LSU has put together a rather impressive 2018 signing class. In addition to star power, Tigers coach Ed Orgeron added quality prospects at key positions of need.
Keep in mind that the Tigers said goodbye to a handful of contributors from the 2017 season, including their starting quarterback and running back, the leading receiver, a trio of starting offensive linemen, five members of the front seven and a pair of cornerbacks.
LSU will be forced to reload at several important positions and may have to turn to some freshmen to step up. Here’s a look at the top candidates:
Badara Traore, tackle
LSU lost three starting linemen from a year ago, including both of its tackles. Because of left tackle KJ Malone’s left knee injury, then-freshman Saahdiq Charles was thrust into a starting role and thrived.
Charles should hold onto the starting job on the left side, but with Toby Weathersby off to the NFL, there will be stiff competition to fill his spot. Sophomore Jakori Savage and junior Adrian Magee should both compete with Badara Traore for the other starting tackle position. Magee is the most experienced, spending time as the sixth man off the bench in 2017. Savage has continued to develop behind the scenes and may be ready to claim a starting role under new offensive line coach James Cregg.
However, it’s hard to discount Traore, the No. 1-ranked JUCO tackle. The 6-foot-8, 315-pound Traore has an NFL frame and picked LSU because of the opportunities available. A strong spring could land Traore a starting job.
Terrace Marshall Jr., wide receiver
LSU lost two of its top four receivers from a season ago, including potential high-round draft selection DJ Chark. The team inked four quality wide receivers in its 2018 signing class, most notably 5-star Terrace Marshall Jr., who is already on campus.
Although Marshall is still rehabbing an early season injury to his left ankle/leg from September, he should be full-go for spring ball. That’ll give him a leg up on Jaray Jenkins, Ja’Marr Chase and Kenan Jones in getting acclimated to Steve Ensminger’s pass-heavy offense.
At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Marshall has an SEC frame and unrivaled work ethic. His biggest obstacle will be beating out experienced contributors such as Stephen Sullivan, Dee Anderson and Drake Davis for snaps, not to mention sophomores Racey McMath and Justin Jefferson. From a pure talent perspective, Marshall could be in line for an expanded role for playing time right away.
Kelvin Joseph, defensive back
Both Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver declared for the 2018 NFL Draft, leaving Greedy Williams as the only cornerback with a role clearly defined heading into 2018.
Kary Vincent Jr. is the favorite to replace Jackson as the nickel, while Kristian Fulton is an easy pick for a breakout season. However, that’s assuming the former 5-star prospect will return to the field in 2018 after missing 2017 because of undisclosed reasons.
But let’s not rule out incoming freshman Kelvin Joseph either.
Joseph was projected to begin his LSU career as a nickel safety, but after the team missed on Patrick Surtain Jr. and Mario Goodrich III on Signing Day, a greater need surfaced outside at cornerback. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Joseph has a has a long, muscular build, which should allow him to jam receivers at the point of attack. He has experience in multiple spots across the secondary, but will need some fine-tuning before he perfects his craft at corner. Joseph is physical and also excels in man-to-man coverage. Under defensive backs coach Corey Raymond, his biggest challenge will be learning to use his aggressiveness to force turnovers without getting beat downfield.
Joseph could wind up starting right away, and if not, should carve out a signature role in the secondary, playing in a variety of roles, along with Williams, Vincent and Fulton.
Chris Curry, running back
Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams are gone, so LSU’s backfield features new faces and a ton of inexperience. Senior Nick Brossette should be considered the early favorite to lead the team in carries, but it’s unclear how this committee will be sorted out leading into the season opener against Miami in Arlington, Texas.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire will assume a bigger role. He will be a major asset in Ensminger’s passing offense, but he also can run between the tackles. It would not be surprising to see a freshman such as Chris Curry also secure some snaps.
Curry already may be LSU’s toughest ball carrier. He runs hard and downhill, which we have yet to see from an upperclassman such as Brossette thus far. A strong fall camp could propel Curry up the depth chart and into what should be a backfield by committee.
Cole Tracy, kicker
We know about LSU’s kicking troubles. Jack Gonsoulin and Connor Culp were a combined 16 of 27 a year ago on field-goal attempts, including an 11 of 19 mark from 30 or more yards.
Orgeron made a controversial decision to add Assumption College transfer Cole Tracy during the early signing period in December to bolster the Tigers kicking game. Tracy connected on 27 of 29 field goals last season, including a long of 53 yards. He also drilled all 67 of his extra-point attempts.
Based on statistics and the decision to give Tracy one of only 25 allotted scholarships in the 2018 class, he already may have a leg up on the competition.