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2015 LSU Football Optimistic/Pessimistic/Realistic: Receivers & Tight Ends

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There’s a lot to work with here.

Derick E.Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Player

Ht/Wt

2014 (raw stats)

Advanced Stats

83 Travin Dural (Jr.)

6-2, 203

37 catches for 758 yards and 7 touchdowns. 111 rushing yards on 10 attempts.

82 targets, 9.2 yards per target, 45.1% catch rate. 31.3% of LSU's total targets.

9 John Diarse (Soph.)

6-1, 205

15 catches for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns.

27 targets, 10.2 yards per target, 55.6% catch rate. 10.3% of LSU's total targets.

15 Malachi Dupre (Soph.)

6-3, 190

14 catches for 318 yards and five touchdowns.

35 targets, 9.1 yards per target, 40% catch rate. 13.4 percent of LSU's total targets.

8 Trey Quinn (Soph.)

6-0, 197

17 catches for 193 yards, one 2-point conversion.

34 targets, 5.7 yards per target, 50% catch rate. 13 percent of LSU's total targets.

82 D.J. Chark (Soph.)

6-3, 186

Zero catches in six game appearances.

One total target.

87 Kevin Spears (Soph.)

6-2, 207

Zero catches in three game appearances.

N/A

3 Tyron Johnson (Fr.)

6-1, 189

Five-star recruit.

19 Derrick Dillon (Fr.)

5-11, 178

Four-star recruit.

86 Jazz Ferguson (Fr.)

6-5, 215

Four-star recruit.

It was often lost in the focus on quarterbacks, but the Tigers really struggled on both ends of the passing game equation in 2014. A young receiving group struggled to get open, and at times catch the ball. But the good news is that this is a really talented, deep group that went through a trial by fire and came through not only with valuable experience, but a new approach to preparation as well.

Tony Ball is on to replace Adam Henry as LSU's receivers coach, and he seems like the right fit at the right time. Henry inherited a pair of pros in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and he coached them that way. Explain the techniques and the details, and then watch them carry it out. Ball is much more detail-oriented, and that's probably a better fit for a sophomore-heavy unit like this. At practice, you can hear Ball talking constantly about things like footwork and hand placement. He's not afraid to stop the whole unit in a drill until one guy does it right. I'm very interested to see how that pays dividends in year one.

The leader of this unit, and the leading returnee in targets, catches yards and touchdowns is junior Travin Dural. He had most of his impact making plays down the field, but Dural has added some bulk and should become a much more complete wideout in 2015. An inability to beat press coverage on inside routes was a big issue last year, and it affected LSU's ability to use a safer, higher-percentage passing game. If Dural can help this offense move the chains in addition to beating defenses over the top, he could become one of the SEC's top receivers.

The headliner of the group will be Dural's partner, sophomore Malachi Dupre. The former top-rated receiver in his class, Dupre flashed great ability as a downfield threat early on in 2014, but hit a hard reality late in the year when defenses began to roll up on coverage. Dupre is kind of the classic example of receiver development in the 7-on-7 era. While he understood route concepts and coverages that were likely much more complex than what he ran on his high school team, he didn't really have a lot of experience working against tight, physical coverage like the SEC throws at a receiver. That just doesn't exist in the 7-on-7 world.

But with a year of development, Dupre could easily surpass Dural as LSU's No. 1. Look for him to man one of the starting positions when LSU is in its base offense, but move around a bit when the Tigers spread the field. He'll work in the slot often, where he can create mismatches for the offense in a variety of ways.

Fellow sophomores John Diarse, Trey Quinn and D.J. Chark will all be involved heavily in the regular rotation as well. Chark was the big name coming out of LSU's spring practice. A bit of a sleeper recruit, he looks kind of like a poor man's Dural, and will likely serve in a similar capacity early on as a deep speed guy. Quinn had, perhaps, the roughest freshman season of all the wideouts. He started LSU's season opener and showed a real knack for getting open, but a couple of big hits early and big drops late seemed to haunt him a bit. The good news for LSU is that he's seeing things a little clearer now, and appears to have put on a bit of weight as well. Diarse, on the other hand, is trying to shed some and become a bit quicker. He was a bit of a surprise last season, mostly because it was expected that he'd fall behind the incoming freshman. But he showed an ability to make plays after the catch with big runs against Wisconsin and then again in the Music City Bowl.

Behind the veteran group are little-uses sophomore Kevin Spears and LSU's newest incoming freshmen, including five-star Tyron Johnson and four-star prospects Derrick Dillon and Jazz Ferguson. Word early on is that the 6-5 Ferguson may be the first to see the field as a redzone target, while Dillon is adjusting to more of a true receiving role after doing a bit of everything in high school. Johnson, per a source, has needed a little bit of "de-recruiting," so to speak. Still, his talent has definitely moved him up in the pecking order. It's just a question of how many passes there will be to go around for this group.

The wrinkle I may be most curious about is how this group fits into the jet sweep role that Cam Cameron worked into LSU's offense late in 2014. Dural was the primary player used with the motion, but I'd like to see multiple players, including a running back like Derrius Guice involved. All of them offer a different matchup to the play: Dupre and Chark have long speed similar to Dural, whereas Quinn is a little more slippery as a broken-field runner, while Diarse is more physical.

Tight Ends

85 Dillon Gordon (Sr.)

6-5, 308

No catches.

Three targets

89 DeSean Smith (Jr.)

6-5, 243

4 catches for 66 yards

7 targets, 11.0 yards per target, 66.7% catch rate.

88 Jacory Washington (RS-Fr.)

6-65, 228

Redshirted.

N/A

81 Colin Jeter (Jr.)

6-7, 244

No catches.

Two targets.

84 Hanner Shipley (Fr.)

6-5, 298

Three-star recruit.

A forgotten position no more?

We'll see. Skepticism is certainly warranted, but I know that the staff is hoping to get this position a little more involved in the passing game, particularly the athletic receiving options like DeSean Smith and Jacory Washington.

I've said it multiple times, but there's never been some grand plan to ignore tight ends. The Tiger tight ends just haven't been particularly inviting targets since Richard Dickson left town. They aren't out running routes just for the exercise, I can tell you that.

Dillon Gordon might not be the guy that breaks the mold, but he's become a key chess piece in LSU's running game the last two seasons. The (now official) 300-pounder has functioned like an extra tackle on the offensive line, not only helping set the edge but also allowing Cameron to move other players around to create some unbalanced or two-tackle looks.

The eyes are going to be on Smith. The former big-time recruit has gotten on the field consistently, but struggled to do much more than that. A couple of drops and assignment busts got him in the dog house early in 2014, but he worked his way back into the lineup by midseason and finally came through with his entire 4 catch/66-yard output in the Music City Bowl.

As I wrote in the spring, what was most promising about Smith's bowl performance was that it was just as simple as him getting open and catching the ball. It's not like LSU ran some special plays to get him the ball or moved him around to create a matchup. Start small, and just grow out from there. Smith's had a rough transition from playing, essentially, a wide receiver role to a true tight end position here at LSU. In high school he played in a shotgun, spread offense and was almost always split out in space and per this recent interview with Matt Moscona, never asked to block. Could the staff have done a better job of meeting him halfway in that regard? Probably, but a big point for Cam Cameron has been avoiding predictability with personnel. In short, they don't want to have a "receiving tight end" a la Deangelo Peterson a few years ago, who's presence usually tipped run/pass, contributing to an inability to get open very often.

Short version: the staff is hoping that they can just use DeSean Smith like any other football player. If everybody (Smith included) can figure that part out, he'll start to catch some passes.

Redshirt freshman and another mega-recruit, Jacory Washington. He's basically a taller, thinner version of Smith, and with the benefit of a redshirt year. Allegely, Washington (and Smith) have both had great camps, but I have a feeling he'll need another year in the weight room to really start contributing.

Junior college transfer Collin Jeter hit the field pretty quickly last year, but fell out of favor as Smith worked his way back into the lineup. He's the tallest member of the team, and seems like more of a blocker type like Gordon. But maybe he can split the difference a little.

Freshman Hanner Shipley is the likely successor to Gordon (or maybe a tackle eventually). He arrived in the spring so he's not totally green. Don't be surprised if he gets on the field some in short-yardage situations where more beef is needed.

Optimistic

Dural and Dupre settle comfortably into the X and Z roles. Dural remains a strong deep threat but rounds out his game on the underneath routes, becoming a complete player. Dupre becomes more of a big-play specialist and Cameron's main chess piece, moving round formations to create or expose mismatches. The rest of the receivers settle into productive roles, along with the tight ends - allowing LSU's passing game to challenge defenses all over the field.

Pessimistic

The inconsistency issues return, while LSU's quarterbacks continue to have efficiency problems. Dural remains one-dimensional, while Dupre struggles to understand an increased role. The drop issues continue, and LSU again has to lean heavily on its running game.

Realistic

Pass distribution this season is really difficult to project, regardless of the quarterback question mark. Realistically, under the best case scenario LSU will have somewhere between 200 and 250 completions this season to spread out among Dural, Dupre, Quinn, Chark, Diarse and the rest of the receivers, the tight ends and the running backs. If one guy catches 60 or 70 passes, that's anywhere from a quarter to a third of the available balls right there. In 2013 Beckham and Landry hoovered up more than half of the passes thrown and about two-thirds of the total receiving targets.

The point is that everybody can't catch as many as they'd probably like.

A solid guess, barring injury, is that Dural and Dupre, as the top two guys, land somewhere in the 50 catch range, with the Nos. 3 and 4 guys, be them receivers or a tight end, settling in the 30-40 range. Jet-sweep carries will likely also factor in. If Travin Dural catches, say, four passes for 75 yards, but has another 40 on three jet-sweep runs, that's a pretty good day in aggregate. After that, I think it will all be situational and matchup-themed. There may be days where the defensive matchup favors slot players like Quinn, a natural deep threat like Chark, or running backs -- especially when players like Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice not only catch the ball well, but add value with it in their hands.

Last year just two receivers for LSU topped the 100-yard mark in a game. I think it's very possible that total could double this year.