It's become a point of pride to play defensive back at LSU. Most look back to Patrick Peterson as the man who began the run of "DBU" at LSU, but truly before him players like Laron Landry, Ryan Clark and Corey Webster were doing damage, both collegiately and then again in the NFL.
It's both a blessing and a curse, as expectations are now higher than ever. Any time LSU fields a set of defensive backs that are merely "competent" it's considered a failure, or at least a point of frustration. Last year's crew ranked 20th in Passing S&P+, and though they weren't panned, it's hardly a unit met with celebration. They impressed against A&M but struggled against Georgia. The safety play was... something. Yet, by season's end they were a top 20 unit playing against the likes of Aaron Murray, Johnny Manziel, and A.J. McCarron.
It's a good time to be a defensive back at LSU.
Every recruiting cycle, there are players that recruitniks latch on to that never wind up in the signing class. Not just your superstar 5-star players, but lower ranked prospects that the coaches often keep tabs on in case plan a or plan b don't work out. It's the harsh reality of recruiting, but often times just being associated with a school the caliber of LSU gives the players a rub. It's why you see so many players claim offers from the top schools in the country. The ole dress like the job you want adage.
Fans latch onto these players and hope for them in the class. They hold them up above higher ranked prospects (typically foolishly), touting them as sleepers.It doesn't hurt that while LSU toils and battles to land 5-star talents, these lower ranked prospects proudly declare in interviews how they'll commit on the spot if offered. It's quickly mistaken for loyalty, when it's often times the player just expressing that he would proudly take the best option on the table.
For a while, I thought John Battle may be one of those types. LSU flirted with him even as early as January of 2013, being the second team to extend him an offer after UNC did in September of 2012. Other offers poured in from FSU, WVU, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Tennessee, USC... the list goes on. He visited FSU in March. He and his family plotted out a summer college tour taking him to LSU, Tennessee, Louisville, and South Carolina amongst others, all in the month of June. It's the most business-like approach to recruiting you could imagine. June 25th he competed in a camp at USC, returned home and committed to LSU just days later.
Battle handled his recruitment about as maturely as I've seen any HS prospect. It was an early sign to an advanced maturity. He took only two official visits. One to North Carolina State in November, and his final to LSU in January, after it was well established he'd be signing with the Tigers in the first week of February. Battle, unlike so many lesser heralded prospects that come and go for LSU, wound up apart of the 2014 signing class.
Matt Osborne at Southern Pigskin wrote a fantastic piece on John Battle, the person. Here's an excerpt:
Boasting a 3.5 GPA at Hallandale High School in Florida, Battle has dreams of ultimately ending up in the radio business. It was an ambition and a dream which led to him his being abnormally proactive for a high school senior.
"I did an internship with [radio legend Larry Blustein] over the summer and he taught me the ropes," Battle commented on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "So now I have started my own business, a broadcast company called "Battle Between the Lines", and I just cover most local high school sports when my season is over. I do some track stuff, or I’ll go out there and record some basketball games or even some all-star games if I’m not involved, and I record it, come back and edit it up and make a highlight of it. I put it out on YouTube, Facebook and things like that, other social medias."
Many high schoolers can easily express their hopes and dreams, but decidedly few aggressively follow through. Battle taking the initiative to actively pursue his dreams serves as further illustration to the advanced maturity displayed during his recruitment. He's not a person that's banking his entire future on whether or not he's fortunate enough to ply his trade in the NFL. I love the big picture mentality. Here's a cool interview with Battle.
Battle is a composite 3-star player with an .8801 rating on 247Sports. That puts him around the 30th best safety and one of the 400 best players in the nation.
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
Short Shuttle: 4.60
Battle's recruiting profiles listed him at 6'2", but the official LSU roster even lists him at 6'0". A prospect that's 6'2", 180 will be judged considerably different than one 6'0", 180. At 6'2", 180, there's potential to consider him as a future S or LB. At an event 6'0", he's likely a CB or S all the way. The athletic testing results we have aren't exceptional. I don't see Battle as a run fast, jump high type of athlete.
Strengths: Physical, Sure Tackler, Intelligence, Smooth, Special Teams
Weaknesses: Athletic Upside, Size
Physical: Battle isn't the biggest of DBs, but he's aggressive in how he throws his body weight around. Check out 1:11 and you can see how he likes to deliver a blow. At 1:26 you can see he's not afraid to come up and lower his shoulder into a ball carrier. He explodes from the hips and delivers a good pop. At 3:50 he takes on a blocker, shucks him and makes a tackle. Willing to engage contact to make a play. Finally, at 5:30 we see some potential as a press man corner. He's physical at the line and shoving the WR around.
Sure Tackler: Battle often goes for the crushing blow, but he can be a solid wrap-up tackler as well. Look at 4:29 and you can see his ability to wrap up and bring a ball carrier down, despite not being a huge player. At 4:40 I especially like his technique in bringing the ball carrier down.
Intelligence: Battle shows a good feel for the game, which should help account for his athletic limitations. The first clip on the reel at :31 shows his right time, right place ability. Mark it as luck, but Battle "just so happens" to be there a lot. Again at :53 he's "lucky" to be around the football. When Battle knows what he's seeing, he's an aggressive player. Look at both 2:18 and 2:31. When he diagnoses, he comes downhill hard for tackles. Also like his technique at 2:50 playing trail technique.
Smooth: Battle isn't the most explosive athlete, but he displays good body awareness and a certain silky smoothness in play. Check out his WR-like skills at both 1:43 and 1:53. He's a very smooth and effortless catcher of the ball. I'm most impressed by how he's able to shift his body into ideal position to make a snag.
Special Teams: Check out 6:31 on to see him in coverage. He could be an immediate asset on coverage units this fall.
Athletic Upside: Battle is smaller than I initially anticipated. LSU's first depth chart lists him as a CB, which came as a surprise to me. I anticipated Battle being a safety all the way. As I said above, he's not a guy that runs fast and jumps high. Considering he doesn't have exceptional size, that make him an interesting prospect. Is he a CB? Is he a S? Is he more like Dwayne Thomas and projects more like a nickel only guy? Look at 5:10. I appreciate the hustle, but he's not an explosive player.
Size: Tying to the above, at 6'0", 180, he's corner-sized with S athletic ability. Considering he's not overly explosive, can he stick at CB? I'd worry about him turning and running with top-notch SEC WRs. But there is some Rashard Robinson in him, considering he's got long arms and will play physical. Can he overcome his lack of overall size by being tough and pesky at the LoS?
Battle is an interesting prospect. At just 6'0", 180, he's similarly sized to Russell Gage, a guy we'd probably consider on the smaller side. 6'0" is good height for a corner, but he lacks the athletic ability we see from players like Tre White and Rashard Robinson. There's not a ton of tape to operate on him with him as a corner. Can he turn and run with WRs? That will be the biggest question he needs to answer as a player.
He could feature as the future Nickel, assuming Dwayne Thomas' spot. He's as big as Thomas is now, though not as quick and athletic. I love how physical he plays and his willingness to mix things up. That could project well to the nickel. He's probably more similar to Micah Eugene, who was also a corner-sized Safety/Nickel prospect. Battle's willingness to stick his nose into the running game and as a tackler should help him overcome the size issues.
His immediate future may be as a gunner on special teams. He has a knack for locating the ball carrier and he's fearless in pursuit, so that could help avoid a RS and contribute immediately. Looking at the depth chart, it's hard to envision him making any significant impact on the 2014 defense. If his future lies at nickel, it'll be three more seasons until we see him as a significant contributor on defense.
That's okay with me, seeing as how deep our secondary depth chart currently stands. If Battle doesn't play until 2017, it will allow him some time to add bulk and familiarize with the college game. He's likely not an immediate contributor.
High End: DB starter/nickel that makes impact plays despite not starting on the outside.
Low End: Practice DB depth.
Realistic: Special teams ace with some potential to contribute on D, similar to Dwayne Thomas.