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2019 LSU Football Preview: Defensive Backs

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The DBU cupboard remains well stocked with the nation’s best.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 29 Ole Miss at LSU Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Stop me if it sounds familiar: LSU loses an All-American cornerback and a senior stalwart safety to the NFL, along with a former blue-chip prospect to transfer, yet still returns one of the deepest and most talented backfields in the country.

From the standard set by Corey Webster and escalated by Patrick Peterson, defensive backs coach Corey Raymond, now helped out by safeties coach Bill Busch, has assembled a group of talent that includes the nation’s best defensive player and a freshman corner considered the best ever evaluated by 247 Sports.

It’s good to be DBU.

2019 LSU Defensive Backfield

Position Player Ht/Wt Tackles Tackles for Loss Pass Break-Ups Interceptions Forced Fumbles
Position Player Ht/Wt Tackles Tackles for Loss Pass Break-Ups Interceptions Forced Fumbles
Cornerbacks 1 Kristian Fulton (Jr.) 6-0, 200 25 1 9 1 1
5 Kary Vincent Jr. (Jr.) 5-10, 185 31 1.5 6 1 0
28 Mannie Netherly (Jr.) 6-3, 185 Three tackles in 11 games.
24 Derek Stingley Jr. (Fr.) 6-1, 190 Five-star recruit.
29 Raydarious Jones (Fr.) 6-2, 161 Four-star recruit.
16 Jay Ward (Fr.) 6-2, 167 Three-star recruit.
25 Cordale Flott (Fr.) 6-2, 160 Three-star recruit.
Safeties 7 Grant Delpit (Jr.) 6-3, 203 74 9.5 9 5 1
11 Eric Monroe (Jr.) 6-1, 208 Accumulated no stats in 4 game appearances.
3 Jacoby Stevens (Jr.) 6-1, 228 35 6.5 5 1 0
33 Todd Harris Jr. (Jr.) 5-11, 190 31 0 3 1 0
31 Cameron Lewis (Jr.) 6-2, 197 Four tackles in 3 game appearances.
21 Kenan Jones (So.) 6-2, 207 One tackle in 13 games (played special teams as a receiver).
14 Maurice Hampton (Fr.) 6-0, 214 Four-star recruit.
9 Marel Brooks (Fr.) 6-2, 194 Four-star recruit.
Returning starters in bold.

The offseason competition has centered on the cornerback spot vacated by Greedy Williams and a safety spot formerly occupied by John Battle. And of course in the modern era, there will be lots of sub-packages and rotations, but as of today the core starting group will look like this:

Cornerbacks Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley, Safeties Grant Delpit and Jacoby Stevens, Kary Vincent at Nickel

Todd Harris Jr. will be the third safety and see healthy rotational snaps in sub packages as Delpit and Stevens move around to different spots. Vincent would slide out to cornerback in case of injury, and in a bit of a camp surprise, look for junior Cameron Lewis to get a little work at safety as well.

The headliner, obviously, is Delpit, who really became the straw that stirs the drink for Dave Aranda last year. As a freshman, we saw what he could do as a box safety, but as a sophomore we saw him become the nation’s most versatile defensive back. He was great in the deep middle or half, near the line in coverage or run support, or as a blitzer. He led the team in both interceptions and sacks with five each, and became the chess piece that really set most of LSU’s nickel and dime sub-packages. That role looks set to expand even more in 2019.

His classmate Jacoby Stevens was even more highly regarded as a recruit, but took about a season and a half to find his way, even spending a few weeks as a receiver in 2017. But in the back half of 2018 he really came into his own in Aranda’s “quarter” package as a DB/linebacker hybrid. In the final five games he had 28 of his 33 tackles on the year and 5.5 of his 6.5 tackles for loss — plus a game-clinching interception in the Fiesta Bowl. Stevens credited his improvement to Busch convincing him to trust his instincts and react, as opposed to thinking and processing everything.

Coming into this season, I would’ve pegged Stevens to resume his specialty role, but as of today he’s running opposite Delpit as a safety. That gives Aranda two big, versatile athletes back there to move around and play in different roles. Behind them, Harris provides more of a pure coverage player as a former cornerback.

Safety depth will come from former stud recruit Eric Monroe, who has battled injuries, and converted receiver Kenan Jones. He was a bulldog on special teams last year, and don’t be surprised if Busch and Raymond have him tagged for a starting role circa 2020, if Delpit and Stevens head to the NFL early.

Vincent had a breakthrough 2018 as well from the nickel position, doing a bit of everything. With Delpit spending more time near the line of scrimmage, Aranda had Vincent spend more time in deeper leverage, where his track speed can help him cover a lot of ground. He also did a damn good job outside in the Fiesta Bowl as a true corner.

At the corner positions, Kristian Fulton returns ready to step into the No. 1 role (complete with the number) and ascend to the next All-American role for DBU. Fulton was arguably the team’s best corner — he was certainly tested more than Williams — before an injury against Arkansas. He’ll be joined by true freshman and top cornerback recruit — literally, the No. 1 cornerback 247 Sports has ever evaluated — Derek Stingley Jr. The Baton Rouge native arrived on campus for bowl practices last year and was quick to make an impression. He’s the most college-ready cornerback LSU’s had since Peterson, and more than earned the starting job in spring practice. He’s basically pro-ready as a first-year guy (and will almost certainly be a pro in two more years) and is also expected to take over punt return duties.

Behind them, there’s converted receiver Mannie Netherly and a gaggle of true freshman. Cordale Flott appears to be the first of other newcomers to push for playing time, but his classmates are all likely to see the field on special teams as well.

Stud safety recruits Maurice Hampton and Marcel Brooks will also have chances to make an impact. Hampton is almost guaranteed to play because the chances he sees a fourth year at LSU are low; he was already a significant baseball draft pick, and he’s already expected to start in the Tiger outfield in the 2020 season. Brooks gives the defense another linebacker/safety hybrid type in the mold of Delpit and Stevens, and will almost certainly rotate into some of their roles in sub packages.