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LSU's Mr. Irrelevant: $31 million and counting - 247Sports
What's it like to be Mr. Irrelevant in an LSU signing class? If recent history is any indication, it means an NFL future is in store.
When you are the final player selected in the NFL Draft, you are labeled Mr. Irrelevant. When you are the final player selected by LSU, you likely have an NFL contract in your future. This past weekend, the LSU football program stayed red-hot from the 2019-20 season by breaking the Southeastern Conference record with 14 players selected in a single draft. The draft class Ed Orgeron sent into the NFL also tied the NFL Draft record for most picks by one school, a mark previously set by Ohio State’s 2004 class, when the Buckeyes also had 14 players selected across seven rounds. In total, LSU had 20 draft-eligible prospects in this year’s draft pool, and after 14 were drafted, the remaining six had all agreed to undrafted free agent deals within 24 hours of Mr. Irrelevant hearing his name called as the final pick of the 2020 draft. For LSU, it was a record-setting three days that saw the Tigers stack up well over $100 million in projected rookie contracts and $60-plus million in guaranteed signing bonuses. "What a great weekend for all of our players who got drafted, I want to congratulate every one of them, we are so proud of them," Orgeron said in an interview with ESPN’s Off the Bench on Monday. "Very proud, very humbled that their parents decided to trust us in the recruiting process and trust the things that we told them." It was also another day for LSU’s version of Mr. Irrelevant to take a bow. In recent years, Orgeron - well-known as one of college football’s best recruiters - has been quick to point out the professional development from the program. It wasn’t just five-star prospects that were hearing their names called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. It was also the recruits who were seemingly afterthoughts from the fanbase. When stargazers look at a signing class, they begin at the top, rarely giving a second look to who the lowest-ranked prospect a college team signed. And as for the last player to grab an offer? Most fans take that as meaning the program was settling after missing on a bigger target. For Orgeron and LSU, it’s been just as important a piece as any. The Tigers have been on a historic run with the program's Mr. Irrelevant. That's often been defined as the final player offered a spot in LSU's class, but has also almost always been the lowest-ranked prospect to sign in that class, as well. And the 2020 NFL Draft only strengthened the reality of what LSU’s forgotten - or not so forgotten - additions have been able to accomplish. Since 2012, the last high school player offered a scholarship by the staff, now up to six years of draft-eligible prospects, was drafted and is currently on an NFL roster. Amazingly, the same hit rate goes for the lowest-ranked high school signee. Since 2013, each has gone on to be drafted and remains on an NFL contract. One has even signed a $57 million extension. One of the most-talked about examples this year has been LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who was offered a scholarship by the staff in 2017 after he became academically qualified late in the summer, and he joined the team just before fall camp. Three years later, Jefferson was a first-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings. “Not bad for a two-star recruit,” Orgeron joked when asked about Jefferson’s rise this past season. “But you know what, we saw that in camp. We saw it right here in camp. He caught a sluggo route and everyone was cheering. Our coaches saw that in him. “Could we predict he was going to be this good? No. I think he’s very, very competitive and I think that’s what sets him apart.” LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry was the final prospect offered before National Signing Day in 2016, and he went on to become a multi-year starter alongside Joe Burrow and a third-round pick by the Denver Broncos. Cushenberry had been offered by LSU just two days before NSD. Jefferson and Cushenberry also both hold another badge of honor from high school to the NFL. Not only were they the final additions to LSU’s signing class, they were also both the lowest-ranked prospect the Tigers signed that year. “There’s the mentality that a player like that brings into the program,” said 247Sports National Director of Scouting Barton Simmons. “When you’re around a bunch of four- and five-star kids that have been told how good they are for three years, that underranked player knows he’s going to have to really grind to get on the field. “It’s cliche, but I think the chip on the shoulder factor is meaningful.” The 2020 NFL Draft only added to an impressive run from the four recruiting classes prior to Cushenberry signing with LSU in 2016, a stretch when fans began to take notice of what Mr. Irrelevant was able to accomplish in purple-and-gold. Tight end Foster Moreau wasn't offered by LSU until the morning of signing day in 2015. He was drafted last year in the fourth round by the Oakland Raiders, and he made an immediate splash as a rookie playing alongside Darren Waller in one of the NFL’s most productive two-tight end offenses. In 2015, Moreau was the lowest-ranked recruit in the class beyond the specialists, with the actual lowest ranking belonging to long snapper Blake Ferguson. This past weekend, Ferguson was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. Before Moreau, it was wide receiver Russell Gage who was the final addition to LSU’s 2014 class, getting his offer from the Tigers just ahead of signing day. Like Jefferson, Cushenberry and Moreau before him, Gage was also the lowest-ranked signee in LSU’s class. The 2013 class was no different. LSU offered linebacker Duke Riley a scholarship six days before signing day, and he joined the class as both the final player offered and the lowest-ranked signee. Even dating back to 2012, Mr. Irrelevant’s impressive run at LSU continued. Then, it was New Orleans linebacker Deion Jones who grabbed the final scholarship in the class. Now, Jones is one of the top young linebackers in the NFL after being selected by the Atlanta Falcons with a second-round pick in 2016. And thanks to the immediate dividends paid by Jones, the Falcons made it a three-year run on Mr. Irrelevant additions from Baton Rouge. Riley was a third round pick to the Falcons in 2017, playing two seasons in Atlanta before being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he spent this past season. Gage was a sixth-round pick by the Falcons in 2018, where he’s seen playing time at receiver and on special teams the past two seasons. The 2018 class and beyond has yet to play out when it comes to the final signee into the class and where he goes beyond LSU, though if you're being generous, Orgeron's final addition after NSD in 2018 was Burrow, who is set to ink a projected $36 million deal as the No. 1 overall pick. But pushing the late addition of Burrow aside, Orgeron can still add another notch to LSU's run on lowest-ranked signees hitting at the NFL level. This past weekend, the Seattle Seahawks selected Damien Lewis in the third round, making him the first LSU offensive lineman to come off the board. In 2018, Lewis was LSU’s lowest-ranked signee in a class that included the likes of wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall. Lewis signed with LSU out of junior college as a three-star prospect on 247Sports, and he left high school in Mississippi unranked by any of the major recruiting services. Whether it’s been the lowest-ranked signee or the final player offered a scholarship in the class, Orgeron and LSU have proven to have a track record of incredible success. "That's always been a big part of our recruiting pitch," Orgeron said. "Part of the recruiting process is to trust our own evaluation whether he's a two-star, a three-star or a five-star, it's all about how good is the player in your eyes? We've decided as a staff that character is going to be at the top.” For Simmons, who has been evaluating prospects for nearly two decades, LSU’s recent run on turning Mr. Irrelevant into an NFL draft pick only drives home how good Orgeron and the Tigers have become at not just recruiting the best prospects in America, but trusting their own evaluations enough to not allow a low ranking or the decision to hand out a late offer to create hesitation in the staff room. “I think usually, (LSU) has additional info on a player like that too to make it more confident beyond the highlight film,” Simmons said. “Typically that is from working with a guy in camp, seeing the way he takes to coaching, having some insight into his developmental capabilities. “When LSU, who recruits at the top tier in college football, takes a kid that has a low ranking or a limited offer list, I think it knows what it’s doing. Given the perception, LSU has to have hardened conviction on a player like that.” Even in the transfer market, a place well-suited for finding late additions after signing day, Orgeron has shown his knack for finding the right fit. Among the most notable additions since Orgeron became head coach is kicker Cole Tracy, who Orgeron signed out of Assumption College as a graduate transfer. Tracy went on to break the NCAA record for most points scored and now holds a handful of LSU kicking records. Burrow, LSU’s final post-signing day addition in 2018, turned into the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick. The lone other quarterback Orgeron has taken from the transfer portal is Danny Etling out of Purdue. Etling was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2018, where he was part of a Super Bowl team. Now, he’s on roster with the Falcons. Orgeron will certainly hope to find that same success was the final addition to the 2020 class in Jabril Cox, a three-time All-American and three-time National Champion from North Dakota State who is immediately eligible to see playing time at linebacker this season. And one year from now, Cox is expected to be drafted. As LSU prepares for a season following another top five recruiting class in Baton Rouge, Orgeron is able to smile knowing that not only did the Tigers win the 2020 NFL Draft, but also strengthened his recruiting motto to trust evaluations above all else. And after this past weekend, Orgeron’s recruiting pitch will include the success the Tigers had with the most players drafted, and he’s sure to point out LSU having the No. 1 pick and the most first-rounders. But he will likely have another selling point to make to recruits. Or 31-plus million of them. Why that number? The last player into LSU’s class (who was/is draft-eligible) from 2012 until present were all drafted and signed rookie deals for a combined $31,243,271. That includes more than $11 million in signing bonuses. The lowest-ranked player in LSU’s class from 2013 until present were each drafted and signed rookie deals worth a combined total of $31,540,947. That group took home $10,709,553 in signing bonus money. The lone difference between the two numbers centers around Lewis and Jones. Lewis, who signed in 2018, wasn’t the final addition of the class (that player hasn't left college yet), but he was the lowest-ranked signee. In 2012, Jones wasn’t the lowest-ranked prospect to sign with LSU, but he was the last player offered a scholarship by the staff. Jefferson, Cushenberry, Moreau, Gage and Riley all hold the honor of being the lowest-ranked signee and last signee offered a scholarship. If you toss that group in with Lewis from the 2018 class and Jones in the 2012 class, the group hits a combined $36-plus million in rookie deals and more than $12 million in signing bonuses. That number doesn’t include the contract Jones is currently under. Given he’s the oldest name of the group, he was the first to sign an extension in the NFL. In July 2019, Jones inked a four-year deal with the Falcons worth $57 million. He took home an $11 million signing bonus with the extension, and the contract is guaranteed to pay at least $34 million across the life of the deal. For Mr. Irrelevant at LSU, it’s just another pay day. ****************** Here’s the rundown on the rookie deals signed by the aforementioned LSU players. Last LSU player offered into the class (2012-17): Justin Jefferson: 2017 class Total Value: $13,122,793 Signing Bonus: $7,103,849 Lloyd Cushenberry: 2016 class Total Value: $4,432,501 Signing Bonus: $946,173 Foster Moreau: 2015 class Total: $3,008,392 Signing Bonus: $488,392 Russell Gage: 2014 class Total: $2,616,194 Signing Bonus: $156,194 Duke Riley: 2013 class Total: $3,517,752 Signing Bonus: $889,752 Deion Jones: 2012 class Total: $4,545,639 Signing Bonus: $1,505,919 Combined Rookie Deals Total: $31,243,271 Signing Bonus: $11,090,279 Note: Jones signed his extension in July 2019 Total: $57,000,000 Signing Bonus: $11,000,000 Total Guaranteed: $34,000,000 ***** Lowest-ranked player in LSU's class (2013-18): Damien Lewis: 2018 class Total Value: $4,843,315 Signing Bonus: $1,125,193 Justin Jefferson: 2017 class Total Value: $13,122,793 Signing Bonus: $7,103,849 Lloyd Cushenberry: 2016 class Total Value: $4,432,501 Signing Bonus: $946,173 Foster Moreau: 2015 class Total: $3,008,392 Signing Bonus: $488,392 Russell Gage: 2014 class Total: $2,616,194 Signing Bonus: $156,194 Duke Riley: 2013 class Total: $3,517,752 Signing Bonus: $889,752 Combined Rookie Deals Total: $31,540,947 Signing Bonus: $10,709,553