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LSU Spring Football 2019: Receivers & Tight Ends

The Tiger pass-catchers have no choice but to improve for this offense to make strides.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Texas A&M Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

There may be no position that was quite as disappointing as the wide receivers for LSU in 2018. It was a spot that was hoped would pace the offense, with a big-time transfer coming in as a veteran leader to a legion of talented underclassmen.

Things came together over the course of the year, and by the end of the year we saw a balanced group that had multiple different weapons at different spots. But there were a lot of bumps along the way, with drops and inconsistencies that played a big role in the passing game’s struggles over the season’s first half.

Those growing pains have to end, one way or another. Whether that’s with younger players pipping veterans, or even with newcomers arriving, LSU has to have consistency on both the throwing and catching ends of the passing game.

LSU Receivers & Tight Ends: Spring 2019

Position Player Ht/Wt Targets Catches Yards TD Catch Rate Yds/Catch Yds/Target
Position Player Ht/Wt Targets Catches Yards TD Catch Rate Yds/Catch Yds/Target
Receivers 2 Justin Jefferson (Jr.) 6-2, 185 92 54 875 6 58.70% 16.2 9.5
10 Stephen Sullivan (Sr.) 6-7, 232 44 23 363 2 52.30% 15.8 8.3
1 Ja'Marr Chase (So.) 6-1, 205 39 23 313 3 59.00% 13.6 8
19 Derrick Dillon (Sr.) 5-11, 184 37 22 307 2 59.50% 14 8.3
11 Dee Anderson (Sr.) 6-6, 229 35 20 274 1 57.10% 13.7 7.8
6 Terrace Marshall, Jr. (So.) 6-4, 209 21 12 192 0 57.10% 16 9.1
7 Jonathan Giles (Sr.) 6-1, 186 20 10 59 0 50.00% 5.9 3
17 Racey McMath (Jr.) 6-3, 221 2 2 42 0 100.00% 21 21
13 Jontre Kirklin (Jr.) 6-0, 182 2 1 5 0 50.00% 5 2.5
83 JaRay Jenkins (Fr.-RS) 6-3, 194 Redshirted.
Tight Ends 80 Jamal Pettigrew (Jr.) 6-7, 241 Missed 2018 season with knee injury.
84 TK McClendon (Jr.) 6-5, 241 Caught 5 passes for 43 yards and 1 touchdown at Copiah-Lincoln Comm. College.
81 Thaddeus Moss (Jr.) 6-3, 225 DNP.
42 Aaron Moffitt (So.) 6-2, 262 DNP.
Returning starters in bold.

What’s Good?

Tight end Foster Moreau is gone, but there are still a ton of experienced targets on hand. Four seniors, a junior who saw a ton of usage last season, several more in their fourth year of college, plus two five-star sophomores who saw time in nearly every game last season. Five different members of this group caught at least 20 passes last season, including No. 1 target Justin Jefferson, who finished sixth in the SEC with 875 receiving yards.

And there’s a diversity of skill sets among the receivers as well:

  • Jefferson is kind of a jack-of-all-trades type; a great route runner who gets open consistently.
  • Stephen Sullivan and Dee Anderson provide the over-sized targets at 6-7 and 6-6, and north of 220 pounds.
  • Derrick Dillon is the classic undersized, speedy slot guy who can make big plays after the catch. Ditto Jontre Kirklin, who converted from cornerback and even saw some time as a wildcat quarterback.
  • Ja’Marr Chase is a smooth athlete who showed a knack for making big plays.
  • Terrace Marshall is another long, athletic target for tracking jump balls down the field.
  • Redshirt freshman JaRay Jenkins is a deep speed type.
  • And Racey McMath is a big, fast target that also saw some time at H-back in an attempt to get him involved.

What’s Bad?

Most of all that proved theoretical last season. Jonathan Giles was expected to be a constant, dependable playmaker and proved to be a complete disappointment. He struggled to get open, struggled to catch the ball and was unimpressive after the catch on his few targets.

Likewise, all of the aforementioned players had major holes in their games:

  • Jefferson may be a jack of all trades, but he’s a master of none. Not really a speed guy, and not the biggest either. He seems more like the type that would excel as the No. 2 target behind a dominant top dog.
  • Sullivan and Anderson both struggle to truly put that size to good use, high-pointing jump balls or just generally bodying up smaller defenders. And most defensive backs tend to be smaller.
  • Dillon struggles catching the ball — and almost everybody here took their turn with the dropsies. He’s also recovering from hip surgery and not practicing.
  • Chase, Marshall and McMath all struggled with assignments, notably at times. That’s forgivable for true freshmen, but has to evolve quickly.

And tight end features a ton of unknowns. Jamal Pettigrew is an impressive looking athlete and was a major recruit, but missed last season with a knee injury and had never really shown he could contribute much prior. TK McClendon was brought in as a junior college recruit, but seems mostly like a blocker type. And Thad Moss, despite catching a lot of preseason hype, rarely saw the field due to a host of mysterious injuries.

What is the goal for this unit in the spring?

This group has to improve and find targets that are reliable. Whether that is veterans like Sullivan, Anderson, Dillon and Jefferson or the young guns like Chase and Marshall. Even a player like Giles — who was a Biletnikoff finalist at Texas Tech in 2016 — has a chance to try and work his way back to being the player he was billed.

Will new passing game coordinator Joe Brady make a difference? I don’t believe he’ll make radical changes to the substance of what Steve Ensminger wants to do, but if he can help apply it to the targets, that’s a step in the right direction.

There’s only one ball and everybody can’t catch 100 passes, but LSU’s coaches have to find a way to create a more consistent passing game. There’s too much talent here not to unlock it. And as we saw in Burrow’s 394-yard Fiesta Bowl performance, when this group is dialed in, they can beat defenses in a lot of ways.

Almost everyone at wideout had a moment; Jefferson was the only member of the team with a 100-yard game; Dillon had his 70-yard touchdown versus Auburn, and Anderson made clutch catches in that win as well; Sullivan posted up Southeastern for a Hail Mary; and Chase had a handful of dazzling catches down the sidelines. But moments aren't enough.