Three LSU Tigers. Three roads out of Death Valley, all derailed. Three players trying to rewrite the script on their still unfinished stories.
Jordan Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu and JaMarcus Russell are on different career paths, but intersect at unlikely crossroads a week away from the 2013 NFL draft.
Former Tigers quarterback Jefferson ended his collegiate career in New Orleans, going 11-for-17 for 53 yards with an interception and rushing 14 times for just 15 yards in a 21-0 loss to Alabama.
Friday night, Jefferson had a much more successful outing in the Big Easy. He returned as quarterback of the Arena Football League’s Pittsburgh Power. Jefferson completed 19-of-30 pass attempts for 223 yards with five touchdowns in a 46-43 Pittsburgh defeat of the New Orleans Voodoo.
The unceremonious end to Jefferson’s college career closed a disappointing chapter. Jefferson peaked in 2009, his sophomore season at LSU, when he passed for 17 touchdowns and 2166 yards. His struggles in 2010 and arrest for assault before the 2011 season opened the door for Jarrett Lee. Lee excelled, until Jefferson regained control in LSU’s defeat of Alabama in Nov. 2011.
The Alabama game was not a launching point for Jefferson, though. Perhaps his stint in the AFL could be, though it’s among the most difficult of paths. The road from Arena League to NFL is rarely traversed, especially for a quarterback.
Jefferson last made headlines in October when he was arrested for possession of marijuana, along with three other former Tiger football players. Among them, and most notable, was 2011 Heisman Trophy candidate Tyrann Mathieu. The arrest effectively ended any hope of Mathieu returning to the LSU after his August dismissal for failing numerous drug tests.
Mathieu’s off-field problems came back to the forefront earlier this month, when he admitted to failing at least 10 tests. The one-time All-America defensive back has been contrite in preparation for the NFL draft.
Admitting to such issues as not wanting to play in the Tigers’ aforementioned title game loss might make some GMs cringe, but Mathieu’s best path to the future might be confronting all of his past.
Mathieu has staunch supporters. Among them is Jefferson, who told 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh that Mathieu is “a ballplayer.” Check out the link for full audio of Jefferson’s interview.
Mathieu also has support from current New York Giant and another LSU alum, cornerback Corey Webster. Webster expressed his support for Mathieu to USA Today in an interview published Thursday.
Regardless of his issues, a team will take a flyer on Mathieu. His man-coverage ability has room for improvement, and was the primary criticism stemming from the 2012 BCS championship. Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron frequently targeted his larger receivers against an isolated Mathieu.
But the former Heisman runner-up has an innate ability to create plays in the open field. He hits much harder than a cursory glance at his 5-foot-9, 190-pound frame might suggests, and he is a proven ball hawk. Mathieu is also a dangerous return man. His potential is too much for GMs to pass up — much like another former Tiger entered the 2007 draft with too much upside to balk at his availability.
JaMarcus Russell was drafted on potential. Russell had a very good final season at LSU, passing for over 3100 yards and scoring 28 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. But he was drafted more for his size and strength than his collegiate accomplishments, and given a rookie contract that eventually changed how the NFL pays its newcomers.
Russell’s quick departure from the league is the butt of jokes. Every football blogosphere or talk radio version of Henny Youngman has gladly dusted off the JaMarcus material with Russell’s recent attempts to get back into the league.