BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU added one of the most distinguished prospects in the Class of 2017 on Monday. Five-star safety JaCoby Stevens pledged to the Tigers over Alabama, Georgia and Auburn.
The nation’s No. 2-rated safety rejoins LSU’s recruiting class after re-evaluating his options during the past nine months. LSU was not always considered the favorite to land Stevens again. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound athlete committed to the Tigers last September but withdrew that commitment amid uncertainty about Les Miles’ job security.
Stevens’ verbal commitment pushes LSU’s 2017 class to 19 known commitments. A star at Oakland High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Stevens is the second safety in the class, joining 4-star Florida safety Grant Delpit. He’s the Tigers’ second 5-star commit, along with Texas offensive tackle Austin Deculus.
Here’s what Stevens’ commitment means for LSU:
What kind of player is LSU getting?
Stevens was rated as the No. 2 safety in the country, but he was the clear-cut No. 1 overall athlete. Though he’s destined to be a defensive back in the SEC, Stevens likely will see action on both sides of the ball and on special teams.
Stevens gravitated toward LSU because of the ways the coaching staff offered to use him. Defensive backs coach Corey Raymond envisions the 5-star safety as a Patrick Peterson-like presence in the secondary. The two have similar frames, with Stevens listed an inch taller and 22 pounds lighter than Peterson was at LSU.
In addition to his role as a defender, Stevens will get attention from the offensive coaches. Austin Thomas, the director of player personnel/assistant athletic director, has promised Stevens there will be at least a 10-play package created for him. Stevens plays wide receiver for his high school team and could see action split out wide, in the slot or as a running back with the Tigers.
Lastly, Stevens is a candidate to return punts and kicks behind Derrius Guice and Donte Jackson next spring. Guice, who will be a junior after the 2016 season, is expected to be the full-time starter in the backfield. Similarly, Jackson should be one of the starting cornerbacks, and with Tre’Davious White set to graduate, Stevens may have the opportunity to be LSU’s primary return specialist as a true freshman.
The need for a safety
LSU returns 16 starters for the 2016 season, which has increased expectations for the upcoming season but also will create some major holes in the lineup next year.
In the secondary, LSU likely will lose Jamal Adams to the NFL along with seniors White, safety Rickey Jefferson and vertical defensive back Dwayne Thomas. Raymond likely will be forced to play two new safeties next spring.
Consider Stevens a prime candidate to start from Day 1 in Baton Rouge. He’ll compete with fellow 2017 safety commit Grant Delpit and current freshmen Eric Monroe and Cameron Lewis. The 18-year-old Stevens is the highest-rated prospect of that bunch with a .9845 overall grade by the 247Sports Composite rankings.
In viewing Stevens’ junior highlight reel, the most evident takeaway is his nose for the football. Often, it feels as if Stevens, the defensive back, is the quarterback’s target. Because he plays on both sides of the ball for Oakland High, he already boasts soft hands and offensive instincts. That’s apparent when he’s playing in the secondary, too, having 6 interceptions, 6 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries and 171 interception-return yards during the 2015 season.
Tigers not finished
Even though LSU has commitments from the nation’s Nos. 2 and 8 safeties in Stevens and Delpit, respectively, the team is expected to make a push for a third safety. The obvious suspect is the No. 7 safety in the class, Todd Harris.
Harris, a 4-star prospect from nearby Plaquemine (La.) High School, long has been an LSU lean. He recently included LSU in his final two along with Ole Miss. The Rebels have been replaced by the Tigers’ newest threat, Alabama.
Unlike Delpit and Stevens, Harris’ most valuable contribution is his ability to deliver crushing blows. That’s not to say he isn’t an elite coverage defender, though, because he has made tremendous strides.
The addition of Stevens does not deter Harris from considering LSU. Nor will it stop Raymond from courting Harris, who is expected to make his college decision in the next few weeks — either before or soon after the start of his senior season. The Tigers and Raymond are leaving little doubt why LSU is known as “DBU.”
Sam Spiegelman covers LSU football recruiting for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Tiger Stadium.