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2019 LSU Football Preview: Receivers & Tight Ends

Deep and talented group needs to take a big step forward

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - LSU v Central Florida Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last season, LSU pledged to focus more on the receiver position. And while the results were mixed, they definitely spread the ball around; six receivers or tight ends caught at least 20 passes, and five of those players return.

This season, that talk has ratcheted up even further, with the arrival of new receivers coach/passing game coordinator Joe Brady and a more up-tempo, spread-focused style showed off in the spring. The question is, can this group raise its game to meet the talk?

LSU had one of the 10 worst drop rates among Power-Five conference teams in 2018, per CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli. The 2018 receiving corps featured a bevy of young talents along with several veterans that had largely failed to distinguish themselves in years previous. So will that youth be served, or will those veterans pull themselves up for one last ride?

2019 LSU Receivers & Tight Ends

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.) 6-3, 192 92 54 875 6 58.70% 16.2 9.5
1 Ja'Marr Chase (So.) 6-1, 200 39 23 313 3 59.00% 13.6 8
19 Derrick Dillon (Sr.) 5-11, 186 37 22 307 2 59.50% 14 8.3
11 Dee Anderson (Sr.) 6-5, 197 35 20 274 1 57.10% 13.7 7.8
6 Terrace Marshall, Jr. (So.) 6-4, 200 21 12 192 0 57.10% 16 9.1
17 Racey McMath (Jr.) 6-3, 221 2 2 42 0 100.00% 21 21
13 Jontre Kirklin (Jr.) 6-0, 185 2 1 5 0 50.00% 5 2.5
83 JaRay Jenkins (Fr.-RS) 6-4, 195 Redshirted.
5 Devontea Lee (Fr.) 6-1, 223 Four-star recruit.
33 Trey Palmer (Fr.) 6-1, 180 Four-star recruit.
Targets Catches Yards TD Catch Rate Yds/Catch Yds/Target
Tight Ends 10 Stephen Sullivan (Sr.) 6-5, 242 44 23 363 2 52.30% 15.8 8.3
80 Jamal Pettigrew (Jr.) 6-6, 258 Missed 2018 season with knee injury.
84 TK McClendon (Jr.) 6-5, 263 Caught 5 passes for 43 yards and 1 touchdown at Copiah-Lincoln Comm. College.
81 Thaddeus Moss (Jr.) 6-3, 249 DNP.
42 Aaron Moffitt (So.) 6-2, 252 DNP.
85 Ray Parker (Fr.) 6-5, 233 Four-star recruit.
Returning starters in bold.

The top four positions in terms of the wide receivers and the tight end position seem pretty set right now, although Brady has discussed wanting to rotate six or seven players:

Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall Jr. and Stephen Sullivan

Jefferson was the lead dog of this group last season and easily the most consistent, although even he still struggled with some drops at times. Brady has said that he wants to move receivers around, but look for Jefferson to work more from the slot. That likely fits his skill set better.

Chase and Marshall are the two most obvious candidates to break out as former mega-recruits. The latter was limited by a lower leg injury from his final high school season last year, but he was still impressive in short doses. Chase has a much more well-rounded skill set. He has the physical frame to work underneath routes and is the kind of smooth route runner that can separate down the field even if he isn’t a classic speed burner.

Oversized receiver Stephen Sullivan will transition to more of a flex tight end position. It’s doubtful he’ll do much in-line blocking, but he has the potential to be a match-up problem in different sets. It’s one of those moves that has always seemed intuitive for a 6-5, 240-pounder that seems a bit slow for wideout. But playing to his size has never been Sullivan’s strong suit. Can he learn to not only be a more consistent player, but just body up and bully opposing defenders with his frame? Sullivan has had to overcome a lot to get to this point as a fifth-year senior and his family’s first college graduate. It would be nice to see him break through.

The next players on the depth chart include seniors Derrick Dillon and Dee Anderson and junior Racey McMath. Dillon and Anderson have each had their moments, but neither has ever been able to sustain success on the field or off. Anderson in particular has been suspended yet again this camp, and at this point its easy to wonder if he’ll even return.

On the rest of the tight ends, junior Jamal Pettigrew is sidelined with an undisclosed injury in what has been an unfortunately injury-marred career. Junior Thaddeus Moss appears to be working his way into the No. 2 role here after missing last season with a persistent foot injury. Junior college transfer TK McClendon appears to work into a blocking role. That could also be a role for freshman Ray Parker. Many viewed him as a recruit that could grow into an offensive tackle, but he’s dropped his weight into the 230-pound range to stick at tight end. Fullback Tory Carter will also do some flex work as an H-back tight end.

A question for this group will be whether the players at the top of the depth chart can handle both the blocking and receiving aspects of the position. You never want roles to be so defined that personnel becomes a tell.

Indeed, how the rest of the roles in this offense develop will be very interesting. An increased passing game with more involvement for the tight ends and the backs sounds good, but there’s only one ball. Everyone can’t really break out at once here.

Last season, LSU averaged 29 pass attempts per game. Let’s say that number goes up to 34 — which would put the offense near the top 40 in average attempts per game. If Joe Burrow improves his completion rate by five points (57 percent to 62), that puts him at 21 completions per game. That would create 252 reception opportunities during the regular season. Will LSU have a dominant Nos. 1 and 2 targets catching half of those balls? Or will that be more spread around with multi-purpose backs like Clyde Edwards-Helaire and John Emery and the tight ends?

It’s an interesting way of pondering the potential changes to the offense. If they take root.