Size matters. Or so they say. But it matters at LSU. It matters to our WR core, which while definitively adequate, struggled at times last season due to their general... lack of size. Sure, Jarvis Landry plays bigger than he's listed at times. But when it comes to redzone offense, winning a jump ball wasn't even a passing thought. Even through the doldrums of the last few years of offense, LSU often trotted out a 6'3-6'5 target capable of winning a one-on-one NBA-styled jump off. Lee-to-Toliver-2x in the Swamp comes to mind, for instance. But not last year.
LSU had to get bigger in the receiving corps. Really, last year is the first year I can remember in a long time where we didn't trot out a 6'3 guy that could leap. Randle, Toliver, LaFell, Bowe, hell even Buster Davis was 6'2." It hurt the offense. I mentioned the RZ issue, but the team remained surprisingly proficient from the 20 in, putting points on the board 45 times in 53 trips, a sound 85% conversion rate, which ranked 36th nationally. The troublesome issue is that only six of those 45 scores were passing TDs. This is where the lack of size hurts.
I think you could also make a case for the size factor inhibiting the deep passing game as well, an area we all know Mettenberger struggled with in 2012. Mett's got plenty of arm to get it out there deep, but he still needs guys that can go up and get it. That simply doesn't play to the strengths of Beckham or Landry.
Les and co. recognized the need and went out and got their size.
When I first heard the name, "Avery Johnson," it was tied to a group of elite recruits in 2010. We're talking top tier, best-of-the-best players. For Johnson to be mentioned in the same breath, naturally I was excited. Throw in the fact that he's Patrick Peterson's little brother, and well, I'm over the moon. Then there was a story about him burning De'Anthony Thomas. Mind you, he's 16 at the time and De'Anthony is a superstar senior recruit. Surely, I thought, by 2012, Avery Johnson would be the no. 1 WR in the Nation.
But it just never happened.
He committed to LSU in 2010, then did some silly recruiting games type of interviews where he debated the merits of Miami and USC and [insert whichever team called him last here], all the while everyone knew there was a very slim chance he wound up anywhere but Baton Rouge. Johnson's recruiting ambled on, he moved to Baton Rouge, then back to Florida, likely for family reasons that really aren't at all relevant to his future.
The trouble is, he either just never got any better, or the recruiting services just ignored him? It's hard to say. There's not a ton of film of him, and what is.. isn't inspiring. Don't get me wrong, he's a good looking HS football player, but you would never throw on the tape and say, THAT GUY. He did get Under Armour All-American status, and remained a steady 4-star, top 250 recruit for the entire year. A good player to be sure, but never that, EHRMAGERD LOOK AT JULIO JONES JUMPING OVER EVERYONE type of player.
Then he failed to qualify. Johnson was off to Hargrave Military Academy, where he spent the second half of 2012 before finally enrolling at LSU in January 2013. Oh yeah, and he changed his name. Avery Peterson. Just like his big brother, who made the same switch.
What I Like
Let's start at the :11 mark. Remember the whole "go up and get it" thing I mentioned earlier. This is a prime example. You'll notice it's a pretty ugly, sloppy route he runs. Basically just gets off the line and runs to the corner of the end zone with very little precision. We'll talk more on this later, but I want to focus on what happens at the end. The QB lobs it up in the air. It's that 50/50 jump ball. What I love is that Peterson high points the ball. One of the most important characteristics for any WR is the ability to catch the ball at it's highest point. Of the many things that make Calvin Johnson sensational, the ability to high-point may be his pre-eminent skill. He explains it partially, here. Peterson does a really nice job of locating the ball (part one), adjusting his body (part two) and leaping to catch the ball at it's highest point (part three). That's textbook execution. 1:06 has another strong example of his leaping abilities.
Speed after the catch is a skill that i think Odell Beckham really possesses in spades. We probably haven't made best use of his open field ability throughout his career. I'd love to see him get a chance for more screens and quick hitters where he can become a de-facto RB. They are safe plays, but plays we haven't blocked particularly well. In 2013, we should have one of the more athletic OLs we've had in several years. Collins, Porter, Turner are all above average or better athletes on the OL. Williford is more of a slug, but if Pocic gets a lot of PT, that's another highly athletic guy. Even big, beefy Vadal Alexander will surprise you with his ability to get out and block. It's something that should help the screen game.
All that to say, Peterson has good RAC abilities that need to be put to use. Check the :53 mark. This is pretty good example of his athletic tools. He's running up the seam, but has to turn and adjust his body to make the catch. Not easy, but he makes it look pretty fluid. After securing the ball (this is HUGE, as we saw multiple times this year where guys tried to start running before catching and made some silly drops), he turns his body and is immediately locating blockers and getting up field. Then he turns on the speed and gets the sideline.
His pure strength also helps his game tremendously. Look at 1:24. Pretty routine pitch and catch, but it then takes four (!) defenders to wrestle him to the ground. That's strength and toughness. The strength can also be seen on jump balls and should come to his advantage when he's tasked with getting off jams.
Finally, I want to highlight the entire video as an example of what a hands catcher looks like. Peterson has big, strong hands. He knows how to use them to catch the ball. That sounds silly, but guys like Terrance Toliver were really inhibited by the fact that he let the ball get into his body a ton. Peterson doesn't do that. It's all hands catching.
What I Dislike
I imagine a lot of the reason Peterson never really became a mega-recruit is because he really lacks any route running ability. Almost every play he makes is just pure, natural ability. He clearly doesn't have any idea how to run a route. He doesn't make firm cuts. Even on slants, etc., you rarely see him put that back foot into the ground and explode into the cut.
Route running is an area where less than great athletes can really make their hay through precision and consistency. Jerry Rice wasn't the biggest and certainly not the fastest, but he perfected his routes. It (along with some generous NFL rules) made him impossible to defend. It's really a craft.
The positive thing here is that I see the athletic tools from Peterson. He's plenty explosive and fluid enough to turn that into good route running. What he needs is the coaching and focus to improve. To be clear, he's nowhere near the caliber athlete of his brother (few are), but there are traces of that natural explosion, speed, quickness.
What I Don't Know
The one, perhaps misguided, concern I have with Peterson is his seemingly winding road to Baton Rouge. The move here and back in HS. His flip-flop recruiting games. Then he doesn't qualify. Then even on NSD he decides to play a prank on the coaches saying he signed with Miami? I'm all for the kid having fun, and I'm not making a ton of all this, but lack of focus could be a potential concern.
What worries me is that he is such a gifted athlete that he becomes one of those, "Just show up and I'm better" types that never works to perfect his craft. What makes his older brother unique and incredible is that NOT ONLY is he the best athlete on the field... he's probably the hardest worker too. I don't see that work ethic and determination... yet. I don't see that absolute obsession for greatness... yet. His brother had it and that guy, well he just keeps getting better.
There's a chance here. He's an early enrollee, so that helps. He's been with the team, working out, practicing, developing chemistry with Mettenberger. The WR core is by no means "settled." They need big playmakers. Peterson isn't a typical 6'4", but he's a good 6'1"+ and he PLAYS big. Landry and Beckham are your top two. Boone will definitely get some run but seems to perpetually fall out of favor. Wright is little more than a glorified blocker at this point. Dural is a guy a lot of people are excited about.
But I think his biggest competitors will be Quantavious Leslie and the previously discussed John Diarse. Leslie is probably the safest bet to play a lot early due to him being a JUCO and having that natural size/speed combo that makes him a threat. Diarse is an interesting counterpart to Peterson. He doesn't have near the pure athletic ability, but he's got all the intangibles and work ethic. How Peterson competes in the summer will go a long ways to determining how many snaps he sees in the fall.
High End: I think he can be a two-year starter, with an eye on a redshirt this year to get bigger and stronger and become a better route runner. If he's focused and motivated, he's got All-SEC athleticism.
Low End: On the flip side, if he's content to just keep showing up, going through the motions, he'll be a ST lifer and garbage time accumulator. I hate to be that dismal, but I do think it's a potential reality.
Realistic: I see him being a solid but not superb contributor. He may reach starter level, and he'll probably accrue some catches and TDs. I think the crop of WR talent both on campus and coming soon will make it difficult for him to be a major impact type.