BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU plays the nation's No. 3 total offense, No. 5 rush offense and No. 6 scoring offense in undefeated and eighth-ranked Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, and the Tigers just lost another starting defender.

Nose tackle Ed Alexander, a junior from St. Thomas Aquinas in Hammond who started LSU's last six games and has had his best season, told coach Ed Orgeron on Monday night that he would be entering the 2019 NFL Draft and skip his senior season. He also chose not play in the Fiesta Bowl, as he missed practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Starting All-American sophomore cornerback Andraez "Greedy" Williams made the same decision just after the regular season ended. He can enter the draft, as he is a third-year sophomore, having red-shirted in 2016 out of Calvary Baptist in Shreveport.

Starting sophomore cornerback Kristian Fulton will also miss the Fiesta Bowl with an ankle injury suffered at Arkansas late in the regular season.

Junior Breiden Fehoko, who started the first six games of the season at nose tackle when Alexander was nursing a knee injury and two at defensive end, will not play in the Fiesta Bowl either because of a biceps injury that ended his season. He has not played since the Alabama game.

"Yeah, it is tough," Orgeron said Wednesday after confirming that Alexander is leaving. "But you've got to deal with it. There are times you have to deal with it."

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Redshirt freshman Tyler Shelvin, a five-star signee in 2017 out of Notre Dame in Crowley and previously Northside in Lafayette, will likely start at nose tackle. Shelvin (6-foot-3, 362) has played in five games this season and has made eight tackles with one sack. He made three tackles in the regular-season-finale loss at Texas A&M.

After Shelvin, there is true freshman Dominic Livingston, who has not played this season.

"Tyler Shelvin will have to step up," Orgeron said. "We're very thin. We're very thin at defensive line. We're very thin at cornerback. Those things happen, and we've got to deal with it."

At least Alexander was the one to tell Orgeron, who found out about Williams' departure from reporters on a Fiesta Bowl teleconference just after Williams tweeted the news out. Orgeron didn't get a chance to meet with him.

"Ed Alexander came and talked to me," Orgeron said. "I was going to let Ed announce it. I was going to let him make a statement, but it got out. He is not playing in the bowl. He's foregoing his senior year to go into the draft, and we wish him the best."

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Williams, a thin 6-3 and 184 pounds, is a projected first-round pick who has had no injuries in his two seasons at LSU and plays the cover corner position that usually does not feature a lot of contact. In Williams' case, it has not featured a lot of coverage either, as opponents usually throw to the other side of the field from Williams. But he does have 33 tackles for eighth on the team with 23 solo stops and nine pass breakups. And a serious injury in bowl practices or the bowl game could drop Williams in the draft and thus lose him millions of dollars. 

Alexander, who is listed at 6-3 and 331, would face contact on virtually every play at nose tackle in the Fiesta Bowl, and this is a major reason why he is going pro and skipping the bowl. That and the fact that he is not a big fan of school.

"I'm finally healthy," Alexander said in a phone interview with USA TODAY Network on Wednesday. "I want to stay that way. I'm just getting to where I feel good and playing well. It's not like I'm trying to get money. I don't want to aggravate an old injury."

Alexander, who has had knee issues throughout his LSU career until only recently, is not expected to be drafted higher than the middle rounds and could drop as low as the last two rounds in the sixth or seventh or not be picked at all. So, it's possible there will not be much money at all.

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His situation is similar to guard William Clapp last year. Clapp, who had suffered with a shoulder injury in 2016 and knee issues in 2017, entered the 2018 draft despite lowly projections to avoid more injuries at LSU while not getting paid. He was not picked until the seventh round by the New Orleans Saints, but he remains on the team and played Monday night in the win over Carolina.

"I figure I need to go now," Alexander said. 

With a healthy, full senior season in 2019, Alexander could enhance or improve upon his middle round status.

"Yeah, but I don't want to risk that," Alexander said. "I want to play in the NFL as soon as I can, so I'm getting ready for the draft."

Alexander's timing is off, though, for the 2019 draft.

"It's the best defensive line draft, especially at defensive tackle, I have ever scouted in 34 years," NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier said Wednesday. "It's very deep. I would rate Ed Alexander a middle round pick — fourth or fifth round. He showed some toughness playing through lower body injuries this year."

Alexander finished the regular season with 28 tackles through his six starts and 11 games with three for loss, one sack and four quarterback hurries. Over his three-year career, Alexander has 58 tackles and two sacks.

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His best game was his first start of this season against No. 2 Georgia on Oct. 13 as he made a then-career-high four tackles and dominated center Lamon Gaillard throughout the Tigers' 36-16 win. Gaillard recently made the Southeastern Conference coaches first team All-SEC team.

"Ed did a tremendous job on their center, and he was one of their best players," Orgeron said after that game. "Ed had a tremendous game against him."

Alexander set a career high for tackles with seven including a sack in the 29-0 loss to Alabama on Nov. 3. Despite getting gouged in the eye in the seven-overtime loss at Texas A&M, Alexander made three tackles in that game one for a loss and a quarterback hurry.

"I couldn't see good for a while, but that's not something that's going to make me sit out," Alexander said. "I think I lost a solid seven pounds in that game.

Before the A&M game Orgeron was asked about players who have improved on the defensive line, such as Shelvin. But Orgeron brought up Alexander on his own.

"The best guy who's having the most production is Ed Alexander," Orgeron said. "He's really playing well."

Detillier made a similar observation.

"Good run stuffer. Really upgraded his leverage skills and getting off blockers in a quicker manner this season," Detillier said. "Really good athlete for a big man. Average interior pass rusher."

Alexander is working on that last part, as he said he is down to 310 pounds from a high of 345 early this season.

"I'm feeling great. My body feels good," he said. "I have a lot more energy. Playing is more fun now, and I want to take that to the NFL. I'm not playing my best yet. I have not played nearly as good as I can. I want to do that in the league."

Alexander would like to play for the Saints, but he has a different favorite team and a favorite player.

"I'd love to play for the Saints," he said. "I like the Saints, but I'm a big Philadelphia Eagles fan. I want to play like (four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle) Fletcher Cox."

Alexander says LSU will be in good hands with Shelvin at nose tackle in the Fiesta Bowl and next year.

"Tyler is really coming on," he said. "I think he's ready. He's strong. He's lost weight. That's what helped me. He's going to be a great one. I loved my time at LSU and hope they win the national championship next year. But it was time for me to move on."