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Previewing the 2017 Tigers: Receivers & Tight Ends

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Perhaps the biggest question mark of the 2017 LSU offense.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The narrative on LSU’s wide receivers in the last few years has been that they are talented but underused. Cocked and loaded weapons, desperate to unload on the opposition.

But this year, it’s the biggest unknown for the Tiger offense, with only a handful of experienced options on hand.

LSU Receivers, Tight Ends and F-Backs

Position Player Ht/Wt Targets Catches Yards TD Yds/ Catch Yds/ Target Catch Rate Success Rate Target Rate Misc.
Position Player Ht/Wt Targets Catches Yards TD Yds/ Catch Yds/ Target Catch Rate Success Rate Target Rate Misc.
WR 7 D.J. Chark (Sr.) 6-4, 198 43 26 466 3 17.9 10.8 60.50% 44.20% 15.20% 122 rushing yards on 12 carries, 2 touchdowns
83 Russell Gage (Sr.) 6-0, 184 10 5 62 1 12.4 6.2 50.00% 50.00% 3.50% Appeared in 11 games with 4 starts.
19 Derrick Dillon (So.) 5-11, 178 Accumulated no stats. Appeared in 8 games.
10 Stephen Sullivan (So.) 6-6, 235 Accumulated no stats. 4-star recruit.
11 Dee Anderson (So.) 6-6, 223 7 4 73 0 18.3 10.4 57.10% 57.10% 2.50% Appeared in 11 games with 2 starts.
14 Drake Davis (So.) 6-4, 218 1 1 19 0 19 19 100.00% 100.00% 0.40% Appeared in 6 games.
86 Mannie Netherley (Fr.) 6-3, 194 Three-star recruit.
81 Racey McMath (Fr.) 6-3, 215 Three-star recruit.
3 Jacoby Stevens (Fr.) 6-2, 216 Five-star recruit as a safety.
32 Justin Jefferson (Fr.) 6-2, 185 Three-star recruit.
89 Jonathan Giles (Jr.) 6-0, 189 Transfer from Texas Tech -- ineligible for 2017.
TE 84 Foster Moreau (Jr.) 6-6, 255 9 6 79 1 13.2 8.8 66.70% 66.70% 3.20% Appeared in 11 games with 3 starts.
85 Caleb Roddy (So.) 6-5, 274 Accumulated no stats. Appeared in 12 games.
88 Jacory Washington (So.) 6-6, 248 Accumulated no stats. Appeared in 1 game.
82 Thaddeus Moss (So.) 6-3,, 247 Transfer from NC State -- ineligible for 2017.
42 Aaron Moffitt (Fr.) 6-2, 266 Three-star recruit.
80 Jamal Pettigrew (Fr.-RS) 6-7, 262 Redshirted. Redshirted.
F-Back 18 John David Moore (Sr.) 6-4, 236 12 10 58 0 5.8 4.8 83.30% 58.30% 4.30% 17 rushing yards on 7 carries.
47 Bry'Keithon Mouton (Jr.) 6-1, 261 2 1 4 0 4 2 50.00% 0.00% 0.70% 15 rushing yards on 5 carries, 1 TD
41 David Ducre (So.) 6-0, 236 Accumulated no stats. Appeared in 5 games.
44 Tory Carter (Fr.) 6-1, 258 Three-star recruit.
Players with starting experience in bold.

SWOT Analysis

Strengths: The talent level here is not in question.

One thing that hasn’t changed, is that LSU has a lot of talent here. There are two upperclassmen returning after minor roles in 2016, plus multiple former four-star recruits like Derrick Dillon, Drake Davis, Dee Anderson, Stephen Sullivan and Mannie Netherly. Plus a five-star, albeit as a safety, in Jacoby Stevens.

Tight end has some similarly highly recruited talents like Jacory Washington and Jamal Pettigrew on the bench. The returning starter, junior Foster Moreau, has already proven himself to be a nasty blocker, and could prove to be a significant asset in the passing game as well.

Weaknesses: All this potential is completely unproven.

I’m on the record as believing that Chark is ready to break through, become LSU’s No. 1 target and one of the best big-play weapons in the SEC. He’s a senior with big-play speed, a skill-set that is a natural fit in Matt Canada’s offense, particularly the Jet-Sweep, and he proved to be one of the more consistent options for the team last year.

All that said, he caught all of 26 passes. Skepticism that he’s ready to double that figure (at least) is understandable. And as is well-documented, he’s the most proven returning target here by far. No other wide receiver returning here caught more than six passes last year — and the second-highest returnee would be J.D. Moore with 10 catches for 58 yards from the fullback spot.

There are some prospects here that were very exciting recruits, but to date they’ve been known more for failing to make much of an impact. A big part of the reason that Stevens was moved to offense is that there’s more opportunity here than there is for him on defense. And the reason there’s more opportunity is that the back of the depth chart hasn’t stepped up to claim a spot.

Davis, for all his incredible natural talent, struggles to catch the football consistently. Sullivan has imposing size, but is still learning how to use his routes to separate from corners. Anderson has struggled with attitude issues in the past, and has also been sidelined for most of camp with an injury.

I’m confident that between the veterans on this team like Chark, Gage, Moreau, Moore and the backs, Canada can find a way to fashion a competent passing game. But for it to be more than that, we’ll need to see a number of unproven players step up.

One advantage to having Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles on the roster, is he’ll add another veteran presence to the meeting room, and still be able to push the younger players in practice, even if he can’t suit up on Saturdays.

Opportunities: Almost every one of these players will see time in the rotation.

LSU’s top three receivers, at least for now, are fairly entrenched: Chark, Gage and Dillon. After that, the rest are up for grabs.

Dillon is an intriguing player. He lacks the jaw-dropping measurables of Davis or Sullivan, and that’s made it easy for some to forget that he was a four-star, top-200 national prospect himself. He’s just more of a speed/run-after-the-catch type of player. He should almost certainly fit in as a jet-sweep man. If he can consistently help move the chains as well, that will help create more big-play opportunities.

Gage hustled his way on to the field last year mostly with blocking, but what he lacks in straight speed he makes up for in overall athleticism. He’s no game-breaker, but he could be a solid, reliable Nos. 2 or 3 option.

After that, snaps will be up for grabs through the remainder of the preseason and, likely, through the first few games as well. Davis, Sullivan, Stevens and the true freshmen Mannie Netherly, Racey McMath and Justin Jefferson are all on relatively equal footing. Jefferson, I would note, has been singled out as a player that has been impressive in a short time. That’s something that I think may surprise some folks.

And the thing is, those spots are going to still be very significant in this offense. The Tigers want to rotate anywhere from seven to nine receivers in and out of games consistently, because Canada’s shifts and motions — particularly the jet motion — will test conditioning. And that’s before running routes and catching balls come into play. There’s going to be a lot of rotation of the receivers just in order to help save legs.

Look for Stevens to maybe start as a gadget player early on, with a package of specific plays. He’s one of the better athletes on the team, and there’s a clear impetus to get him on the field and get the ball in his hands. With his size, he could offer an interesting option in the jet-sweep game.

The tight ends and F-backs will also be a significant portion of the gameplan as well, and I’d be surprised if Moreau and Moore (a former tight end) don’t finish with the best receiving numbers of any Tiger tight end in a decade. As The Advocate’s Ross Dellenger explains here, the F-position in particular will be one of the main fulcrums of the attack. His motion will not only help to create mismatches in the passing game, but also leverage in the running game. Players that can catch the ball from that spot will have opportunities, ditto runners, such as forgotten combo back David Ducre.

Threats: There isn’t room for growing pains.

The bottom line is this: LSU needs this group to hit the ground running, however the groupings shake out. As strong as we expect the Tiger defense to be, the schedule has four very well-coached offenses in the first five games. Orgeron and the coaching staff can’t count on winning with shutouts early. This offense will have to score points. And while Derrius Guice is sure to carry a significant load, the passing game will also have to do it’s fair share. Plus, develop for the stretch run of conference play.

There will be opportunities for a lot of players to give involved, but that’s also because LSU is going to need a lot of them involved. If Chark, Gage and Dillon are the only reliable options, they may lose their legs by midseason without a steady rotation of help.