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LSU Signing Day Preview: The Defensive Backs

Breaking down the Tigers' recruiting class at the defensive back position.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

DBU. That's the claim, any how. As it stands, there are currently 13 former Tigers manning NFL rosters at the defensive back position. Of those 13, 11 played under Les Miles, most of which were recruited to LSU by him. No other school can boast as many. It's spawned T-Shirts. The number will grow with Craig Loston. And players like Jalen Mills, Tre White, and Rashard Robinson may be draftable as well.

There's never a bad time to be a defensive back at LSU, but right now is exceptionally sweet.


Ed Paris

247: #63 Nationally, #3 Safety 
ESPN: #50 Nationally, #4 Safety
Rivals: #57 Nationally, #8 Safety
Scout: #47 Nationally, #7 CB

Paris is one of LSU's earliest commits, pledging in February of 2013 and never wavering. He's already enrolled and on campus, which should put him ahead of the curve for early playing time. A former Louisianan who was displaced by Katrina, Ed's been an LSU lean from the word go. He's played an integral role as a recruiter, nudging his buddy Jamal Adams along. Paris played in the U.S. Army All-American bowl.

Safeties with cornerback skills are prized commodities. Players like Earl Thomas and Ed Reed have excelled, despite being "smaller" by utilizing their brains, instincts and quickness to become ball-hawking playmakers. There's been some debate over which position Paris will play at LSU. Paris himself tweeted that he'd be working at corner, though I've seen others report he'll play safety. I can't say definitely which is true. On the hoof, he's 6'1", 190 pounds, so he's got a frame that could grow into either role. Let's take to the tape:

There's only a couple of short clips available on YouTube, none from this Senior year. Here's a link to some clips from his Senior campaign. I think the three things that stand out to me about Ed are fluidity, ball skills and instincts. I'm not sure he's a burner at the position, but he has the looks of a guy that can be scheme diverse. I'm super impressed with how easily he can open his hips and hit full stride. That's a corner skill, and also something that could be put in play if he's asked to cover a deep half, third or quarter as a safety.

When the ball is in the air, Ed does a nice job of adjusting in flight and going up to attack it. He's got outstanding leaping ability, and long arms, which should bode well for him in jump ball situations, especially near the RZ. He also seems to have a good feel/instinct in the passing game, often jumping routes and breaking up passes.

I really waffle on where I like Ed more. In the Senior clip, he looks like such an outstanding press corner, often dominating WRs at the line. But his skills as a deep-half, ball-hawking player look immense as well. There's not a ton of tape of him tackling. His tackling form looks like it could use some work (a skill that really impressed me with Tre White and Rashard Robinson on tape). But he's got the size to be able to come up and stuff the run competently.

Jamal Adams

247: #92 Nationally, #7 Safety
ESPN: #18 Nationally, #2 Safety
Rivals: #38 Nationally, #3 Safety
Scout: #8 Nationally, #1 Safety

Jamal Adams is a prospect that came on the scene "late." One of the top players in Texas, many considered him to be a Longhorn lean throughout the process. Yet, the instability of the Texas coaching situation turned his eyes to the SEC. His godfather, Joker Phillips, coaches WRs at Florida, which then became a popular choice for his services. Florida's struggles and the distance from home proved to be too much. So LSU got busy.

Credit to Steve Ensminger, who kept the lines of communication open between LSU and Adams all throughout the process. Adams tripped to LSU unofficially the weekend of the Arkansas game, then turned right back around and came again the next weekend, officially, braving a brutal Dallas ice storm that caused his flight to be canceled. The Tigers stole all momentum leading up to his decision at the Under-Armour All-American game, using the old hidden baby trick:



I don't know if Jamal Adams is the best safety in this class, but he's certainly one of the three best. Adams is compactly built at 6'0", 199 pounds, and profiles as a true two-way safety. He looks comfortable patrolling deep zones in coverage, with strong instincts. He does a good job of playing the ball in the air, often timing it up for good pass breakups or INTs. Adams played both ways in HS, and with the ball in his hands he's shifty and explosive. Playing as a WR looks to have helped his ball skills.

But, where he really stands out is as a hitter. Adams lays some truly devastating blows, including at 1:02 and at the end in the above clip. He unloads on ball carriers, but does so without really breaking form or needlessly launching himself. He does a great job of breaking down, exploding from his hips and wrapping up.

He's thickly built and muscular. Adding a few pounds to increase his overall bulk will likely help him bring down the bigger ball carrier on the next level. That said, he's already built enough to play immediately. When you look at LSU's unsettled safety depth chart, there's good reason to believe Adams can contribute immediately. While I wouldn't suspect he could take on a starting role against Wisconsin, don't be surprised if he emerges as the season wears on much like Tre White and Rashard Robinson from this year.

Devin Voorhies

247: #217 Nationally, #14 Safety
ESPN: #134 Nationally, #16 Athlete
Rivals: #244 Nationally, #11 Athlete
Scout: NR Nationally, #27 Safety

When you talk about overall athletes, few stand out more than Devin Voorhies. Hailing from Woodville, MS, just across the Louisiana/Mississippi border, about an hour from Baton Rouge, Voorhies committed to LSU in July... of 2012. He's never visited any other school, and hardly even flirted. Voorhies dominated his HS competition, claiming the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year. At Wilkinson County HS, Voorhies played all over the field on offense: QB, RB, WR, and as a DB. He's started since his freshman season, and played mostly QB since his sophomore year. He clearly won't be playing QB at LSU, but the question is, where does he project?

I honestly don't know. Most of the time, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on these things, but with Voorhies, I could see his career going so many different routes. Across recruiting sites he's listed from 6'1"-6'2" and anywhere from 185-200 pounds. That's ample size to play corner or safety nearly immediately with a frame to grow into a LB, defensively. On offense, he could project to RB or WR, though I think Fournette/Williams rule out the possibility of that.

Most seem to project him to safety, but when you start looking at the other commits, you begin to wonder if the staff is wanting to load up that heavily on Safety prospects. We are looking at potentially four guys who can play safety, with at least two of those being near certainties (Adams and Battle). Voorhies and Paris are the moving pieces. You may question my idea that he could play LB, based on size, but we've had players such as Tahj Jones and Debo come in at similar heights/weights.

Yet, when I watch the tape, I can't help but think the staff will want to entertain the idea of having the ball in his hands. As an overall athlete he reminds me most of Buster Davis or Tharold Simon, both taller, thinner, longer athletes. While he's no a true burner, he's got plenty of wiggle to him and can make plays with the ball in his hands. He also attacks the football and can makes contested catches.

The tape above doesn't have a ton of defensive highlights, and remember, he's only a Sophomore there.. There are a couple of nice plays with him jumping routes for INTs. However tough him playing QB makes projecting him to the next level, I love it. He'll have an advanced understanding of the game, and it's a great example of his football intelligence.

Ultimately, his versatility is a huge asset. I think how the rest of this class shapes up will determine his future position.The fact that we don't know where he will play is a good problem to have.

John Battle

247: NR Nationally, #18 Safety
ESPN: NR Nationally, #27 Safety
Rivals: #236 Nationally, #26 Cornerback
Scout: NR Nationally, #78 Safety

When you go through the list of underrated players in this class, Battle is the first name most LSU fans mention. He was offered in January of 2013, unoffically visited in June, committed 18 days later and camped at LSU in July. Notice again the trend of versatility, as some sites see Battle as a corner (he's listed as a Corner/Safety on ESPN as well), while others as a safety. He's got a big frame, at 6'2", 195 pounds, so much like with Voorhies, he's a kid that could grow into a LB. That said, I see Battle as a safety all the way.

Battle's a great kid, who is very focused on his future of the football field. Southern Pigskin did a nice profile detailing his endeavors in the radio industry. It's not often an 18-year-old kid has the foresight to take an internship and then start his own business, but Battle is motivated and focused. But he's not just a prize off the field, he's quite the player on as well:

Battle's size stands out, near immediately. He's a bigger safety prospect and a physical player. In the tape above, he looks like a solid prospect. But to me, he stands out much more here. He's at his best when he's attacking down hill in the run game. His tackling form is inconsistent, but I think it can be an asset with better technique. To me, he's a player that plays stronger than his size, if that makes any sense. He's a tough, hard-nosed kid that's not afraid to stick his nose in there to take on blockers or put down a runner. Those type of skills could translate well to LB, if the coaches saw fit.

As a pass defender, I'm a little more skeptical. He's not an overly fluid athlete, though in spots he does a really nice job of manning up receivers and keeping coverage. He's big and strong, so getting a jam at the line should be in his arsenal at an early age. I think he would probably be okay playing back in a zone, but I don't see that as being a major asset of his. He reminds me a bit of Corey Thompson coming out, a similarly bigger safety.

Overall, what I really like about Battle is his fearlessness. That should play into his favor for seeing early ST snaps.

Russell Gage

247: NR Nationally, #55 Athlete
ESPN: NR Nationally, #57 Athlete
Rivals: NR Nationally, NR Athlete
Scout: NR Nationally, #87 Cornerback

Gage is LSU's newest commit and a player I wrote about just last week. I gave a fairly detailed report there, but I'd like to amend at least a portion now that I've sat with his tape a little longer:

Detillier feels comfortable drawing out what I can't see. I'm with him 100% on the quick feet, and I think his size projects fine in the defensive backfield... but the ball skills, I just don't know. I'm not saying they aren't there, I'm saying the tape I have doesn't have any clips that show it.

Admittedly, Gage's HUDL tape found here is a bit long, but I watched about five minutes of QB scrambles and called it quits. Reader SeanLSU quickly pointed out to me that I should resume viewing around the 6:00 minute mark, and I'm going to recommend you all do the same. Starting at about 6:01 we get to see Gage play some WR and eventually DB... and let me tell you... it's a treat. The catch starting at 6:11 is a panty dropper (mine dropped at least).

To me, there's certain talents in football that are... almost unteachable. The ability to track the ball in flight, adjust your body and catch it is one of those things. Frankly, it's a skill that makes A.J. Green one of the absolute best WRs in the NFL and one that makes Calvin Johnson unstoppable. Sure, both are athletic freaks (and that damn sure helps), but so was Chad Jackson and Buster Davis and the list goes on, but watch those guys track and adjust. It's insane. I'm so, so impressed by how naturally Gage tracks and adjust to the ball in flight. Not to mention the kid can flat out sky.

I remain skeptical about his overall top gear, but the kid can play. Speed at corner can be overrated at times. Plenty of guys in the NFL win without being sheer burners, notably some of the NFL's best, Richard Sherman, Alterraun Verner, amongst others. I think there's an underrated tool set here that could make him a pretty effective nickel, at worst.

There's some talk that Gage has openly taken his LSU offer on the condition that if needed, he will grey shirt. It's not terribly shocking that LSU played this card with him, as he's clearly dreamed of playing at LSU. I LOVE that he will come in with a chip on his shoulder. Frankly, after re-watching the tape, I like him better as a prospect than John Battle.

Remaining Targets

Adoree' Jackson is the lone remaining potential defensive back left on the board. Even he may project to offense, so don't expect much movement.

What to Watch for on Signing Day

Beyond Adoree's announcement, not much. These guys are set in stone. Gray could be a grey shirt, so keep that in mind as the LOIs roll in.

The Future

Bright as ever. By the end of last season, we started to see a move in the secondary that I had hoped for from early on: Jalen Mills to Safety. I think Mills is such a natural safety and will be excellent back there heading into his Junior year. Of course, they could keep Mills at CB, but I think the emergence of Rashard Robinson and Tre White and lack of proven safety talent gives them the flexibility to slide him back.

Behind Mills, White and Robinson, the guys I expect to see major contributions from in 2014 are Rickey Jefferson, Dwayne Thomas and Corey Thompson. Ronald Martin should also see some snaps. But the picture we see is that there's plenty of opportunity for young guys to make plays. With Kevin Tolliver II in the fold for 2015, there's A LOT to be optimistic about heading into the future of DBU.