Left tackle La’el Collins will return to LSU for his senior season, he confirmed at a press conference on Tuesday.
“This 2014 LSU team has a lot to look forward to and a lot of things to accomplish and I look forward to being a part of it,” Collins said at a press conference surrounded by several dozen LSU players and coaches.
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. told The Advocate on Tuesday that Collins plans to stay at LSU for his final year of eligibility.
Collins, a former Redemptorist High star, will not join six other underclassmen who left early for the NFL draft. The list includes running back Jeremy Hill, defensive tackles Anthony Jennings and Ego Ferguson, receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and right guard Trai Turner. Running back Alfred Blue, who was listed as a senior, bypassed a fifth year of eligibility.
Collins is the lone holdout of the group and a big get for an LSU offense losing its starting quarterback, top two receivers, starting running back, starting fullback and starting right guard.
“I love our players,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “It’s sad when they go, but it’s special when one that could go decides to come back. We like our offensive line. We think we’ve got a great group.”
Collins said he went “back and forth” with the decision over the last week, ultimately deciding to return for his senior year Monday.
“Definitely being around these guys, great coaches, great teammates… the bigger question is, ‘Why wouldn’t I come back?’”
Collins is projected as a second- or third-round draft pick and will be one of four returning starters up front.
“I think we’ll be a dominant offensive line without question,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
Beckham said Monday that Collins is staying because he believes he can be a first-round pick next year.
Miles says Collins “has potential to be a very early draft pick at the left tackle.”
Collins, a 6-foot-5, 315-pounder, exited high school rated five stars by the major recruiting services. He’s started all 13 games the last two seasons, switching from left guard to left tackle this past season and protecting the blindside of quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
Other players joined Collins at the press conference, a group that decided against turning pro early. The included defensive ends Jordan Allen and Jermauria Rasco, running back Kenny Hilliard and center Elliott Porter.
“They are all in a position to promote education,” Miles said of the group. “They want to enter the NFL at the highest possible position.”
Miles insisted throughout the press conference that a first-round selection should be the goal for players. Of LSU’s six underclassmen who left early, just one or two are projected for selecting in the opening round of May’s draft.
“We give them the best information we can,” Miles said. “We try to dispel what would be false information as best we can. Really it’s their decision. We try to tell them is this: Let’s not give the NFL a deal. There’s no reason for it. The guaranteed money, best position to go into the draft is the first round. What we want to encourage is to really view your decision in relationship to where you can be and where you are.”
Miles didn’t comment much on LSU’s other early departures. He mentioned them each by name and said, “this does not undermine decisions made for other guys to leave.”
Miles was asked specifically about Hill’s decision to leave, a surprise to some around the program.
The coach said recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Frank Wilson, Cameron and himself “weighed in, presented (facts) as effectively as we can and we root for Jeremy Hill, simply put,” he said. “We gave him everything we could give him, knowledge base. Frankly, I think he’s a good player. If I was an NFL team, I would draft him.”