Draft hit for LSU shouldn't be terrible, but multiple underclassmen still must decide

BATON ROUGE, La. -- For the second straight season, LSU probably will not get hammered by players leaving early for the NFL draft. At least not like in the 2013 and 2014 drafts, when 18 Tigers with eligibility remaining opted to turn pro.

That said, there are multiple LSU underclassmen -- most notably cornerback Tre’Davious White -- who will be selected should they enter the 2016 draft. Once the Tigers get through bowl season (they play Dec. 29 against Texas Tech in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl), players such as White, linebacker Kendell Beckwith and offensive linemen Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic must determine whether they are satisfied with where they stand or if another college season is necessary to earn the draft status they desire.

LSU senior Vadal Alexander wrestled with those possibilities last year and believes his decision to return was correct since it not only allowed him to display positional versatility by shifting from offensive guard to right tackle, but it also was a special year personally.

“It’s probably one of the best experiences you’ll ever have in your whole life,” Alexander said. “High school’s great, but being a senior in college, there’s nothing like it. It’s obviously more of a business at the next level, so if you’re able to come back, I would always say come back.”

The decision to go pro typically is a business move. Sometimes a player needs to make the leap so he can help his family financially, and sometimes it’s too big of a health risk for a top prospect to return for another college season.

Not every player makes the decision strictly on a dollars-and-cents basis, but LSU coach Les Miles tells underclassmen to make sure they maximize their potential before jumping into the draft pool. Otherwise, they risk sacrificing the kind of earnings boost defensive lineman Tyson Jackson enjoyed by returning for his senior season and eventually going third overall in the 2009 draft.

“This NFL takes into account all the people that are going into the draft that year and they’ve already done an evaluation on all the seniors,” Miles said. “So the seniors, they’ve got a draft board full of seniors at every position.

“And for that junior to crack the lineup, he’s got to play to a certain level. And then when he does, it’s pretty easy to see. But when he doesn’t, and even though they could potentially play him in years and he could reach that level, he’s not going to get paid.”

That’s the decision LSU’s underclassmen will weigh soon enough. Of the five LSU players that ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. lists among the top 10 prospects at each position -- guard Alexander, center Pocic, inside linebacker Beckwith, cornerback White and safety Jalen Mills -- three are underclassmen.

Those players would be early- or middle-round selections, with multiple draft analysts projecting White as a possible first-round pick after an All-SEC junior season.

“I’m confident in what I can do. I know I’m up there with the best of them, so it is what it is,” White said of being named to the All-SEC second team instead of the first. “My stats don’t show it, but I feel like just my presence on the field, with me covering one half of the field and having the safety over the top or just me taking out the best guy … they don’t take that into consideration with me moving around with the best receiver and limiting his big plays.”

Then there are draft-eligible players such as Hawkins, defensive linemen Christian LaCouture and Lewis Neal and receiver Travin Dural whose 2016 prospects are not be so clear.

White, Beckwith, Pocic, Hawkins and LaCouture said they requested evaluations from the NFL College Advisory Committee, which offers feedback on when a prospect likely would be selected. Miles said that information will play an important role as he counsels players on their decisions.

“I’ve not seen where the advice has been poor," Miles said. "I choose to emphasize the people that know.”

Hawkins sought the committee’s advice last year as a third-year sophomore, but did not reveal what they said. Like Alexander, he said another college season benefited him.

“I talked to a lot of people, talked to a lot of players, talked to a lot of family. They respected my decision,” Hawkins said. “I felt I wanted to stay another year and I believe that was one of the best decisions ever.”

Hawkins’ teammates are going through this process for the first time, but they are all well-versed in how to address the subject prior to the bowl game.

“I can honestly say I haven’t put too much thought in it,” said Beckwith, who was a Butkus Award semifinalist this season. “It’s just something that I’ll have to worry about after the fact, after we get done playing and just sit down with my family and just figure out things from there.”