LSU landed a surprise commitment Saturday as 3-star Alabama defensive lineman Justin Thomas pledged to the Tigers over the in-state Tide and a double-digit offer sheet that includes Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee. He was rated as the nation’s 20th-best strong-side defensive end.
Thomas marks LSU’s second commitment from a Mobile, Ala.-area product, joining future defensive lineman teammate Neil Farrell. Like Farrell, Thomas is a high-upside defensive end that is an ideal fit in the Tigers’ new-look scheme. He is the fourth defensive line commitment in LSU’s 2017 class, joining the aforementioned Farrell, who also seems destined to play at end, as well as Louisiana 4-star tackle Tyler Shelvin and 3-star lineman Aaron Moffitt.
The addition of the Alabama native strengthens LSU’s position as the third-ranked 2017 class in the country, trailing only Ohio State (No. 1) and Alabama (No. 2). The 20-man class could wind up with anywhere from 25 to 27 commitments by Feb. 1. This latest addition shows the emphasis on defensive linemen to bolster the team’s depth as it makes the full-fledge shift to a 3-4 front.
What kind of player LSU is getting
Spanish Fort (Ala.) High School predominantly runs a 3-4 front much like LSU’s, which puts Thomas is an ideal situation to make the leap to Dave Aranda’s defense. He’s a strong-side defensive end that usually lines up on the right side of the front and causes havoc in both the run and pass games.
At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, Thomas boasts a good deal of strength to push through opposing left tackles. For a big man, he also sports a quick burst to close in on opposing quarterbacks soon after identifying it’s a passing situation. That also tends to help the defensive end earn a couple of tackles in the backfield. Additionally, Thomas does not often overplay his hand. In other words, once he creeps into the backfield, he exhibits a good amount of patience recognizing the play and avoids overpursuing the football.
That helped Thomas rack up 55 tackles, including 10 for loss, to go along with 11 sacks, 46 quarterback pressures, a forced fumble, a blocked punt, a pass breakup and an interception during his junior season.
Keep in mind that 2015 was Thomas’ first year as a starter on the varsity level. He currently holds a 3-star ranking according to the 247Sports Composite, which reflects only one year a starter. He is severely underrated and is likely to ascend in the rankings this fall.
What’s next for LSU
LSU’s 20-man class includes four defensive linemen, but that does not preclude the team from adding two or three more. After all, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron needs to pad depth up front as the Tigers make the transition to a 3-4 scheme.
The LSU coaches were able to take Thomas’ commitment likely because they are less confident in their chances to land 4-star Amite (La.) wide receiver Devonta Smith on Monday evening. That’s likely going to be a victory for Alabama over the in-state power. But by not taking a fourth wide receiver in the 2017 class, it opened the door for LSU to attack a more glaring position of need.
A source close to the team does not believe Thomas’ pledge hinders LSU’s chances with its other primary defensive line targets. That includes 5-star Texas defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, 4-star junior college defensive end Isaiah Buggs and 4-star Louisiana defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis.
Wilson likely is going to take all of his official visits and wait until National Signing Day to finalize his commitment, so it makes sense for LSU not to wait until January to build up the class. Buggs was expected to announce in late August before the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College season got underway, but the junior college standout may elect to take a few more visits before doing so. Mathis has no timetable for a decision after spending time at Georgia, Alabama and LSU at different junctures this summer.
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 Tigers Stadium.