Claiborne makes it official

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The forecast for LSU's returning 2012 roster got a little clearer Thursday afternoon.

As expected, cornerback Morris Claiborne opted to enter the NFL draft a year early. This spring, he'll attempt to become the second straight LSU defensive back to be taken in the top 10 of the draft.

"I'm sad about leaving, but you only get this opportunity once in a lifetime," Claiborne said.

Defensive tackle Michael Brockers was a slightly more surprising departure. Brockers doesn't have the top-10 notoriety that currently surrounds Claiborne. He said he's heard various projections about his likely landing spot.

"You hear all over the board," Brockers said. "You hear first (round), you hear you're into the second. I don't know where it is at this point, or where it's locked in at. But I feel like this was the best decision for me."

The announcements cleared up part of the picture. But plenty of questions still remain about who will return for the Tigers' 2012 campaign.

During the press conference for Claiborne and Brockers, reports surfaced that standout wide receiver Rueben Randle had opted to forgo his senior season and enter the draft.

Also on Thursday, a tweet from receiver Russell Shepard's Twitter account stated: "Me having 14 catches for only 190 yards this year is not my fault people...I only dropped 4 balls all year...So who fault is it now? But out of those 14 catches I still had 4 touchdowns you guys trying to talk down on me gives me more reason to leave. I can't believe this."

Several reports indicate both players already have opted to leave, but neither has made an official announcement. When questioned about it, LSU coach Les Miles wasn't definitive.

"I don't know the status of some other guys," Miles said. "I have had conversations with several and intend to have several more."

The result of those conversations could give LSU plenty to worry about on the offensive side of the ball this spring.

Defensively, the announcements from Claiborne and Brockers mean the Tigers will be replacing seven regular contributors. Miles said Claiborne's loss in the defensive backfield is something the Tigers will need to look especially hard at this spring.

"We'll look at some young corners this spring, some guys that really didn't get a lot of playing time but really developed very well," Miles said. "It puts them in position to play for Mo, Ron Brooks and Brandon Taylor."

If there's one unit that can handle a loss as big as Brockers, it's probably the Tigers' defensive line. LSU should be loaded on the defensive front despite losing Brockers and defensive end Kendrick Adams.

When questioned about it, Brockers tabbed Ego Ferguson, Josh Downs and Anthony Johnson as possible candidates to take his place next to Bennie Logan.

But those battles become LSU's concern now. For Claiborne and Brockers, the spring serves as a three-month battle to solidify a lofty spot on the draft board.

Luckily for Claiborne, his former partner in the backfield, Patrick Peterson, took an identical route last year. Just like Claiborne, Peterson took home the Thorpe Award and was projected as a top-10 pick. He eventually was taken fifth overall by the Arizona Cardinals.

"Me and him have been doing a lot of talking about this process," Claiborne said. "He's willing to help me, and any time I have questions about anything I call him, and he sheds light on it for me."

Brockers has a tougher road ahead him, according to Miles, although Brockers is currently ranked No. 19 in the current Scouts Inc. top 32 prospects.

"Michael Brockers has the potential to improve his draft position, but he is making a decision -- in my opinion a family decision -- that allows him to fulfill an obligation to his family," Miles said.

Brockers said he would decide where to do his training and preparation for the draft in the next few days.

David Helman covers LSU sports for GeauxTigerNation. He can be reached at helmanespn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @HelmanESPN.