LSU Football Can Still Win SEC Despite Early NFL Draft Departures

Jake Martin@JakeMartinSECCorrespondent IIIJanuary 17, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Zach Mettenberger #8 of the LSU Tigers passes against the Clemson Tigers during the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After so many junior departures to the NFL draft, the odds are stacked heavily against the LSU Tigers in 2013.

The Tigers defense will look different without the faces of Kevin Minter, Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan and Eric Reid. These are key losses, but hey, they were expected.

But then the unthinkable happened. Juniors such as Chris Faulk, Michael Ford, Tharold Simon, Spencer Ware and Brad Wing all made the decision to turn pro. Is it time to hit the panic button yet?

That makes 10 LSU juniors declaring for the NFL draft, which leads the nation. This doesn't exactly bode well for a team that hopes to win the SEC championship and national championship, especially with the dominance of Alabama and emergence of Texas A&M in the SEC West.

It's a steep hill to climb, without a doubt. But fret not, Tiger fans, hope is not lost. Les Miles and his staff are well prepared for this. Really, when you look at it, it's almost as if Miles expected this to happen. Just look at the roster.

Sure, LSU will have a bulk of its starters missing in 2013, but the Tigers still have an assemblage of returning players with valuable experience.

Let's go through the losses position by position.


The Offense

Starting with the offense, losing two prime running backs like Spencer Ware and Michael Ford could have been detrimental to any school in the country. But this is LSU, and just in case you've forgotten, the Tigers are returning their leading rusher in Jeremy Hill, and Alfred Blue is coming back from injury. No worries there.

"We all know the running backs are deep, but what about upfront? Don't you know LSU is losing Josh Dworaczyk, Chris Davenport and Faulk at left tackle?" LSU fans ponder.

OK, now this may be a cause for concern, but the Tigers should be alright everywhere but the left tackle position. Starters Vadal Alexander, Trai Turner, Elliott Porter and La'el Collins will all be back, and the Tigers have a highly touted recruit in Ethan Pocic who could quite possibly step in and fill the hole that Faulk left at the position.

Granted, the Tigers won't be able to afford injuries up front like they did this year, but this offensive line can still open up holes for Hill, Blue and Kenny Hilliard.


Defense and Special Teams

As for the defense, the Tigers are losing six potent starters, but they also return a lot of experience due to Miles' willingness to play true freshmen.

Up front, LSU will be led by Anthony Johnson, and expect young recruits like Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain to become regular contributors. As for the end positions, this will be the biggest missing piece of the puzzle for LSU.

"Yeah, no kidding. LSU is done for without Mingo and Montgomery," pessimists will rant.

Calm down. Yes, it's hard to replace a Mingo and a Montgomery, but Jermauria Rasco should become the starter at one of the end positions and has the ability to become a breakout star. As for the linebacker position, LSU fans have little to worry about.

Sure, Minter was a tackling machine for LSU, but the Tigers have a lot of great linebackers in Ronnie Feist, Kwon Alexander, Lorenzo Phillips and Deion Jones returning. All of those players were freshmen, by the way. It seems that the 2012 recruiting class wasn't so bad after all, right?

Moving on to the secondary, Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins should hold down the fort for the Tigers, while Craig Loston and Ronald Martin anchor the safety positions.

Replacing Brad Wing will be difficult, but this other Aussie, Jamie Keehn, might turn out to be just as good. In the limited action he saw in 2013, he averaged 43.7 yards per punt. Not too shabby, ay?


Not as Bad as We Thought...

So you see, even though LSU is losing a lot of its juniors, the Tigers will still be one of the most experienced clubs in the SEC.

Most of these players all received experience this past season due to injuries and suspensions. The Tigers have a returning starting quarterback who showed glimpses of greatness against Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State in 2013.

All of the receivers, with the exception of Russell Shepard, will rejoin him in the fall, so there's no excuse for this offense to remain stagnant.

Look for LSU to open it up more with Mettenberger being more experienced, and don't expect the defense's athleticism to drop off significantly.

This is still a very talented group and with Miles racking in another tremendous recruiting class, LSU is very much still in the race to win the SEC.