed Orgeron said.
The latest outlook for LSU’s seniors and draft-eligible juniors, according to rankings from WalterFootball.com. In parentheses are the previous projections from mid-November.
Draft position rank
WR DJ Chark
FB JD Moore
7th or UFA
OLB Arden Key
Top 10 (Top 20)
RB Derrius Guice
CB Donte Jackson
CB Kevin Toliver
C Will Clapp
OT Toby Weathersby
Notable unranked, draftable players: DE Christian LaCouture, NT Greg Gilmore, OLB Corey Thompson, RB Darrel Williams, ILB Donnie Alexander, WR Russell Gage, S John Battle
Early departures at LSU since 2005.
- 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