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Measuring the LSU Talent Drain

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How much production have the Tigers really lost?

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

One of the biggest concerns going into this season for LSU is the amount of talent that has left the program. It's impossible to read an LSU preview without some mention of the NFL draft and the loss of so many starters.

Make no mistake, LSU lost a ton of production. The question is, how much? How can LSU cope with such a talent drain?

First, we start by looking at how many starters the average team loses. Now, I would prefer to look at percentage of starts, but that's just way too labor intensive. I'm not aware of a public database that tracks that, and charting just LSU's returning starts and games played took more time than I'd like to admit. So, we're left with our best resource, Phil Steele's tally of returning starters by team.

The average team returns somewhere between 14 and 13 out of 22 starters. That's approximately 60%, which gives us a decent baseline. A team, just to keep up with Joneses, needs to return 60% of its starts. It follow then that a team should return 60% of its production, as starters make up the bulk of production.

If a team had a perfect distribution of games played and no one ever left early, a team would lose a quarter of its games played each season. Now, we know that teams don't have an even distribution of games played, as every program wants to rely on upperclassmen more than freshmen. However, due to attrition, most teams' senior class is a bit smaller than the other classes. Looking at these two factors, let's just make an assumption and say that a team should return about 70% of its games played, not quite the full three-quarters of an even distribution.

You can adjust these benchmarks as you see fit, but this seems to me like a reasonable take: an average team should return 60% of its starts, 70% of its games played, and 60% of its statistical production. Now, this isn't a hard and fast rule or anything, but we are trying to get an idea of what kind of situation LSU has gotten itself into.

Also, I'm throwing out special teams starts as essentially irrelevant. LSU does return both its starting kicker and punter, but I think adding 26 additional starts for two guys who will only play a handful of snaps just skews the data.

LSU returns 12 starters, according to Phil Steele, beneath the average team threshold, but not markedly so. However, returning starter can be a bit of a nebulous concept, as the lineup is not static throughout the year. How many starts does LSU return?

DEFENSE


GP


GS


2013


360

144

Returning


291

92

Pct


80.83%

63.89%

The defense is in pretty fantastic shape by this metric. LSU returns just about the average or a little bit above of starters, but also returns just a massive amount of depth. LSU returns over four-fifths of its games played last season. This is an experienced unit that returns not only a lot of starters, but a lot of players who saw playing time. However, we're not all that worried about the defense; it's the offense that saw seemingly everyone turn pro:

OFFENSE


GP


GS


2013


328

143

Returning


214

76

Pct


65.24%

53.15%

What's going on here? It is certainly below the average benchmarks, but not nearly as a catastrophic as we've been led to believe. How is this possible? Well, LSU loses all of its glamour position players, but it returns almost its entire offensive line. That's a lot of starting experience, which mitigates some of the losses among the ball-handlers. However, the alarming number here isn't the loss of nearly half of our starting experience, but that less than two-thirds of last year's games played returns. That's a huge loss of depth. Not only did the starters all leave the program, but there wasn't a whole lot of experience gained by the backups. That is the major concern.

So let's put this together:

TOTAL


GP


GS


2013


688

287

Returning


505

168

Pct


73.40%

58.54%


LSU sits right at those average benchmarks, primarily thanks to the defensive depth returning. LSU is slightly under the average in games started returning, but slightly above the average benchmark for games played. The key here is not that LSU is above or below the average, but how close to the benchmark it is at all. For a team that supposedly suffered insurmountable personnel losses, it's not really showing up in the data. LSU returns nearly 60% of its starts and 75% of its games played. That's not in the realm of "veteran heavy" or anything, but it's also pretty far from absolutely gutted.

However, it's not just the starts lost, it's what you did in those starts. Let's now turn to the even more important piece of the puzzle: production. What kind of production did LSU lose? Let's take a look at the defense first.

Tackles


Solo


Total


2013


424

948

Returning


314

666

Pct


74.06%

70.25%

It's the mark of the beast! Run for your lives! LSU returns three of its top five tacklers and seven of its top 10. Additionally, the defense returns SEVENTEEN players who made 10 tackles or more last season. LSU returns 73.9% of players from last year who made at least ten tackles. Anyone who tells you this unit was hurt by early departures is simply wrong. If the defense struggles this season, they will not be able to blame a lack of returning production.

TFL’s


TFL


Yards


2013


69

281

Returning


47

205

Pct


68.12%

72.95%

Again, the bulk of the production returns. Three of the top five and seven of the top 10 return. Last season, 16 players had at least one TFL. Of those 16, 12 return. 13 players had more than one TFL and of those, nine return. Not just the starters return, but plenty of talented depth.

SACKS


Sacks


Yards


2013


27

180

Returning


20.5

134

Pct


75.93%

74.44%

That's right at three-quarters of our sack production, which is what happens when both starting defensive ends return. The entire top four in sacks last year all return. Eight players had multiple sacks last season, and six return. 13 players had at least one sack and of those, nine return.

INTERCEPTIONS


INT


Yards


2013


11

76

Returning


7

34

Pct


63.64%

44.74%

This one is a bit misleading because LSU just didn't pick off many passes last season. 11 picks in 13 games is something that needs to improve. Loston led the team in interceptions, and he's gone, but four of the six players who picked off a pass return.

Looking at the defensive production, it's just impossible to see how LSU was all that damaged by graduation and early departures. In almost every category, LSU returns over two-thirds of last season's production. The defense also returns multiple contributors, as it's not just one guy's numbers driving the stats. The production is coming back, and it is coming back in the form of a wide range of depth.

Of course, we're not really all that worried about the defense. It's the offense that saw the biggest losses, and the production numbers are appropriately terrifying.

RUSHING


Att


Yards


TD


2013


523

2630

37

Returning


175

964

17

Pct


33.46%

36.35%

45.95%

This just in: Jeremy Hill was really good. The offense loses three of its top five rushers, though we're still good on the goal-line offense! Kenny Hilliard's TD total skews the results on the scoring side, but LSU didn't just lose one back; we lost two-thirds of our rushing attack. That's a huge loss. And that's as good as the news gets.

RECEIVING


Rec


Yards


TD


2013


205

3263

23

Returning


28

423

3

Pct


13.66%

12.96%

13.04%

Hey, we return over 10% of our receiving production! The fact that this qualifies as a legitimate surprise shows how dire the losses to the receiving corp really were. Heck, Hill was the team's third leading receiver, and he's gone, too. No player returning had 10 catches nor 150 yards of receiving. Dural is the only returnee who has caught a touchdown pass. This unit has been absolutely devastated.

PASSING


Att


Comp


Yds


TD


INT


2013


326

205

3263

23

9

Returning


29

13

181

1

1

Pct


8.90%

6.34%

5.55%

4.35%

11.11%

You know it's bad when the only stat that has over 10% of its production returning is interceptions. Really, just about any team breaking in a new QB would have stats this dire, so it's nice to look around the SEC and see everyone in this same boat. Still, it's a bad boat to be on, and it's leaking water pretty damn fast.

About the only good news LSU can take from this is that these numbers probably underrate their returning talent a tad, as offensive linemen do not usually touch the football. By the same token, teams that return ball handlers but none of their linemen would be overrated by a look at the production. Still, no team wants to lose all of its ball handlers in one season. Linemen can mitigate the damage, but there is still damage.

Adding it all together requires a bit of decision: how do we handle passing yards? Total offense is yards rushing plus yards passing, but it does not give some credit to the receivers. I've decided to give equal credit to the QB and the receiver, dividing the yards in half. That gives us:

OVERALL


2013


Return


Pct


Rushing


2630

964

36.65%

Passing


3263

181

5.55%

Receiving


3263

423

12.96%

Total


6526

1266

19.40%

LSU returns just a hair under a fifth of its offensive production by this metric, which is still terrible. Remember, the benchmark is about 60%, which the defense easily cleared. The offense comes nowhere near this. Now, there is the open question of how much credit to give the offensive line, but unless the answer is "pretty much all of it," then it is safe to assume LSU's offense is in for some severe growing pains.

The team isn't quite starting from scratch, but it's about as close as a team can come to it. LSU will absolutely need the defense to carry the team this year. Looking at the returning production, that doesn't seem like that tall of an order.