Another successful recruiting campaign for LSU came to an end on national signing day. The Tigers' coaching staff put together one of the best 2014 classes in the nation. It's highlighted by several top-rated prospects ready to make an immediate impact.
The LSU class checked in at No. 2 in the nation behind rival Alabama, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. The Tigers and Tide headlined a tremendous recruiting cycle for the SEC, which landed seven of the top 10 prospect groups.
Given the continued high level of competition throughout the conference, it's crucial for the top programs to dominate on the recruiting trail year in and year out. At least for now, it appears LSU succeeded in 2014.
So let's examine the most important prospect addition on each side of the ball for the Tigers. All recruiting rankings and information are courtesy of 247Sports.
Offense: Leonard Fournette (RB)
Bringing Fournette into the mix was crucial for two reasons.
Most importantly, he's a truly special prospect who was also generating interest from Alabama. So if the Tigers weren't able to secure his signature, there's a good chance they would have had to try to stop him on a regular basis, which SEC defenses will soon find out isn't an enjoyable task.
The Louisiana native finished as the top-ranked prospect in the country. What made him stand out from the crowd was a rare combination of between-the-tackles power and breakaway speed.
He's built to handle a heavy workload but isn't simply another grinder who's going to gain four yards per carry. There simply aren't many incoming freshmen with such a complete range of skills from the day they step on campus.
The other key factor was LSU's running back need. ESPN Stats and Info pointed out the Tigers lost more than 60 percent of their rushing production during the offseason, most notably due to the departure of Jeremy Hill, leaving a backfield void:
LSU lost 65% of its carries and 64% of its rush yds from last season but signed the No. 1 prospect, RB Leonard Fournette #NationalSigningDay— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 5, 2014
So they didn't just need a solid running back capable of making some type of small rotational impact. They needed a dynamic weapon for the backfield. Luckily for the Tigers, they were able to secure the best one in the class.
Fournette should be ready to hit the ground running, both literally and figuratively.
Defense: Travonte Valentine (DT)
While Valentine isn't the highest-rated prospect among the defensive additions for LSU, he could very well end up being the most important. Playing in the SEC, building a strong interior to the defensive line is essential to success.
Which LSU unit improved more on signing day?
Last season, LSU finished third in the conference, giving nearly 150 rushing per game. In its loss to Alabama, the Tide rolled up 193 yards and a pair of second-half touchdowns on the ground.
The Tigers must improve in that area looking ahead to 2014. Valentine should help. The 4-star prospect was rated as the No. 3 defensive tackle in the class and for good reason. He's an absolute monster in the middle, capable of shedding multiple linemen to get into the backfield.
James Smith of The Times-Picayune passed along comments from the talented prospect, who said he chose LSU over Miami because he viewed the recruiting process as a business decision:
When I took my official there, that's when I knew that's where I wanted to go. Miami is more fun and games while LSU is more business. It's really just a business decision and I think I made the right one for me and my family. My mom and I talked this thing through, we slept on it and we felt like LSU was the best place for us.
On the field, there's no doubt Valentine is all business. He has good size (6'3'', 338 lbs), but he also moves really well and gets off the ball with ease. He represents exactly the type of player the Tigers could have used last season.
It shouldn't be long before he's making his presence felt on a weekly basis leading the LSU run defense.