If there is one element that New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan have worked on the most this offseason, it's to be a more physical football team.
Numerous times Payton has said that he wants to emphasize the running game this season, and in reading between the lines, he wants 2011 first-round pick halfback Mark Ingram to be the workhorse runner on this team.
In 2011 with Payton in charge of the offense, the Saints ranked sixth in rushing with for 2,127 yards on 431 carries (4.9 yards per carry average).
Those carries balanced the scales on Drew Brees' record-setting season, as he threw 662 passes.
Without Payton in 2012, the Saints resembled a pro version of Brigham Young, rushing for only 1,577 yards on 370 carries (4.3 yards per carry average).
Too much of the Saints offense was put on the shoulders of Brees, as he passed the ball 671 times.
Many will say it was because of the Saints bad defense that caused them to fall behind early in games, but no NFL team rushed the ball less than the Saints in the first half of games. It was not all because they were playing from behind.
The addition of veteran tight end Ben Watson means you will see a lot of two tight-end sets along with Jimmy Graham, and that will cause problems defensively for teams trying to match up downfield coverage wise. But it also means the Saints will have another big body to aid the running game.
The element of being a more physical team will be noted early on, and watch and see the Saints try to become more balanced like in 2011 and a more physical than what we saw in 2012.
Defensively, Ryan is all about multiple set looks and trying to give quarterbacks a different view of where defenders will rush them. He also believes wholeheartedly in being a physical team.
Like his dad, Buddy Ryan, who orchestrated some of the most physical defensive teams with the Chicago Bears in the 1980s and the Philadelphia Eagles in the early 1990s, Rob Ryan wants to play this game all-out. You won't see a lot of this read and react style preached by Steve Spagnuolo last season.
The offseason moves put great emphasis on getting bigger and more physical defensively.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis fits the mold of what Ryan wants on defense. The 6-foot-0 ¼, 210-pound cornerback has good size, long arms, good ball-reaction skills and is physical in run support.
Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro — the Saints first-round pick — also fits that mold. He reminds me of former LSU and All-Pro safety LaRon Landry, now with the Indianapolis Colts.
Vaccaro comes up the field in a flash in run support and is a physical player in run support. He is also a physical player in coverage and is an intimidator when receivers come over the middle.
The Saints' third-round pick John Jenkins of Georgia is a massive 6-4, 350-pound noseguard known for his great bulk strength and his ability to tie up multiple blockers upfront.
Sixth-round choice, outside linebacker Rufus Johnson from Tarleton State, is highly regarded by his coaches in college as being not only a good pass rusher at defensive end, but someone known for his physical play and his violent hand use.
And all eyes will be on former Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Victor Butler, who the Saints signed in free agency. He was a major reason why they passed on Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones in the first round.
Former LSU and Dallas defensive tackle Marcus Spears said while Butler displayed good pass rush skills in Dallas, he was also a physical player.
"Victor was playing behind Anthony Spencer and we had DeMarcus Ware on the other side, so he didn't get a lot of opportunities," Spears said. "When he did, he showed he can get off the snap quick and get that needed pressure from off the corner. But one thing he always showed when he got his chance and on special teams too was that he was physical and he was all-out on every play. Rob (Ryan) liked that a lot about him. Victor just had no quit in his game. I am pulling hard for him to succeed other than when he plays the Cowboys, but that is one thing New Orleans had under Gregg Williams and will have under Rob Ryan and that you will get a lot of looks and you are going to be a very physical team. If not, you are not going to play for Rob."
When looking at the Saints undrafted free agents, three in particular stick out — Nebraska outside linebacker Eric Martin, Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas and North Carolina inside linebacker Kevin Reddick. The words used to describe their games are smart, instinctive, playmakers on defense and physical.
When Reddick announced he had signed with the Saints, he was not coy about the style of play he was bringing to New Orleans.
"I am all about being physical," Reddick said. "I am all about aggressive play, and I want the ballcarrier to know I will be out here for 60 minutes bringing it to him. I have something to prove to everyone why they should have drafted me. There is not going to be any tapping on the breaks on my part. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain."
While the Saints will certainly have more focus and accountability with Payton's return, the one thing this offseason has brought to light is that they want to be more physical on both sides of the ball.
HAWKINS GETS A SHOT
Former Southern University and St. Augustine High standout wide receiver/return specialist Charles Hawkins is one of the number of players this weekend trying to impress the Saints coaching staff in hopes of getting an invitation to training camp.
Hawkins, ranked 32nd in my draft amongst wide receivers, went undrafted in April, but he is excited for the opportunity to work out for his hometown team.
"I was disappointed like a lot of guys were, but there are a lot of players in this league that didn't get picked," Hawkins said. "I look at Lance Moore and Wes Welker, and they made it in this league. I just want a fair chance, and the Saints scouts knew about me. I had a hamstring injury as a senior, but when given my shot out on the field, I made the most of it. I am totally focused on doing whatever I have to do to play in this league."
The 5-8 ¼, 175-pound speedster ran a (4.33) 40-yard dash time at Southern in early April after catching 31 passes for 467 yards and seven scores in 2012. He also returned 12 kickoffs for an average of 25.8 yards per return.
"I really like what the Saints do offensively in concentrating more on the short to middle areas of the field," Hawkins said. "Everyone thinks because of my speed I am just a deep threat guy, but what I do best is catch the short pass and make people miss in space due to my quickness and agility. It would be great to play with Drew Brees, and I have worked out with guys like Devery Henderson, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and LaRon Byrd at Sonic Boom in Harahan. I try to pick their brains a bit on route running, how to properly set up defenders and sharpening up my route running skills. I am catching the ball better out front with my hands, and I have big hands, so I am working hard to not let the ball not get too close to my body. Everyday as an athlete it is a challenge, and I approach this opportunity with the Saints that way."
Hawkins, who goes by the nickname "Jitter-Bug," has some strong football bloodlines. His dad, Charles III, was a former standout football player at McDonough 35 High, and his cousin is Pro Football Hall of Famer Walter Payton.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Former Saints quarterback and now WWL-870 Radio sports commentator Bobby Hebert made a comment, on his son, Beaux, being the starting quarterback at Nicholls State University.
"Watching the scrimmage, that was the best I have ever seen Beaux throw the football," Bobby Hebert said. "He's healthy now from the shoulder surgery, and he had good accuracy with his receivers on the downfield throws. He has a quick release, and he can move around in the pocket some. He sees the field so much better now due to his experience and actually he is taller than I am. I was lucky at Northwestern State, and I played with Mark Duper and Joe Delaney. Now both those guys were just not great college players, but All-Pro players in the NFL. As a quarterback, you want to help create plays, but there is a fine line between making something happen and forcing something. That is the best advice I give Beaux and that is to know the playbook inside and out and also to do all the extra work in the offseason with your receivers. They got some pretty good receivers and tight ends on the roster, along with Marcus Washington at running back. People think because he is my son that he played a lot of football, but really Beaux's first love was basketball. He only started one season at Greater Atlanta Christian High School at quarterback, but he's focused on being the best at football. I like the system Coach (Charlie) Stubbs is trying to piece together offensively at Nicholls."
1. Jadeveon Clowney — Defensive End — South Carolina
My highest ranked defensive end prospect since Bruce Smith came out of Virginia Tech in 1985. Clowney's defensive playmaking skills are off the charts and the 6-5 ½, 270 pounder has great edge speed and closing skills to the ballcarrier. Despite constant double-team blocking he recorded 54 tackles, 23 ½ tackles for losses, 3 forced fumbles and 13 quarterback sacks in 2012.2. Teddy Bridgewater — Quarterback —Louisville
Bridgewater is a tremendous overall athlete who has excellent size, a strong arm and he has 1st rate accuracy skills in the pocket. His ability to move around outside the pocket is outstanding and he buys extra time for his receivers to get open downfield. The 6-3, 220-pounder completed 66.9% of his passes in 2012, he threw for 5,847 yards and 41 touchdowns. 3. Tajh Boyd — Quarterback — Clemson
Boyd reminds me in so many ways of former Tennessee Titans QB. Steve McNair. The Clemson standout passer is one tough dude hanging in the pocket until the last second to make a throw, he throws accurately from the pocket, he has excellent mobility skills and he is dangerous running with the ball. He completed 67.2% of his passes in 2012. Boyd passed for 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns as a junior. He would have been the first QB. off the 2013 NFL draft board, had he decided to come out early.4. Marqise Lee — Wide Receiver — USC
The 2012 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 scores for the Trojans. The 6-0, 200 pound Lee has very sure hands, great foot speed and explosive openfield moves. Lee is not only a gold chip "stretch" receiver, but he also excels in the return game averaging 28.5 yards per runback on kickoff returns. 5. Jake Matthews — Offensive Tackle — Texas A&M
Jake has some strong football genes in him being the son of former Houston Oilers NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. The 6-5, 305 pounder is a very good technician, he is a strong in-line run blocker and a very good pass protector. Has started for the Aggies since midway into his freshman season. This season he plays left tackle for the Aggies.6. Taylor Lewan — Offensive Tackle — Michigan
Lewan is tough, strong, a mauler as a run blocker and his size and length makes him a very good pass protector. The 6-7, 310 pounder has 35 starts at left tackle for the Wolverines and he moves his feet so smoothly for a big man. He has skills in the same area code as another former Wolverine standout in former Miami Dolphins and current St. Louis Rams left tackle Jake Long.7. Sammy Watkins — Wide Receiver — Clemson
The former prep track star put up great numbers as a freshman totaling 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 scores, but DeAndre Hopkins became the "go-to" wide receiver in 2012. Watkins now becomes the #1 receiver for the Tigers in 2013 and will better his 57 catch, 708 yards and 3 touchdown totals of 2012. This young man can really stretch the deep areas of the field, but he needs to refine his short to medium pass catching area of the game in 2013. 8. Anthony Barr — Outside Linebacker — UCLA
Former running back who displayed tremendous openfield running skills and defensive trackdown instincts in 2012. Barr recorded 83 tackles, 21 ½ tackles for losses and 13 ½ QB. sacks at outside linebacker for the Bruins. Anthony's dad, Tony Brooks, and 3 uncles all played in the NFL. 9. Austin Seferian-Jenkins — Tight End — Washington
Jenkins is the most dangerous pass catching tight end in college football. His 6-6, 260 pound frame and outstanding eye-hand coordination makes him a huge threat in the short to medium range areas of the field and he has the speed to stretch the deep middle. An April DUI charge will not scare away NFL teams from falling in love with his tremendous football talent.10. Cyrus Kouandjio — Offensive Tackle — Alabama
The former Parade Magazine All-American has quickly developed into one of the premier left tackles in college football. Cyrus is a quick-footed tackle, who knows how to use his arms and hands well in pass protection sets and he is a power-packed run blocker. Kouandjio is a very athletic and flexible 6-5 ½, 310 pounder.11. De'Anthony Thomas — Halfback/Wide Receiver/Return Man — Oregon
Thomas will be the 2013 version of what Tavon Austin brought to the table for West Virginia in 2012. Thomas has world-class sprinter's speed and he is so difficult to bring down in one-on-one situations out on the field. Last season Thomas rushed for 701 yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry, he caught 45 passes for 445 yards and 5 scores, and the 5-9, 180 pounder averaged 17.1 yards per return as a punt returner and 24.3 yards per runback as a kickoff returner. 12. Brett Hundley — Quarterback — UCLA
Hundley has only started one season for the Bruins, but the 6-3, 225 pound strong-armed QB. really impressed me with his accuracy throwing from the pocket and his ability to find the correct open receiver downfield in his first season as a starter. Brett completed 66.5% of his throws for 3,740 yards, 29 TD's and only 9 pass interceptions in 2012. Keep an eye on the development of Hundley in 2013 and he could vault up into the top-5 of this list quickly.13. Johnny Manziel — Quarterback — Texas A&M
"Johnny Football" made quite an impact in his first season playing college football in 2012. The redshirt freshman won the Heisman Trophy and he looked so much like a younger version of what I saw in Steve Young when he was at Brigham Young. The 6-0 ½, 200 pounder completed 68% of his passes in 2012. He also threw for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns and 9 pass interceptions going up against the toughest competition college football can offer in the SEC. His foot speed and running skills made him quite a threat as he compiled 1,410 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. What impressed me the most was his quick release and accuracy skills throwing from the pocket.14. Kyle Van Noy — Outside Linebacker — Brigham Young
Ezekiel Ansah got most of the attention last season due to his great athleticism and his journey into football, but the best defensive player on the Cougar team was Van Noy. The former prep wide receiver and track sprinter racked up 53 tackles, a team-leading 22 tackles for losses, 13 QB. sacks and he forced 6 fumbles. Van Noy is quite a threat coming off the edge and he has developed a very strong array of moves and countermoves to get away from potential blockers. 15. Stephon Tuitt — Defensive End — Notre Dame
Tutt is a big defensive end measuring in at 6-5 ½, and 305 pounds and he is perfect for a 3-4 alignment defense. But what stands out is his ability to push the pocket either off the edge or inside. Tuitt racked up 41 tackles, 13 tackles for losses and 12 QB. sacks last season for the Irish.16. C.J. Mosley — Outside Linebacker — Alabama
Mosley is another one of the top linebacker produced by the Tide under Nick Saban. At 6-2, 235 pounds Mosley has the size to be physical in run defense and he also has the speed and quickness to drop back smoothly into his pass coverage drops. C.J. recorded a team-leading 99 tackles, 7 tackles for losses, 4 QB. sacks and 2 pass interceptions in 2012.
17. Antonio Richardson — Offensive Tackle — Tennessee
The 6-6, 320 pound offensive lineman was so impressive that the Volunteers moved senior offensive tackle Dallas Thomas to guard in 2012 so Antonio could play left tackle. Richardson has great size, quick feet and he has developed very good pass blocking techniques. His explosive qualities off the snap make him quite a run blocker also.
18. Bradley Roby — Cornerback — Ohio State
Roby, a former three sport standout in high school (football, basketball and track), has developed into one of the top one-on-one cover cornerbacks in the nation. Roby recorded 17 pass break-ups in 2012 and he also had 2 pass interceptions. Underrated as a run defender and the 5-11, 195 pounder recorded 63 tackles in 2012.
19. Donte Moncrief — Wide Receiver — Ole Miss
Moncrief has excellent size (6-2 1/2, 215), tremendous deep speed and 1st rate eye-hand coordination. Donte caught 66 passes for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012. This very physical and fast wide receiver will be a very well known football talent by the end of the 2013 season.
20. Jason Verrett — Cornerback — TCU
Verrett was considered one of the elite junior college defensive players when he came out of Santa Rosa Junior College. His transition to one of the toughest defenses in college football was quick. The 5-10, 180 pound cornerback excelled in man-coverage sets and he recorded 16 pass break-ups and 6 pass interceptions. Verrett also is fierce in run support and he registered 63 tackles. NFL scouts will really get excited to see his ballhawking skills and his recovery speed out on the field.
21. La'el Collins — Offensive Tackle — LSU
Collins was considered the top offensive tackle prospect in the Deep South when he came out of Redemptorist High School in Baton Rouge. The 6-5, 320 pound roadgrader excelled at guard in his first two seasons at LSU, but he has now been moved to the left tackle spot. Collins is the best offensive line prospect to don the purple and gold since Andrew Whitworth. His great size, long arms and quick feet will make him a top offensive tackle prospect for 2014.
22. Anthony Johnson — Defensive Tackle — LSU
"The Freak" was considered the best defensive tackle in the country when he came out of O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans. The 6-3, 295 pound tackle has played in the shadow of Brockers, Montgomery, Mingo and Logan the past two seasons at LSU, but it is now time for Johnson to turn potential into production for the Tigers. Anthony is cat-quick for a big man, he has excellent inside penetration skills and he is now starting to us his arms and hands properly to get off blockers in a quicker manner.
23. Louis Nix III — Defensive Tackle — Notre Dame
At 6-2 ½ and 325 pounds Nix knows how to clog up the inside rushing lanes and he is also noted for his ability to push the inside pocket. Last season the mammoth noseguard racked up 50 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for losses, 2 QB. sacks and 3 pass deflections. Manti Te'o got a lot of free runs to the ballcarrier due to Nix's ability to tie-up multiple blockers.
24. Will Sutton — Defensive Tackle — Arizona State
Sutton is not that big space-eater in the middle at 6-1 and 290 pounds, but he excels at pushing the inside pocket and he is a very good interior pass rusher. Sutton racked up 23 ½ tackles for losses and 13 QB. sacks in 2012 and he was the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Sutton’s quick upfield movement skills and his outstanding hand usage remind me a lot of Cincinnati Bengals DT. Geno Atkins.
25. A.J. McCarron — Quarterback — Alabama
McCarron is smart, he can make all the throws downfield, he is very accurate throwing from the pocket and he has good mobility skills to buy time and escape a heavy rush. You have to love A.J.'s late game heroics and his ability to play big in big games. He played in a different style offense at BC, but in many ways McCarron reminds me of Atlanta Falcons QB. Matt Ryan.
26. Larry Webster — Defensive End — Bloomsburg State
The 6-6 ½, 250 pound former basketball standout made quite an impact in his first season playing football in 2012. The son of former NFL defensive lineman Larry Webster, was in on 15 tackles for losses and 13 ½ quarterback sacks playing football for the first time since high school. While he is still rough around the edges as a technician Webster has excellent size, a huge wingspan to throw over and he has natural pass rush instincts.
27. Adrian Hubbard — Outside Linebacker — Alabama
Hubbard is another long, real lean pass rusher with tremendous athletic ability from Alabama. The 6-5, 250 pound strongside linebacker specializes in rushing the QB. and he totaled 10 tackles for losses, 6 quarterback sacks and 3 forced fumbles in 2012. Adrian needs some work on his pass coverage skills, but he has outstanding athletic gifts and he can run the field like a much smaller player.
28. Jordan Matthews — Wide Receiver — Vanderbilt
Matthews, a former prep basketball standout, has developed into one of college football’s top pass receiving threats. At 6-3, 212 pounds Matthews has excellent size, strong hands, very good route running skills and he makes big plays after the catch. Jordan has caught 135 passes for 2,101 yards and 13 scores the past two seasons at Vanderbilt. He is the cousin of the greatest wide receiver to ever put on a jockstrap and a helmet in Jerry Rice.
29. Ryan Shazier — Outside Linebacker — Ohio State
Shazier has been quite a force on one of the top defenses in college football. The speedy 6-2, 225 pound weakside linebacker recorded a team-leading 115 tackles, 17 tackles for losses and 5 QB. sacks in 2012. He also excelled in man coverage spots and Ryan registered 11 pass break-ups for the Buckeyes last season. His quick moves to the ballcarrier and outstanding football instincts make him quite an outside linebacker prospect for the 2014 NFL draft.
30. Jackson Jeffcoat — Defensive End — Texas
Jackson, the son of former NFL defensive lineman Jim Jeffcoat, who played with the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills, has been a major edge force for the Longhorns. At 6-5, 250 pounds Jackson has a long, very lean build and an explosive initial surge up the field. He has recorded 32 tackles for losses and 12 quarterback sacks the past two seasons despite missing 7 games in 2012 due to a ruptured right pectoral muscle. If he medically tests out OK and can stay healthy in 2013 look for a big season out of Jeffcoat. His best position in the NFL may well be as a standup outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment.
31. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu — Cornerback — Oregon
Olumu lacks great size (5-9 ½, 190), but he has quietly developed into one of the top cover cornerbacks in college football. Ife has excellent ball reaction instincts and closing speed to the football. Last season Ifo recorded 20 pass deflections, 4 pass interceptions and he forced 6 fumbles. For a smaller cornerback Olumu will also come up quickly in run support and he is a solid openfield tackler.
32. Brandon Coleman Wide Receiver — Rutgers
At 6-5 and 220 pounds Coleman was a standout basketball star in high school and he has put those skills to great use out on the football field. The sure-handed Coleman gives defenders nightmares trying to guard him in one-on-one situations and he can make the tough catch outside his body radius. Coleman caught 43 passes for 718 yards, averaged 16.7 yards per catch and scored 10 TD's in 2012.
Later in the week (33-64) on my list of top players for the 2014 NFL Draft
A look at what have been the best NFL draft picks since 2006. The best first-round pick goes to Adrian Peterson. Read about the rest in my Houma Courier
The Saints offseason work will be judged on the future performance of first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro and free agent signee Victor Butler. Read more of my Houma Courier
Jordan Mills of Napoleonville could be drafted as early as the third round. Read more about this local player in this Houma Courier article
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel-Offensive Tackle,Texas A&M
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Shariff Floyd-Defensive Tackle, Florida
3. Oakland Raiders: Geno Smith-Quarterback, West Virginia
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Eric Fisher-Offensive Tackle, Central Michigan
5. Detroit Lions: Ezekiel Ansah-Defensive End, Brigham Young
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner-Cornerback, Alabama
7. Arizona Cardinals: Dion Jordan-Outside Linebacker, Oregon
8. Buffalo Bills: Barkevious Mingo-Outside Linebacker, LSU
9. New York Jets: Star Lotulelei-Defensive Tackle, Utah
10. Tennessee Titans: Chance Warmack-Offensive Guard, Alabama
11. San Diego Chargers: Lane Johnson-Offensive Tackle, Oklahoma
12. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes-Cornerback, Florida State
13. New York Jets (from T. Bay Bucs): Tavon Austin-Wide Receiver, West Virginia
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson-Defensive Tackle, Missouri
15. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Jones-Outside Linebacker, Georgia
16. St. Louis Rams: Kenny Vaccaro-Free Safety, Texas
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Bjoern Werner-Outside Linebacker/Defensive End, Florida State
18. Dallas Cowboys: Jonathan Cooper-Offensive Guard, North Carolina
19. New York Giants: D.J. Fluker-Offensive Tackle, Alabama
20. Chicago Bears: Sylvester Williams-Defensive Tackle, North Carolina
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Alec Ogletree-Inside Linebacker, Georgia
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington R.): Cordarrelle Patterson-Wide Receiver, Tennessee
23. Minnesota Vikings: Manti Te’o-Inside Linebacker, Notre Dame
24. Indianapolis Colts: Datone Jones-Defensive Tackle, UCLA
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle S.): Desmond Trufant-Cornerback, Washington
26. Green Bay Packers: Matt Elam-Strong Safety, Florida
27. Houston Texans: Matt Barkley-Quarterback, USC
28. Denver Broncos: D.J. Hayden-Cornerback, Houston
29. New England Patriots: Keenan Allen- Wide Receiver, California
30. Atlanta Falcons: Tyler Eifert- Tight End, Notre Dame
31. San Francisco 49ers: Eric Reid- Free Safety, LSU
32. Baltimore Ravens: Kevin Minter-Middle Linebacker, LSU
Four out of the last six years the state of Louisiana has been first per capita in producing players for the NFL.
The Class of 2013 will be a very special one for Louisiana.
Not since the 1971 draft class that produced 10 players, defensive end Richard Harris (Grambling), halfback Joe Profit (Northeast Louisiana), wide receiver Frank Lewis (Grambling), outside linebacker Isiah Robertson (Southern), offensive guard Sam Holden (Grambling), halfback Virgil Robertson (Grambling), outside linebacker Ronnie Hornsby (Southeastern Louisiana), cornerback Al Clark (Eastern Michigan) and tight end Joe Carter (Grambling), has Louisiana produced more top 120 players selected in one draft class.
In the class of 1971 Harris, Profit, Lewis-from Southdown High School in Houma and Robertson, were all first round pick selections and all produced from high schools in the state of Louisiana.
The Class of 2013 will not have 4 first round picks from the prep ranks in Louisiana, but in my top 100 the Louisiana prep ranks have 7 players included in that number.
LSU outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, LSU free safety Eric Reid, Alabama halfback Eddie Lacy, Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Robert Alford, Tennessee offensive tackle/guard Dallas Thomas, LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan and LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, are amongst the list of the top players available to the NFL.
Four other players including LSU cornerback Tharold Simon, Louisiana Tech offensive tackle Jordan Mills-who played his prep football at Assumption High School, LSU offensive tackle Chris Faulk and LSU defensive end Lavar Edwards are included in my top 140 players available.
And it doesn’t stop there.
Thirteen other players including inside linebacker Michael Mauti (Penn State), halfback Michael Ford (LSU), offensive center P.J. Lonergan (LSU), LSU punter Brad Wing-who is originally from Australia, but he played his final season of high school football at Parkview Baptist in Baton Rouge, fullback Alex Singleton (Tulsa), offensive center Patrick Lewis (Texas A&M), wide receiver/return specialist Charles Hawkins (Southern University), offensive tackle/guard Josh Dworaczyk (LSU), offensive tackle Jason Weaver (Southern Mississippi), defensive tackle Darrington Sentimore (Tennessee), free safety Dexter McCoil (Tulsa), defensive tackle Josh Downs (LSU) and outside linebacker Herman Lathers (Tennessee), all have strong chances to get picked in the middle to later portions of the late April draft.
Eleven other players including wide receiver/halfback Randall Mackey (Ole Miss), wide receiver Javone Lawson (UL-Lafayette), tight end Chase Clement-from E.D. White Catholic High School in Thibodaux-(LSU), offensive guard/center Kevin Saia (Louisiana Tech), cornerback Trey Wilson (Vanderbilt), cornerback Ryan Travis (Tulane), defensive end Emeka Onyenekwu (UL-Lafayette), quarterback Blaine Gautier (UL-Lafayette), free safety Chad Boyd (Louisiana Tech),fullback/linebacker Jordan Piper (Nicholls State) and kicker Drew Alleman (LSU), look to be free agent signees for an NFL team.
The numbers are staggering for such a small drop of a dime place on the football map, but what is more amazing is that this has occurred seven and a half years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita rearranged the population of the state of Louisiana, especially south of the I-10 corridor.
The state of Louisiana took a population drop of almost 5% after those two devastating storms ravaged our region and sent many folks out of the southern portion and into northern Louisiana or out of state for jobs or in their opinion protection for themselves and their families.
That movement on the map could have had devastating results for schools in our regions, but instead we have seen steady growth of programs in our state from the likes of Louisiana Tech, UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe and the potential of Tulane under second year head coach Curtis Johnson.
After the recruiting class of 2006 had ended 278 players from the state of Louisiana had signed scholarships to play football at some level of college competition.
At the end of the 2013 recruiting period the Louisiana prep ranks currently have 388 players that have signed scholarships to play at some level of college competition.
There is no denying that we have been and are still living in the Golden Age of LSU football.
And this year’s draft class will be a record breaking one.
In 1948 LSU had 8 players selected in one draft class, the most ever to come out of Tigertown in one year.
This year LSU will have Barkevious Mingo, Eric Reid, Kevin Minter, Sam Montgomery, Tyrann Mathieu, Tharold Simon, Bennie Logan, Lavar Edwards, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Chris Faulk and Brad Wing get selected, and the possibility of Josh Downs, Russell Shepard and P.J. Lonergan getting picked late also. Of the 15 possible selections 10 grew up and played high school football in the state of Louisiana.
Since 2006 LSU has sent 42 players into the NFL and of those 42 drafted players 25 of those were players from the state of Louisiana.
Since 2006 LSU has won 74 games, played in two national championship games and won one in 2007.
Much of their success has been built on building a tall levee around the state to corral most of the top talent and have them play their Saturday nights in Death Valley.
And many have gotten their opportunity to continue their careers in the NFL.
Last season LSU had 37 players playing in the NFL.
Nine straight years LSU has had a defensive lineman drafted by an NFL team. This year will most certainly make it 10 and no other school in college football can make that claim.
Defensive end Sam Montgomery, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, defensive end Lavar Edwards and defensive tackle Josh Downs all are likely to be picked and only Montgomery was not a product of the LSU prep ranks.
LSU has also produced six straight years of having defensive backs selected and with the likes of Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon in this year’s class, it will make it seven straight years and all three played their prep football in Louisiana.
What is amazing also is that if you watched the Pittsburgh Steelers play last season three starters in their secondary, cornerbacks Ike Taylor (Abramson) and Keenan Lewis (O. Perry Walker)-now a member of the New Orleans Saints and free safety Ryan Clark (Archbishop Shaw), all played their prep football in the state of Louisiana.
We all are well aware of the tremendous exploits of Peyton and Eli Manning on the field, and they have become brand names in and outside the football world and Ed Reed may go down as one of, if not the greatest free safety of all-time, but this state has produced some of the top return men in the game also.
Gamechangers like Joe McKnight (New York Jets), Darius Reynaud (Tennessee Titans), Trindon Holliday (Denver Broncos), Jacoby Jones – Baltimore Ravens and “Dancing with the Stars” fame, and Damaris Johnson (Philadelphia Eagles) were all amongst the top punt or kickoff return men in the game last season and every one of them were from the state of Louisiana.
And the city of New Orleans has bounced back in a huge way also.
Last season the city of New Orleans had 33 players in the NFL trailing only Los Angeles with 119, Miami with 75, Houston with 45, Dallas with 43, Atlanta and Chicago with 39, San Francisco with 35 and Washington D.C. with 34.
When you consider the numbers per capita New Orleans has produced 2.7 players per 100,000-the most of any major city in the United States.
In the second tier of cities Monroe is third behind Jackson, Mississippi and Jacksonville, Florida for producing NFL players per 100,000 capita with 21 total players.
Lafayette, Louisiana is sixth overall and Baton Rouge is tenth in producing players per 100,000.
In a small stretch of land just outside the city of New Orleans in the River Parish Region you have two high schools in Destrehan and Hahnville that had more players from one individual school in the NFL at the end of the 2012 season than any other in the state.
Destrehan High School had the likes of free safety Ed Reed (Baltimore Ravens) strong safety Jericho Nelson (New Orleans Saints), wide receiver/punt returner Damaris Johnson (Philadelphia Eagles) and punter Mike Scifres on rosters at the end of the 2012 season.
Hahnville High School had safeties Dawan Landry (Jacksonville Jaguars) and LaRon Landry (New York Jets), halfback/return man Darius Reynaud (Tennessee Titans) and wide receiver LaRon Byrd (Arizona Cardinals), all on rosters to end the 2012 campaign.
These two schools are separated by less than ten miles and now have eight players playing in the NFL.
For all the effects of our storm ravaged area, major problems with our educational system and the reputation of dirty politics, this area is also known for its hospitality, its ability to produced and export a big chunk of our nation’s fuel and food through our port system, our unique food and culture, our tremendous amount of top chefs now all across the landscape in the United State and Canada and of having some of the top fishing and hunting spots in America.
We also know how to throw a party and a festival like no other place in North America and some of the most innovative ship building in the United States, but what could have been a real hit to one of our top exports, football talent, Louisiana has stayed alive and now prospered and in less than two weeks our state will be centerstage once again.
It is a really remarkable story.
One of our state’s top football players in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s was former East Jefferson High School and Nicholls State safety Gary Barbaro.
Barbaro was a small college All-American for the Colonels and went on to be a three-time Pro Bowler with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1976-1982.
Barbaro will announce the second and third round picks of the Chiefs in New York on the second day of the draft.
In past years the NFL has brought back many of the top stars to announce the selection of the teams they formerly played for.
Barbaro will be inducted into the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame this coming fall.
The Saints are in great need of a top-flight pass rusher off the edge. With the Saints picking at No. 15, Jarvis Jones is a player who two months ago I thought would never be there, but in the real NFL, there is a good chance he might be. Read more of my Houma Courier column here
The key to success in the NFL is finding the right player to fit what you do offensively and defensively. Read more of my Houma Courier
The Saints are working to rebuild their struggling defense and to replace offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod. Read my entire Houma Courier