It's wayyyyy too early to make any final judgments on the 2014 signing class, but we've seen a slew of early contributors through the first three games, something I believe we all anticipated. The young faces on offense aren't particularly surprising, but it has been interesting to see the players who demand playing time on the defensive side of the ball, simply because they are so talented.
Let's take a look back at some of my evaluations and see who I nailed early on.
I maintain high, high hopes for Jamal Adams. In fact, if I had to stake my name on three players to succeed at the highest level from this signing class, I'd pick Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre and Jamal Adams. Why? I think he's got that rare combination of physical talent and "it" factor. Tyrann Mathieu is a player many fell in love with on the recruiting trail for being an underrated baller, and while Adams doesn't suffer from that same "underrated" labeling, he's a player I can see coming in and making an instant impact, even as early as the Wisconsin game.
See this entry from an SI column quoting the always elusive "anonymous" recruiter:
Jamal Adams, S (LSU): "He's the real deal. He got all the physical tools and he's got the attitude and confidence too. The stage isn't going to be too big for him as a freshman. He'll come in and play. He doesn't give a s--- who else is there."
Why? Because he displays everything I love to see from young players. He's not just a guy that's simply a better athlete than everyone on the field and winning that way. No, Adams wins with smarts, athleticism, physicality and toughness. He reads and anticipates coverages but he's also not afraid to come up and tackle. He's an exceptionally physical player and while players like that sometimes concern me with lack of tackling technique, I remain impressed with how consistently he wraps up and takes down targets in the open field.
Simply put, Jamal Adams passes too many tests for me to think he'll be anything but a star. Eye ball test? Check. Tape test? Check. Athletic test? Check. Be shocked if this guy isn't great... not when he is.
This past Saturday Jamal Adams took the field as a captain. I'm not 100% sure, but I think he may be the first true freshman captain in the Les Miles era. That's a pretty huge honor. Adams has seen significant time in each of the first three games and with the continued shaky play of Ronald Martin, it wouldn't at all be surprising to see Adams assume a starting role as we delve into SEC play.
Everyone knows Fournette. He's now made appearances on ESPN's Monday Night Football lead-in program in back-to-back weeks. To say he's not lived up to the hype wouldn't be fair. If Leonard Fournette weren't Leonard Fournette, then most would be gushing about his 5.2 yards per carry and over 200 yards of production despite heavily sharing workload with LSU's loaded backfield.
The only question I have about Fournette is how soon the greatness starts. LSU's RB depth chart is pretty thin, but they do return two veterans with big-game experience. I think most suspect Fournette to be eased into that load, splitting carries throughout the year. I have expected the same. Until recently.
Fournette will be our starting running back by year's end. He will topple 1,000 yards and probably double-digit TDs, fairly easily. He will emerge as one of the best players on the team in a matter of weeks. Do not be surprised if he puts up monster numbers on Wisconsin. In fact, don't be surprised about anything Leonard Fournette does. Just sit back and savor it. Because this is rare. Leonard Fournette is rare.
Fournette is second on the team in carries (31), second in rushing yards (162), tied for the highest YPC (5.2), second in TDs (2). Here's the type of season he's currently pacing, assuming nothing at all changes about his workload and/or productivity:
124 carries, 972 rushing yards, 8 rushing TDs, 12 catches, 208 receiving yards.
Sure, it's not a blow-you-away type line, but it's every indication that he's right on pace to reach his superstar levels of talent. I think it's safe to say he'll top those numbers, as well.
He's quickly becoming a fan favorite due to his rugged, no-nonsense running style. While there's been some quiet murmurs about Fournette going down too easily, or looking a step slow, Williams just keeps plowing over defenders as if human bodies should not serve as obstruction to his final destination.
Back in May, I wrote this about Williams:
I'm considerably high on his potential. In his commitment piece I compared him to Tauren Poole, a guy that posted a 1,000-yard rushing season in the SEC. Upon revisiting his tape, I think that's on the low end of what we can expect of him. Williams looks an awful lot like Eddie Lacy, a similarly big, bruising tailback from Louisiana that lacked that breakaway dimension. Lacy excelled both by sheer force of will but also with a set of exceptionally quick feet that allowed him to dance away from defenders on a regular basis.
The question about Williams is one of opportunity. How many touches can he find next to Leonard Fournette? What will his role in the offense be, even as early as this year? In 2014, he'll likely be the 4th back in the rotation. By 2015, he stands a good chance to be the second. How he capitalizes on that opportunity will tell a lot about his career.
What I see in Williams is a vintage tailback with NFL upside. He's not the most athletically gifted back we've recruited, but I'm in love with his toughness, his versatility and his seeming love of contact.
Fournette may be the toast of the 2014 signing class, but Williams is a fantastic back in his own right. Expect good things.
No one should be surprised Williams is seeing carries, though the fact that he's been more productive than Magee and now looks to be the no. 3 back in the rotation comes as a surprise. Williams is basically what we thought: a juggernaut that runs with an attitude.
One of my personal favorite recruits from 2014, Godchaux suffered a knee injury in September that many thought put him directly on a path to a redshirt. Woooo boy were we wrong. Not only did it not hamper his development, Godchaux started his first game last week.
Many of the things noted in my evaluation we've seen play out on the field. As Billy noted in his ULM review, Godchaux is simply a brute in the middle, eating up double-teams like a 5th-year senior. I've always been impressed with his natural bulk and strength, things we're seeing on a weekly basis now. What's been impressive as well is that he's blended that with some explosive first steps and a violent first punch, two things that concerned me initially.
In June I noted he could be an attrition candidate, now he's a starter. Woops.
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Nagging injuries slowed Dupre up through the Fall camp and kept him out of play vs. Wisconsin. He looked stellar on a TD catch vs. Sam Houston, but returned this week to make zero catches. LSU's conservative game plan didn't do him any favors.
LSU's passing offense remains a work in progress. It's early yet, so the numbers haven't fully stabilized, but though LSU's passing S&P currently ranks 16th nationally, it's apparent it's not so highly functioning. A gaudy 10.9 yards per attempt, and even high 20.06 yards per completion are foisting up a pedestrian 54.2 completion percentage. It's mostly a barrage of big plays, but LSU does need to find some consistency in that short-to-midrange passing game. Jennings has shown the ability to move through progressions and does seek out other targets, unlike Mettenberger last season, who lived and died by the dynamite duo of Beckham/Landry.
I labeled Dupre a guy that could be starting by Wisconsin and potentially our leading receiver by year's end. The rapid improvement of Travin Dural puts the latter in serious doubt, while the former didn't play out due to his injuries. His role should continue to evolve, but I don't see anything truly worrying, so much as a young offense still trying to figure things out.
There's two ways to think about this, really. First of all, Quinn is basically our no. 2 WR. He's played as many snaps as anyone on offense, including starting each of the first three games. That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment, no matter how thin the LSU WR depth chart looked. Playing at all as a true freshman is hard. Starting is even harder. So that's enough to suggest he's right on track.
From a production standpoint, however, he's not lived up to the billing just yet. Again, the aforementioned issues with the offense are a big part of it, but he has also had a couple of drops. That said, he's bookended that with some brilliant catches, as well. I expressed concern about his strength, and he has gotten thrown about some, but more so in run blocking.
He looks a bit like young Odell Beckham Jr. at this point. A young, talented guy still finding his way. Beckham caught 41 balls, 475 yards, 11.6 YPC, 2 TDs his true freshman season. Quinn is on pace for less than that, but he's also playing more. He'll probably wind up in the 20-catch range, which may be disappointing to some, but take heart from the fact that he's playing so much.
Garrett has been tabbed with a nebulous "heat related" condition that Miles claims kept him off the field the first couple weeks of the season. In last week's presser he said he expects him to play more as the season goes on. Garrett did see the field this week, at least on punt teams. So perhaps his conditioning is coming up to snuff now.
I think most expected Garrett to see the field regularly in 2014. Hasn't happened yet. That said, LSU's LBs continue to show signs of improvement each week. The playing time just may not be as readily available as we all thought heading into the season.
Valentine is yet to see the field in any form, due to extenuating issues with the SEC approving his eligibility. He's practicing with the team now, at least, as he's passed the clearinghouse, but still not fully cleared to play. We should all open office pools on what SEC school lobbied a complaint for further SEC investigation. It'll be interesting to see if he comes on late in the season, similar to Rashard Robinson last year.
PLAY THEM ALL
Last I saw, the count was up to something like 18 true freshmen who have played this season. Attrition is a natural part of the football world order. I'd love to do a deep delve into the percentage of players likely to stick around and not transfer if they see early playing time.
LSU signed 25 players and 18 have played. From memory, those that haven't played are: Brumfield (OL), Clapp (OL), Washington (TE), Upchurch (WR), Alexander (LB), Domond (OL), Valentine (DL). So of the seven that haven't seen the field, four play on the lines, typical RS candidates, two are developmental prospects (Upchurch and Alexander) and the other sits behind a loaded group (Washington).
If early indications mean anything, LSU knocked the 2014 signing class out of the ballpark, just like we all though on Signing Day.