2014 NFL Draft: Pre-Season Breakdown – Craig Loston, S LSU

October 6, 2012; Gainesville FL, USA; LSU Tigers safety Craig Loston (6) during the second quarter against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

LSU’s tradition of defensive backs in recent years has been unrivaled and they are hoping that their strong safety, Craig Loston, can continue the streak of first round picks from that position group.  Loston is the cagy veteran of the group as he enters his senior year, having lost two teammates to the draft last year (three if counting Tyrann Mathieu though he did not play last season), but this is only Loston’s second year as a full time starter.  Loston was raw last year relying on his impressive athleticism to carry him through, but he was able to chip in 29 solo tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, 3 interceptions and a pass deflection.

Loston is arguably one of the best pure athletes in the country and is an impressive looking safety, but he needs to get substantially more comfortable and natural in his second year.  The potential is there for Loston to be almost unrecognizable compared to last year, having the game slow down for him, showing better instincts and being more fluid and natural in his play.  Based on last year, he looked like a potential top 100 pick based almost entirely on his athletic ability and potential but if he can have the light go on and make the most of all o that athletic ability this year, he could end up as the top strong safety in the class and be picked in the top 50 or earlier.

Vitals & Build

Loston is listed at 6’2” 205lbs and he is an exceptional athlete.  He is explosive, has good long speed and tremendous strength.  From a purely athletic standpoint, Loston might be one of the most impressive prospects in the country.  Loston still appears to have the frame to continue adding strength without losing any athleticism.

Tackling

Loston’s tackling can be good, but it can also be sloppy and dangerous as well.  In some instances, Loston can run up on a ball carrier and simply be overwhelming with his power as well as his natural length and he not only secures the tackle but can deliver it with pop.  At times, he will drop a shoulder bomb on an opponent and rely on strength as opposed to technique which could get him in trouble if he gets too accustomed to doing it.  He will also lunge too much but is usually able to pull it off because of his wingspan, but he would be far better off to keep his legs under him as it would allow him more power and control.

There are too many situations where Loston will go in for a big tackle and put his head down, which puts him at substantial risk of injury.  In a game more and more focused on concussions, that might be the best case scenario for this type of tackling.  He is at risk of severely injuring his neck and possibly ending up paralyzed.  Curiously, this was also a concern with his teammate Eric Reid last year, so it leads one to wonder if a coach is either not correcting the issue or worse, encouraging it.

Run Support

Loston will come up aggressively in run support, but his instincts and understanding of angles are not there yet.  Too often, he ends up out of position or boxed out from the play and is unable to have an impact.  He does display incredible range and can track down plays from sideline to sideline with relative ease.  Loston needs to work on how he takes on and sheds blocks.  For as strong as he is, he is caught off guard too often and gets blocked too easily.

Perhaps as a result of just how hard he hits, he can be hesitant at times when a ball carrier is caught up in the wash and stop short.  He does not want to accidentally blow up a teammate on a play where the runner is already going down.  Much of this could be due to the fact that last year was Loston’s first as a full time starter and he might make a big jump this year as he is more comfortable at the position, but he leaves a lot to of plays on the field at this point.

Coverage

Loston has the athleticism to play in man coverage against receivers but he just needs to continue gaining experience and get a good feel for what opponents are trying to do.  There are times when Loston can mirror routes and run with opponents extremely well while in other situations, he is late to react and appears a half step late.  He needs to do a better job of reading the quarterback and getting a sense where plays are going so that he is able to get better jump on passes in space.

Loston’s athleticism and strength make him uniquely able to matchup with tight ends as long as he continues his development.  He does not have a ton of experience playing up in the box but he might actually have more success there as he does not need the space to matchup in coverage.  It would likely be easier for him to be able to put his arms on an opponent and start running with them immediately.

Ball Skills

Loston has decent ball skills but he has not had a ton of opportunities to show them.  When he can get his hands on passes, he can make plays but needs to do more to create those opportunities.  He is also a huge threat with the ball in his hands because of his speed and strength.  If he gets the ball with an open lane, he can take it all the way with relative ease.

Special Teams

Loston does have experience on special teams on punt coverage and he could be a weapon in kick coverage as well.  With his combination of speed and strength, he is a virtual missile and certainly has the ability to make an impact play in either area of the game.  Loston could also potentially have value in trying to block kicks.

System Fit

Loston is still a moldable piece of clay and there is no scheme that really jumps out as a better fit than others at this point.  Athletically, there is little he cannot do so he will be attractive to a wide range of teams, but he also has not really stood out in any particular area either.

Schedule

Sat, August 31 vs. TCU
Sat, Sept. 7 vs. UAB
Sat, Sept. 14 vs. Kent State
Sat, Sept. 21 vs. Auburn
Sat, Sept. 28 at Georgia
Sat, Oct. 5 at Mississippi State
Sat, Oct. 12 vs. Florida
Sat, Oct. 19 at Ole Miss
Sat. Oct. 26 vs. Furman
Sat, Nov. 9 at Alabama
Sat, Nov. 23 vs. Texas A&M
Fri, Nov. 29 vs. Arkansas

Notable Games

Perhaps the biggest game on the schedule for Loston is in Athens against Georgia.  They have the best tight end in the conference in Arthur Lynch and Loston may find himself in one on one coverage with him at times as well as trying to stop Todd Gurley.  If LSU is going to knock off Alabama this year in Tuscaloosa, they are going to need a big game from Loston.  They not only have weapons like Amari Cooper out wide but T.J. Yeldon running the football.  Lastly, the game against Texas A&M is a unique challenge because of chaotic dual threat nature of Johnny Manziel in addition to having one of the best wide receivers in the SEC in Mike Evans.

NFL Comparison

Based on last year, he is reminiscent of former USC athletic freak Taylor Mays.  Mays had incredible strength and natural straight line speed but he was protected by the USC defensive scheme and made few plays for the Trojans.  He is still fighting for a spot with the Cincinnati Bengals but his lack of fluid hips and terrible instincts have been extremely problematic and after many thought he would be a first round pick, he went in the second round and has been an utter disaster in the NFL.  Even if Loston were not to improve at all, none of that would suggest that Loston could not succeed in the NFL, but like Mays, based on Loston’s junior year, his stock is based almost entirely on athleticism and potential like with Mays.

Draft Projection

So much of Loston’s value based on last season is on what he can be rather than he is.  Athletically, he stands out and looks impressive in instances.  Purely on that, he is a potential top 100 pick but if he can take the next step this season, he could go from being a remarkable athlete to an incredible football player and pick up where Reid left off last year.  LSU needs players like Loston and Lamin Barrow to take a big step forward for their defense to remain dominant this year and if Loston can do that, LSU gets much better but Loston could end up the top strong safety prospect and be in the mix of the top 50 players selected in the NFL Draft.

Topics: 2014 Mock Draft, 2014 NFL Draft, Craig Loston, LSU Tigers Football

Want more from With the First Pick?  
Subscribe to FanSided Daily for your morning fix. Enter your email and stay in the know.

TEAMFeed More With the First Pick news from the Fansided Network

Hot on the Web From golf.com