BATON ROUGE, La. — Of all the LSU underclassmen who declared for the 2018 NFL Draft, none were more surprising than offensive linemen Will Clapp and Toby Weathersby.
Intuitively, their decisions make sense. They’ve both battled injuries throughout their college careers and made the choice to cash in a paycheck before more injuries could derail their careers. But neither player is expected to be picked before Day 3 of the NFL draft, leaving LSU behind for uncertain career paths.
Nevertheless, LSU’s offensive line needs to move on. And it has a legitimate chance to get better. Ed Ingram and Saahdiq Charles will grow in their second college seasons and left guard Garrett Brumfield will step up as the senior leader in Clapp and Weathersby’s stead.
In addition to the three returning starters, LSU has veteran and highly touted replacements lined up on the offensive line. New position coach James Cregg, formerly of the Los Angeles Chargers and USC, will have plenty of options.
Here are the top candidates for LSU to replace Clapp and Weathersby in 2018:
One of the crowning jewels of LSU’s recruiting class for 2018, top junior college offensive tackle Badara Traore has the potential to start at left tackle or right tackle next season. At 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds, the Brooklyn, N.Y., product is a massive specimen who coach Ed Orgeron raved about, saying he was a “guy we needed.”
Traore comes to LSU via Asa Community College, giving him college experience as a starting lineman. With his prototypically long arms and natural strength, he feels like a fit to start on the blind side as a pass protector, but he could also move to the right side if Charles retains the job on the left.
Leading into the 2017 season, freshman center Lloyd Cushenberry was getting looks to potentially start. He spent spring practice repping as LSU’s starting center while Clapp recovered from injury and came into the fall competing with Charles and Ingram for LSU’s starting right guard spot.
Though Cushenberry ultimately lost out, he has more practice reps as a starter than any returning LSU backup. The Geismar, La., native has to be considered the favorite to replace Clapp at center, as he did last spring. At 6-4 and 316 pounds, Cushenberry is nearly the exact same size as Clapp and has shown his intelligence by competing at multiple positions over his college career.
Charles and Ingram might’ve started as freshmen in 2017, but the highest-rated offensive lineman in LSU’s 2017 recruiting class was tackle Austin Deculus. Though he didn’t see the field much as a freshman, he did play in every game between special teams and injury relief.
The 6-6 Deculus still has room to grow into his frame and fulfill high expectations. Expect him to compete with Traore and Charles for playing time at tackle under the development of Cregg, who helped train Dallas Cowboys All-Pro tackle Tyron Smith when he was at USC.
Speaking of Smiths, LSU signed one of the nation’s top center prospects in the Class of 2018 in Mississippi native Cole Smith. Weighing in at just 275 pounds, Smith will need to bulk up if he wants to play as a freshman.
But Smith’s track record speaks for itself. Between his junior and senior seasons of high school, Smith didn’t allow a single sack and notched 62 pancake blocks as a senior.
Another member of the incoming freshman class, Cameron Wire was the top offensive tackle prospect in Louisiana for 2018. At 6-6 and 280 pounds, Wire is another player who’ll likely need to grow into his frame before he can see the field.
But Wire said Cregg has already compared him to Tyron Smith and wants to see him progress that way. With Wire’s length, he has the potential to be used as a pass blocker even as a freshman, but he’ll need to pack on some strength to be a dependable run blocker at the SEC level.