BATON ROUGE, La. — Forget National Signing Day. Forget losing Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver to the NFL draft. The LSU secondary is still stacked heading into 2018. More so than any other SEC team, at least.
For the first time in recent memory, the secondary is a question mark for LSU heading into spring practice. When you lose players such as Toliver and Jackson and miss out on Patrick Surtain Jr. to your rival on the recruiting trail, that’ll happen, especially when your natural replacement at cornerback didn’t play last season. But instead of focusing on what LSU doesn’t have, let’s take a peek at what LSU does have.
Which is, statistically speaking, the most productive group of returning defensive backs in the conference.
Looking at pass breakups and interceptions — the two most readily accessible stats to evaluate defensive backs — LSU is the class of the SEC heading into 2018. As you’ll find in the chart below, LSU’s returning defensive backs were more productive in 2017 than the groups from every other team in the conference:
2017 PBUs, INTs from defensive backs returning in 2018
That’s right. No SEC team will have as many returning pass breakups from its defensive backs than LSU, and only Mississippi State has as many returning interceptions.
Of course, a lot of this has to do with Greedy Williams. Williams alone comes with more pass breakups (11) than Tennessee and Alabama’s returning secondaries combined, and with more interceptions (6) than Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Tennessee and Alabama.
That’s an asset LSU has that no other school in the conference does. Athlon Sports rates Williams as the best player in the SEC for 2018, and he’s going to be the face of LSU’s secondary. But don’t underrate how productive the Tigers safeties were in 2017.
John Battle, Grant Delpit, Ed Paris and Eric Monroe combined to break up 18 passes in 2017, with Paris playing in only three games, and all will be back in 2018. That’s not even mentioning JaCoby Stevens, who was the No. 1 safety recruit in the country for the Class of 2017 but didn’t see the field much as a freshman because of position shuffling.
Sure, there are questions about who will play opposite Williams as LSU’s second corner. Former 5-star recruit Kristian Fulton might be a candidate if he can find his way back onto the field after missing all of 2017 because of an undisclosed disciplinary issue. Another possibility might be sophomore Kary Vincent Jr., who came away with 1 pass breakup and 1 interception as a freshman in 2017 before seeing his playing time dwindle in the latter half of the season.
Make no mistake: It’ll be an uphill battle for LSU’s secondary to be as productive in 2018 as it was in 2017. Jackson and Toliver accounted for 20 pass breakups and 2 interceptions, not to mention their veteran presence in an otherwise young secondary. And bringing in only one defensive back in a recruiting class can only exacerbate the problem.
But don’t ignore the facts. LSU’s secondary has a lot of talent returning, and the numbers back that up.