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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #16 LSU

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 27, 2015

 

#16 LSU Tigers

 

2014 Recap:

8-5 isn’t a stellar season for the Tigers, but every team the Tigers lost to in 2014 is in the preseason Fierce 40 (Mississippi State, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas and a bowl loss against Notre Dame). LSU had a deep stable of running backs, but in the tough SEC you can’t be a one-dimensional offense, and that is what LSU was. The passing game needs to improve if LSU wants to reach double digit victories.

Coaching:

10 years with a National Championship and 103 total wins is a stellar career, and that is what Les Miles has built for himself in the Bayou in Louisiana. While Miles is one of the top coaches at the FBS level, he has quite a talented and deep staff, and it starts with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Cameron has a task in front of him to try and assemble a passing game, but how many college can boast an offensive coordinator who has been a head coach in the NFL? LSU ranked 114th is passing a season ago and 23rd overall in rushing, a rank that should be even higher in 2015. Kevin Steele leads a defense loaded with weapons, as they were 9th in the nation in total defense and 5th in scoring defense at 17.5 PPG.

 

Offensive Analsys

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

We will start with the strength, which is the running game led by sophomore Leonard Fournette. Fournette rushed for a freshman record 1,034 yards last season at 5.5 YPC and 10 touchdowns. Fournette was the #1 running back prospect in the country, and some had him ranked as the #1 recruit overall regardless of position. At 6’1” and 225 pounds he already has an NFL build and physique. Darrel Williams is listed as #2 on the LSU depth chart, and he will certainly see some time, especially early in the season as the Tigers prepare to keep Fournette fresh for SEC play. LSU is another throwback team that utilizes the fullback like a true blocker, and sophomore John David Moore looks like one of the best young fullbacks in the nation. At 6’4” and 235 pounds Moore has the size to play tight end, something he did from time to time last season as he saw action ion eight games.

When talking about an offense quarterback is the first position you think of, but it has been forgettable at LSU since Zach Mettenberger left for the NFL. Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris were locked in a battle for the starting quarterback spot, but the team had yet to indicate a starter. The reason was simple….nobody had asserted themselves as a true #1. Well, Jennings has forced the hand of LSU, and Harris is the opening day starter. Jennings was arrested with three other LSU players in June after a felony unlawful entry charge. The long-term future for Jennings remains clouded, but Harris will need to improve after his lone start last season against Auburn was an absolute disaster. LSU will pound the football, but they need some high percentage passing plays to build some confidence at the quarterback position.

Best Draft Prospect: Leonard Fournette RB 2nd Round 2017 (if he declares early, part of the 2018 draft class).

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Travin Dural could leave school early for the draft after this season and is currently a second round prospect despite the passing woes of LSU. Dural led LSU with only 37 catches last seasons, but he averaged 20.5 YPC and was responsible for 7 of the 17 total receiving touchdowns. Dural and his stats were quite impressive when you factor in that he had twice as many catches as any other player on the roster. The other weapon at receiver was Malachi Dupre who had only 14 catches last year in a reserve role, but five went the distance. LSU has the talent, they just need to ensure they set up the passing game in an effort to get the ball into their playmakers hands along the outside of the offense.

Dillon Gordon is the starting tight end, but at 295 pounds you can only imagine he is really just an extension of the offensive line. If LSU mounts any sort of passing attack from the position it will be when fullback Moore lines up as a tight end or as an h-back.

Best Draft Prospect: Travin Dural WR 2nd Round 2016 (if he declares early, part of the 2017 draft class).

 

Offensive Line:

The LSU Tigers have not one but what could be two future first round NFL picks along the offensive line. It starts with the senior and sure thing in Vadal Alexander. Alexander is entering this season at a svelte 325 pounds after playing most of his career at LSU in the 340-350 range. Alexander was a 2nd or 3rd round prospect had he declared last year, but he came back and enters the season as our top guard on the board. Jerald Hawkins moves from right tackle to left tackle after La’el Collins, a first round talent, left for the NFL. Hawkins is a junior, but with a strong campaign he could declare and become a first or second round prospect. Alexander will move to the right tackle position to start the season, but some feel he is better suited as an NFL guard.

LSU will turn to youth along the interior of the line with sophomore K.J. Malone and freshman Garrette Burmfield acting as the starting guards. Ethan Pocic and his massive 6’7” frame is back as the starting center. There is a ton of talent here, but with new starters at guard it remains to be seen how effective they will be as a unit. The thinking here is that the two youngsters are strong pass protectors, and LSU is a looking for any way to bolster the passing game at this moment.

Best Draft Prospect: Vadal Alexander OG 1st Round 2016 (top ranked offensive guard on the board heading into the season).

 

Defensive Analysis

Defensive Line:

LSU struggled with an uncharacteristically low 19 sacks a season ago. The best defender LSU had along the line in Danielle Hunter left school early after leading the team with 13 stops for loss. The strength of the line looks to be along the interior at tackle with Christisan LaCouture and Davon Godchaux back after combining for 82 tackles last season. Both look to be solid run stuffers, and they have some solid linebackers behind them in run support. The pass rush should come from new starter Tashawn Bower who will be replacing another departed Tiger Jermauria Rasco. Maquedius Bain was slated to be the other defensive end starting along the line, but he was one of the members of the team arrested with Jennings. Look for Lewis Neal and Deondre Clark to split time at defensive end in the absence of Bain.

Best Draft Prospect: Christian LaCouture DT 5th Round 2017.

 

Linebackers:

LSU linebackers have put up gaudy numbers but have not been drafted as high at the next level. Kwon Alexander led the Tigers in tackles last year, but he has moved on to the NFL, leaving the teams second leading tackler, junior Kendall Beckwith, as the heir apparent at linebacker. Beckwith is not as fast as some of the linebackers that have come before him, but he has the size and an NFL body. Look for Beckwith to improve upon his 77 tackles from a year ago and be a likely bet to top 100 stops on the season. Beckwith is adequate in coverage and has deceptive closing speed.

Beckwith will patrol the middle with fellow outside starters Deion Jones and Lamar Lewis. In typical LSU fashion, these players will play between 220-230 pounds, and sideline-to-sideline coverage will be their specialty. Linebackers backing up the starting three are bountiful, and we will see a multitude of combinations, as LSU prepares for Lewis and Jones to leave after this season. A small window exists in which Beckwith could declare early.

Best Draft Prospect: Kendall Beckwith LB 4th Round 2017.

 

Secondary:

The LSU secondary lost a number of players to the NFL last season. The unit performed well and was the strength of the defense ranking 3rd in the country against the pass. One of the most important players to the squad did opt to return for his senior season and should be one of the first safeties to come off the board next year. Jalen Mills started his career as a cornerback and still plays there on occasion in some nickel sets. Mills finished last season with 62 tackles and an interception. Mills is still working on his play recognition skills, but overall his skills as a cover type safety make him a valuable asset at the next level. Fellow safety Jamal Adams actually posted 66 tackles last season, and he is back to start after a successful freshman campaign.

The corners are still the strength of the team with Tre’Davious White being a player that could be flying up the boards before the next draft and lead to a decision where he decides to forgo his senior season. His value as a punt return man makes him even more attractive at the next level. Kevin Tolliver is a highly ranked recruit who will be the third cornerback but will see plenty of action. Sophomore Ed Paris will begin the year as the official starter opposite White, but we will see if that continues throughout the season or if he and White flip-flop positions in the lineup.

Best Draft Prospect: Jalen Mills 2nd Round 2016.

 

Special Teams

LSU boasts one of the strongest special teams units in the conference, and they are led by Tre’Davious White who is a return man that is a threat for the long return at any given time. The last game we saw LSU play was the loss in the Music City Bowl against Notre Dame, but Leonard Fournette brought a kickoff back 100 yards. He, like White, is a big play threat. LSU returns junior kicker Colby Delahoussaye (11-15) and senior Australian punter Jamie Keehn (44.9 YPK with 17 kicks of 50 yards or longer). Keehn seems to be following in the “wings” of Aussie/LSU grad and current Pittsburgh Steelers punter Brad Wing (sorry about the pun, couldn’t resist). LSU must have a pipeline, as the breeding of Australian Rules Football players makes for some good kicking prospects here in the States. LSU is just solid everywhere you look on special teams, and this is huge when playing in a conference as tightly contested as the SEC.

Best Draft Prospect: Jaime Keehn P UFA 2016.

 

2015 Schedule

The schedule is never easy when you are an SEC squad, but Mississippi State, Alabama and Ole Miss are all road games this year. After opening with McNeese State, LSU will face Mississippi State on the road and Auburn at home. The Tigers are looking at a shot at being 1-2. LSU will need to be 2-1 at the very least with that tough opening to stay in SEC contention. The home game with Texas A&M to wrap things up could be a vital game in the standings, as teams will jockey for position down the stretch.

 

Draft Prospects & Outlook

LSU is behind only Florida State in terms of the number of players who are drafted or signed to free agent contracts at the NFL level over the last 10 years. With Alabama, Florida, Georgia and a host of other schools in the SEC known for being player pipelines to the NFL, LSU can hang their heads high. There is plenty of first round and top round talent available. Vadal Alexander looks like the sure bet this season, although offensive guard is a not a glamorous position for NFL teams to look at for prospects. LSU has plenty of skill position talent that could declare a year early. We could realistically see three or four LSU players declare for the NFL before their senior seasons.

 

DJ Boyer