As LSU’s recruiting hits the final stretch, the final four spots in the class are starting to round into shape. Four-star safety Kelvin Joseph has one locked in as a verbal commitment, and the recruiting scuttlebutt is firmly centered on studs Patrick Surtain Jr., and Ja’Marr Chase taking up two more slots.
A host of players remain in LSU’s sights for that last one, but the two that appear to be drawing most of the attention are four-star quarterback James Foster of Montgomery, Ala., and four-star defensive back Mario Goodrich of Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
So who should LSU focus its efforts on — the elusive quarterback, or the more highly touted defender? Our recruiting staff weighed in on the debate:
I’ve always been a proponent of the lose one, add one when it comes to quarterbacks, and while we did add two top-tier ones in Brennan and Narcisse last year, if the final spot of a class comes down to a QB or a DB, give me the quarterback.
With Corey Raymond on the staff and Dave Aranda at the defensive helm, we aren’t going to have a problem adding defensive backs in any year. Factor in we already have the No. 2 cornerback of 2019 in Maurice Hampton and had/likely will have again top-15 corner Derek Stingley as well, along with any other gems Raymond finds on the way, and this Foster/Goodrich question becomes moot. Looking at the QB position, outside of Brennan/Narcisse last year, we haven’t had much luck in that department recruiting-wise, and so far, the only passer in 2019 we are after is Grant Gunnell, an A&M commit that you never know how things are going to go once Jimbo Fisher gets settled in and starts reassuring him.
One other big thing to me is Narcisse has had ACL surgery on both knees before even taking a snap at LSU. Now, maybe he plays his whole college career healthy and this is a non-story, but do you want Justin McMillan as your third-string quarterback or your backup should one of the two in front of him go down? Foster has started at QB at his high school since he was a freshman, so he has that leadership already and would probably be a better game manager at that point.
This is no knock against Goodrich, I would love for him to be in this class, but if I’m having to decide between the two, give me Foster every day of the week.
This is really a tough call from a personnel management standpoint. I firmly believe the staff had full intentions of taking both guys and kicker Cole Tracy not counting against the 25-man limit. I’ve still yet to see a solid explanation of why Tracy counts, but hey, it’s the LSU and the NCAA so I never expect any breaks. But, what’s done is done and now the staff is sitting with a decision between four-star, top-100ish defensive back Mario Goodrich and four-star, top-300ish quarterback James Foster.
Foster is a pure upside play at QB. He’s raw and toolsy. At around 6-2/6-3 and 200 pounds he’s got a nice frame to grow into. He’s athletic and can make you pay in the running game, but he’s not a pure runner as he also does flash a pretty big arm. The concern here is how much value do you place in a pure upside play? Can Foster turn into a guy like Lamar Jackson who was a similarly athletic but unrefined prospect heading to Louisville, who worked hard to become a more skillful passer. I’m not sure his upside is that high, but at LSU, our bar for success has been far lower. With Foster you love the arm and the ability to make something happen on the ground. He looks like a modern college QB. And you love your depth situation sitting on Brennan and Narcisse and that Foster doesn’t need to step onto campus and even really compete as a back-up. There’s time to refine the issues.
So what are the issues? Well, his mechanics are a crapshoot. There’s times when the ball comes out really fluid and clean and you can see the whole picture. But there’s so much inconsistency that I wonder, at times, what QB am I gonna get from play to play? His deep balls he has a tendency to revert to a bigger, looping throwing motion, but I can’t really tell why. He seems to generate plenty of RPMs on shorter/intermediate stuff, which is usually where I look to identify a QB that might lack arm strength. He’s got some power in there, but it’s almost as if he doesn’t believe in it when it comes time to uncork it deep? Honestly, it all probably ties back to his lack of mechanical efficiency and consistency. If those things are in order, he can unlock the power in that arm. But they are so far off, there’s legitimate reason to think he may never put it all together.
Which brings us to why you’d even consider taking a DB over a QB from a needs perspective. Clearly QB is a more impactful position. Clearly at LSU it’s been a position in need of revamping for years now. Does Foster get you closer to that goal? One issue Miles had was never taking enough bodies. Quarterbacks are so difficult to evaluate, I’m of the mind that having as many as possible to give yourself opportunities to hit on is the best path to success. Year one with Orgeron looked great in nabbing Brennan/Narcisse. But to go right back to missing on the position the next class isn’t great.
So how does Goodrich, specifically, fit here? I think if you were debating, say, Ardarius Washington, the three-star safety commit from Evangel that will likely sign with TCU in February and James Foster, you take Foster. Washington is fine, but he looks more like a special-teams type. Goodrich is a guy that, at 6-2, 200 pounds gives you some nice positional versatility and options. He’s being recruited at corner, but he’s got size to transition to safety, if needed. He’s athletic. He’s physical and can likely contribute from day one, especially with a thinned out cornerback corps.
This whole debate boils down to the classic ceiling/floor discussion. There’s no doubt in my mind that Foster has a higher ceiling in terms of positional need and impact. If he hits, it will be a big hit. Goodrich is your high floor prospect. Don’t misread this to say he doesn’t have a high ceiling. He absolutely does. But I also think he presents far less risk when you are considering overall contributors. Now, worst case scenario is Foster picking Alabama and hitting, of course, but at this point, I think you roll with Goodrich and go hunting for a lower-ceiling transfer QB to help tidy up the depth chart.
This is where I’m at as well. As important as it is to maintain numbers at quarterback, it’s useless if you don’t maintain quality to go with the quantity. Think of some of the past quarterback depth charts that might have been four- or five-deep, but with the likes of Stephen Rivers, Jerard Randall, Chris Garrett or Hayden Rettig. Bodies are nice, but only if they can at least add some sort of value.
So, is Foster in that group? I certainly hope not, and far be it from me to pass hard judgement one way or another. Clearly he’s a young man that has worked his way into scholarship offers from some of the top football powers in this area — including coaches that have much better track records with the position than LSU — and that has to mean something. But at the same time, there’s still a clear sense that he’s been an afterthought in this class. Not a priority recruit on par with other blue-chip passers.
Yes, a quarterback in every class is a must. But you’ll also never regret taking the best players that you can get your hands on, either. Right now, I’d say that there’s a greater chance that, if you take Goodrich, he provides more value on the field than Foster over the next three to five seasons. If you want to really know how a team like Alabama or Georgia can work a true freshman quarterback in so well, it’s because they’re loaded with top prospects everywhere else. You’re more likely to get to that place with a player like Goodrich.
Although it’s also just as likely that Goodrich and Foster make this choice for LSU anyway. Which then brings in the question of how do you balance keeping both irons in the fire without letting each fire go out. The coaching staff may have to make a choice sooner rather than later, or risk having to move on from both players.