On Wednesday, I broke down the offensive commits as it currently stands. Today, let's flip to the other side of the ball and see what John Chavis, Ron Cooper and company are working on.
Since the hiring of Chavis, the recruiting philosophy on the defensive side of the ball has taken a shift. Under Pelini, in the first few years of the Miles' regime, LSU mostly recruited bigger, stronger type of defensive players. Speed was nice, but not necessarily an emphasis. We were playing DEs that were 260-290 pounds, and DTs that were 300+. The hire of Chavis signaled a transition to speed, speed, speed. Now we regularly field a defense with two DEs around 230 pounds. Our DTs both check in around 290. Our linebackers are smaller... and faster. And the dividends have been obvious. Let's see what weapons we've added to the arsenal.
Torshiro Davis, 6'3, 222
Torshiro Davis Highlights (via 247SportsStudio)
Burst, burst and more burst. As noted above, Chavis covets speed... particularly off the edge, and Davis brings that in spades. His entire game in HS is built around a speed rush which is nearly unblockable. Watch the tape and see him fire off the ball from a sprinter's stance, only to see him nail the QB a split second later. It's a trait that few possess and explains exactly why Davis is one of the most sought after recruits in the country. At 6'3, 222, he's still slight of build, but has plenty of room to grow. He'll need to add more techniques to counter his elite speed rush, but I have confidence that Brick Haley can draw that out of him.
Danielle Hunter, 6'5, 235
Danielle Hunter Highlights (via 247SportsStudio)
Hunter fits the bill of long, lean DE that Chavis prefers. As you have seen from this season, he most covets speed off the edge... Hunter embodies that. His play style can best be described as raw, unmitigated rage. With that, you get both the good and the bad. Hunter is wildly undisciplined, but his freak athleticism puts him into an elite class. If his technique were more refined and his play style more disciplined, he'd likely be considered one of the upper echelon DEs in this class. Instead, he's a middle-ranked 4-star, which is no slight, to be clear. Hunter needs time to add good weight and work on his technique, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's clawing for early playing time as early as his RS freshman year. Athletically, with his size, I like his upside more than a guy like Rasco, though he's nowhere near as polished at this point. Hunter shows a willingness to be an every down defender, and plays the run and the pass with equal effort and ability. I'm very keen on Hunter's upside, especially with the coaching he will receive from Brick and Chavis. It seems, even after losing Montgomery and Mingo, we're just reloading the pistol with more bullets in Davis and Hunter.
Grade: A+. Hunter has as much upside as any DE in this class, and Davis isn't far behind. Both possess unique speed for big and that rare tenacity that make for special pass rushers. I expect both these players will turn into very, very good players.
None... so far.
Grade: Incomplete. I'm still no entirely sure that Jerald Hawkins will wind up on the offensive side of the ball since he reminds me a lot of Michael Brockers. In the end, he very well could be the DT take in this class.
Ronnie Feist, 6'2, 214
Ronnie Feist Highlights (via 247SportsStudio)
Feist is a a DE in HS that will make the transition to LB at the next level. When you turn on the tape, Feist doesn't wow you. He's certainly a solid player, but nothing overly blows you away. He is strong at the point of attack and shows pretty good short-area speed. Feist looks like a future MLB to me. He's better playing downhill, attacking than he is left in space, attempting to cover. Of course, it's also hard to gauge how a player will play in space when the footage is primarily him with his hand in the dirt. However, I trust Chavis' skill in LB evaluation and ability as coach.
Trey Granier, 6'1, 225
Trey Granier Highlight (via THSTIGERguy)
Granier is another kid that doesn't just blow me away. He gives great effort on every down, but his tape isn't inspiring. Like Feist, Granier looks like an insider LB prospect. His speed isn't stellar, but he has a nice build. He shows a pretty good nose for the football and remains relentless in pursuit. He's not a player where you pop on the tape and he stands out. I would guess his future will likely be on ST.
Deion Jones, 6'2, 200
It's quite clear from the tape that "Debo" possess a lot of natural athleticism. He's much more fluid and speedy than either Granier or Feist, which means he can likely play on the outside in Chavis' system. However, he also lacks the sound play of the above two. His tackling form needs a lot of work. However, tackling form can be change, but you can't coach speed. Jones is often out of position, doesn't take on blockers the best and will overrun plays. That being said, I can't help but think Chavis and co. admired his speed and athleticism knowing they could reform his other abilities.
Lamar Louis, 6'0, 220
Lamar Louis RB/LB Class of 2012 (via oct21993)
Louis is the real difference maker at LB in this class. While short in stature (probably 5'11), he's thickly built and truly explosive. On tape, Louis shows a natural knack for the football, and an ability to navigate through trash and explode into the backfield to make impact plays. He reminds me a lot of Ryan Baker, with great speed, instincts and the ability to deliver a big blow. I love the way he closes to the ball and wraps up. He's willing to throw his body into blockers, and his short stature allows him to get under blockers. Frankly, I see Louis as one of the best overall athletes in this class, and definitely our best linebacker. He will vie for early playing time.
Grade: B-. I'm not enamored with Granier or Jones, and Feist looks like a capable, albeit not spectacular player. However, Louis brings the grade up. He shows everything I like to see from a linebacker: toughness, speed, hustle, strength. One caveat I would offer is that Chavis seems to know how to get the most out of the linebackers. If there's one weakness to the 2011 LSU defense, it is linebacker player, and yet, it's hardly ever exposed.
Jalen Mills, 6'0, 180
Jalen Mills #19 CB Desoto,Tx (HS) (via 31theglove)
Mills is an instinctive player who isn't a tremendous athlete. He's listed at 6'0, 180, but probably is more 5'11, 170. Mills reminds me a bit of Derrick Bryant. His feel for the game is tremendous, though he lacks upper echelon athletic ability. He's smart and tough. Mills shows a willingness to come up and make a play in run sport and also an aggression when playing the ball in the air. Though he plays corner in HS, I think he profiles as a free safety at the next level.
Derrick Raymond, 6'2, 175
Raymond, in just about every manner, is the polar opposite of Mills. Raymond is a superlative athlete with track speed. He's not an overly physical player at this point. His elite speed means he can run, stride-for-stride, with any player in the country. In many ways, he's difficult to evaluate. Raymond was off the grid coming into this year, and finally was able to settle in an play HS football at East Jefferson. His elite athletic talents earned him 45 scholarship offers across the country, so that speaks to his pure athleticism. Even still, very little tape of him exists. If coaches are enamored enough with his athleticism to take him on that alone... that says something.
Jerquinick Sandolph, 6'1, 180
Sandolph is a bigger DB prospect, with a likely future at safety. On tape, he doesn't look instinctive. Often winds up out of place. He shows good speed and flashes a physicality and willingness to come up in run support. Shows good tackling ability. Looks better in zone coverages as opposed to manned up. Shows the athleticism to go up and fight for the ball. Overall, he's a better athlete than football player at this point. His best football may be in front of him.
Dwayne Thomas 10 O. Perry Walker Chargers ATH/DB/WR (via throbak2000)
Thomas, like Sandolph, is a bigger DB, but I believe he projects best as a CB. Rivals says he reminds us of Aqib Talib, which is a pretty solid comparison. He's not a blazer, but flashes decent quickness. He may best be employed as a zone corner, but his competitiveness and ability to be physical at the line may translate into some press-man coverage ability. ESPN profiles Thomas a safety prospect, but I think that's mostly due to his tremendously physical tackling ability. In all honestly, he reminds me a lot they type of corner Nick Saban would prefer: bigger, stronger and physical. He doesn't have the upside of someone like, say, Morris Claiborne, coming out, but he is a nice prospect with enough speed to play outside at the next level.
Grade: B. Obviously, the big target left on the board is Landon Collins. Collins would likely bring this crop up to an A, B+ at worst. Of the 4 prospects, I think Derrick Raymond has the highest ceiling, due to his incredible athleticism. Sandolph is also a tremendous athlete, though the two of them are the least instinctive of the four commits. Mills is the best "football player" of the bunch, also lacks the athletic tools of the others. Overall, it's a solid, but not outstanding crop of defensive backs. However, much like the linebackers and Chavis, Ron Cooper is the best defensive backs coach in college football, and the fact that he handpicked these guys makes me inclined to trust his judgment.
Overall, it's a solid defensive class that could seriously shoot up the boards if they land Landon Collins (I think they will) and are able to flip a guy like Mario Edwards (not likely, but could happen). However, with so many young superstars on the Tiger defense (Simon, Mathieu, Montgomery, Reid, Mingo, Brockers, Logan), it makes sense that LSU would have difficulty luring the elite players of the country. At worst, this class is a load of solid depth. The two defensive end prospects, in particular, really stand out to me as guys who could be stars at the next level.