LSU will return to the football field for spring practice on Sunday. In the meantime, SEC Country is preparing for those workouts by previewing each position group as it stands after National Signing Day. We continue with the cornerbacks.
LSU cornerbacks depth chart
- Sophomore Greedy Williams
- Sophomore Kristian Fulton
- Sophomore Kary Vincent Jr.
- Sophomore Jontre Kirklin
- Freshman Kelvin Joseph
- Freshman Mannie Netherly
Departures and arrivals
- Departures: Donte Jackson (draft), Kevin Toliver II (draft)
- Arrivals: Joseph (will enroll in summer)
Of all the returning players on the LSU football team, there might be no player with higher expectations than Greedy Williams. Linebacker Devin White might be the leader of the defense, but there’s a different cache to being an All-America caliber cornerback at LSU.
Williams’ redshirt freshman season was one of the best in LSU history. He thrust himself into the spotlight with an SEC-leading 6 interceptions, 11 pass breakups and 38 tackles. And he wasn’t a one-game wonder. Williams intercepted passes against BYU, Chattanooga, Syracuse, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Notre Dame and broke up at least 1 pass in eight different games.
So like Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tre’Davious White before him, Williams carries the burden of being the unquestioned face of DBU. Athlon Sports ranks Williams as the best returning cornerback in the nation, and the best player in the SEC at any position, for 2018. CBS Sports also lists Williams as the nation’s best defensive back.
The only question about Williams is how he’ll react to a dropoff in talent around him. Without Jackson and Toliver, Williams will have to be the guy. In all likelihood, this means he’ll be thrown at less. So how will he make his presence felt if teams are avoiding him? That’s yet to be seen. But given Williams’ production in 2017, he’ll find a way.
In a small bout of irony, Williams wasn’t the top cornerback LSU signed in his recruiting class. That distinction belonged to former 5-star Archbishop Rummel product Kristian Fulton. The No. 3 cornerback in the nation and No. 1 player in Louisiana for the Class of 2016, Fulton looked poised to be LSU’s next great corner. But entering his third year in purple and gold, there are too many questions to count.
Fulton missed all of 2017 serving an undisclosed suspension, rarely practicing without wearing a scout team jersey and never seeing the field. As a freshman in 2016, Fulton played in only three games, missing time with an injury and sitting behind Jackson and White.
If Fulton has gotten past his eligibility issues, he could well be LSU’s starting cornerback opposite Williams. At 6-foot-1 and 191 pounds, Fulton has the length to be a dominant sideline corner, as well as the recovery speed and natural instincts.
But it’s been two seasons since Fulton played football with any consistency. Even if he’s healthy and eligible, you have to wonder how rusty he’ll be. The spring will be a huge test for Fulton. If he’s ready to go, LSU will gladly accept him. If he’s not, the cornerback situation might be a little rough.
Members of LSU’s 2017 recruiting class, Vincent and Kirklin will be asked to fill bigger roles than they did as freshmen. Vincent found himself starting Week 1 because of a rash of suspensions and injuries, but saw his playing time disappear once the Tigers entered SEC play. And Kirklin was a fixture on LSU’s special teams units, but has little-to-no experience going against first-team receivers at the college level.
It wouldn’t be farfetched to expect Vincent and Kirklin to compete for reps in the nickel this spring. With Joseph not yet on campus and senior Ed Paris potentially still rehabbing his ACL injury, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda needs someone to step up. Vincent could be that guy, though his spring commitments to the track and field team could inhibit that.
The new guy
A converted wide receiver, Netherly is LSU’s greenest and most compelling cornerback. Netherly took a redshirt last season, buried deep below LSU’s long list of wide receivers. But with the Tigers’ relative lack of depth in the secondary, the Texas native will move to defensive back this spring.
It’s an interesting fit. At 6-3 and 194 pounds, Netherly doesn’t have a prototypical cornerback’s body. But the coaching staff is likely attracted to his football intelligence. As a senior in high school, Netherly converted from wide receiver to quarterback, and LSU likely hopes he can replicate the results that came with his last position change.
Here’s a not-so-bold pick: Williams is going to be one of LSU’s starting cornerbacks. Everything after that, it’s hard to say. Is Fulton eligible? How available will Vincent be? Is Paris healthy? If so, is he moving back to corner? Where does Joseph fit in when he enrolls?
With all these question marks, it’s almost impossible to pick a starting three at cornerback. Right now, the best guess would be Williams and Fulton on the sidelines with Vincent in the nickel. That could change as soon as the summer session begins, though.