Now that we’re through the bowl game, here’s another quick run through of what’s in store for LSU football over the next few weeks through National Signing Day.
Draft-eligible underclassmen have until Monday, Jan. 14 to announce decisions to stay in school or go. LSU’s coaching and support staff have met with the remaining undecided players and presented their draft evaluations — both the NFL’s committee and the program’s own report, which is more holistic and detailed, including points that NFL teams want to see a player improve upon, and a plan to help them do that.
As thing stand currently (press time), two underclassmen have made their decision to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft:
- Greedy Williams
- Ed Alexander
Obviously, Devin White is the next big name that fans and the football community are interested in. He’s almost certainly a top-15 pick, and after an All-American season that saw him win the first Butkus Award in LSU history, it would not be surprising to see White take his talents to the next level. That said, White has hinted at returning to some, and before the bowl game, LSU believed there was at least some chance that he might return. That said, even with the substantial insurance policies available to valuable college athletes, it seems like a long shot.
Other eligible (three years removed from high school) players that are believed to be investigating their pro prospects include:
- Def. linemen Breiden Fehoko and Rashard Lawrence
- Linebacker Michael Divinity
- Cornerback Kristian Fulton
- Offensive guard Damien Lewis
All five players could benefit substantially, in my opinion, from another year. Fehoko and Fulton will both be rehabbing injuries through much of the draft process. LSU is certainly selling Fulton on the benefits of another year of tape — and another season matching his 2018 year would likely skyrocket him up draft boards. Lawrence, like Fehoko, faces one of the most loaded 2019 classes at the defensive line position in history, so another year would help if nothing else. Lewis has been the subject of some internet speculation — although I don’t believe it to be that serious, based on conversations I’ve had. Overall, he had an inconsistent 2018, and while he probably does have a pro future, his value would almost certainly increase with another year, as would the rest of the players named here.
But the idea of getting a paycheck now will always have its appeal, even with the potential for a greater one down the road. How this plays out will definitely have an impact on the Tigers’ ceiling in 2019. Depth is improved, but the losing of emerging or key depth players right on the cusp of a breakout is a trend that Ed Orgeron has been desperate to break. We’ll see if their attempts bear fruit this go around. Lewis could be a survivable loss, but the defensive line would take a big hit without Lawrence and Fehoko’s experience. Divinity really emerged as a strong linebacker this year. And of course, Fulton has the chance to be on of the best cornerbacks in the country.
Will the current staff maintain as it is presently constituted? As a general rule, that seems unlikely these days. As previously discussed, passing game coordinator Jerry Sullivan was already working on a one-year deal, and he may decide to go back to retirement, or a reduced role. The NFL cycle is still moving, which is likely to trickle down to the collegeiate ranks at some point, and could impact any number of coaches, Dave Aranda in particular. I don’t believe he’s necessarily looking to move on, but the NFL is likely his next stop, at some point in the future. As I’ve written previously, coaches like Tommy Robinson, Corey Raymond or Bill Busch could all get promotion calls at some point, whether that is to a college coordinator gig or the NFL.
I know there has been some rumors regarding former USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin coming on as a position coach, but as of now I’ve yet to hear anything concrete there. Likewise, former Tiger receivers coach Adam Henry could become available as well. I’ve also seen the Steve Sarkisian talk but A) LSU’s not going to be in the market for a new OC, and B) Sark seems unlikely to take a position coach job, unless he’s just desperate to stay at a P5 level (and can’t find more NFL work).
The cycle isn’t likely to stop until after National Signing Day on Feb. 6, but until there are actual openings, there isn’t much worth speculating on.
Speaking of signing day, LSU still has six scholarship spots left for the once-hallowed first Wednesday of February.
Two are (at the moment, anyway) reserved for commitments: tight end/offensive tackle Ray Parker and defensive back Maurice Hampton. Neither signed in the early period, but LSU seems confident that the picks will hold up. Although most believe Hampton is likely to be a high MLB draft choice this summer.
That would leave four spots remaining, which will center around names that most who have followed this cycle ought to know by now: Amite (La.) wide receiver Devonta Lee and defensive lineman Ishmael Sopsher (and possibly his brother, Rodney), plus defensive back Jay Ward, receiver George Pickens and defensive linemen Byron Young and Nathan Pickering out of Mississippi.
Sopsher is going to be a major battle between LSU and Alabama, as most know by now, which, like any in-state recruit, becomes a much larger proxy fight. Adding at least one more lineman on defense is going to be a major focus here, so don’t be surprised if some other names emerge, should the staff lose confidence in landing one of the three names listed here.
Best player available will be the priority, although I do think defensive linemen will have a slightly higher rank than the other positions right now. After these next six weeks, things will progress into spring football, which will feature a ton of competition at the receiver and offensive line spots.