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Recruiting: Q&A with SEC Country’s Sam Spiegelman

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Getting some scoop on how LSU’s 2017 recruiting efforts are shaping up so far.

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

SEC Country’s Sam Spiegelman has been churning out some fantastic recruiting coverage over the last couple of months, and he was good enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us on where things stand for the Tigers as the spring evaluation period ends, and we prepare for the summer camp cycle.

1. As things really start to move forward with the 2017 recruiting cycle, what changes have you noticed with Ed Orgeron in charge of LSU's overall recruiting efforts, versus Les Miles?

There’s definitely a ton of nuances. Obviously, the staff has changed, which means the type of personnel that LSU is after has changed.

At running back, the first round of offers came to bigger, bruising backs like Harold Joiner and Chris Curry. Sure, there have been Jeremy Hills and Leonard Fournettes in the past, but I don’t think a Clyde Edwards-Helaire would have been a primary target under this new regime. At wide receiver, Les Miles preferred taller, big-framed prospects. The D.J. Chark mold is a perfect example. LSU continues to recruit those type of receivers — for example, Kenan Jones, who recently re-committed to LSU. Because of the use of slot receivers in Matt Canada’s offense, they’re also recruiting Lawrence Keys III and Jaylen Waddle, prospects I wouldn’t expect to hold offers this time a year ago.

Additionally, Ed Orgeron is offering prospects much earlier than Miles did. The aforementioned Keys, Cameron Wire, Jaray Jenkins and other in-state recruits hold offers way earlier in the calendar. Remember, Racey McMath didn’t land his offer from LSU until the June prospect came. Conversely, 14 of the state’s top 15 recruits (per the 247Sports Composite rankings) already hold offers. That was not Miles’ style, but it’s worked to Orgeron’s advantage, evident by the 16 commits he already has in the 2018 class.

There’s also a more national scope. LSU always offered prospects in California, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, but with the new staff in place and a more widespread reach, the Tigers are more effectively recruiting those areas. Of the 16 current commits, nine are from Louisiana. That’s nearly a 50-50 split, which is certainly an eyebrow raiser considering Orgeron’s attempt to “build a wall” around the state.

LSU could add up to 10 more recruits to finish out this class, and I expect this 50-50 split to continue.

2. Focusing more on the proverbial fence and Louisiana has been a big talking point. How have you seen that playing out so far?

As I was just saying, Orgeron and Co. want to keep Louisiana’s best in-state. That’s for sure. However, they are likely to swing and miss here and there.

LSU is in a strong position with the state’s top 10 prospects. For those scoring at home, that includes:

If LSU can secure commitments from six of the 10, I’d deem that a pretty a pretty successful haul. It’s also important to recognize that the Tigers are dominating with that next tier of recruits — Kenan Jones, Damone Clark, Micah Baskerville and Jaray Jenkins. While LSU is contending with Alabama, Texas and Ohio State for some of the top-10 targets, there is still fierce competition for this year’s Tier 2 options. Jones holds 14 offers, including Auburn, Florida State and UGA. Clark recently added offers from Michigan and Florida. Yet LSU has been able to offer early and get ahead with those in-state recruits, and are in a strong position to secure those commitments through the end, while still courting a handful of other marquee out-of-state players.

3. Transfer players have also been a big focus, with three coming on board in the last few months. Is there anything, in particular, that has spurred that trend, or is this just a case of players that fit LSU's needs becoming available?

That’s definitely been a question I’ve been asked a lot. To me, it’s a product of LSU’s 2017 class and the fact that they didn’t hit on a handful of those priority targets down the stretch.

While LSU struck gold by landing K’Lavon Chaisson, it missed on two defensive linemen: Marvin Wilson and Phidarian Mathis. They failed to bring in a tight end, and junior college wide receiver Stephen Guidry didn’t qualify twice.

After Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural went to the NFL Draft, they needed some depth at receiver. Jonathan Giles will be an instant-impact player once he’s eligible in 2018, especially as Canada looks to utilize more weapons in the slot. I believe that in addition to Giles, LSU would like to take five receivers in its 2018 class.

Once LSU missed on Wilson and Mathis, it created a void along their defensive line. Wilson and Mathis were listed as tackles, but they were versatile enough to play inside or outside. They picked up Breiden Fehoko, a more proven version of those recruits. I don’t believe that happens if Orgeron gets Wilson to announce LSU on National Signing Day.

Thaddeus Moss was another big hit. LSU is making the transition from tight ends and fullbacks to H-backs, and they’re getting a prospect Canada liked dating back to his days at N.C. State. He has good DNA — that’s an understatement, of course. But more so, it bolsters their depth at tight end behind Foster Moreau as the offense begins to utilize the H-back in the offense.

The transfers they got hit on major needs on the roster. I believe it’s a product of some whiffs in recruiting, but I don’t anticipate it being a trend. However, if the same series of events occurs next February, then maybe Orgeron will be back in the market looking for transfers to fill key needs. I just don’t see this being an every year thing.

4. Jarren Williams' recommitment to Kentucky seems to be a hit to LSU's quarterback board. How do you see that board stacking up, and who do they have the best shot with?

Williams’ decision to return to Kentucky was certainly a head-scratcher. While the 3-star quarterback had maintained that the Wildcats were his leader even after de-committing, it was hard to understand why he reopened his recruitment in the first place. All things considered, he wanted to be fair to Kentucky as he made visits elsewhere. That includes Florida and LSU. However, he did not visit any other schools in the three-week span he was uncommitted.

Williams jumped to the top of LSU’s quarterback board earlier this month as momentum shifted toward TCU in the Justin Rogers sweepstakes. Of course, Rogers was LSU’s top choice at the position, and despite a valiant effort over the past couple of months and a promising return from the spring game, Rogers’ early relationship with TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie will likely be the X-factor when Louisiana’s top quarterback makes a decision on May 31.

With both Williams and eventually Rogers off the board, the onus is on Canada to try and flip Justin Fields. For those that don’t know Fields, he’s a 5-star dual-threat prospect that has been committed to Penn State for a couple of months. He has maintained that he is solid in his commitment, but is listening to a handful of other schools, including LSU, Florida and UGA.

To me, flipping Fields is highly unlikely. Canada is trying, but Fields has stated that he would need to see something “crazy” transpire. By “crazy,” he means a potential shakeup in the Penn State staff.

Considering the Nittany Lions are defending Big 10 champs, it doesn’t look like it's in the cards. That puts a damper on LSU’s hopes of reeling in a quarterback in 2018. Instead, I project LSU to use that scholarship at another position of need — a fifth wide receiver, an offensive tackle, a front-seven player or another defensive back.

LSU landed two All-American passers in 2017 in Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse. Next spring, with Danny Etling gone, Brennan, Narcisse, Justin McMillan and Lindsey Scott will legitimately compete for the starting job. Then, I anticipate LSU will sign two quarterbacks in 2019. It’ll be a more attractive sales pitch in recruiting and, like 2017, a major need in the class.

5. Running back is a huge need as well. How's LSU's board shake out there?

A lot of people are very worried about who LSU will get at running back, but rest assured, the Tigers are in a favorable position with several top-flight backs across the country. I also think we’re in for a big couple of months in this particular department.

Here’s a brief overview of the running backs with LSU offers that have shown mutual interest:

Joiner, a 4-star back from Alabama, has named LSU his leader and admitted he’s been close to pulling the trigger on a commitment. He sees the opportunities available in the LSU backfield, but the only thing holding him back is his height. Yes, his height.

At 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, Joiner is a big, bruising back. He plays out of the shotgun, which is critical in Canada’s offense. He can also catch well out of the backfield. Last year, he had a two-inch growth spurt that pushed him up to 6-foot-3. If that happens again before his senior season, then he may be too tall to play running back in college.

LSU offered Joiner as a tailback, but Auburn, Texas A&M and Alabama are some of the schools that have offered as an athlete. If he grows to 6-foot-4 or taller, he may be going down that road.

Additionally, LSU is in a good position with Curry, Bolden, Thomas and Cook. Curry visited for junior day; Bolden attended the spring game and Thomas is hoping to come to Baton Rouge at some point this summer. Cook, the younger brother of former Florida State tailback Dalvin Cook, has been getting pressed hard by the staff in recent months. He has yet to visit LSU, but if and when he does, it’ll bolster the Tigers’ chances. LSU, UGA and ‘Bama are all pushing hard for Cook, but until he visits, it’s hard to legitimate say LSU has a chance. He plans on making a final decision at the U.S. Army All-American Game in January.

Last, the elephant in the room is Fabian Franklin. One of the nation’s premier blue-chip running backs, Franklin has been vocal that LSU is his leading school and he’s merely waiting on an offer. LSU GM Austin Thomas visited Hattiesburg High School twice this spring to watch the elite tailback and check on his grades. What I’ve gathered: his core grades are fine, but a lot is riding on his ACT. He’ll take the test in June, and if it goes well, I expect LSU to offer. He could commit on the spot, if that’s the case.

6. How about some other key positions: receiver and offensive/defensive tackle?

LSU has dished on a ton of offers to wide receivers in recent weeks. They hold two commitments from Jenkins and Jones, and I expect both to stick with LSU until the end. Let’s not forget about the transfer, Giles, either.

The list begins with Terrace Marshall, the 5-star receiver and No. 1 prospect in the state. He’ll name a top six on June 9. Expect LSU to make the cut. However, LSU needs to impress Marshall more with its passing game. He visited multiple times this spring, including the spring game, but was unimpressed with how LSU used its top target. He was explicit in saying that if D.J. Chark has a big senior season, then the Tigers will be a good position. He’s considering a bevy of high-octane passing offenses, but I believe he wants to be at LSU. They just need to stick to their word.

Joshua Moore, a 4-star receiver from Yoakum, Texas, will decide from LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida State and Nebraska on June 18. Moore grew up a fan of LSU and the Tigers are one of the schools that have offered him both a football and track scholarship. LSU was among the first to do that, but FSU, ‘Bama and Nebraska have each followed suit. I think it’s becoming a Nebraska-FSU battle for Moore.

Ja’Marr Chase has enjoyed a monster spring with nearly 40 offers to his name now. Like Marshall, Chase has some reservations about the LSU passing attack, which could be quelled this fall. Chase has visited LSU several times, but TCU, Oklahoma State and some new offers are on his mind. I anticipate him sticking to LSU, assuming the offense impresses. His family wants him to remain close to home, which is certainly a factor.

Lawrence Keys is a top target as a slot receiver. After attending a few spring practices and the spring game with his mother, he named LSU his leader. Keys holds almost 40 offers and could be dynamic in the Russell Gage role, running short crossing routes and being in motion each play. He could also take the top off opposing defenses. He’s taking his time with a decision, but could pop sometime before or during his senior season.

Also names to know are Brennan Eagles, Jalen Preston, Al’vonte Woodard, Miles Battle, Jammal Houston, Malik Heath and Devonta Jason. At this point, I don’t see these receivers falling to LSU, but Mickey Joseph is recruiting them all. Expect Eagles, Preston, Woodard to stay in Texas; Heath to stick with Mississippi State and Jason to eventually land somewhere other than Kansas — but likely not to LSU. Houston and Battle are wild cards considering Houston’s injured knee and Battle’s high opinion of LSU. They’re worth monitoring.

Onto offensive tackle, another position of need. LSU offered Cameron Wire, who I expect to pop before his senior season. He’s got all of the physical tools and he’s high on the Tigers. His mother is crossing her fingers that he stays close to home, and the LSU offer was one he was waiting on. Rafiti Ghirmai out of Frisco, Texas is another intriguing option. He named LSU his leader in the aftermath of the spring game, and like Wire, he wants to commit before his senior year.

LSU holds commitments from four defensive linemen, but a fifth is not out of the question. Davin Cotton is likely a 5-technique; Nelson Jenkins and Jamarcus Chatman are versatile and could play either tackle or end; Jaquon Griffin is likely destined for the latter. The Tigers are in the hunt for a handful of blue-chip tackles such as Coynis Miller, Michael Thompson, Keondre Coburn and Rosenthal. I don’t anticipate Miller leaving the state of Alabama or Coburn leaving Texas. Thompson’s lone spring visit was to LSU, which impressed both him and his mother. Rosenthal has been quiet all spring, but LSU has seemingly put itself in a strong position. This is one example of how not taking a quarterback frees up a scholarship for another position of need.

7. Who are some under-the-radar names that could pick up LSU offers when camp season begins in June?

Well, as LSU continues to cross quarterbacks off the board, it’s possible that a camp participate could earn himself an offer. I don’t know how likely that is, though.

A lot of in-state running backs will be in attendance. Tony St. Julien, Devin Brumfield and Jeremy Gibson are all expected to try and land their offers from LSU. UCLA commit AJ Carter should be in attendance, though the Many High School product is a bit bitter after not having an offer at this point.

Class of 2020 wide receiver and TCU commit Jacobi Bellazin will camp at LSU. He’s an explosive slot receiver that has impressed me this spring in 7-on-7, and I know the staff has been in his ears. He could very well camp and walk away with an LSU offer, which should add some more intrigue into the younger’s recruitment.

A handful of defensive backs to keep track of are Eddie Smith, Dorian Camel and Israel Mukuamu. Smith has nearly 30 offers, including ones from UGA, Mississippi State and Tennessee. Corey Raymond visited him this spring and hosted him for an unofficial. He could emerge as a target at corner if LSU loses grounds with some other targets.

Camel is one of the state’s fastest-rising defensive back prospects. He’s a state champion track star, which has bolstered his play at safety this spring. Raymond wants to see Camel in action at camp, and a strong performance could result in an offer. He also holds offers from Missouri, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Mukuamu is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound safety from Parkway. He can play the single-high safety and also lines up in man in certain coverages. He is taller than teammates Justin Rogers and Terrace Marshall. In fact, he has a similar frame to Arden Key. The interesting part will be determining how fast he runs and how he fares in LSU’s coverages. He’s another candidate at that safety position.

Check out Sam’s work over at SEC Country, or follow him on Twitter.