I know what you're thinking. It's January, almost baseball season, so how the hell can we be looking at the football depth chart for a season that's seven months away? Even moreso, how the hell can we be looking at the football depth chart when we're not even entirely sure what new weapons will be at our disposal come February 5th? Well, I promise there is a topical point here if you bear with me for just a moment.
So, let's dive in, shall we?
Offense (committed incoming recruits italicized)
The order is fungible here, but those are your four QBs; they are all on campus, and one of them will be starting against Wisconsin.
Connor Neighbors, SR.
Melvin Jones, SO.
Terrance Magee, SR.
Kenny Hilliard, SR.
Leonard Fournette, FR.
Darrel Williams, FR.
Yikes. We love to rotate our backs, but easy to see how invested we are in Fournette. He will see snaps vs. Wisconsin, if not the bulk.
So one guy with any real playing experience and one guy that picked up a few garbage minutes and nothing else. Eek. Major opportunity for young recruits to make an impact here.
Dickson will continue to be a guy we flex out, and move around. Gordon/Stokes are your blocking TEs. Smith should see his role expanded, especially with the lack of talent at WR. Jacory Washington could very well see action, due to his physical gifts.
Fehoko Fanaika, SR.
KJ Malone, RS FR.
Will Clapp, FR.
We're set at LT, LG, OC and RT, assuming no injuries. The real battle will be at RG. My guess is that will be a two-horse race between Fehoko and Evan Washington, but super talented guys like Ethan Pocic or Josh Boutte may prove just too good to keep off the field. This is, without a doubt, the most experienced returning unit from either side of the ball.
Defense (committed incoming recruits italicized)
Herron is listed at 6'5", 275 pounds and could very well project inside. It's unknown yet what the staff's plans are for him. Otherwise you have two good ends with plenty of experience atop the depth chart here. Patterson is light but explosive, could be a solid pass rushing option.
Rasco and Bower are clearly your top two. Clark, assuming he sticks with his commitment, could probably fit into the rotation as a true freshman. Any of the backup RDEs could/will see snaps at LDE as well.
Lacouture and Thomas are the leaders in the clubhouse to be your starting DT pair. There's general concern about the DTs next season, but in players like Michael Brockers in 2010 (RS FR.), Ricky Jean-Francois in 2006 (RS FR.), or Glenn Dorsey in 2004 (FR.), we've seen young DTs make a major impact at early points in their careers. Gilmore was a highly sought after recruit, and we've touted Bain, who may have as much raw upside as any player on the entire roster. Assuming Godchaux sticks, there's a nice core here, even if young.
Debo Jones, JR.
Lorenzo Phillips, RS SO.
Donnie Alexander, FR.
Sans Kwon Alexander, I don't see any of these jobs as secure, starters nor backups. Clifton Garrett is an immediate impact player that should see snaps next season. Reports indicate that Beckwith will practice solely at LB moving forward, a decision that will benefit his development. Debo's shown speed and big hitting ability on special teams, but he's yet to translate that to his LB play. Welter improved over the final few games of the season, but I still wouldn't consider him a lock at the MLB position. Spring and summer camps will go a long way to determining our best three LBs.
Derrick Raymond didn't travel with the team for the Outback Bowl, so his return for next season is questionable. I'm speculating here that Jalen Mills' move to S is permanent. White/Robinson have immense potential: expect major strides in year two. Thomas is more of a nickel, but considering how effective he was, let's hope he's deployed more in 2014. The staff may see Ed Paris as a CB, but we should know more about that come Spring, since he's already enrolled.
Jalen Mills, JR.
Ed Paris, FR.
Jamal Adams, FR.
Devin Voorhies, FR.
Corey Thompson, JR.
Ronald Martin, SR.
Rickey Jefferson, SO.
John Battle, FR.
Free/Strong seems mostly interchangeable in the Chavis defense. Good depth/versatility here. Voorhies is a guy many expect to be a S, but he has the frame to grow into OLB.
So what does all this mean? Count the youth. Next year's squad will feature a heavy mixture of completely unknown and largely unproven talent. The defense returns 4-6 starters, depending on how you label them. The offense returns four of five linemen, all of the TEs and nothing else. We will start underclassmen at QB, WR (2 or 3), DT (2), and CB (2). We will start never before starters at RB, WR, RG, DT, LB, CB and S. Seven of our 22 total starters for next season are guaranteed to be Sophomores or younger, and that's assuming upper class men are able to secure the remaining spots up for grabs (1 or 2 LB, 1 or 2 S, RG, and RB).
As we inch closer to NSD, it's apparent now more than ever, that any promise this coaching staff makes for early playing time isn't just a hollow 'crootin' tactic. Outside of most of the OL, you can come to LSU and YOU CAN PLAY. This is quite a deviation from one of the earliest Miles' criticisms that he "only plays upper class men." Just yesterday, Brad Edwards tweeted:
LSU's 18 early entries to the NFL draft for 2013-14 are 10 more than any other school has ever had in a 2-year span.— Brad Edwards (@JBradEdwards) January 21, 2014
We can question the merit of some player's decisions. But, as our fearless editor has routinely pointed out:
It seems a good day to repeat this fact: Every single one of the LSU players who left for the draft early last season is on an NFL roster— Pod Katt (@valleyshook) January 21, 2014
Facts are facts, man. Does that mean I think every LSU prospect that declared in 2013 made the right call? Nope. Does that mean I think that every LSU prospect that declared in 2014 made the right call? Nope. But there's pure, recent historical evidence that illustrates that if you wanna play in the league... come to LSU.
As it stands, the 2014 signing class is seven spots short of the full 25 members. While a number of highly ranked prospects remain in play, the question remains: Why sign anywhere else? The fact is: If your goal is the NFL, and for most recruits looking at LSU and similar destinations, that is the goal, then why not have a short layover in Baton Rouge? After all, our connecting flights are proving most consistent.