“It’s a big man’s game.”
When LSU hired Ed Orgeron, he came with the express mission of rebuilding the defensive line. First as the DL coach and recruiting coordinator, O was hired to do what he does best and beat the road recruiting the best athletes across the country. It paid immediate dividends when he pulled Arden Key, and then a year later when he locked up Rashard Lawrence among others. What happened next surprised us all.
We don’t need to relive that history, but in Orgeron’s ascension the theme continues to be hammered: get bigger on the lines. O re-iterates the point often on his in-season weekly show. To say that Orgeorn walked into a rebuild at LSU is walking a fine line. Did LSU need a total rebuild from the ground up? Hardly. Did LSU need more than a few tweaks to running at optimal levels? I think that’s inarguable.
The biggest piece here is that LSU’s roster from two seasons ago simply wasn’t built to Orgeron’s liking. Not enough DL. Not enough OL. Not enough LBs. He hammers this... routinely. Just last year, when losing to Troy, we saw the direct impact of the depth issues. Failed recruiting efforts from previous years reared their head when LSU was forced to play players far down the depth chart that typically only do work in practice.
Thus, Orgeron is determined to not run into that dilemma again. Davin Cotton is one piece to that puzzle.
There was a moment in time when LSU struggled to reel in recruits from the coveted Evangel High in Shreveport. That moment has long since passed, as LSU picks and chooses the players from Evangel they want these days, so it’s no surprise when they are able to lure top talents from the program.
Davin Cotton committed to LSU along with teammates Micah Baskerville and Ardarius Washington at LSU’s annual Boys from the Boot day during the Spring before their senior seasons. By the end, Washington found his way into TCU’s signing class while Baskerville would wind up singing with Cotton at LSU during the early signing period. There was no recruiting drama to speak of with Davin Cotton, as he didn’t even bother to visit other programs, officially or unofficially.
The drama comes in that Cotton suffered an injury in his opening game in 2017 which prematurely ended his senior season. Cotton was robbed of his final chance to show his stuff. Cotton’s lack of camp activity and lack of recruiting circus lead to him being a largely forgotten player in this recruiting cycle. He maintained a 4-star ranking on the 247 composite, but no one would boost him up the rankings without camp evaluations or a strong senior season.
But I want to take a moment to hearken back to some very early evaluations of Cotton. At the New Orleans opening, when Cotton was a Sophomore, Barton Simmons, the Director of Football Scouting at 247 sports said this about Cotton:
It was eye-opening when Cotton took his reps. He’s really explosive off the snap, explosive with his hands and he was the best defensive lineman I saw.
They ranked Cotton the second best defensive player in attendance, behind Grant Delpit. Future LSU signee Tyler Shelvin, along with Alabama DL signees Jordan Davis and Phidarian Mathis were also in attendance at the camp.
Chad Simmons of 247 sports also listed Cotton as one of his 10 best defensive players at the camp and cited his quick first step. Chris Allen, Grant Delpit, Todd Harris and other SEC signees were included in that mix and Cotton stood toe to toe with the best of the best as a sophomore in HS.
I try not to sound the horn for “underrated” players, as I think too many folks beat that drum too loudly, but I think there’s enough circumstantial evidence to suggest Cotton may have climbed in the rankings had he not lost his senior season to injury OR kept up with the camp circuit, which he basically ditched after his sophomore season.
110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has “can’t miss” talent.
100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.
97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.
89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.
79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.
247 Composite Ranking: ****
247 Composite Rating: .9027
Cotton rates narrowly above a 3-star, which again I think ties to his lack of camp activity and senior season. Would Cotton be a 5-star if those things were included? There’s no way to know. Plenty of prospects have been impressive as sophomores only to fall down the rankings as they aged. One “limiting” factor I’ve seen evaluators mention is his size. Cotton is listed at 6’1”, 262 on the LSU roster. He’s undersized, weight wise, but 6’1” isn’t an awful height for a down lineman. It really depends on the type of player you are projecting. Short players typically don’t play on the outside in a 4-3, so it might be better to say his height is limiting to his versatility, rather than his overall potential. There’s been plenty of dominant 6’1” DL in the NFL playing as attacking interior players. Even some dominant edge players, typically with absurd athletic skills, like Dwight Freeney.
Am I saying Cotton is that? No. But the descriptions you hear about Cotton rage about him being “explosive” and his upper body strength and hand usage. That sounds like the type of player that can work around a height “limitation.”
Cotton is just a guy that looks thickly built. His build reminds me a lot of another former Davon at LSU, Davon Godchaux, who always struck me as a thickly built but not sloppy type. I can’t find any accurate testing data since Cotton didn’t do the camp circuit after his sophomore season.
I think Cotton has adequate but not ideal size. He’ll play one of the end spots and should be a player similar in style to Rashard Lawrence. I imagine once he hits the field, he will remind people of Drake Nevis due to their similarities in stature.
It’s obvious right off from the tape that Cotton isn’t the biggest guy in the world. He looks lean in his pads, even. But it’s plainly evident that Cotton has totally been trained in the “low man wins” school of hard knocks. What Cotton lacks in size he makes up for in playing an extreme game of leverage and explosiveness. Cotton really is cat quick off the ball, but he’s not all quick game. Multiple times throughout the tape you can see him stand up OL and clog the running game, like a true 5-tech, but wrapped up in the body of a 3-tech. There’s some serious pass rush potential here, though I’m not sure if it will be unleashed in the style of defense LSU likes to play. It will be interesting to see if Aranda tailors the scheme to fit a player with his unique traits.
Look, not a ton to be made about 2.5 minutes of tape from Cotton’s junior season. I think it backs up some of the evals: his explosiveness and power. And I think it illustrates that he has some real athletic ability when it comes to chasing plays or making plays in the backfield. He’s not just a straight-line type that is quick-twitch from his stance and otherwise useless.
But obviously we don’t have his bad tape here and can’t be fully in tune with where he struggles.
During his early signing period interview, Orgeron commented on Cotton that he was one of the best defensive lineman in the country and that he was coached by Byron Dawson, who was coached by Pete Jenkins and “he’s so far advanced with his technique.” When Aranda sat down with Ross Dellenger, he had this to say about Cotton:
You meet Davin on the hoof and he’s going to be very quiet, reserved and respectful. There was more exciting, colorful words coming from Davin’s mom in the course of that game. He was big play after big play … there’s a fire in that dude. He was motivating his team, calling out the other team. I didn’t know who that guy was just from talking to him on the hoof. He changes his personality on the field, in between the white lines. I’m looking forward to that. I think that’s something we can use.
He’d be a defensive end. He’s got the strike and he’s got the ability to play sideline to sideline.
And then later, when asked specifically about his injury he concluded with this:
I love the fire in him. I put my money on sooner rather than later with him.
That sounds like a true freshman contributor to me. And when you look at the depth chart, the path is clear. Cotton is already with the program and while he is not yet cleared to compete, if he is dedicated to learning the defense and doing his part in physical conditioning, I think he stands a great chance at early playing time.
He will have to get bigger to play in the SEC. He needs to at least be in the 280 range. But if he can add the necessary muscle mass and keep his explosiveness, he could become a very dangerous player.
Cotton flashes on tape, at times easily looking like the best player on the field. Judging by Aranda’s comments about his character and widely consistent praise for his ability, I’m betting he’ll turn into a fine player for LSU.
High End: All-SEC
Low End: Rotational depth and team leader
Realistic: Multi-year starter, fan favorite