BATON ROUGE, La. — Monday was the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2017 NFL Draft, and for LSU’s juniors the question “Should I stay or should I go?” was already answered before this day arrived.
Wide receiver Malachi Dupre, the last to make up his mind, declared on Friday, joining teammates Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams and Davon Godchaux.
None of the decisions caught the coaching staff off-guard.
Though Godchaux was in position to improve his draft stock the most by returning for a senior season, his personal situation made a more immediate pursuit of finances a necessity. Dupre also could have played his way into first-round status next year, though teammate Travin Dural’s own senior season showed that such an outcome is far from a guarantee.
Still, none of those guys would be leaving if they weren’t really talented, and that fact will make them difficult to replace. Here is a look at who might be stepping into their shoes in 2017, listed in order of the easiest to replace to the most difficult.
Replacement: Derrius Guice
The potential first running back off the board in the draft shouldn’t be the easiest player on the team to replace. And yet in LSU’s case, he is. Derrius Guice is just that good.
Guice is already considered by some to be the SEC’s top candidate to win the Heisman Trophy next season, and showed just how good he was by leading the conference in rushing yards despite being Fournette’s backup. The situation was reminiscent of that at Oklahoma State in the late 1980s — future Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas was blocking the path of future Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.
Now, Guice takes over just as Sanders did in 1988 — which turned out to be perhaps the greatest season by a college running back.
The question mark is which back will spot Guice when he needs a breather, and heaven forbid, deal with injury problems like those that plagued Fournette this year. Nick Brossette and Darrel Williams will duke it out this spring.
Replacements: Christian LaCouture, Frank Herron, Rashard Lawrence, Glen Logan
Losing Godchaux was a blow, but the unexpected return of LaCouture softens it. LaCouture, who went through senior day ceremonies this past season, made a surprise decision to come back for a fifth year. He missed all of 2016 after tearing his ACL in training camp.
Because Godchaux and Lewis Neal were so reliable, there is also a large group of lesser-proven players competing to bookend the line with the veteran LaCouture.
Had LaCouture departed as expected, defensive end arguably would be the toughest position on this team to replace in 2017.
Replacements: Russell Gage, Dee Anderson, Drake Davis, Stephen Sullivan
D.J. Chark will be LSU’s top receiving target next year, but what happens after that is anyone’s guess.
Gage will get onto the field, but his strength has been blocking more so than catching. However, his 5-catch, 62-yard performance at Texas A&M showed he can perform when called upon.
The other three candidates are lanky, intriguing and young. None stands shorter than 6-foot-3, but Anderson leads the way with a modest 4 career receptions. This will be the most intriguing battle of the spring. (Unless anyone is able to upend Danny Etling as quarterback.)
Replacements: John Battle, Xavier Lewis, Ed Paris, JaCoby Stevens
Adams is the closest thing to irreplaceable on the LSU roster, but that same thing was once said about the likes of Eric Reid, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. DBU has a way of regenerating itself even if it isn’t clear what that solution will be.
It does seem clear that Battle will be a starter. He took over at free safety when Rickey Jefferson was lost for the season, and the question is whether he stays there or moves to the strong side.
Of LSU’s entire incoming class, Stevens seems to have the greatest chance of cracking the starting lineup by Week 1 and at the very least by the end of the season. The 5-star safety is one of LSU’s six early enrollees and has the benefit of using spring practice to catch up to the competition.