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LSU 2014 Position Previews: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends

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Taking a look at one end of LSU’s very unproven passing game.

Get ready to see a lot more of this guy, SEC cornerbacks.
Get ready to see a lot more of this guy, SEC cornerbacks.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

Roster/Depth Chart

Wide Receiver

Player

Ht/Wt

2013 (raw stats)

Advanced Stats

19 Quantavious Leslie (Sr.)

6-4, 179

1 catch for 11 yards in 4 game appearances.

100% catch rate.

83 Travin Dural (Soph.)

6-2, 192

7 catches for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns.

15 targets, 9.7 yards per target, 46.7% catch rate. 4.8% of LSU's total targets.

2 Avery Peterson (RS-Fr.)

6-2, 200

Redshirted.

N/A

87 Kevin Spears (RS-Fr.)

6-3, 195

Redshirted.

N/A

9 John Diarse (RS-Fr.)

6-0, 210

Redshirted.

N/A

15 Malachi Dupre (Fr.)

6-3, 187

Five-star recruit.

8 Trey Quinn (Fr.)

6-0, 194

Four-star recruit.

81 Tony Upchurch (Fr.)

6-1, 230

Four-star recruit.

82 D.J. Chark (Fr.)

6-2, 182

Three-star recruit.

Tight Ends

41 Travis Dickson (Sr.)

6-3, 237

5 catches for 109 yards.

13 targets, 8.4 yards per target, 38.5% catch rate. 4.1% of total targets.

84 Logan Stokes (Sr.)

6-5, 255

No catches in 13 game appearances with 3 starts.

N/A

85 Dillon Gordon (Jr.)

6-5, 295

7 catches for 92 yards.

11 targets, 8.0 yards per target, 54.5% catch rate. 3.5% of total targets.

89 DeSean Smith (Soph.)

6-4, 242

1 catch for 14 yards.

N/A

88 Jacory Washington (Fr.)

6-5, 221

Four-star recruit.

44 Colin Jeter (Soph.)

6-6, 236

Two-star recruit.

Who's Returning?

This might be the other position where I'm a little more excited to talk about the newcomers than I am the vets. Which is a shame. Because I think Travin Drual is really about to break out.

Dural closed out the 2013 on a 49-yard bang, catching that big game-winner from Anthony Jennings to top Arkansas in the final minutes. He only caught seven passes on the season, which was more due to a lack of targets (remember, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry took up 62 percent of LSU's total receiving targets a year ago) than a lack of talent, and as the returning veteran of this unit (Quantavious Leslie is a senior, but as a JUCO transfer he's only been on campus a year), Dural really seemed to embrace the role of the next go-to guy this offseason. As physically impressive as he looked in the spring with some added muscle, Dural just seemed to carry himself like LSU's next top dog. Not so much with the expectation as the certainty. "This is my time."

Certainly the tools are all there. Dural's a tall wideout with deep speed and outstanding leaping abiliy/body control (he's won high school titles in both the 200-meter dash and the high jump). He's got what it takes to not only be the No. 1 target on this team, but a damn good receiver.

The 6-4 Leslie arrived as a fairly heralded junior-college receiver that many thought would serve as the team's deep threat. But between his struggles to keep weight on a very slight frame, and the emergence of Beckham, Landry and Dural last year, he's been lost in the struggle.

Redshirt freshman John Diarse is a bigger, more physical type of player, but he kind of struggled to distinguish himself on the field this spring. A former high-school quarterback, he's probably still finding his way a bit with the nuances of the position. He does seem to have developed a bit of a leadership role though.

Surprisingly, two names that have surfaced a little this fall have been redshirt freshmen Avery Peterson and Kevin Spears. Miles has mentioned Peterson among the fastest guys on the team, and with a year of development these two seem to be answering the challenge of the highly regarded freshmen coming in. Will they hold them off? I'm skeptical, but it's still nice to hear.

At tight end, LSU returns all four of last year's crew, including two seniors. Near-300 pound starter Dillon Gordon is back after doing a fine job as a blocker and occasional pass-catcher last year. Honestly, he has the potential to probably be a bit more effective in the receiving game if called upon. He'll never be a true burner down the seam, but with big hands to match that body, he can be a nice outlet player and red-zone target.

In general, that's the theme for this position in 2014 -- more use. But the headliner there isn't Gordon, but sophomore DeSean Smith. He was a huge recruit as majorly productive receiving tight end out of Barbe High School, and while he got on the field early and often last year he only caught a single pass. I expect that to change this season. There's not only a huge vacuum of production to fill for the entire receiving corps, but particularly the over-the-middle, chain-moving type of target that Landry was. Smith has as good a skillset as anybody to fill that role. He has the requisite size and speed and a lot of experience in the passing game. He even caught a pair of touchdowns in the 2014 Spring Game. Smith, along with senior Travis Dickson, mark easily the best receiving targets LSU has had at the position in a long, long time. If this position can't at least collectively (maybe not one guy putting up huge numbers, but as a unit), be somewhat productive this season, it may never happen.

The final returning piece is senior blocking tight end Logan Stokes, who did a damn good job in LSU's short-yardage and goal-line packages a year ago. He's a big, mean guy that really showed a lot of attitude in pushing around defenders.

N00bs?

Oh-hohoho are there some exciting newbies here. The headliners are, of course, Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, both of whom are expected to not only get on the field quickly, but possibly even crack LSU's top-three rotation at receiver. Dupre is a big, athletic player that flashes an incredible talent for going up and getting the ball.

Chi1_medium_medium

What's more, is he's a driven player that has dedicated his offseason to rounding out his game. John Curtis, of course, operates a very run-heavy split-back veer offense, and he probably ran about four routes. So Dupre spent a chunk of his offseason working with the Saints' Keenan Lewis (Dupre's uncle has been a longtime NFL agent, so Dupre is no stranger to NFL coaches or players) to round out his game, in addition to regular throwing sessions with freshman quarterback Brandon Harris. That polish and his natural talent should get him on the field quickly, as a red zone/jump-ball target, if nothing else.

His classmate Quinn wasn't quite as heralded, but likely comes to Baton Rouge a little more ready to see the field. Playing in the aforementioned Barbe High School's pass-happy Air Raid, Quinn broke the national high school record for receiving yardage as a senior, flashing a fairly complete game of speed, quickness and route-running. It's been pretty typical to see recruitnik-types refer to him in the typical white receiver clichés but make no mistake; Quinn will be a big-play target here for LSU.

And he can get up and go get the ball himself.

Trey-quinn-catch_o_3677849_medium

But they won't be the only freshmen wideouts looking for playing time. Tony Upchurch gives the Tigers another big body outside, something that receivers coach Adam Henry has been looking for. A lot of people thought the 6-1, 230-pound Upchurch might wind up as an H-back or even a fullback, but the early scuttlebutt has been that he's a wideout the whole way. Even D.J. Chark has been a bit of a surprise in camp. He hit another growth spurt his senior year and arrived on campus around 6-2 or so, and Miles has singled him out when discussing the team's fastest players. Watch for him on special teams.

At tight end, Jacory Washington brings another highly touted receiving target at the tight end spot. He may be looking at a redshirt year with so much depth at that spot, but there's a bright future there. And summer JUCO addition Colin Jeter provides some additional depth as a blocking tight end for the future, as LSU will lose two players at the spot following this year.

Where's the Competition?

Of the names mentioned above, the only two that I would say should feel fairly comfortable in their roles are Dural and Gordon. Everything else is relatively up for grabs. Dupre, Quinn and Upchurch will almost certainly be pushing for playing time, and at tight end Smith will be making a play to be on the field as often as possible in two-tight end sets and passing situations. That goes for Travis Dickson as well.

In all honestly, it LSU isn't starting one or more of the freshmen wideouts (at least in three-wide sets) in the opener, they will be by midseason. This group is that good.

And What's the Bottom Line?

Look, it's never a great thing to have inexperience on both ends of the passing game. And LSU has to replace an unprecedented level of production from last season. But at the same time, there's just that right mix of talent, drive, and surprising polish for such a young group, that it's not that hard to imagine the passing game grow as the season goes on (provided the quarterback play is at least at a decent level).

Dural looks ready to break out as a top receiver. Dupre,Peterson, Upchurch and Spears provide some big, fast  targets outside. Quinn gives you some speed in the slot to complement Diarse's size. And then there are the tight ends, which have enough versatility to provide both some mismatch targets and safety valves for the young quarterbacks (and Cam Cameron has shown a willingness to use his tight ends in that way).

LSU's not likely to have a pair of thousand-yard receivers again in 2014, but they also aren't likely to have two players suck up nearly two-thirds of the targets either. Don't be surprised if this winds up being a fairly balanced group, with several players taking their turn in the spotlight. Maybe not one or two 50-60 catch guys, but a lot of 20-, 30- or 40-catch ones. There are a lot of bodies to spread the ball around, and remember, LSU averaged just 25 pass attempts per game last year at more than 10 yards per throw. That first number could easily goes up as the second number goes down a bit. That's more passes to go around for everybody.