There’s a bit of a rising narrative in Baton Rouge that LSU is in a dire position with regards to depth on the defensive line. Some stems from a recruiting class that failed to close out with the state’s top defensive linemen, Ishmael Sopsher, signing only two down linemen in total. Some stems from the early departure of Ed Alexander along with the pending transfer of freshman Dominic Livingston. Now, freshman Davin Cotton, who put his name in the transfer portal last week before quickly pulling it back out, is now reportedly back in. The portal cannot be denied. And while Cotton’s first entry was a false alarm, a second entry indicates he’s likely serious about finding a new place to play.
The departures and lack of surplus additions leave some to question that LSU’s depth chart may be at risk. As we saw from Clemson in recent years, a dominant defensive line can carry a team all the way to the Natty. When LSU hired Orgeron, no one would suspect recruiting defensive line depth would be an issue the former defensive line coach faced. How real is this issue? Should we be reasonably concerned? Let’s dive into the depth chart and peer into the near future to see.
2019 LSU DL Depth Chart
|Rashard Lawrence, SR.||Tyler Shelvin, RS SO.||Breiden Fehoko, SR.|
|Neil Farrell Jr., JR.||Siaki Ika, FR.||Glen Logan, RS JR.|
|Justin Thomas, JR.||Jakori Savage, JR.|
|Nelson Jenkins, RS FR.||Joseph Evans, FR.|
|Mike Williams, RS SO.|
Few notes off the bat. This assumes Cotton will leave. This also adds Jakori Savage, who has rotated from offensive to defensive line throughout his time at LSU but is now listed in workouts on the DL. This also includes Mike Williams, the transfer from Texas, who won’t be eligible in 2019.
That leaves LSU with 10 players in 2019. 10 players for three positions. Not quite the great depth quandary of the ages.
LSU doesn’t give snap data out publicly (would that it were), but if we peer quickly into the 2018 cumulative game stats, the only DL to play in every single game in 2018 were Rashard Lawrence and Glen Logan. Breiden Fehoko, Ed Alexander, Neil Farrell, Tyler Shelvin, Justin Thomas, Davin Cotton, and Nelson Jenkins all alternatively logged game time. Realistically, LSU survived 2018 playing only five guys (Lawrence, Hoko, Logan, Ed & Farrell) with any regularity (six if you toss in Shelvin on the back half). Thomas played in five games and Cotton and Jenkins scarcely saw any game time.
Those are less than ideal numbers and a real testament to the iron-man type season Rashard Lawrence put in. The image of him, in tears, well past the point of standard human exhaustion, walking off Kyle Field after the A&M loss should be one of the enduring images of the 2018 season.
Another look at emotion, passion and exhaustion of #LSU Rashard Lawrence following the Tigers' gut wrenching loss at Texas A&M. pic.twitter.com/dgY7yjoA9T— Jacques Doucet (@JacquesDoucet) November 25, 2018
Quantity =/= Quality
This isn’t a numbers concern. Any argument framed as concern over numbers is based on flimsy evidence. As illustrated, LSU is currently in position to field 10 different players for only three positions in 2019. While it may not look ideal to have only two official nose tackles on the depth chart, Aranda can get creative and rotate in any number of his ends into that spot, and even probably roll down some guys like outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson to the other end for a more pass-rush friendly look. Depth isn’t always a raw numbers game.
But is there an argument worth hearing regarding quality production? LSU will get good snaps from Lawrence, Fehoko, Logan and, assuming he’s staying the course with his diet/workouts, Shelvin. Farrell Jr. flashed at moments as well. Minimally, you can count on him to not be a disaster. LSU is already looking at a similar depth situation as 2018 with five guys to be counted on as main contributors.
That means Coach O, Aranda and Meatball have five additional bodies to factor into the plan. Jenkins should be physically much more prepared to play in 2019; I suspect he will have a role similar to Farrell’s last season. Savage and Thomas haven’t shown a ton in their time on campus, but they should be nearing peak physical potential after a couple years in the program. Siaki Ika and Joseph Evans are freshmen wild cards. If they show up in shape and ready to contribute, there’s a path there for them to do so. If not, LSU can probably afford to redshirt both, even if it’s not at all ideal for Ika.
Ultimately, this is as much of an issue as we saw in 2018 and I don’t think there were any major issues with LSU’s defensive line play last season.
The Near Future
For 2020, Lawrence and Hoko will both graduate. Interestingly, a whole gaggle of players will be eligible to leave early:
Neil Farrell Jr.
If any of these players opt to go pro early, it would immediately put LSU in a difficult position depth wise. Incoming Mike Williams should really help absorb some of that blow. The other piece here is that it seems unlikely any of them could show out enough to really be draftable commodities. Glen Logan is probably the biggest standout on the list and he’s likely relegated to another year of backing up Lawrence and Hoko. If Tyler Shelvin gets himself into great shape and blows up, he could also be very appealing.
This really brings to light the need for LSU to sign a big class at the position in 2020. It seems most likely that only Lawrence and Hoko will be gone from the 2019 team, but cutting your quality contributors immediately in half becomes worrisome. LSU must address the issue by signing a lot of top tier prospects. Fortunately, they look primed to do so with three defensive linemen already verbally committed.
The Long Future
LSU’s not in any state of depth concern in the near term, but there’s never a depth chart issue that’s un-rectifiable. The answer? Keep signing gobs of blue chip linemen. Don’t let the top prospects in state get away. Find kids in the Southeast and Texas that help bridge the gap in thinner years. It hurts to not sign a bigger haul of DL prospects in 2019 but it can be and must be overcome with a bigger class in 2020 and beyond. This doesn’t appear lost on the staff, who have extended over 50 defensive line offers thus far for the 2020 class. Look for LSU to sign 5-6 linemen in 2020 and continue to build a strong and dominant front.
Does LSU have defensive line problems? Seems like much ado about nothing to me.