Injuries are an inevitable part of any football season. A team just has to hope the impact can be minimized by depth, a quality medical staff and a little bit of luck.
For LSU, injuries were a major storyline in 2017. Yet it could be argued that the impact of those injuries was largely negated. Despite ailments cutting into the playing time of LSU’s two biggest stars — outside linebacker Arden Key and running back Derrius Guice — the Tigers still managed to finish 9-3 in the regular season.
In our eyes, injuries to the following five players ended up having the biggest impact on the Tigers this season:
5. Senior safety Ed Paris
Games missed: 9
What happened: Paris blew out his left knee attempting to block a field goal in practice the week of the Syracuse game. He had season-ending surgery and is eligible to return as a redshirt senior next season.
Impact: Paris’ tough break will actually benefit the Tigers in the long term. Freshman Grant Delpit, who was already splitting reps with Paris, ended up getting the bulk of snaps in his place. It went so well that Delpit was named a freshman All-American by USA Today.
If John Battle does not return to LSU for a fifth year, Paris could potentially end up starting alongside Delpit next season.
4. Senior left tackle KJ Malone
Games missed: 6
What happened: Malone injured his patellar tendon against Florida on Oct. 7 and has not played since, though he has been cleared to close out his career in the Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame.
Impact: Much like the case of Paris, Malone’s injury ended up clearing the way for a freshman future star. Saahdiq Charles, who had been sharing reps with Ed Ingram at right guard, ended up sliding over to left tackle to replace Malone. Charles overcame some early hiccups and looks like a probable rock for LSU’s future offensive line.
The impact will be felt more deeply by Malone, who will fortunately get a chance to showcase his skills for pro scouts in the bowl game.
3. Junior outside linebacker Arden Key
Games missed: 4
What happened: Key missed the first two games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery. After returning to the team overweight, he slimmed back to his 2016 form. Key then broke his pinky against Auburn, an injury he played through. However, a knee injury he sustained against Arkansas ended up knocking Key out of LSU’s last two games.
Impact: Key is the very definition of an impact player, but he was clearly a step slow in LSU’s losses to Mississippi State and Troy. That was probably was due to his conditioning at the time. It isn’t unreasonable to think the late-season version of Key could have made a play that changed the outcome of the Troy loss.
2. Sophomore defensive end Rashard Lawrence
Games missed: 3
What happened: Lawrence played through a sprained ankle against BYU, but had to sit out LSU’s next two games. He returned against Syracuse, where he promptly injured his other ankle and ended up missing the following week’s game against Troy.
Impact: September served as an argument that Lawrence was the most valuable member of the LSU defense. Two of LSU’s three losses this season were in games that Lawrence missed. His absence was exacerbated by the Tigers’ lack of depth at the time as fellow end Frank Herron was serving a 6-game suspension. Though the length of his injury was short, you could see how much the Tigers missed Lawrence as they struggled to stop the run against Mississippi State and Troy.
1. Running back Derrius Guice
Games missed: 1
What happened: Guice sprained his left knee hurdling a teammate during a preseason scrimmage. That injury was aggravated on a tackle against Mississippi State.
Impact: Guice only ended up missing one game — the loss to Troy. His absence isn’t a valid excuse for the outcome, but it’s difficult to see LSU losing that game if he was playing at 100 percent. Guice wasn’t even close to being that healthy for another month.
Ultimately, the biggest impact of Guice’s injury is in the statistical ledger. He crossed the 100-yard mark in his two games before the injury but didn’t break out again until going off for 276 yards on Ole Miss. Not only did Guice see his workload reduced by the injury, but it clearly affected his explosiveness. Last season, Guice broke off runs of 96, 70, 61, 52, 45, 44 and 42 yards. This season, he only had two carries longer than 30 yards.
Guice finished the season with 1,153 yards. With 50 or so more carries and a few more explosive plays, he might have approached 1,500 yards. That would’ve ranked No. 3 on LSU’s single-season leaders list.