We're two weeks out from National Signing Day and the coaches are already hot on the trail of the 2014 class. Les Miles and co. scoured the country, saw what they liked and put a ring on it. This is a class that is replete with depth. The only position completely eschewed is the RB spot and we all know why that is. There's big boys up front, athletic linebackers, potential difference makers in the secondary, two stud QBs, a couple of WRs with size and a partridge and a pear tree. It's too early to tell, of course, but on paper, this may be Miles' finest class, top to bottom.
Kris, Billy and I donned our armor, joined King Arthur and had a little round table discussing the 2013 signing class.
Question 1: Fellas, this is a great class. There's really no denying it. Needs met? Check. Superstar level players? Check. Kept the state locked? Check. Really, it was needed. So we don't discriminate here at ATVS, but who is your favorite player from this class and why?
Billy: Here's what I love about this class -- trying to pick a favorite is brutally hard. Such a balanced group. You have the best quarterback group since 2003, the linemen, the gotta-get-these-guys-the-ball types like Jeryl Brazill and Desean Smith. Every need was filled.
I don't even know that I can pick just one, so I'm going to go with two: Ethan Pocic and Josh Boutte. I love offensive linemen, and I feel like these two are as good as any LSU's picked up in the last few years. With Pocic coming in for the spring, I fully expect him to compete for playing time quickly, and with an opening at left tackle it would not shock me in the least if he shakes up the lineup a little bit. His film looks absolutely nasty. I can completely picture Stud watching him and cheering him as he bodyslams opposing defenders.
I've also been a big fan of Boutte since he committed. The guy has fantastic feet for such a big guy, and he's just a hoss. Country strong. Wouldn't shock me if he doesn't have a ton of weight-room experience, but the guy just mauls people. The reports of him raising his game in the camps and all-star practices were icing on that cake. He strikes me as a guy who will always be stronger than the guy across from him, no matter who it is.
Both of these guys will be postseason honors candidates in the next three-four seasons.
Kris: I think Tre'Davious White is the best player in the class, so in a sense that makes him my favorite. But I'm going to go with Anthony Jennings. I absolutely love everything about the guy. He looks like the total package at the most important position on the field, which just so happens to be the spot that has been the achilles heel for LSU's offense for a long time. Strong arm. Accurate passer. Compact delivery. And he runs just enough to where he can make plays but so much that coaches won't try and get too cute with him. Most of all, the kid seems to have the "it" factor. He's a leader. He's a team-first guy. He's lauded for a relentless work ethic. His answers in interviews couldn't be more perfect. Physically, he reminds me of Ryan Perriloux but reminds me of a Matt Mauck/Matt Flynn type of guy from a leadership and character standpoint. It may take him a few years before he really impacts LSU's program, but I think he's going to do so in a big way when the time is right.
My runner up is Desean Smith. A guy like Smith can do SO much for an offense, especially one that is struggling. Throwing to the tight-end is becoming the "in" thing to do in football right now. From the New England Patriots to Jimmy Graham, to what Stanford has accomplished over the last three seasons to Florida with Jordan Reed...the impact that a tight-end can have is becoming fully realized. Smith has the potential to be one of those guys and to give LSU's offense another dimension, which they desperately need Cam Cameron has a great history of throwing to the ball to the tight-end which makes the addition of Smith to the roster even more exciting.
Paul: Here's the great thing about this class: You could probably pull a name out the hat about a favorite player and make a compelling argument. Well, except maybe Logan Stokes, but that's not even a knock on him. He should be play immediately and be helpful. There's just so damn many good players in this class.
I could easily echo Billy, because I do think Pocic and Boutte will be anchors for a very good offensive line. My initial inclination was to echo Kris, because I do feel like Anthony Jennings is "special" for all the reasons Kris mentioned.
But I'm going to go with Frank Herron. Firstly, I have a friend who had the opportunity to meet and get to know Herron. He comes from a very humble background. Herron's mission is simple: My family needs money. I'm awesome at football. I'm the one that can make this happen. I hope I'm not making light of his situation, because I'm not trying to. This kid is very motivated to be great. He took offense to the fact that he wasn't as nationally recognized throughout the recruiting process, which explains both his will to be dominant during the AA Bowls AND why he was coaxed to go into a last minute visit to Texas (finally getting the attention he felt he deserved). I think Herron has the athletic ability + the drive that makes special players.I would not be surprised at all if our starting DEs in 2013 wound up being Danielle Hunter and Frank Herron.
Question 2: If there was one question mark about this class it was, "Why no running back?" Does that concern you? Clearly, it's an all-in play for Leonard Fournette. What do you think of that strategy?
Billy: Given the lack of nearby talent at the RB position this year, I don't think it's a bad call. Yeah, it would be great to have somebody like Adam Taylor, but he'd likely be looking at a redshirt -- and if the injury situation gets bad enough to where LSU has to rely on a 4th string running back, it's not good regardless of who that back is. Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard and the returning Alfred Blue are a pretty good threesome, and you an throw Terrance Magee back into that group, plus Brazill as a change-up player a la Trindon Holiday and you have five pretty good bodies.
Kris: Agree with Billy that LSU will be fine in 2013 with the current crop of backs. In fact, LSU will be excellent. But you face the distinct possibility of losing Blue, Hill and Hilliard after next season. You can pretty much count on Blue and Hill leaving. So that could leave LSU with just Terrance Magee and whatever freshmen they bring in, with Brazil as a possible specialty guy. Obviously, the coaches rolled the dice a little bit, but I think it was the right move. That situation is going to be very enticing for Fournette to sign up for. If for some reason he doesn't, then it will be very enticing for some other elite back. I suspect LSU will sign at least two, possibly three RBs in the Class of 2014.
Adam Taylor's film didn't do anything for me, and the coaches got a first hand look at him at camp last summer and passed on offering. So I'll trust their judgement there. I think that if the state of Louisiana had an elite back, LSU would have taken him. But since it didn't, I think the staff made the right move by doubling down on 2014 and Fournette, despite the effect it could have on the overall depth for the 2014 season. If Hilliard stays for his senior season, then I believe everything will work out just fine.
To sum up my answer...yes the strategy concerns me, but I believe it is the right move.
Paul: I agree. And if you are going to make an all-in play for a back... Fournette is the type of back you make an all-in play for. I agree with you, Kris, there is an outsanding possibility Fournette is LSU's starting RB in 2014. And with Cam Cameron coming in, that should make LSU even more enticing to him. Fournette has a well-round skillset. Physically, he may most resemble an Adrian Peterson, but he's a good pass catcher and a guy you can do a lot of things with.
So is it risky? Sure. But RB is easily a position you can gamble on youth at. It's super easy to play young guys early there. Hell, our best RB last year was a freshman.
Question 3: We've talked a good deal about the offense so far, but what about defensively? LSU lost a lot of talent on that side of the ball from 2012. Which of these guys do you think can step up for immediate playing time in 2013?
Kris: Tre'Davious White is the easy answer. He looks like a natural to step right into LSU's nickel back role. He's so quick and shifty that he should be able to handle covering those tough slot receivers in the middle of the field. And he should be deadly coming off those blitzes from the corner that Chief loves. What's better is that this will enable Jalen Mills to remain on the outside where he's more effective, in my opinion. Before the end of the season, I wouldn't be surprised if White is starting at corner and then dropping down to Nickel when appropriate, same as Tyrann Mathieu in 2011.
Aside from White, you've got to think that the defensive linemen have the best chance to make an early impact. With SO much opportunity for playing time, I'd bet that Frank Herron or Tashawn Bower, or possibly both, get into the rotation at defensive end. That rotation right now consists of Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter. Then you've got Justin Maclin, who didn't play a lick in 2012 and Jordan Allen who is coming off knee surgery. So yea...the opportunity is there. Defensive tackle is not much different so guys like Greg Gilmore, Christian LaCouture and Quay Bain will have the chance to shine early. If Bain takes to some coaching, I think he could be the one to make the biggest impact as a freshman.
Billy: Agree with Kris on White. I would wager quite a few will push for early time. Desean Smith and Jeryl Brazill are guys that need to be involved on offense sooner rather than later, not to mention the newby wide receivers (plus the redshirted Travin Dural), and of course d-line depth will give every lineman recruit a chance to get into the rotation. The defensive tackle spot has just four guys at the moment: Freak, Ego, Quentin Thomas and Mickey Johnson, and the last two are total unknowns. Thomas has always been spoken of very highly, but every DT prospect has to have a shot at cracking that rotation. And of course, White and Brazil are obvious candidates to get involved in the return game.
I'm also going to go back to Pocic. With the tackle situation still somewhat unclear, I have little doubt he'll be in that group competing for the left and right spots, along with Vadal Alexander, Jerald Hawkins and Evan Washington.
Paul: Clearly I've already mentioned Herron as a guy I think will play early, if not start.
I doubt we go the year without seeing Kendell Beckwith on the field in some capacity. He's simply too gifted to sit and he's the type of guy that could be on a potential 3-year plan, so why not play him?
LSU's lack of depth in the defensive backfield means Tre White will almost certainly see time, if he's as good as advertised. One guy who I think is really sneaky here is Christian Lacouture. He's an EE, so already working with the team. Lacouture wasn't a highly ranked recruit, but that notion betrays his offer list, which is impressive. Watch him HERE. His inside swim move at the 1:30 mark is exactly why I think he could play early. Lacouture comes to LSU with a bit more refined technique. He may lack the upside of someone like Herron or Bower, but he's arguably more ready to play out of the box. Having an entire spring to workout with the team and further refine his technique only further support that. As mentioned the DT depth is thin. I could see him getting snaps.
Question: Almost every class, for every school, has a couple of those questionable prospects. You know, the guys like Rocky Duplessis, etc. that are kinda head scratchers. Generally it's someone who just impressed the coaches in camp or something along those lines. Now, I'm a big advocate of recruiting to depth. I think classes absolutely jam-packed with stars can throw off the roster balance. You need guys who will be role players and are OK with that. Who in this class is along those lines? Or is there anybody in this class that really makes you say... "hmmm?"
Kris: For me, Tevin Lawson was one of those "hmmm" guys. Based on his film, I didn't really see the need to give him an early offer but since he ended up not being a part of this class, I'm not sure he qualifies as an answer to your question. Logan Stokes was a guy like that for me for a while. But once Nic Jacobs got booted from the team for good, a blocking tight-end who is ready to play immediately became a big need. So that one kind of worked itself out too. I still think LSU should have offered Rummel's Cethan Carter, but I'm getting off track. Some may say Kevin Spears would fit the bill but given the need for an outside receiver and the available scholarships LSU had in January, I understand why they're taking a flier on him.
I'm sure some in this class won't pan out, but I honestly don't see any head scratchers. From top to bottom, I like just about everyone and don't see any guys that are just filler.
Billy: I tend to agree. Some of the fits are a bit odd. Guys like Lewis Neal, Tashaun Bower and Kendall Beckwith seem more like 3-4 guys, but to me they're the kind of players you take if you have the opportunity, and then adjust later on. It just goes back to the way this class fills needs. Even the players that might be question marks in terms of talent, fill a need enough that it's worth it to take a flyer. Spears might be a project as a WR, but LSU needs some tall guys that can get down the field and he fits that mold. If he doesn't work out, it doesn't cost LSU anything to try and take a chance. Ditto Stokes in the blocking tight end role. John Diarse doesn't impress me as much as he does some, but the guy's a heck of an athlete, and by most accounts he's the type of leader that can be valuable intangibly.
There's balance here at all the right spots.
Paul: I think you are both on point here, which is why I asked the question. There's really not that, "Huh?" type of kid in this class. Every kid makes sense on some level. Even if you wanted to look at the late offers, I quite like Duke Riley and Kevin Spears. Both are definitely D1 talents, and both could even contribute immediately. Neither may become a superstar, but they have pretty defined roles going forward.
LAST QUESTION: Now that we've put a bow on the 2013 class, sans the whole "make sure everyone gets admitted" issue, we turn our eyes to 2014. It's early yet, but this has the makings of a special class. Is there anyone in particular you are looking out for?
Kris: There is so many elite prospects, both in state and out of state, that LSU has a great shot at that it's hard to zero in on one guy. But forced to pick just one, Leonard Fournette seems like the obvious answer to me. He's one of the best running back talents to come out in many years, not just in Louisiana but nationally. LSU has essentially not taken a running back in each of the last two signing classes. And like we talked about earlier, LSU is clearing the depth chart to make the best pitch possible to Fournette. It's a plan that simply HAS to work or else LSU will be scrambling.
Most of all though, LSU needs to have a year in state similar to 2011 or 2013 where the large, large majority of Louisiana prospects signed with LSU. In 2012, you saw the top three in state players (Landon Collins, Shiro Davis, Denzel Devall) go elsewhere. That can NOT happen for 2014. If LSU loses one of the elite guys...fine. The class will still be special. But they can't afford to lose multiple blue chippers out of this crop. More than ever before, LSU needs to lock down the Boot.
Billy: Kris nails it in terms of keeping the top guys in state again. There will always be the odd one that truly wants to get away, but LSU needs to make sure they keep 7-8 of that top 10 and replace the stragglers with out-of-staters.
I won't get into a lot of names now, but two things interest me about this year's cycle. One, how this in-state crop comes together relationship-wise. 2011 was noteworthy for the whole "Fam" deal with the top guys like Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard, Anthony Johnson, Jarvis Landry and La'El Collins all being extremely close, even making road trips to check out each other's high school games and the like. Does this year's group form that kind of bond before they even make it to campus?
Secondly, I'm very curious to see the new recruiting apparatus in action. How does Cam Cameron sell himself on the road, especially to quarterbacks. Not only is he back in the recruiting game for the first time in 10 years, but he's also working for a program that just added two very highly touted quarterbacks in its last class. Will he be able to grab another big name, or maybe target an under-the-radar type that's a bit more of a "project," as people are fond of saying? Are there any SEC-level talents in Louisiana? Additionally, I'm interested to see how LSU adjusts to these new recruiting rules. Most expect that Steve Kragthorpe will be helping in this capacity, but who else does LSU bring in? I'm interested to find out, or see if the program keeps that kind of thing under wraps.