LSU Football: Power Ranking Tigers' Positional Units for 2014
LSU is annually one of the most complete teams in college football. Les Miles has had, more often than not, supreme talent at every position during his tenure in Baton Rouge.
But some position groups are stronger than others.
LSU's most reputable positions in years past have been defensive line, defensive back and running back. But in 2013, the Tigers were a Jeremy Hill dismissal away from being average in all three units.
Will they make a resurgence in 2014? Find out here in this preview of LSU's strongest positions.
No. 9: Wide Receiver
Top Players: Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre
Question Marks: John Diarse, Quantavius Leslie, Avery Peterson, Trey Quinn
Losing Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. is the equivalent of taking wings off an airplane. Landry and Beckham Jr. made history as the first duo of receivers in SEC history to each have more than 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.
LSU's leading returnee at receiver is Travin Dural, who caught just seven passes last season. The rest of the returning group includes unproven John Diarse, Quantavius Leslie, Rob Bolden and Avery Peterson.
LSU head coach Les Miles brought in four new receivers in the 2014 recruiting class, including the No. 2 rated pass catching prospect in Malachi Dupre. Expect Dupre to crack the rotation immediately, with 4-star Trey Quinn possibly doing the same.
The Tigers have the talent. But as of right now, the group is a major question mark.
No. 8: Special Teams
Top Players: Colby Delahoussaye
Question Marks: Jamie Keehn, Kick and Punt Return units
Colby Delahoussaye was the most accurate field-goal kicker last year in the SEC. Delahoussaye might not have the strongest leg, but he is a reliable option to put points on the board.
Punter Jamie Keehn had his fair share of shanks last season. If Keehn can limit those, he will live up to his potential.
LSU kickoff specialist James Hairston left the program to pursue a field-goal kicking opportunity at another school. Delahoussaye can fill the role, but he will probably not replicate the high volume of touchbacks Hairston had during his tenure in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers must also replace Odell Beckham Jr. as a kick and punt returner. Beckham Jr. was a genius at setting up blocks and weaving through waves of defenders.
Bradley Dale Peveto returned to Baton Rouge this summer to serve as the special-teams coordinator. Peveto will certainly have his fair share of sorting out before the season.
No. 7: Quarterback
Top Players: None
Question Marks: Anthony Jennings, Brandon Harris
Sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris are jockeying to replace the departed Zach Mettenberger. No matter if the starter is Jennings or Harris, there is no question they will go through growing pains.
Playing quarterback in the SEC is not easy. There are multiple NFL-level athletes on nearly every SEC defense that are used unpredictably by brilliant defensive coordinators. Having a Johnny Manziel-eque year as a first-year starter is rare.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will have to readjust his playbook. Cameron will not be able to call he same plays from last year due to the inexperience at receiver and quarterback. But because Jennings and Harris are mobile, do not be surprised if the Tigers run some zone-read and option running plays.
Nevertheless, fans should be prepared for some unwarranted interceptions and blown plays.
No. 6: Tight End
Top Players: DeSean Smith, Dillon Gordon, Logan Stokes
Question Marks: Travis Dickson
If the LSU tight ends were ranked based on blocking alone, they would be higher on the list. But the group has not been a viable receiving threat defenses have had to respect, catching only caught 28 passes for no touchdowns over the past two seasons combined.
That should change next season with sophomore DeSean Smith, who showed flashes of brilliance with 45 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. Smith should catch at least 15 passes in 2014. Senior Travis Dickson will likely be the next best option through the air.
Dillon Gordon and Logan Stokes should be improved as receivers, but expect the duo to mainly be used as blockers. Gordon and Stokes are superb at opening up holes in the running game.
No. 5: Defensive Line
Top Players: Danielle Hunter, Jermauria Rasco
Question Marks: Frank Herron, Quentin Thomas, Chrisitan LaCouture Lewis Neal, Greg Gilmore Maquedius Bain
LSU's defensive line underperformed last season. Defensive line coach Brick Haley now has the tough task of making the unit better despite losing both of his starting defensive tackles this offseason.
Last year's backup defensive tackles Quentin Thomas and Christian LaCouture are now the starters. Thomas and LaCouture are more than capable of being productive, but expect Haley to also use redshirt freshmen Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain.
The starters at defensive end will likely be Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. But, much like defensive tackle, expect Haley to rotate more this season. Lewis Neal, M.J. Patterson, Frank Herron and Tashawn Bower are likely to be in the mix.
ESPN recently named LSU “D-Line U” for its amazing run of defensive linemen since 2000. The Tigers hope to continue the tradition this season.
No. 4: Linebacker
Top Players: Kwon Alexander, D.J. Welter
Question Marks: Lamar Louis, Debo Jones, Ronnie Feist, Kendall Beckwith
LSU's biggest breakout star of 2014 could be junior linebacker Kwon Alexander.
Alexander moves from strong-side to weak-side linebacker to replace the void left by 2013 leading tackler Lamin Barrow, which should give him more freedom to make plays. He will be joined alongside fellow starter D.J. Welter at middle linebacker.
Junior Lamar Louis is the likely third starter in LSU's base 4-3 defense. Louis had 20 tackles in limited snaps last season.
The Tigers have talented backups that will play as well. Do not be surprised if Debo Jones, Kendall Beckwith or Ronnie Feist register a start this season.
No. 3: Running Back
Top Players: Terrence Magee, Leonard Fournette, Connor Neighbors
Question Marks: Kenny Hilliard, Melvin Jones
College football fans cannot wait to see prized recruit Leonard Fournette take the field for the first time. But they must be prepared to see seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard.
Magee and Hilliard are an experienced duo with solid numbers, yet they do not have the ability to make defenders miss and break big runs like Fournette. Miles will rely heavily on the freshman to be the playmaker in the backfield much like he did with All-SEC performer Jeremy Hill last year.
LSU's top two fullbacks put this group among best on the team. Senior Connor Neighbors gets to linebackers quickly as a lead blocker and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Sophomore Melvin Jones, who will back up Neighbors, has a big frame that will wear down tiresome defenders.
No. 2: Offensive Line
Top Players: La'el Collins, Vadal Alexander, Elliott Porter, Jerald Hawkins
Question Marks: Hoko Fanaika, Evan Washington, Ethan Pocic, Jonah Austin, Josh Boutte
LSU's offensive line should maul opponents next season.
The unit returns four of its five starters, led by left tackle La'el Collins. Joining Collins will be left guard Vadal Alexander, center Elliott Porter and right tackle Jerald Hawkins. First-year offensive line coach Jeff Grimes will eventually choose between Hoko Fanaika and Evan Washington for the final spot.
Injuries often happen on the offensive line. Grimes will look to Ethan Pocic, Jonah Austin, Josh Boutte and others to step in and play well when called upon.
Last season, the offensive line was above average and better at home than on the road. Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will rely on them heavily next season as they groom whoever starts at quarterback.
No. 1: Secondary
Top Players: Tre'Davious White, Rashard Robinson, Dwayne Thomas, Ronald Martin
Question Marks: Jalen Mills, Corey Thompson, Jalen Collins, Rickey Jefferson
The LSU secondary has the chance to be a special group in 2014.
The Tigers have two top-level corners in Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson. If White and Robinson can play man-coverage on the outside with little help from safeties, it will be tough to move the ball through the air against the Tigers.
The battle for who starts at safety will be an interesting one. Junior Jalen Mills is the most talented player of the group, but it remains to be seen if he plays after his recent arrest. That leaves returnees Rickey Jefferson, Ronald Martin and Corey Thompson to fill in two safety slots. Jefferson, Martin and Thompson all have starting experience, but do not be surprised if true freshman Jamal Adams is in the mix.
Dwayne Thomas is the secret weapon of the group. Thomas will be brought in place of a linebacker on long passing downs and is a threat to blitz at any moment.
The secondary will not be as good as the famed 2011 group that had two first-team All Americans. But expect them to be the best set of ball hawks since that historical season.