Ed Orgeron locked up the majority of LSU’s 2018 class before Christmas, but left no shortage of drama for the Tigers come National Signing Day.
LSU reeled in 23 recruits, adding 4-star defensive back Kelvin Joseph and 4-star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase on Wednesday to close out with the No. 15 class in the country per the 247Sports composite. Of course, that also meant that the Tigers missed on priority 5-star cornerback target Patrick Surtain Jr. to Alabama and 4-star quarterback James Foster to Texas A&M, in addition to 4-star cornerback Mario Goodrich III to Clemson.
Joseph was a must-get for LSU and became the lone defensive back included in the group. Chase put a cherry on top of an impressive four-receiver haul.
LSU also landed immediate-impact players in the trenches, but failed to secure a quarterback in the class with Danny Etling out of eligibility. The team whiffed on a pair of crucial cornerback targets, a position of need after losing Kevin Toliver and Donte Jackson.
Of course, now it’s time to grade the 2018 class.
LSU missed on top Louisiana passer Justin Rogers in December and fell short with Foster on NSD. Foster signed with Texas A&M. It’s imperative to sign a quarterback each year, and especially this year with a quarterback competition set to take place in the spring. Naturally, that opens the door for attrition, which could hurt LSU’s depth behind center.
Chris Curry and Tae Provens provide a unique 1-2 combo in the backfield behind senior Nick Brossette and sophomore Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but none from the group are considered featured running backs. Curry is a powerful downhill runner while Provens is a versatile change-of-pace back. Together, they will form a serviceable duo as LSU looks to replace the production left behind by Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams.
Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. headline that formidable wide receiver quartet that reminds Orgeron of the group led by Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in 2011. LSU’s coach is spot-on, and with a really athletic prospect in Kenan Jones and versatile weapon in Jaray Jenkins also signed, the team is now stacked with young wide receivers. With Steve Ensminger taking over as the play caller, expect LSU’s new, diverse set of receivers to be the top contributors on offense.
Badara Traore is the nation’s second-ranked junior college tackle and will have a chance to make an immediate impact. LSU lost both its starting tackles, paving the way for Traore to compete for a job. That should allow for top Louisiana tackle Cameron Wire to learn and develop behind Traore and eventually succeed him. Traore wasn’t the only junior college lineman in the class, either. Damien Lewis should provide depth inside behind Garrett Brumfield and Ed Ingram. Cole Smith should compete with Lloyd Cushenberry III for the starting center spot.
Rationale: Getting a quarterback was a must. The running back position lacks star power but should add much-needed depth. The four-receiver haul is far and away the most impressive part of this signing class, with a handful of instant-impact sort of additions. LSU landed two outstanding tackles and much-needed depth along the interior part of the offensive line, as well.
LSU reeled in eight defensive linemen during the early signing period. That includes the state’s top three prospects at the position — Davin Cotton, Dare Rosenthal and Nelson Jenkins — in addition to with top-250 defensive tackle Chasen Hines and a big-bodied nose in Dominic Livingston. All five should provide depth in the trenches.
Once again, the Tigers stacked up on edge-rushers such as Jarell Cherry and Travez Moore, a top-200 prospect and the No. 1 junior college pass rusher, respectively. Factor in Dantrieze Scott, arguably the most underrated prospect in Louisiana and who recorded 101 tackles (69 solo), 49 tackles for loss, 21 quarterback hurries, 10 sacks, 2 interceptions, 8 passes defensed and 4 forced fumbles. All will have a role in replacing top BENCH linebacker Arden Key down the road.
Micah Baskerville and Damone Clark add even more depth to a linebacking corps loaded with former blue-chip prospects. Baskerville, a U.S. Army All-American, and Clark, a top-20 prospect at his position, should provide much-needed depth at what was once LSU’s thinnest position group.
Kelvin Joseph was the lone defensive back to sign with LSU on Wednesday. The versatile prospect is capable of playing cornerback, nickel or safety, and will likely begin his career at corner. After losing Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver, signing only Joseph leaves the Tigers in an unenviable position of having only four scholarship cornerbacks. And only Greedy Williams has proven himself.
Rationale: LSU loaded up in the trenches — at defensive line, edge-rushers and at linebacker — to help replace five of the starting members of the front seven in 2017. Of that group, there are highly regarded prospects such as Cotton, Hines, Rosenthal, Cherry, Moore, Baskerville and Clark, as well as some under-the-radar guys that LSU’s staff is high on. Joseph is a versatile, well-rounded defensive back, but what the Tigers got in quality they missed on in quantity. Patrick Surtain Jr. would have been a plug-and-play starter in the secondary. Mario Goodrich III would have added depth at a thin cornerback position.
Overall team grade
From top to bottom, LSU addressed several positions of need. That includes tackle, wide receiver and defensive line, and where they improved in spades. Traore can contribute right away, while Wire is going to have time to develop under first-year offensive line coach James Cregg. Marshall, Chase, Jones and Jenkins are going to be valuable assets in LSU’s new-look passing attack, while adding reinforcements along the defensive front should give Dave Aranda more options on how to attack opposing offenses.
It’s impossible to ignore where LSU fell short, though. No quarterback is always a red mark. The running back tandem is serviceable but heading into 2018, there is no featured back on the roster. Defensive backs have been a staple of the Tigers’ recruiting classes for years; settling on one leaves Corey Raymond in a precarious position heading into the spring.
It’s also worth noting that placekicker Cole Tracy might wind up being an immediate contributor. LSU’s struggles with kicking in close games are well-documented. That area looks as if it will be cleaned up with Tracy.
A bevy of weapons in the passing game and some options to protect the quarterback look good. To fortify the front seven is equally as significant. But critical misses at quarterback and cornerback, two major areas of need for the Tigers heading into next season, certainly warrant concern.