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2020 LSU Football Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

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Strong receiving corp should help Myles Brennan have successful first year as starting quarterback

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The quarterback-wide receiver dynamic is always chicken and egg to me. Who makes whom better, does a great quarterback elevate lesser wide receivers? Or does a great wide out or two make any quarterback look competent? The truth is somewhere in between.

Last year LSU had the luxury of having both a great quarterback and great receivers to throw to. This year, LSU has an unknown commodity at quarterback in redshirt junior Myles Brennan. Brennan has all the arm talent in the world but has only thrown 70 passes in four years at LSU and has yet to start a game.

While we don’t yet know what LSU has in it’s quarterback, we know Brennan has just an absurd amount of help at receiver and, hopefully, tight end.

2020 LSU Receivers

Player Height/Weight Receptions Yards Touchdowns Yards Per Catch Yards Per Game
Player Height/Weight Receptions Yards Touchdowns Yards Per Catch Yards Per Game
Ja’Marr Chase (Jr) 6’1”/200 84 1,780 20 21.2 118.6
Terrace Marshall Jr. (Jr.) 6’4”/200 46 671 13 14.6 51.6
Racey McMath (Sr.) 6’3”/221 17 285 3 16.8 20.4
Trey Palmer (Soph.) 6’1/180 1 6 0 6 6
Jaray Jenkins (Soph.) 6’4”/195 No stats
Jontre Kirklin (Sr.) 6’0”/185 No stats
Kayshon Boutte (Fr.) 6’0"/185 5-star freshman
Koy Moore (Fr.) 6’2”/172 4-star freshman
Alex Adams (Fr.) 6’1"/190 3-star freshman

It’s crazy to think that LSU loses Justin Jefferson and his 111 catches and we can just shrug our shoulders at that. But that’s what having Ja’Marr Chase, the best receiver in America and program history, for another year does for you. As I said in the quarterbacks preview, it’s unfair to expect Myles Brennan to approach anything close to the statistical season Burrow had; it’s just as likely that Chase will see his numbers dip this year as well. That won’t be because Chase is going half-speed to protect himself from losing millions in next year’s draft (though if we’re being honest Chase really shouldn’t play this year. Go get that bread, Ja’Marr), and it won’t be because of Brennan. It’ll be because everything that happened in 2019 was once in a lifetime and you simply can’t replicate what that team did. Chase is still the best wide out in the country regardless of what numbers he posts this year.

Also returning is Terrace Marshall Jr., who broke Dwayne Bowe’s single-season record for touchdown receptions last year with 13 and that was only good for third on his own team. Health has been the only thing that has been able to slow down Marshall. As a senior in high school he broke his leg and fractured an ankle and spent all of 2018 working through it. In 2019 Marshall broke a bone in his foot against Vanderbilt, causing him to miss the Florida and Mississippi State games. If Marshall can stay healthy he can play himself into a first round pick in next April’s draft. He has a rare blend of size and speed, and with his 6’4” frame he’ll give Brennan an imposing redzone target.

The question for LSU is who joins Marshall and Chase as the third wideout. Despite having hardly any spring football, it looks like senior Racey McMath has one hand on the No. 3 job. McMath has been an outstanding special teams player, and caught a career-best 17 passes last year, but 2020 is his best —and last— chance to show what he can truly be as a receiver.

If it’s not McMath, perhaps sophomore Trey Palmer can use his impressive speed to stick in the receiver rotation. Palmer only caught one pass in 2019 but returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown against Northwestern State.

With Chase and Marshall likely to declare for the draft at season’s end, LSU needed to replenish the talent at wide receiver and did exactly that by bringing in five-star Kayshoun Boutte and a pair of four-stars Koy Moore and Alex Adams. Considering the talent Boutte, Moore and Adams have and the system LSU’s running now, the Tigers may have the next iteration of Chase, Marshall and Justin Jefferson waiting in the wings.

LSU’s absolutely stacked at receiver that we still haven’t even mentioned guys like Jaray Jenkins and Jontre Kirklin, who are still hoping to carve out a role in this new LSU offense.

And then we have the tight end position and for the first time maybe in program history, I’m genuinely excited by what LSU has on hand. That’s what signing a guy like Arik Gilbert, the highest rated tight end prospect in 247 history, does.

2020 LSU Tight Ends

Player Height/Weight 2019
Player Height/Weight 2019
Arik Gilbert (Fr.) 6’6”/245 Five-star recruit
Kole Taylor (Fr.) 6’7”/232 Three-star recruit
Jamal Pettiegrew (Sr.) 6’6”/258 No statistics
Aaron Moffitt (Jr.) 6’2”/252 No statistics

Gilbert is listed as a tight end but will be lined up all over, much like peak-Jimmy Graham was with the New Orleans Saints. Gilbert has been compared to future hall of fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson because they share similar physical traits.

The Calvin Johnson comparison is intriguing because Johnson’s peak seasons with Detroit came while LSU’s new passing game coordinator Scott Linehan was Johnson’s offensive coordinator. All three of Johnson’s All-Pro seasons came while coached by Linehan.

“Scott Linehan was with Megatron (Johnson) at Detroit,” Ed Oregeron said in a radio interview with Off the Bench. “There’s the same plays that we can use with Arik with Megatron. I’m not going to say he’s going to be Megatron, but he’s a good player and we can get some mismatches with the kid.”

Thaddeus Moss had the best statistical tight end season in LSU football history and LSU may have just upgraded at the position, that’s how good Gilbert can be. He’s truly a talent LSU hasn’t ever had at the tight end spot. Gilbert had shoulder surgery in January however which is something to pay attention to now that players are back on campus working out.

I’m also curious how good of a blocker Gilbert is or grows to be. Former New England Patriot and now Tampa Bay Buccaneer tight end Rob Gronkowski is thought of as the greatest ever at his position because he was a tremendous run blocker as well as a pass catching machine. Could Gilbert grow into that or is he more finesse like Jimmy Graham?

Behind Gilbert is a mix of new and old faces. Jamal Pettigrew is a senior and Aaron Moffitt is back for his junior year. It’s hard to see either of the two making an impact, they’ve combined for one reception in their careers. A player to watch is true freshman Kole Taylor from Colorado. Taylor, like Gilbert, is an early enrollee and is massive, standing 6’7”.

LSU used some two tight end looks to start the year with Moss and Stephen Sullivan, but that slowly fizzled out. But with Gilbert likely to be deployed all over, LSU could in theory have two tight ends on that field.

It’s funny, for much of the Les Miles era, the tight end position was basically a sixth offensive linemen. Then 2019 happens and Moss isn’t just a safety valve for Joe Burrow, he has the best season any Tiger tight end has ever had, and LSU uses that momentum to sign the best tight end prospect in 247 history. If Gilbert can have similar numbers to Moss, then it won’t just be top quarterbacks that will want to come to Baton Rouge, but tight ends as well.