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Max’s LSU Tamper Portal Wishlist

Player Personnel Management in 2023: Grand Theft Roster

Introduction

Whether a team has huge holes or a roster ready to win a national title, if you style yourself a top program, you need to be on the hunt for established stars. These players are available, whether already in the portal or not and if you don’t get them, your competitors will. Like it or not, this is the Wild West, and if you aren’t best on the draw, you’re shot. Players become available AFTER their breakouts nowadays, which means you don’t always have to rely on your development, find diamonds in the rough, and out-evaluate other teams. You can get plug-and-play guys, and with tampering essentially allowed, it’s not really the transfer portal, it’s the tamper portal. So let’s take a look at some wish-list guys on other rosters that I think would fill needs for LSU and put this roster over the top. It’s been cryptically stated by writers and analysts that the entrants to the portal this year will be unpredictable, mind-blowing, and downright insane. As a result, some of the names here will be very big.

Let me be clear here, I think the unregulated, backdoor, shady tampering of players on other rosters is disgusting and should be institutionally guardrailed. Some of the horror stories from Group of 5 and lower P5 programs would make your skin crawl, and players are often funneled snake oil that harms their careers. However, it isn’t, and as Head Coach at LSU, one needs to understand the realities of building an elite football team until those guardrails are put up, if ever. If I were the Head Coach at LSU, this is who I’d tamper for.

Evaluation of Need

As Head Coach, my first job at the end of the season is to evaluate my roster and project where there will be holes. First off, I gotta re-recruit everyone I want to keep, they’re being tampered with too. Additionally, I need to understand what positions at which I must have superstars (QB, WR, Tackle, DL), and which positions I can merely have good players (Nickel, Interior OL, TE). This isn’t to say that I shouldn’t pursue stardom at every position if realistic and that these positions aren’t valuable, but I need to understand where I can win a National Title without stars, and where I can’t. It’s important to evaluate the growth trajectory of youth (Whit Weeks, DaShawn Womack, and Lance Heard look like studs for instance, and should be built around), and assess where you need an injection. For starters, LSU has an obvious, desperate need at CB and S. The talent level in LSU’s DB room isn’t quite as bad as it’s looked (simply meaning they aren’t the very least talented DB room in the entire country), but it’s in dire straits and an injection of solid-high P5 starters is necessary. LSU also has a potentially large need on the D line, though I believe Maason Smith and Mekhi Wingo would both be well-served by a return to LSU (or if wholesale defensive changes aren’t made, an entry to the transfer portal). If they return the need is lessened, but hope is not a strategy. The need I will outline in this piece that may be controversial, though I argue is significant, is at WR. I know, WR has been the least of the reasons for a disappointing season in Baton Rouge, but you have to solve tomorrow’s problems, not just yesterday’s. Both Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr are likely to enter the draft, and stardom in the WR room is a non-negotiable if you want to have an elite offense in the modern day. LSU has a lot of talent in that WR room, with Chris Hilton, potentially Kyren Lacy, and blue-chips Shelton Sampson/Jalen Brown (probably, you never know nowadays) returning. HOWEVER, LSU does not have somebody they KNOW to be a game-wrecking superstar they can build their whole pass game around. I think those guys are talented, but again, hope is not a strategy, they need to prioritize the addition of a top-flight WR. Luckily, there are a few out there. I believe LSU to be set, subject to change with any unexpected departures, on the OL, at LB, at RB, at TE, and barring something crazy like the availability of a Drew Allar or something at that level, QB.

At Wide Receiver

1: Tetairoa McMillan, Arizona (6’5, 210)

Arizona v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

McMillan is the crown jewel of this entire list. McMillan is a future top 10-20 pick and besides Luther Burden, is the best returning WR in college football. He is huge, but has the agility, explosiveness, and route running technique of somebody much smaller, with all the physicality you’d expect at his size. This year, he has 80 catches for 1,242 yards and 10 TDs in one of CFB’s most exciting offenses. He would be a great fit for a gunslinger like Garrett Nussmeier who is willing to test tight coverage and will dictate how teams can defend LSU. Last year, Arizona lost star WR Dorian Singer to tampering from USC, so there’s precedent here. They’ll pony up big to keep him, but LSU needs to try to swing its weight. Arizona didn’t produce Odell Beckham, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and Malik Nabers within a decade, LSU did, and that, plus a huge NIL bag, could be made very clear to McMillan.

2: Evan Stewart, Texas A&M (6’0, 174)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 28 South Carolina at Texas A&M Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Evan Stewart won’t require any tampering, he’s 100% portal-bound after A&M fired Jimbo Fisher, as he did not travel to the LSU game amid speculation of his entry. The former 5-star recruit will obviously have all of the best programs as suitors, but if LSU styles itself a top program, it has to be able to win battles like that sometimes. Stewart is fast, twitchy, explosive, and a talented route runner who is very good through contact for a guy his weight. This is another high draft pick.

3: Elic Ayomanor, Stanford (6’2, 210)

Stanford v Colorado

Despite a tough first season for Stanford under Troy Taylor, Sophomore WR Elic Ayomanor was a major bright spot for the Cardinal. At 6’2, 210, he plays with good physicality and explosiveness and is developing well as a route runner in a strong frame. He had his moment in the sun when he went ballistic for 13 catches, 294 yards, and 3 TDs against Colorado, dominating all-world, future top-5 pick CB Travis Hunter and singlehandedly leading a 29-point comeback win. He’s not quite at the level of the previous two, but he’s a very good player.

4: Caullin Lacy, South Alabama (5’10, 190)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 17 Southern Miss at South Alabama Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Caullin Lacy is one of the better receivers in the entire country, and normally I’d expect him to enter the draft, but this WR class is unprecedented in how good and deep it is, and another year in school, at a high, WR factory-superpower like LSU, would do a lot for his draft position. Lacy is defined by his speed/quick twitch and is a big play threat both over the top and with the ball in his hands underneath. Lacy was the focal point of their offense, with 91 catches for 1,316 yards and 7 TDs.

5: Kevin Concepcion, NC State (5’11, 187)

Mike Caudill: AP

Just a freshman, Concepcion had a breakout year for NC State as an all-purpose offensive weapon. He is an explosive athlete and is on track to develop into a superstar. he is a prime tamper portal candidate as a breakout player at a lesser program. In addition to being their best receiver with 10 TDs, Concepcion had 38 carries for 297 yards.

6: Deion Burks, Purdue (5’11, 195)

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

A weapon with the ball in his hands, Deion Burks is the classic threat to score whenever he gets near a football. He has elite agility and a solid frame at 195, giving any WR coach a lot of tools to develop into a top-tier route runner. There’s an incredible amount of talent there, but he’s a bit raw. With Cortez Hankton’s recent record of developing talented, but raw receivers like Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas, it’s not hard to imagine him breaking into the open as one of the better receivers in the country at LSU, but this one is admittedly much more of a projection than the others.

At Corner

1: Will Johnson, Michigan (6’2, 202)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Ohio State at Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I told you the names in here would be big and crazy. Under normal circumstances, even in the Wild West era we’re in, Johnson wouldn’t leave. That said, there’s at least a decent chance Michigan will be hammered, Harbaugh will leave, and the roster will splinter. In that case, LSU absolutely needs to land Will Johnson, one of the best defensive players in all of college football in a position of urgent need. A big, long, athletic outside corner, Johnson is comfortable in both man and zone, and takes guys out of games.

2: Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo (6’0, 196)

Daniel Miller, Toledo

A player just as good as the one above him on this list, Quinyon Mitchell has put together two consecutive seasons of elite play at Toledo. The issue here will be convincing Mitchell to stay out of the draft, as he is in his 4th year of college and can make a first-round case. However, he is in a deep CB class and a similar season at a place like LSU would vault him from borderline first-rounder into top-10 consideration. With an NIL sweetener, that could be worth his while.

At Nickel/Slot Corner

1: Sebastian Castro, Iowa (5’11, 205)

Syndication: The Des Moines Register Bryon Houlgrave/The Register, Des Moines Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

Castro isn’t the most athletic player on this list, and he’s far from the flashiest, but he is a technically sound, smart, disciplined, versatile football player who does a lot of different things well. LSU sorely needed players like that this season. Mostly playing in the slot, Castro was asked to cover in man and zone, fit the run, tackle, and make difficult reads in coverage. Despite being a nickel by trade, Castro has the skillset and traits to move to safety if needed and would likely be pretty good at it. LSU could use a well-developed DB, and there are few better places to find them nowadays than Iowa City.

2: Preston Hodge, Liberty (5’11, 195)

Preston Hodge, Twitter

Taking a leap in his second year at Liberty, Hodge is an explosive athlete who excelled in coverage from the nickel position. He also offers versatility, playing a growing number of snaps on the outside as the year went on. He’s still a bit raw and it’s not impossible to imagine him becoming a solid outside corner with some more seasoning, but we know he can play in the slot at a high level and he can slide outside if needed.

At Safety

1: Cole Bishop, Utah (6’2, 207)

Syndication: Arizona Republic Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

I absolutely love this guy, and LSU has a monstrous need at the position. He’s technically eligible for the draft, but I haven’t heard much if any first-round discussion for him, which suggests a return to school could be in order. Bishop is one of the best defensive players in the country, and certainly, in my opinion, among the quieter superstars in the sport. He’s big (enough) and athletic, but his versatility is his superpower. He’s great playing the post, he’s great man-to-man in the slot at nickel, he can fit the run, he can tackle, he can pursue, and he can take the ball away. He gives LSU a ready-made centerpiece that can be moved anywhere depending on gameplan, structure, and personnel package. If you want to play single-high, he can play the post or he can play in the box. If you want to play 2-high, he can fit the run downhill from the weak safety spot or play deep, split-field zones, If you want to play “big-nickel” (nickel is a 3rd S instead of a slot corner) to have 5 DB bodies but be a bit more stout against the run, he can play in the slot. From there, he can fit the run, tackle, cover man to man, and handle difficult reads/calls in coverage, all of it. He would change LSU’s defense.

2: Xavier Nwankpa, Iowa (6’2, 210)

Syndication: HawkCentral Andrew Nelles/USA TODAY NETWORK / USA TODAY NETWORK

Nwankpa is a rangy, explosive athlete who can both come downhill and play deep. He’s not a superstar, but he’s a solid, well-taught player with some juice and a ceiling that’s even higher than the good baseline he’s achieved. A high floor, high ceiling add.

On the Defensive Line

1: Deone Walker, Kentucky (6’6, 348)

Syndication: The Courier-Journal Matt Stone/The Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

LSU may (and should, to be honest with them) retain Smith and Wingo, but there’s nothing wrong with hunting for upgrades, hunting for options, and making contingencies. Deone Walker is no mere contingency, he’s one of the best interior DL in the nation, and LSU would be better off having that kind of player on its roster, no matter who may leave or come back. Walker would provide LSU with some needed versatility on the DL, able to eat space in odd fronts and penetrate in even fronts, his combination of size, length, and athleticism allows him to excel in different techniques.

2: Nic Scourton, Purdue (6’4, 260)

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Quietly one of the best pass rushers in college football, Nic Scourton is a big, stout dude with explosiveness that will shock you when you turn on the tape. He has good hands and a little bit of bend, but his primary attribute as a pass rusher is his burst and power, which allows him to go through the chests of tackles. Scourton registered an incredible pass rush win rate of 20.4% per PFF, which outpaces the likes of Jared Verse, Dallas Turner, Bralen Trice, and Jack Sawyer. He has the size to kick inside on passing downs so he gives you some versatility in how you can present your fronts, and he’s shown the ability to drop into coverage, which allows you more flexibility in manipulating protections. He’s too good as an edge rusher for this to be advisable, but if LSU wanted, they could put 25 pounds on him and he’d probably be a decent pass-rushing interior guy with some inside-out versatility. Either way, he gives you both juice and versatility which is needed.

3: Aeneas Peebles, Duke (6’1, 286)

NCAA Football: Duke at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

This one wouldn’t require tampering, he entered the portal on Monday, but it’ll probably be an uphill battle to stop him from following Elko to College Station. Peebles is very similar to Mekhi Wingo. He’s a bit small, but explosive, has great hands, and gets downhill in a hurry. If he goes to A&M, it could jar another of their talented interior DL free for some tampering, so that’s the other edge of this sword.

Conclusion

LSU has done okay in the portal the last couple of years, especially considering that they added the deserving Heisman winner. However, LSU has yet to truly swing proper weight around and grab established stars. LSU has hit big on a couple of projections in Mekhi Wingo and of course, Jayden Daniels, but they’ve relied a bit too much on the Joe Foucha and Major Burns types of the world to fill needs. The tamper portal is in full effect, and it’s high noon in the Wild West. Ready-to-eat star players are available with the right cajoling, for the right price, and with enough of a full-court press. LSU needs them if it wants to get to where it wants to get to.