Arden Key’s slow start to the 2017 season hasn’t ruined his standing as an elite prospect in the eyes of NFL personnel evaluators.
Of five NFL executives surveyed by draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, two still regard Key as the top edge rusher eligible for the 2018 NFL draft.
The other three selected Bradley Chubb of NC State.
Despite Key’s struggles for most of the first two months, it’s a sign he’s still very much on the radar of teams with draft picks early in the opening round.
One executive who selected Key called him the “best speed rusher with length and a great motor when he’s in shape.”
Others expressed concern with Key, and one said he “wasn’t the same guy” in 2017.
That’s an understandable verdict considering the way Key opened the season. After his return from shoulder surgery, he made little impact at first, and even Tigers coach Ed Orgeron said in September that Key appeared rusty.
In the past three weeks, though, Key has begun to shake off that rust and return to his expected role as a quarterback-hunting menace.
Key is coming off his strongest performance of the season, an eight-tackle outing against top-ranked Alabama in which he made eight tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss against the formidable Crimson Tide offensive front.
Key could further pad his sack count in the Tigers’ remaining games, all against teams that range from below average to awful at protecting the quarterback.
LSU plays Saturday against Arkansas, which allows 3.11 sacks per game. That’s tied for 115th nationally for most per game. Then comes a game against struggling Tennessee (2.78 allowed per game, tied for 109th) before the regular-season finale against Texas A&M (2.56, tied for 97th), which appears to be changing quarterbacks from Kellen Mond to the far less mobile Nick Starkel.
If Key keeps his momentum going in those games, he has a chance to vault further up the draft board and secure himself a big-time payday if he elects, as expected, to declare early for the 2018 draft.
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