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Road to the Pros: Why LSU Center Lloyd Cushenberry Will Outperform Day Two Draft Grade

Cushenberry to compete for starting NFL job from day one
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Perhaps no player embodies what it means when coach Ed Orgeron says "playing to the LSU standard of performance" more than center Lloyd Cushenberry. A former three-star prospect not heavily recruited out of state, Cushenberry stepped in as a redshirt freshman in 2017 and never looked back.

His story is a lot like teammate Justin Jefferson's in that respect, two lowly recruited players who would go on to leave lasting legacies in Baton Rouge. 

As a two-year starter for the Tigers, Cushenberry was the leader behind an offensive line that quarterback Joe Burrow called multiple times in 2019 "the most improved bunch of guys I've ever been around."

In 2018, the offensive line as a whole was maligned. It was seen as one of the weakest links for a Tigers team that went 10-3 and Cushenberry said the o-line took the criticism to heart.

"Just our mindset. I said it before. I feel like we had a different swag than we had last year and even in the past years," Cushenberry said before the Oklahoma game. "Just knowing we had something to prove. We always say you block out the noise, but at the end of the week, we hear the talk. We see the comments and posts about the O-line.

"I remember all that, so I try to pass that on to my guys. We've got something to prove every week. Especially more now that we've got the award. I told the guys now, we're the most hated. They're going to try to give us their all so we've got to prove something."

In 2019, the script was flipped as the unit was the driving force of one of if not the most prolific offenses in college football history. It was a tremendous transformation to watch unfold and Cushenberry, who earned No. 18 because of his outstanding leadership skills, had the front row seat.

The o-line went on to win the Joe Moore Award as the country's best unit. Cushenberry himself was named a second-team All-American by the FWAA (Football Writer's Association of America) and AFCA (American Football Coaches Association).

As a draft prospect, there's not a whole lot not to like about Cushenberry. At 6-foot-3, 312 pounds, his long arms (34 1/8 inches) and core strength are exactly what NFL teams are looking for in an interior offensive lineman. 

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While he isn't the quickest, the most important attribute he carries as an interior offensive lineman is he's rarely overmatched by interior defensive linemen. His stout frame is extremely difficult to move and his technique has improved dramatically over the last year.

Whether it's ultimately at center or guard, Cushenberry has the range to play either though he has started the last 28 games at the center spot.

Cushenberry did injure his hamstring at the NFL combine when running his 40-yard dash and with no pro day due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it could slightly affect his draft stock. Viewed currently as a second or third round pick, Cushenberry will instantly compete for a starting job for whichever team drafts him. 

Most Intriguing Destination: Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL in Kyler Murray and most recently traded for top-five receiver DeAndre Hopkins. But the offensive line could use an upgrade at the center position.

As a whole, the offensive line showed major improvements throughout the season but thus far have not brought back starter AQ Shipley. Electing to go younger by drafting Cushenberry would not only be a boost to an offensive line that could use a little youth but would also bring in a guy that in three to four years, could be one of the captains of the team.

Writer’s Note: With the NFL Draft just under six weeks from now, concerns surrounding COVID-19 will likely force the league to make some tough decisions in the coming weeks. For Cushenberry and the other LSU draft prospects, the early rounds in Las Vegas were primed to be dominated by Tigers. Stay tuned for updates as the situation develops.