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Previewing the 2017 Tigers: Defensive Backs

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#DBU

NCAA Football: Florida at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

We talk about tradition and standards and honors and draft picks and #DBU and all of these things. And it’s a cute hashtag on twitter and other schools like to have their say. But there is no debate, nor will it be engaged in here.

  • In the last seven seasons, LSU has finished outside of the top 30 in pass defense efficiency once.
  • In the past seven seasons, they have allowed more than 15 touchdowns in a single season once.
  • Pass Defense S&P+ Rankings: 3rd, 7th, 5th, 19th, 7th, 2nd and 12th
  • Five First-Round Draft Picks, 10 draft picks overall
  • Two Thorpe Awards, Two Bednarik Awards, Five All-Americans and Six First-Team All-SEC Selections

LSU sets the standard at this position, and despite the loss of two first-round picks in Tre’davious White and Jamal Adams, this is a unit that projects to be one of the nation’s best yet again. It’s lacking in the star power of the loaded 2011 group, but in terms of sheer depth of highly recruited talent, it may be able to match.

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

**Note: Jacoby Stevens is working with the offense, however until there is clarity on the specifics of his role, we’ll continue to list him here.**

SWOT Analysis

Strengths: This group has a ridiculous amount of talent and depth.

Just to put the amount of raw talent in this secondary into perspective:

  • The No. 1 safety in the class of 2016, five-star Jacoby Stevens, has moved to wide receiver, in hopes that he can just get on the field and contribute
  • The reserves include a the former No. 3 safety prospect, Eric Monroe, coming off a redshirt year, and the former No. 2 cornerback prospect in Kristian Fulton, who played mostly special teams last season.
  • Senior Ed Paris, a former top-50 prospect in his recruiting class, is finally slated for a starting spot after being mostly a bit player and special teams stalwart in his career. And many think he will eventually lose that starting spot to somebody like Monroe or Grant Delpit.

Corey Raymond has assembled an absurd defensive backfield, and despite replacing the entire 2016 opening day lineup, there are, essentially, three starters back here: junior cornerbacks Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver — the latter missed a number of games with injuries and discipline issues, but has completely re-dedicated himself through the offseason and is coming off a fantastic spring — and safety John Battle, who started the final seven games of the ‘16 season following an injury to Ricky Jefferson.

Jackson is one of the fastest men in college football, but he could still stand to become a little more consistent in coverage. He struggled to find the ball at times and needs to be a little more physical in coverage — see the 97-yard touchdown he gave up against Florida — especially while getting his head around to avoid pass-interference calls.

Toliver had, by his own admission, a terrible 2016, as he battled injuries and slumped into a bit of a depression that led to missing meetings and other discipline issues. He and his father spoke on the issues to the Advocate’s Ross Dellenger this spring, and to me, it’s always refreshing to hear an athlete own their foibles. It showed with a tremendous spring practice as well, and a visible muscle increase over the summer. Look for Toliver to work more on the boundary side of the field, where his length and physicality can help him use the sideline well to wall off receivers.

Battle was an unknown when he stepped in for Jefferson (who was having a fantastic senior year), but he acquitted himself well through the second half of 2016. Always in position and a sure tackler. If all he does is replicate that he’ll be a stabilizing force in a secondary that will have some freshmen playing in it.

Beyond the returning, Paris has the early lead at the other safety spot, with Monroe, Delpit and Harris pushing him. Cameron Lewis adds another talented athlete back there as well.

Weaknesses: Inexperience at a few spots like safety, nickel corner. Ball-hawking.

As we’ve discussed previously, the nickel position continues to increase in its importance for most defenses, even as a “non-starting” position. And LSU is breaking in a new one this year, likely sophomore Xavier Lewis. Likewise, the other safety spot will be occupied by somebody without a ton of game experience, even if it is an upperclassman like Paris.

Freshman Kary Vincent will compete at the nickel spot, and there’s at least a chance that one of the reserve safeties could see time there as well, given the position’s importance in run support. Still, it’s been a while since LSU’s had such unknown quantities at such a key spot.

Something that has also been lacking for this unit for a few seasons has been the ability to convert pass break-ups into interceptions. The Tigers have been in the bottom quarter of the SEC for a few seasons now — it’d be nice to find somebody who can consistently high-point balls in the air and get his hands on a few. LSU hasn’t had a negative turnover margin in some time, but that’s more about offenses that rarely coughed it up, not defenses taking it away.

Opportunities: Youth gone wild!

Delpit looks like a future superstar. As a prospect, he has it all: size, range and speed, with some truly impressive highlights.

As a player in the spring, he showed an impressive first step. A real suddenness versus both the run and the pass. Todd Harris was something of an afterthought in this class (which is insane, he was a four-star recruit with offers from the top programs in the country) compared to Delpit and Stevens, and all he’s done is draw constant praise over the summer and play well enough to help Stevens’ move to offense.

Greedy Williams is pushing for an increased role at nickel, and former superstar recruits like Kary Vincent and Kristian Fulton will be difficult to keep off of the field.

Threats: Youth gone wild!

Of course, the thing about fantastic young talents is that they also, occasionally, make fantastic young mistakes. The presence of players like Battle, Paris, Toliver, Lewis and Jackson should add a lot of savvy here, and help keep people on the same page. But this unit is also going to see a number of experienced quarterbacks. The kind that will be able to pounce if a freshman safety bites on a fake or a double-move. That could make for a tense moment or two, even at this level of talent.