Sleeper prospects come in every signing class. When you sign a class as star-studded as LSU's 2014 group, it's only natural players will fly under the radar, particularly when they play the same position as other highly esteemed prospects.
The coaching staff placed a heavy emphasis on the receiver position in the 2014 class. They doled out 15 offers across the country, primarily to the nation's top targets. It was also a banner year for the position in state. Speedy Noil and Malachi Dupre are arguably the best two wideouts in the country. Trey Quinn is a consensus top 100 prospects that most LSU fans feel should be a 5-star. D'Haquille Williams, though playing at a JUCO in Mississippi, is a Louisiana native. For a good while it looked like LSU may be able to pull down a recruiting with all four of those guys. It's hard to imagine signing a better group of receivers in this or any other lifetime.
Quite obviously, this didn't come to pass. LSU finished with Dupre, Quinn, Tony Upchurch and a lesser known sleeper prospect from Alexandria, D.J. Chark (pronounced SHARK).
Chark's commitment came as a bit of a surprise. In the span of a week he received offers from LSU, Oklahoma State, and finally Texas A&M. At the time, little was known about him. The staff offered on June 3rd, which Chark pounced on just seven days later. He served as a stark contrast to eventual Alabama signee Cameron Sims, who refused to come to LSU camps to earn his offer. Chark's June 3rd visit for LSU camp proved to be exactly what the staff needed to see the offer the emerging prospect.
Still, even with a burgeoning offer list, Chark never ascended up recruiting rankings. LSU continued to pursue the top national targets in Dupre, Quinn, Noil and Williams. Chark never wavered, not even so much as taking another visit.
Chark posted 68 catches for 1108 yards and 9 TDs to go along with 44 carries for 495 yards and 5 rushing TDs in his final two seasons at Alexandria Senior High. He was selected for the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, along with fellow LSU signee Donnie Alexander as well as 28 other SEC signees. 247Sports ranks Chark a composite 3-star with a .8728 rating. That makes him somewhere from the 70-75th best WR in the country and one of the nation's top 500 prospects. He's one of the 25 best prospects in Louisiana.
110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.
100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career.
97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who displays pro-potential.
89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country.
79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.
Tale of the Tape
Weight: 176 pounds
40: 4.46 seconds
Short Shuttle: 4.13
Vertical Leap: 36"
In a recent interview, Chark stated he's up over 6'2" and now weighing 180-185. The height and weight listed come from the LSU roster, so I'm assuming they are closer to reality. One major takeaway from the interview is this answer to a question about Moffitt's strength and conditioning programs:
They are different from high school, but as you get used to them they are pretty challenging. You just have to go in and do what you’re supposed to do because they are a lot harder than what we did in high school. You have to push yourself to get through them and you’re the only one that can do them; no one can do them for you. If you cheat yourself now then you’re cheating yourself of having the best chance to play as a freshman. (emphasis added)
Love that attitude. Chark's measurables are pretty impressive. Keep in mind that super-stud Malachi Dupre scored a 120.72 in the SPARQ testing. While Dupre's vertical is quite a bit better, Chark's numbers hold up exceptionally well. The kid has the athletic goods, but will need to continue add bulk and strength.
Strengths: Return Ability, Speed/Explosion, RAC
Weaknesses: Hands, Route Running, Lack of Production
Return Ability: Chark has said the coaches have already told him to come in ready to return kicks, so that's an area we may see him as early as 2014. At :12 you see the promise there. When Chark gets going, he's explosive in the open field. He does some cross the field theatrics that will likely need to be ironed out of his game for college, where following blockers and lanes are far more important, but good to see that speed. At :53 we see him return a punt as well. Again we see how explosive he is once he hits the open field. The return at 1:59 is maybe the best on the reel. I love the way he finds his blockers, identifies the running lane and explodes through for a monster return for six. He's got angle-beating speed.
Speed/Explosion: We've seen it on the returns, but his speed stands out in other areas as well. The clip at :32 is the most impressive thing he does on the reel by my estimation. That speed/explosion out of his break gets him monster separation and he reels in a rocket toss over and behind him. Impressive stuff. I also love what he brings as a potential screen player. Check out 1:34. He takes a short pass and looks pretty dead to rights immediately. He's able to juke away from one defender, but two others close in. Then he explodes through each of them.
RAC: The play at 1:34 is exhibit A of the types of things he can do once he gets the ball in his hands. At 2:25 he pulls what could best be described as a magic trick. He comes back to retrieve a poorly thrown screen, with defenders right on his tail. He's able to start going to his left, dance out of an arm tackle, change directions back right, dance away from another arm tackle, turn on the speed to catch the sideline and take it the distance. That ability to run after the catch gives him a skillset we haven't really seen from many WRs at LSU. Beckham had a little bit of it, but it was still not how he made his hay.
Bonus: Check out the block he levies on the play starting at 2:44.
Hands: This is more of a question mark than a true weakness for me. His tape is a bit grainy, so I have a hard time telling if he's snatching the ball from the air with his hands or letting it get into his body. The clip at :32 is about as good of a hands catch as you'll see, so I do have some optimism here. But it does look like he lets the ball get into his body a fair amount, something I'm no fan of.
Route Running: There's not much to see here. He's very raw in the route running department. Again, at :32 he gives us flashes of great promise. That ability to plant and explode through the route should translate well, but he'll need to learn the finer aspects of playing the position if he expects to be anything more than a screen and deep route option.
Lack of Production: I'm not overly familiar with the offense Alexandria runs, but it looks like a wide-open spread passing attack, at least some of the time. His QB seems like a solid little high-school passer, so why then can he only manage 550 yards receiving in his junior and senior years? I know his senior year he posted an additional 500 rushing yards, so moving around on offense may account for some of that, but still, you assume he's the best player on the team? Why was there not more production?
Chark could be a sleeper prospect in this class. He's still a bit slight, but he's got good height and a good bit of athletic upside. The question will be if he can translate all those athletic skills into on-field ability. I feel fairly confident in his ability to become a return contributor, possibly as early as this year. Namely because I believe the other incoming players with return skills will be counted on for bigger roles right away. Chark will need some work before becoming a reliable receiving target.
That said, if he's able to hone those athletic talents, and he seems like a grounded, hard-working kid, there's some potential for an Odell Beckham Jr. type player here. I'm not sure he'll ever be as refined of a route runner, but he's got some of that open-field explosion and a similar build, though slightly taller.
The other major question is where he fits with all the competition. Just in this year's class he'll have to contend with Dupre, Quinn and Upchruch. The LSU receiving corps isn't exceptionally deep, so he'll have a chance to distinguish himself, but there's also the chance he could become just another body out there. If he's able to come in and make some plays in the fall practices, that may give him an opportunity to be a no. 3 receiver type behind Dupre/Quinn going forward. He may be best utilized in the slot, though there's some chance he could grown into a legitimate outside threat, depending on how much bigger he can get while retaining his speed.
High End: Return specialist as early as this year. Could grow into an eventual starter.
Low End: Just another body at the receiver position without contributing any meaningful playing time.
Realistic: I do think Chark will eventually become our lead returner. He's pretty natural there already, so maybe could vie for time there this season. I'm a little more iffy on his potential at WR, but the important thing is there is some real potential here. I liked Kavahra Holmes enough to think he could become a Mike Wallace type player for us. That didn't happen, but I think Chark is in that same realm.