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LSU Spring Football 2018: Receivers and Tight Ends

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It’s a new beginning for LSU’s pass-catchers this spring, and the coaches are looking for people to step up.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

LSU is about three-quarters of the way through spring practice, and there isn’t a ton that’s clear about the Tigers’ new offense under Steve Ensminger and Jerry Sullivan yet.

But the fact remains: based on personnel, it’s an attack that may have no choice but to be pass-forward in 2018, and per Ed Orgeron’s various media appearances, that is the plan.

So, how about that personnel?

2018 LSU Spring Receivers & Tight Ends

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 19 Derrick Dillon (Jr.) 5-11, 178 22 14 125 0 8.9 5.7 63.60% 50.00% 7.50% 15 carries for 86 yards.
10 Stephen Sullivan (Jr.) 6-6, 235 28 11 219 1 19.9 7.8 39.30% 39.30% 9.60% 1 rushing touchdown.
11 Dee Anderson (Jr.) 6-6, 223 5 3 45 0 15 9 60.00% 60.00% 1.70%
14 Drake Davis (Jr.) 6-4, 218 9 3 134 2 44.7 14.9 33.30% 33.30% 3.10%
17 Racey McMath (So.) 6-3, 215 Three-star recruit appeared in two games.
32 Justin Jefferson (So.) 6-2, 185 Appeared in four games, with 1 rushing attempt for 4 yards.
7 Jonathan Giles (Jr.) 6-0, 189 Transfer from Texas Tech -- sat out in 2017.
6 Terrace Marshall, Jr. (Fr.) 6-3, 195 Five-star recruit.
TE 84 Foster Moreau (Sr.) 6-6, 255 37 24 278 3 11.6 7.5 64.90% 45.90% 12.70%
88 Jacory Washington (Jr.) 6-6, 248 1 1 6 0 6 6 100% 0 0.3
81 Thaddeus Moss (So.) 6-3, 247 Transfer from NC State -- sat out 2017.
42 Aaron Moffitt (Fr.-RS) 6-2, 266 Three-star recruit.
80 Jamal Pettigrew (So.) 6-7, 262 2 1 18 0 18 9 50.00% 50.00% 0.70%
Returning starters in bold. Stats via Football Study Hall.

There’s a lot of opportunity up for grabs here, simply because there’s a big void in terms of proven experience for LSU. Tight end Foster Moreau marks the sole returning starter and leader in terms of targets, catches, yards and touchdowns.

In fact, he’s the only receiving touchdown back for LSU — Stephen Sullivan’s one score in 2017 came on a rushing attempt. **Ed. Note: Sullivan and Drake Davis each caught touchdowns last season. Apologies for the error.**

What’s Old?

One part of the story that hasn’t changed for receivers at LSU is that there’s plenty of talent on hand; of the thirteen scholarship receivers and tight ends in spring practice for LSU, eight players were at least a four-star prospect, or better, when they arrived on campus.

There’s size — five receivers run 6-3 and taller at the 200-to-240-pound range, three tight ends are at least 6-5 and 250-plus. All with of the requisite speed.

Moreau developed into a very good two-way tight end last season with his 24 catches for 278 yards, easily the program’s highest total since Richard Dickson in the late Aughts. It might not have been quite the breakout that many hoped for in Matt Canada’s offense, which has a history of featuring tight ends, but it seems Moreau still maxed out his abilities. He is a devastating blocker and very well-respected leader. He doesn’t have the speed to stretch a defense, but he has soft hands and should be able to help LSU’s quarterbacks as a safety valve on third downs.

The other returning upperclassmen are a bit less consistent. Receivers Stephen Sullivan, Drake Davis and Dee Anderson have long recruiting resumes, but to date have done little to back up the accolades. And for some, it’s now or never.

Sullivan is the most reliable of the group, but struggled to both get open and catch the ball consistently in 2017. Davis is insanely talented in terms of the physical, but can’t avoid mental mistakes — a bad route led to one interception last year versus Syracuse, and his most notable big play came on a pass he caught about three different times on one play. Anderson struggles to stay on the field, period, battling any number of team rules issues.

Tight ends Jamal Pettigrew and Jacory Washington both finally managed to get on the field last season after years of recruiting hype, but it remains to be seen if either will be able to do much more than exist.

Junior slot receiver Derrick Dillon actually proved capable of making a few plays on third down last season, but he has missed most of the spring tending to family issues. His ceiling seems a bit limited, although there could be more value for an underneath-route specialist in the new attack.

What’s New?

Long-time ex-NFL coach Jerry Sullivan is on hand to help Ensminger revive the air-attack on both ends, passing and catching. From a practicum standpoint, the new offense will feature less of a focus on the defined pro-style receiver positions and route trees. More on coverage reads and, for lack of a better term, getting open.

In recent years, the trend for “spread” type attacks has been to focus the pass-catches on the big picture versus the minutiae. Understanding a concept, and how to apply it to each opponent, rather than an overall system that might feature a lot more negative space.

Receivers aren’t learning how to take the nine-route tree and apply it to each type of coverage, but rather what the weaknesses are in each type of coverage and how to best attack that.

The excitement for this application comes to the newcomers at this position — thanks in fact, to the fact that one of them already has skins on the wall, albeit not at LSU. Jonathan Giles caught 69 passes for near-1,200 yards with 13 touchdowns for Texas Tech in 2016, picking up an All-Big-12 selection and a nomination for the Biletnikof Trophy. It’s not every day that a big-league program picks up a transfer like that.

The story of how Giles exited Tech is still a bit of a mystery — it seems weird that the Red Raiders would seek to bench such a productive player — but then Kliff Kingsbury has a track record of struggling to get along with talents. He’ll step right in as the No. 1 target for LSU this season. Honestly, even calling him a newcomer seems specious, as he’s spent the last 10 months or so on the team due to the NCAA’s sit-out rule. He was in receiver meetings last season and the scout-team on the field, and to his current teammates he’s earned the prospective accolades.

And to be honest, if Giles doesn’t produce this season, it’s likely a really bad sign for this passing game venture overall.

Other new-ish talents that appear to be stepping into major roles at the receiver spots are sophomores Justin Jefferson and Racey McMath, along with superstar 2018 freshman Terrace Marshall, Jr., who enrolled in January.

Marshall is still working his way back from injuries that ended his senior season at Parkway High School in Shreveport, but coaches have no ambiguity on his potential, and expect him to have a significant role this fall.

Jefferson was an afterthought recruit that was a late qualifier and addition to the Tigers in 2017, but instantly made noise with how quickly he adjusted to the speed of the college game. That didn’t lead to much production last year, but he’s somebody the offensive staff has a lot of trust in.

McMath wasn’t as highly-regarded as some other receivers in the ‘17 class, but had an impressive size-speed ratio, and he seems to have taken advantage of the blank slate LSU’s new approach has granted the receiver position.

Another former transfer looking to make an impression and stake out a spot in the rotation is tight end Thaddeus Moss. The son of newly minted Hall-of-Famer Randy, Moss sat out the 2017 season, but has drawn some praise as more of a natural receiver as a tight end. The hope is that he can develop into a match-up target as a No. 2 tight end/H-back.

What’s the Story?

It really may be now or never for some of the longer-tenured veterans here. LSU welcomes three more scholarship wideouts this summer, including another five-star talent that some think may be better equipped to have an early impact than Marshall in Ja’Marr Chase.

As of today, LSU’s top four receivers look like Giles, Jefferson, McMath and Marshall. Sullivan and Dillon would likely be next up, but Chase and Keenan Jones won’t be far behind. And with a small senior class, LSU will need some roster attrition for a loaded 2019 recruiting crop. Look for some transfers out here, particularly from vets like Davis and Anderson.

There will almost certainly be some fan murmuring for two former big-time recruits, so prepare yourself.