It's no secret that every college football player someday dreams of playing on Sunday.
Most college football players will fail in their attempt to make the jump to the next level, and of those that are fortunate enough to make it onto an NFL roster, many will have little or no impact.
In recent years, LSU has been as successful as any college football program in getting players to the NFL (41 players currently on active rosters). So in looking to the future, let's try to figure out which players from this year's LSU football team will have the best chance of succeeding in the NFL.
Even though I have him ranked seventh, some experts predict that Barkevious Mingo, affectionately known as KeKe, has the most upside of any player on the LSU defense.
Given his present company, that's saying something.
Whether you agree or disagree, there's no questioning Mingo's 2011 performance as a starting defensive end for one of the top defenses in the country. As a sophomore, Mingo racked up eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss.
At 6'5", 240 lbs., Mingo reminds me of a younger Jason Taylor both with his speed off the edge and his lanky frame that allows him to disrupt passes. Mingo runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash and shows a great burst that allows him to chase down quarterbacks and ball carriers. Mingo could make the transition to linebacker in the NFL or remain at defensive end once he fills out a bit.
Either way, the "best name in college football" has ample talent to match.
In 2011, offensive tackle Chris Faulk anchored the LSU 17th ranked rushing offense that amassed 2,797 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Faulk is only a sophomore, but has already shown the ability to dominate opposing defensive fronts. This was most clearly demonstrated by his performance against Tennessee—in which Faulk led the team with 12.5 knockdowns. At 6'6", 325 lbs, Faulk has ample size to succeed at the next level and coaches say he has the work ethic needed to improve on his technique.
Faulk also has good feet, quick hands and explodes off the ball. The scary thing about this kid is that he has a lot of room to improve and should only get better with good coaching in the NFL. A player with this much potential is the type that NFL scouts covet.
Sophomore Eric Reid had a great 2011, and the biggest play in LSU's biggest win of the year.
Against Alabama on November 5th, Reid wrestled the ball away from tight end Michael Williams on the one-yard line in the fourth quarter. This key play prevented a touchdown, kept LSU in the game and set up an exciting overtime victory for the Tigers.
Reid has shown impressive physicality for a free safety, and isn't afraid to come up and play the run. Reid has average speed for his position, but he makes up for this with good awareness and ball skills. Look for Reid to be an early round pick in next year's NFL draft.
In 2011, no player captured LSU fan's hearts more than the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu.
Mathieu had a stellar season and his effort was recognized: He won numerous awards like the Chuck Bednarik Award, which is given to the nation's best defensive player. At 5'9", 175 lbs., Mathieu is undersized for his position in the NFL. Also, his cover ability is not his strength and he can be exposed by taller wide receivers and tight ends.
Despite those two knocks, Mathieu more than makes up for it with exceptional awareness, tenacity and instincts. I'd even go as far to say Mathieu has perhaps the best field intuition I've ever seen in a college player. Mathieu has a knack for creating turnovers and is simply one of the best playmakers to ever put on an LSU jersey.
The Honey Badger is also an electrifying return specialist—as demonstrated by his performance against the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2011 SEC Championship.
My belief is that Mathieu would make a good, strong safety in the NFL, akin to Troy Polamalu. Just put him on the field and let him make plays—unless you don't like forced fumbles, interceptions and general havoc.
Will his skill set transition well to the NFL? Some lucky team is going to find out.
Sam Montgomery had a special year for LSU in 2011.
Montgomery terrorized opposing offenses all season long to the tune of nine sacks and 13.0 tackles for a loss. At 6'4", 245 lbs, Montgomery will need to put on some weight to handle the demands of an NFL defensive end, but being that his 40 time is 4.5 seconds, he has more than enough speed and agility to put pressure on quarterbacks as a pass-rush specialist.
Montgomery was selected to the All-SEC First Team in 2011, and now he has the opportunity to collect more hardware in the NFL.
At 6'6", 306 lbs, Michael Brockers is athletic for a defensive tackle.
Perhaps a bit undersized for the NFL at his position, Brockers more than makes up for it with tenacity, strength and god-given ability. However, Brockers is a red-shirt sophomore and still has room to grow. He could easily fill out his tall frame and put on an additional 10 to 20 pounds, if needed.
Even on the talented LSU defensive line, Brockers routinely stood out: He was consistently able to plug holes and disrupt offensive lines with his strength and quickness. Brockers only started one year for the Tigers, but showed huge potential. He had 54 tackles, 10 for losses and two sacks with an interception and a blocked field goal.
That being said, he is still a diamond in the rough and will need some more coaching at the next level, but he has plenty of upside so look for him to be a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft.
Arguably the most complete cornerback in college football in 2011, Morris Claiborne's skill set should translate well to the NFL.
First of all, he has great ball skills. As a former wide receiver, Claiborne attacks the ball and has the hands to secure the interception and the ability to return it for a touchdown. Next, Claiborne has enough speed to keep up with most NFL receivers and can close a lot of ground when the ball is in the air.
Finally, Claiborne has good instincts and enjoys baiting quarterbacks by playing off the receiver but is able to capitalize once the pass is made. In recent years, we've seen faster, bigger cornerbacks, but what makes Morris Claiborne attractive is while he may not be exceptional in any one facet, he doesn't have many weaknesses and is the complete package at his position.
Claiborne should challenge for a starting spot in his rookie year, and he has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler.