Composite 5-star safety Laurence "Hootie" Jones, of Neville HS in Monroe, LA opted to Roll Tide this morning, meaning yet another top Louisiana prospect joined the Dark Lord in Tuscaloosa. On the surface, it always, always, hurts losing one of the state's top prospects, but for LSU, I can't help but think this one doesn't sting quite as badly, for a few reasons that I will detail below.
The recruiting battle reportedly came right down to the wire. Les and company made a last-ditch in-home visit yesterday evening and Hootie himself stated that he didn't decide until 20 minutes before the ceremony. I'm not sure I buy that, considering his not so cryptic tweets leading up to today, where he talked about "finding out who [his] true friends are tomorrow." Regardless if Hootie decided today, yesterday or six months ago, he handled his recruitment with class, didn't make a gigantic spectacle or really mislead anyone.
If there's anything LSU fans could be upset about here, besides losing a good player obviously, it's this:
Hootie's mother: The LSU visit wasn't what it should've been— Hunter Paniagua (@HunterPaniagua) December 2, 2013
Make of that what you will, but it's one of those things that doesn't sound well. That said, I'm not overly concerned. Les has made hay on the recruiting trail for years by winning mom. Why would he suddenly drop the ball on one of the state's best prospects?
All that said, let's dig into a little bit of why this isn't devastating news for LSU.
1) Where Does Hootie Project?
Currently, Hootie lists at 6'2", 214 pounds. He's already about the size Eric Reid played at while at LSU. In Chavis' defense, that's about where our safety size peaks. In all likelihood, Hootie will add another good 10-15 pounds of muscle, making him a 225-230 pound player. In the LSU defense, that's a LB... unless you are a pretty rare athlete, like Chad Jones. Another note here is that current Alabama safety and former LSU target Landon Collins is already about the same size as Hootie.
Personally, I don't see that outrageous athleticism. For that reason, I think losing Hootie is less a dent to our safety class. That isn't to say he won't become a very good player. That also isn't to say he can't play safety. I just think in the confines of the system we run, he'd likely project better to WLB, where you could really maximized his coverage ability and size, as opposed to safety.
The counter argument here is that Hootie played CB in HS and he does look really natural in coverage, turning and running, etc. It'll be interesting to see how Alabama deploys him.
2) Where Did LSU Rank Him?
If we're being honest, LSU is never going to pass on recruiting one of the state's very top targets, regardless of their perception of fit. There's been some quiet murmurings that from the LSU side, particularly from Corey Raymond, that the staff may actually have ranked other prospects higher on the board. That's one of those things we'll never know, but if you look at the trend of the way LSU has recruited DBs in the Chavis era, and even more so under Raymond, they are looking for good tacklers. Go re-watch highlight tapes of Tre'Davious White, Rashard Robinson, Jalen Mills, Corey Thompson, Dwayne Thomas, et. al. Those guys were all proficient tacklers in HS.
As it stands, tackling is not Hootie's strength, despite the good size. He's more of an arm tackler. It's certainly a skill that can be taught, but this may come down to what the staff values, if they truly did have other prospects ranked higher. As I said though, LSU is just not going to pass on recruiting a top in-state talent, even if they are convinced other prospects project better, if for no other reason than it "looks bad."
3) There are No Borders
There's always a sect of the fanbase that will insist that Les is losing the "fence" and LSU is on the brink of erosion because "Nick is beating us for the best players in state." Just last season LSU reeled in the state's three best players. 2012 was a bit painful, losing Collins, Devall, and the last minute Torshiro Davis. 2011 was LSU dominance though. Further, young studs of the future, Dylan Moses, Edwin Alexander, etc. are already pulling the trigger for LSU.
Look, the fact is, Alabama is an attractive destination for recruits everywhere, particularly the Southeast. Hootie Jones is not the first, and won't be the last, player to leave the state for Tuscaloosa. The important thing is that LSU reciprocates by landing an equally talented prospect out of state. As much as fans want to make it so, there are no borders in recruiting. An elite prospect is an elite prospect whether he's from Louisiana, Texas, New Jersey or Alaska.
Until we enter a period like the 90s where almost all of the top in-state talent is fleeing for other elite programs, I won't be overly concerned with our in-state recruiting. Does it suck to lose Landon Collins, Cameron Robinson and Hootie Jones? Yes. It hurts more because they are from Louisiana and we feel as if there should be a built-inadvantage there, but the reality is that college football is more national than ever. Because our program is so high profile, we've become appealing to players all across the States in ways that were never possible in 1989 or even 1999. So while losing a top ranked player in 1993 may be a death sentence for the program, in 2013, we just go into a neighboring, or not so neighboring, state and pluck one equally as well regarded and call it a day. It's the luxury of greatness.
4) A Cosmetic Loss
In that same vein, I think the loss of Cameron Robinson is much more painful to bear. Robinson is an elite left tackle prospect, and there aren't really any prospects, in-state or otherwise, to fill the void of his loss. LSU will continue to beat down the doors of other offensive line prospects, and Robinson himself, but there's nary a prospect of interest that really compares to Robinson.
Finding a safety to replace Hootie is a much easier task. In fact, we don't have to look much further than a kid that visited this weekend, Jamal Adams. Like Hootie, Adams is a composite 5-star safety. Adams is smaller (not small at 6'0", 200 lbs.), but faster. And remember that tidbit about tackling. You tell me. This isn't me pandering or pulling the whole, "Oh we never wanted him!" line, but I'd genuinely rather have Adams, because I think he projects to be an elite two-way safety, perhaps a more athletic Brandon Taylor, and I see Hootie as a LB. On needs basis alone, finding playable safeties has to rank higher than LBs for LSU. If LSU were to land Adams, this isn't taking a "step down" or "next guy on the list" type of deal. Adams is an elite prospect in his own right. The margin of quality between he and Hootie is truly razor thin, and will truly be an eye of the beholder evaluation.
So where does LSU stand with Adams? Well he unofficially visited this weekend and reports are good. He's close with current LSU commit/signee Ed Paris. He lives right down the road in Carrollton, Texas. He's already taken official visits to Texas, Ole Miss, Florida, and A&M. He'll visit LSU officially again in a couple of weeks. His godfather is Joker Phillips, who currently coaches at UF. It'll be a tight race, but a very winnable one for LSU. If the Tigers do pluck Adams, the loss of Hootie becomes way more cosmetic, than anything.
5) Still an Elite Recruiting Class
Even if Adams elects to go elsewhere, LSU is still in great shape, even at defensive back. LSU currently holds commitments from Ed Paris, Devin Voorhies and John Battle. They are believed to be in outstanding position to land Tony Brown and remain contenders for Adoree Jackson. Voorhies and Battle are safeties, but of Paris, Brown and Jackson, you have to believe at least one can project to safety as well. So there's numbers to play with there.
Beyond the DBs, LSU is believed to lead for Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre, Clifton Garrett, the aforementioned Tony Brown, Gerald Willis, and Speedy Noil. There's a pretty outstanding chance LSU finishes signing day with LOIs from all of the players mentioned AND all of the currently committed class. In 2012, landing Collins would have taken LSU from a solid to very good class. In 2013, even losing Hootie and Cam, LSU will still be elite. That's a testament to the good work the staff has done and a good reason for LSU fans to not panic.
Things always get worse before they get better, right? Don't fret LSU fans, things are about to get a whole lot better.