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LSU Spring Football 2017: Defensive Backfield

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#DBU

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Louisiana State vs Louisville Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, so it’s more than a hashtag, or a nickname, or a t-shirt slogan. It’s a standard, and it’s one that LSU definitely lived up to in 2016.

2016 Pass Defense

Defense Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Defense Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
Passing Downs S&P+ 162 2 100
Passing Downs Success Rate 19.50% 1 31.10%
Passing Downs IsoPPP 1.88 105 1.76
DB Havoc Rate 8.80% 7 6.40%
Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

The secondary was a little vulnerable to big plays at times in the Florida, Texas A&M and Louisville games, but still finished third in the nation in fewest touchdowns allowed on the season.

Subtract another first rounder or two in Jamal Adams and Tre’davious White, plus some very experienced rotation players like Dwayne Thomas and Rickey Jefferson, and there’s still a ridiculous amount of returning talent, including three returnees with starting experience.

2017 LSU Defensive Backs

Position Player Ht/Wt Targets Completions Allowed Completion Rate Contested Targets Contested Completions Break-Ups Interceptions TDs Allowed Air Yards/Tgt Yds Allowed 1st Downs Allowed PI Penalties
Position Player Ht/Wt Targets Completions Allowed Completion Rate Contested Targets Contested Completions Break-Ups Interceptions TDs Allowed Air Yards/Tgt Yds Allowed 1st Downs Allowed PI Penalties
CB 1 Donte Jackson (Jr.) 5-11, 175 52 23 44% 21 6 8 2 2 14.5 470 12 3
2 Kevin Toliver (Jr.) 6-3, 204 22 14 64% 7 4 1 0 0 11.7 174 5 0
22 Kristian Fulton (So.) 6-1, 195 Not available
17 Xavier Lewis (So.) 6-0, 200 Not available
29 Andraez Williams (Fr.-RS) 6-2, 182 Redshirted
15 Kary Vincent Jr. (Fr.) 5-10, 182 Four-star recruit.
13 Jontre Kirklin (Fr.) 6-0, 173 Three-star recruit.
SS 21 Ed Paris (Sr.) 6-1, 210 Not available
30 Eric Monroe (Fr.-RS) 6-0, 197 Redshirted
3 Jacoby Stevens (Fr.) 6-2, 216 Five-star recruit. May play offense.
9 Grant Delpit (Fr.) 6-3, 201 Four-star recruit.
FS 26 John Battle (Sr.) 6-3, 201 12 5 40% 6 3 4 0 1 14 69 2 0
31 Cameron Lewis (Fr.-RS) 6-2, 200 Redshirted
33 Todd Harris Jr. (Fr.) 6-0, 186 Four-star recruit.
Stats via CFBfilmroom.com

Of the 12 players on this list, 11 were at least a four-star prospect as a recruit.

What do we like? Speed, experience and tons of talent.

Question marks: More consistency at cornerback, competition at safety and finding playmakers.

Donte Jackson will lead the way at cornerback, and while he could be in for a major breakout as a return man, and maybe even on offense, he could stand to make some strides in coverage. All the physical ability is there, but Jackson gave up many of the big plays, usually on 50/50 passes in man-to-man coverage. He also drew a few pass-interference calls, usually trying to make up for bad position or failing to get his head around. If he can tighten up those loose ends in his game, Jackson could easily become one of the best corners in the country.

On the other side, the sophomore slump hit Kevin Toliver like a sock full of nickels. Injuries, poor play and discouragement helped to land Toliver in the doghouse in 2016, after a freshman season that made him look like a future star.

Margin for error is small in a program like this. Defensive backs coach Corey Raymond is fond of saying “it’s okay, I’m recruiting somebody better” in practice, so when a player falls back during the season, playing time can become scarce quickly. Luckily for LSU, Toliver has persevered and looks poised to take his starting spot back. Toliver has the size and physical mindset to be a very frustrating cover guy, and if his confidence is back, look for him to regain some of that freshman form. There was a stretch in that season where he was even out-playing vets like Tre White.

The third starter back is senior John Battle, who stepped in for Jefferson following an injury and never missed a beat over the second half of the season. Battle wasn’t particularly flashy, but he was never out of position and made a handful of big tackles.

Replacing his running mate, a superstar and probable top-10 draft choice in Adams, would appear problematic, but there’s just so much ability among the players competing. Ed Paris has the lead at the position, a former superstar cornerback recruit that should be a better fit in the middle, and he’ll be pushed by other studs, particularly true freshmen Jacoby Stevens and Grant Delpitt.

It would be unfair to compare this unit to LSU’s 2010/2011 secondaries, because there isn’t that much star power dripping off this backfield right now. But the depth is there. That group had a senior and a former four-star talent like Ron Brooks as the de-facto fourth cornerback, and that’s where LSU is now with players like Paris and Xavier Lewis, both of whom could have transferred and grabbed starting jobs elsewhere as they were passed up by younger players. The latter, meanwhile, has the inside track for the nickel spot, which gets a ton of playing time given how much LSU’s defense subs.

The hope here, is that somebody can emerge as a consistent playmaker when it comes to turnovers. LSU intercepted just nine passes last season. Raymond and Dave Aranda would much rather that number get higher into the teens. There just hasn’t been that one player with a knack for playing the ball in the air. A youngster like Kristian Fulton, or possibly Stevens, could help change that, if they can fight their way on to the field.