NFL Prospect Focus: LSU Defense

Every year, when we talk about the top defensive prospects for the NFL Draft, players from LSU come up. Last year they has Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Sam Montgomery and Eric Reid. While the LSU defense is much younger this year, there are still quality players with athleticism galore. At least one, and maybe two, will go in the first round next spring.

Anthony Johnson – Defensive Tackle

LSU does an outstanding job recruiting defensive linemen. Year after year they sign some of the top linemen in the southeast. They not only sign these payers, they develop and play them. When you watch LSU tape, you see that at least eight defensive linemen play in their rotation. This philosophy gives LSU the ability to keep fresh linemen on the game and also gives the younger players game experience in which to develop.

This is Johnson’s third year at LSU and his first as a starter, but he had gotten significant playing time in each of his first two years playing in the rotation. His nickname is “The Freak”, and that should tell you a little about his athleticism. Right now, he stands at about 6’3 -295. He came to LSU at over 330 and has worked to lose over 30 pounds. The weight loss has increased his speed, quickness, and stamina. He has excellent initial quickness and very good natural strength and power. He flashes dominating ability as both a run defender and a pass rusher. He doesn't have top instincts at this time. While he makes the dominant play, there are other plays where he does not know where the ball is.

He usually lines up as a defensive tackle, but in some packages he will line up on the nose in a 3-man line. With his power, he can be difficult to knock off the line. As a result, he is disruptive in the running game. So far in 2013, he only has two sacks, but he gets a lot of pressure and his ability to collapse the pocket makes the QB move. He still needs to develop better hand use.

Johnson has unlimited talent and the traits to become a Pro Bowl type player. At this time, he still needs to develop better hand use and his recognition skills need to improve. In saying that, more teams are going to look at the positives and figure they can fix the negatives. He will be a high pick, and unless he gets injured or his play drops off dramatically, he may be a top 10 pick when it’s all said and done. He best fits a 4-3 team as a 3-technique player, but he can really play in any scheme and be a productive player.

Lamin Barrow – Linebacker

Barrow is a fifth year senior and a two year starter. Like many on the LSU defense, even though he didn’t start, he got significant play time as a rotational player.

Barrow is one of the better athletes you will see at the linebacker position. He is listed at being 6’2 – 232, but he has a long frame and could easily get to 240+. His play strength is good, but not great, and he is explosive. He has excellent play speed and body control showing quick feet and easy change of direction. His play speed is sub 4.6. He lines up as a Will linebacker, and because of his athleticism, they have him playing in space often. He is used often in coverage, lining up in both zone and man. He has very good man cover skills for a linebacker to go along with good ball skills and hands. He can transition very well. He is also used to rush the passer often and does an excellent job finding seams in the pass protections and getting to the QB. He has 1.5 sacks this year and one QB hurry, while in 2012 he had five QB hurries.

Barrow is a good run defender, being better on the perimeter then inside. He is quick to find the ball and consistently takes good angles. He can be inconsistent taking on and shedding blocks at the point. Like many college players, he needs to develop better hand use. Being that I’m old school, I feel shedding blocks is a very important skill, but in today’s game, coaches want athletes and usually feel they can teach the player to shed.

Barrow will be one of the better athletes at the linebacker position in this draft. Because of that athleticism, he will be drafted high. I see him fitting best in a 4-3 scheme as a Will but with added weight and bulk, he could easily play inside in a 3-4. It will be interesting watching him perform at the combine.

Craig Loston – Safety

Loston is a fifth year senior and two year starter. Like Barrow, in the seasons he wasn’t starting, he was still getting a lot of play time as a backup. While Loston has been a durable performer throughout his career, he has already missed two games this year with injury.

On the hoof, Loston looks like the perfect safety. He has size (about 6’2-210), can run (4.50 play speed) and is both strong and explosive. I thought that he was reacting better on 2012 tape than he has to date in 2013. He has adequate instincts and can be a physical player. With his size and strength, he can be a force in run support. He comes up quickly, shows he can get rid of blocks, and is an aggressive tackler. In pursuit he takes good angles and has the catchup speed to get to the play.

In pass coverage, he shows he can play both man and zone. He has the feet and hips to lock on to a TE, back, or receiver in man coverage and show good mirror skills. He shows awareness in zone and usually does a good job keeping plays in front of him. His reactions in zone aren’t quite as quick as they are in man. In transition, he has no wasted steps and usually plays the ball well.

I see Loston as an eventual starter at the next level. He is going to need some time and coaching, but by his third year he should be a solid starter. He has the tools to be a very good special teams player while he is developing.

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