The Obligatory National Signing Day Post

This isn’t a football blog, of course, but since we do dabble in LSU sports from time to time and since this is a day in which the football recruiting process takes center stage, this is what you get here at the Hayride.

Actually, I’m really making this post so I can justify having spent the morning watching LSU’s signing list grow and seeing a bunch of 17-year olds look like prima donnas on TV as they made their commitments. I can’t classify that as “work” unless I put this up, and one hates to admit to wasting a morning.

LSU currently has 22 players listed as signees on the school’s website, with one of their longtime commitments (wide receiver Tyron Johnson of Warren Easton High School in New Orleans, the top player in the state by some rankings) set to join that list at any time. Word has it they’ll sign 25 players, with two late additions of tight end Foster Moreau from Jesuit in New Orleans and Brandon Martin, a wide receiver from Wossman High School in Monroe who played at Prime Prep High School in Dallas this past year, as commitments in the last 24 hours.

ESPN currently ranks this as the #11 class in the country, but 247 Sports says it’s No. 5. Scout ranks LSU #13, and Rivals says they’re No. 8. So there’s more or less a consensus this is a Top 10 recruiting class.

The basic judgement about this class for Les Miles and his coaching staff is the players they’ve signed are, for the most part, really outstanding. But the class has holes in it, and it sets up some absolutely glaring needs for next year. The good news is Miles did substantially upgrade the staff from a recruiting standpoint when he hired Kevin Steele and Ed Orgeron to replace defensive coordinator John Chavis and defensive line coach Brick Haley, respectively. There is some question whether Steele will be an improvement over Chavis as the defensive coordinator, but Chavis had a reputation as a nonexistent recruiter and Steele most certainly does not. And Orgeron might be the best recruiter in all of college football; he’s already made a sizable impact on LSU’s fortunes today.

So we’ll just go position-by-position and give impressions of how Miles and company did.

QUARTERBACK: Strategically, this was a bit of a difficult year for LSU in recruiting quarterbacks. After all, Miles signed Brandon Harris a year ago, and Harris is widely considered the heir-apparent at the position even though he couldn’t manage to unseat the struggling Anthony Jennings as a freshman last fall. And next year, LSU already has a commitment from Florida superstar Felipe Franks, who’ll rank as one of the nation’s top signal-callers, while efforts continue to land Shreveport Calvary Baptist star Shea Patterson, who looks to be Louisiana’s top player in the 2016 class. Taking a highly-rated quarterback this year could put the two star recruits in next year’s class in jeopardy, which isn’t a persuasive reason not to take one but does point out how complicated this stuff can be.

LSU does have a quarterback signed and already on campus in Justin McMillan, who won a couple of state championships in Texas at Cedar Hill High School outside of Dallas. McMillan is a little on the small side; he’s listed at 6-1 and 177 on LSU’s site, which is far too skinny to play in the SEC. McMillan isn’t particularly highly-rated, having been tabbed as a two-star by some services and a three-star by others, and nobody really thinks he can make much of an impact on the position any time soon at LSU. But McMillan is on campus, and he’ll take part in spring practice, and he’s now in the strength program, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron obviously sees something the gurus don’t.

LSU made a late run at Florida star Torrance Gibson, a running quarterback who the conventional wisdom says is much too raw as a passer to be able to impact a top-flight offense any time soon, but Gibson ended up sticking with his commitment to Ohio State. This after a good bit of buzz to the effect that the Tigers were going to pick up a transfer from Ohio State’s Braxton Miller or Notre Dame’s Everett Golson, a pair of former Heisman candidates who for various reasons (injury in Miller’s case, a late-season slump for Golson) found themselves facing the prospect of not starting as a senior at their current schools. While Golson doesn’t graduate from Notre Dame until May and could be eligible to play at LSU in the fall, currently it doesn’t look like either are coming to TigerTown. LSU also didn’t do much to land a junior-college transfer at quarterback. A pair of perhaps-underrated high school seniors, Caleb Lewis from Florida, who was the 2A Class MVP last year, and Grey Jackson from Alabama, the Class 7A Back of the Year, have been rumored as potential walkons.

Essentially, Miles is standing pat at the position, and a team which at all the other positions on the field looks like a national playoff contender is going to depend on a miraculous transformation from Jennings or a sudden spurt of maturity from Harris in order to fulfill its potential. One gets the impression there has to be something else out there at the position.

WIDE RECEIVER: Here, LSU definitely pulled together a terrific group. While Johnson hadn’t sent his letter of intent in at the time of posting, he’s an LSU commitment expected to become an official signee later today and he could make a big impact in the passing game this fall. A five-star recruit, he’s as polished a high school receiver as Louisiana has ever produced, he’s a wizard after the catch and he has solid speed to get open deep down the field. All four of the wide receivers who played significant time on last year’s team are back, and given that they were a sophomore and three freshmen it’s not hard to imagine they’ll all make major improvement this fall – but Johnson can be expected to slug it out with the four returnees.

But there are three other additions in this class. LSU managed to flip Derrick Dillon, an in-state prospect out of Pine High School outside of Franklinton, away from a Florida commitment at the last minute, and added a four-star player in doing so. Dillon played all over the field at Pine, making a name for himself mostly as a quarterback, but he’s a super-fast slot receiver who can make defenders miss and create separation. At 5-11 and 174 pounds, he might need a year to bulk up a little before he’ll be able to make a big impact on offense – but Dillon could well emerge early as a return man. LSU initially recruited Dillon as a cornerback, and that obviously didn’t work as he chose Florida instead, but when they shifted gears and looked at him as a receiver it ultimately paid off.

But while Dillon is a small, quick receiver, Jazz Ferguson of West Feliciana High School is a giant. Ferguson is listed at 6-5 and 214 pounds on LSU’s site, and he’s a multi-sport athlete who excels in basketball (he dropped 30 points on Port Allen earlier this year) and isn’t a bad pitcher and first baseman on the baseball diamond. Ferguson is rated as a 3-star by most of the recruiting services, which might well be an inaccurate reflection of his capabilities; his size alone makes him a dangerous prospect, and he’s known as a weapon in the red zone. LSU lacked that huge receiver who could bring down jump balls in the end zone last year. Whether Ferguson can impact that early or needs to wait his turn is a question, but before he’s done he might well be a factor.

Perhaps the most physically talented player in the bunch, though, is Brandon Martin – who as of posting time hadn’t actually sent a letter in. The services are calling him a commitment to LSU today, though, which is a change from his having made a verbal pledge to Missouri a week ago. Martin got an offer from LSU over the weekend on an official visit to Baton Rouge and the word is he’ll be in this class. At 6-5 and 210 pounds, he’s an imposing physical specimen with alarming speed and a mean streak, but evaluating him isn’t the easiest thing in the world; he has some impressive film from his time at Wossman High in Monroe, but this past year he was playing against junior-varsity players as Prime Prep wasn’t sanctioned to play varsity football in Texas. That meant it was difficult to assess him against quality competition – until he showed up at the Under Armor All-Star game over the holidays and looked impressive against the best defensive backs in the country in the week of practice before the game and followed that up with a strong showing with the lights on. But Martin’s academics are questionable, and it’s likely he’ll have to be placed in a junior college before Miles will be able to put him on the field.

TIGHT END: LSU signed three players listed as tight ends in this class, though it’s quite likely only one will actually play the position.

That would be Moreau, the late addition who just a day or two ago was thought to be headed to Tulane. His recruitment was an interesting one for a relatively unheralded player; he was recruited by a few major schools and his performance in helping to lead Jesuit to a state-championship win over John Curtis as a senior impressed Cameron enough to offer him a scholarship in December, and it was reported he’d committed at that time. But for some reason, and speculation had it that Cameron’s offer was a bit premature and hadn’t been vetted by the whole coaching staff and therefore LSU wasn’t in position to take his commitment, Moreau had to hold off. Heading into today it wasn’t a sure thing he had a spot in this class, but when one came open that problem went away and here he is. Moreau might be the most underrated player in the class; at 6-5 and 237 pounds he has perfect size for the position and on film it’s clear he’s got enough speed to stretch a defense and a nasty disposition for blocking. But what really makes Moreau an attractive recruit is his hands; he follows DeSean Smith and Jacory Washington as LSU tight end recruits who can actually catch the football. Whether he gets a shot to do so in a game will be interesting to watch, as throwing to the tight end is something LSU hasn’t done a lot of – though Miles would defend himself by saying he hasn’t had too many reliable receivers at the position.

The other two probably look to project elsewhere. Hanner Shipley, for example, looks more like an offensive lineman than a tight end. Shipley is listed at 6-5 and 284 pounds by LSU, and now that he’s in the strength program it’s entirely likely he’ll be well over 300 pounds in a year or so. Shipley has a decent pair of hands, but you can almost see those as qualifications to play center. What the Marble Falls, Texas product might do for LSU, though, is to fill the role currently being occupied by Dillon Gordon as the giant blocking tight end in the LSU offense.

Bry’Keithon Mouton, who led Acadiana High School in Lafayette to a 5A state title this past year, is an athletic 6-1 and 250 pounds. He’s got good speed and he will absolutely crush people as a blocker; folks who watched Acadiana’s run to the title will tell you that it was Mouton destroying linebackers to open holes for their running backs without which they wouldn’t have earned that championship. But while he’s listed as a tight end, Mouton is going to play fullback at LSU. He’s a perfect fit for the position, and as it happens Miles needs him with Connor Neighbors having graduated and heir apparent Melvin Jones apparently an academic casualty. The fullback job is open and it’s going to likely be filled by a freshman – either Mouton or huge running back signee David Ducre.

OFFENSIVE LINE: LSU badly needed a monster class of offensive linemen, and in second-year line coach Jeff Grimes’ first full recruiting cycle he delivered exactly that. Not counting Shipley the Tigers are adding five linemen, with tremendous size (the five average 6-5 and 316 pounds) and great athleticism the hallmark of the group.

The most highly-rated of the bunch was the first to commit. Maea Teuhema of Keller, Texas is the brother of LSU defensive end Sione Teuhema, and he’s been part of this class for a year now. The younger Teuhema had a late flirtation with UCLA, but he put that aside and signed with LSU today to give Miles his highest-rated commitment on the line since La’El Collins. Teuhema probably projects as a guard; that’s where he played in the Under Armor All-Star game last month and his body type (6-4 and 323 pounds) lends itself well to the position. He’s a frightening drive blocker in the running game and exactly the dominating player a physical, smash-mouth Miles offense needs. With the right guard position open (and potentially the left guard position as well, should Vadal Alexander move to right tackle), don’t be completely shocked if Teuhema is fighting for a starting job in fall camp.

While Teuhema might be the star of the class, the real optimism probably comes from the fact LSU signed three players who primarily project as tackles – which will go a long way toward solving a depth problem there.

The highest-rated of the tackles is Chidi Valentine-Okeke, a 6-6, 315-pound Nigerian transplant from Faith Baptist Christian Academy in Ludowici, Georgia outside of Atlanta. Valentine-Okeke committed to LSU virtually out of the blue a week or so ago, shocking Auburn and Alabama in doing so. He’s played only two years of football and scouts marvel at how fast a learner he is; with the size and athleticism he brings to the table he looks like the future for LSU at the left tackle position Collins manned in 2014 and Jerald Hawkins will man this fall. But if he isn’t, fellow Top 100 recruit Toby Weathersby of Westfield High in Houston could be. Weathersby, who stands 6-5 and 303 pounds, rated just behind Teuhema among offensive linemen in Texas, and he might be the biggest late-season coup of the recruiting class. Weathersby was a Texas commitment for most of the cycle, but backed out of that pledge over the holidays and ended up choosing LSU in a pitched battle with Arkansas. He’s very reminiscent of Collins as a recruit and should impact the depth chart either at left tackle or right tackle by the 2016 season if not sooner.

George Brown, Jr., who’s rated either as a 3-star or 4-star recruit depending on the service doing the ratings, is perhaps the project of the group. But Brown, who stands 6-6 and 273 pounds, might have an upside rivalling the other two tackles. He’s got a massive wingspan and a great pair of feet and he should be a tremendous pass blocker before his LSU days are done. A former Florida commitment, Brown hails from Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati – for Grimes to reach so far for a top-flight lineman is a testament to the work he put into this group.

Only one of the five linemen actually comes from inside the state of Louisiana, and while he’s the heaviest of the group he’s also the least heavily rated. Adrian Magee of Franklinton High School is a consensus 3-star player, and before he could be counted on to do a whole lot he’ll need to slim down his 6-5, 366-pound frame into something a bit more svelte. But Magee is a big-time drive blocker, and he does have a little bit of quickness that can be built on. He’s more of a developmental player, but one who could well become a solid starter before he’s done at LSU.

RUNNING BACKS: With only Leonard Fournette and Darrell Williams coming back for the 2015 season, Miles had lots of early playing time to offer freshmen running backs and capitalized accordingly. While the haul on the offensive line and at wide receiver (and defensive back as well) rank among the nation’s best at those positions it’s difficult to find anybody in the country who took a set of running backs better than what LSU has coming in.

Start with Derrius Guice, a 5-star recruit who was the MVP of the Army All-American game. At 5-11 and 216 pounds, Guice is powerfully built and runs accordingly, but what he especially brings to the table is speed – and lots of it. The Baton Rouge Catholic High product looks like a perfect complement to Fournette; he’s a quicker version of Terrance Magee and potentially offers more big-play ability and maybe even a bigger threat in the passing game. Before he’s done he’ll be another in a long line of monster tailbacks at LSU, but as a freshman he’s a sure thing as a change-of-pace and third-down back and maybe even a return specialist.

But David Ducre, the physical specimen from Lakeshore High School in Slidell, might actually have the ability to crack the starting lineup before Guice. Ducre is listed as a fullback, plus he’s already enrolled. And the 239 pounder, who LSU lists at 6-3 but is more like 5-11, is probably the most talented player at that position LSU’s had in decades, if not ever. Ducre reportedly runs the 40 in around 4.4, and as a ballcarrier he’s a lot more like a big tailback than the typical plodding fullback one might expect. Ducre also has great hands, and we’ll find out this spring whether he can block the way Neighbors did. In any event, he’ll be in the tailback rotation with Fournette, Williams and Guice giving LSU a stable of backs to rival the best they’ve ever had.

Then there’s Nick Brossette of University Lab School in Baton Rouge, who almost gets lost in this class. Brossette’s stock has seemingly faded over the last year; he went from a consensus Top 100 recruit to being rated as low as a three-star player by Rivals despite playing in the Army All-American game and putting up legendary numbers throughout a brilliant high school career. Perhaps the reason Brossette hasn’t gotten the love some of the other elite backs around the country have gotten is a question of identity; he’s got good size at 6-0 and 214 but not off-the-charts size, he’s got decent 4.5 speed but it’s not overwhelming, he shows good wiggle and field vision but doesn’t quite look like a Barry Sanders. Brossette is just a guy who does everything pretty well. What that probably means is he might not see a whole lot of action early in his LSU career, but once Frank Wilson has had a chance to coach him up for a couple of years he can be as effective as any other back in LSU’s long line of ballcarriers.

Fournette’s little brother Lanard Fournette also joins this class. Lanard (5-10, 185) doesn’t have his brother’s size or power, and he’s not expected to see a whole lot of action, but he does bring some speed and quickness to the table. He can do some things as a third-down back and a slot receiver, perhaps after a redshirt, and he can be expected to contribute as a guy who runs down on kicks.

DEFENSIVE LINE: LSU didn’t need a defensive tackle in this class, owing to the fact that the only player they’re losing at that spot is Mickey Johnson, who graduated early and is transferring to a school where he can get some playing time, and the only rising senior this fall is Quinton Thomas. They played for a time in the Daylon Mack circus, and might have gotten Mack had John Chavis stayed at LSU, but once that didn’t happen there really wasn’t a player who made sense. Like at quarterback, LSU is looking to take advantage of a huge crop of available players next year when Louisiana has four highly-rated prospects at defensive tackle and connections to a few others outside the state.

At defensive end, though, there was a need to fill. LSU recruited most of the nation’s top players and came away with one of the best in Hapeville Charter High School’s Arden Key. The Atlanta area product committed to LSU Monday night after a wild recruitment that involved most of the SEC, and he’s the feather in Orgeron’s cap in the coach’s first month on the job. Key had a lot of interest in LSU when Haley was recruiting him, but at the time he was an on-again, off-again commitment to South Carolina. But when Orgeron started working on him, LSU’s fortunes really took off culminating in Monday’s announcement. In Key, Orgeron is getting an outstanding pass rusher who fills a major need on a team which loses both defensive ends off a 2014 unit which produced a pitiful 19 sacks last year. Key could play right away as a third down pass rusher, and at 6-6, 215 he’s got a frame to ultimately end up a giant edge rusher. He’s been compared to Barkevious Mingo, but on film Key even looks like he might be more active.

Somewhat lost in all the hype about Key’s commitment is New Orleans Karr product Isaiah Washington. That’s a shame, because the 6-4, 245-pounder is a rock-solid recruit who was highly productive at the prep level. Washington is a strong run defender who relies on a good motor to rush the quarterback, and once in LSU’s strength program he’s going to develop into a stout strongside end. He’s underrated as a 3-star recruit.

LINEBACKERS: Not signing a player at linebacker in this class is a major concern for LSU, and it’s a vicious indictment of John Chavis’ departure from the campus that the position he coached was so neglected in his final year. It isn’t even so much that there were no signees as that LSU wasn’t even really competitive for any top recruits at linebacker. At the end LSU was only really in the mix for one blue-chip player in Brookhaven, Mississippi’s Leo Lewis. LSU was in consideration for Lewis until this morning, and last night the word is he’d be a Tiger. But Lewis signed with Mississippi State instead, amid all kinds of wild stories about the battle between State, Ole Miss and LSU. Lewis also signed with Copiah-Lincoln Community College, which is an indication of his academic standing.

Not having anybody on the board at the end is shocking. It’s a bit disappointing that Steele, who was Alabama’s linebackers coach last year, wasn’t able to bring anyone in off the Tide’s recruiting list. LSU also passed on a number of in-state players who could have been brought in as projects, which is an indication not all that much scouting was done.

Linebacker will be the single most important priority in the 2016 class. LSU will have Lamar Louis and Deion Jones as seniors this fall, with Kendell Beckwith a potential early entry as a junior. That could mean Clifton Garrett, who redshirted as a freshman last year, will be the middle linebacker by default in 2016 with seniors Ronnie Feist and Duke Riley on the outside. Other than those guys the only current linebacker is rising sophomore Donnie Alexander, who is only 201 pounds and played exclusively on special teams in 2014. Look for multiple players to be moved to linebacker in the spring, the most promising of them being safety Devin Voorhies, and don’t be shocked to see LSU go the JUCO route at linebacker next year to replenish their numbers.

SECONDARY: The quality LSU took in the defensive backfield rivals that at wide receiver, the offensive line and running back, and the impact should be felt immediately. The first commitment in the class, cornerback Kevin Toliver of Trinity Christian High in Jacksonville, is on campus and a good bet to win a starting job in the spring. Toliver has NFL size already at 6-2 and 192 pounds, and he’s known as one of the most physical cornerbacks around. While Toliver gives LSU a 5-star recruit at one corner, in-state recruit Donte Jackson of Riverdale High in Jefferson gives the Tigers another. Jackson was a revelation at the practices before the Army All-American game, earning a fifth star from Rivals that week before committing to LSU a couple of weeks later.

Jackson is also likely the answer for the LSU return game, as he is an electric player in the open field who has also been promised the ability to play a little on offense.

Toliver and Jackson alone would make for a long day for opposing offenses, but LSU also added East St. John High’s Xavier Lewis, a multi-talented player who can play corner, perhaps settle in at free safety or even handle a nickel back. Lewis, like Brossette, was rumored at some point as a danger to flip to Texas, but he stuck with his pledge and could well end up as a future successor to Jalen Mills as a free safety with cornerback cover skills.

LSU also added JC transfer Jeremy Cutrer, a former commitment out of Jewel Sumner High School two years ago who had a big season as a cornerback for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College last fall. Cutrer had hoped to enroll this month and participate in spring practice, but that didn’t happen and might have cost him a chance to fight it out with Toliver and sophomore Ed Paris at the cornerback spot opposite Tre’Davious White, and now he’s going to have to wait until fall camp. That might translate into a redshirt season for Cutrer, and then two years for him to play either as a nickel back (that position could well come open if Dwayne Thomas has a big year in 2015 and explores his NFL options) or perhaps at safety. But with LSU’s website listing Cutrer at 6-3 and 162 pounds, he’s got some eating to do before going through the rigors of SEC football.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Perhaps more than anybody else in college football, LSU is willing to use scholarships in the kicking game. This year serves as proof, as Miles used not one but two spots on special teams, signing long-snapper Blake Ferguson and punter Josh Growden.

Both players are hand-picked replacements for current starters they resemble. In Ferguson’s case he’s coming to serve as an understudy to his brother Reid, who has been the LSU long-snapper the last three years and is heading into his senior year, and then it’s expected he’ll take over as the long-snapper for the four years starting in 2016 (assuming he redshirts this fall).

As for Growden, he’s a former rising star in Australian Rules Football who suffered a rash of career-destroying injuries in that sport before switching gears and signing on with ProKick Australia to learn how to punt. Miles has had pretty good success with Australian punters over the last few years, starting with Brad Wing and continuing with his current punter Jamie Keehn, who averaged 45 yards per punt and had LSU No. 7 in the country in net punting despite an occasional shank, and Growden will be the next in line. Getting Growden on board this year is actually a lot more important than it would seem; Keehn had never punted in an American football game before coming to LSU, and while he did manage to get a couple of games under his belt in relief of Wing as a freshman his lack of experience has been something to overcome. It’s a similar story with Growden; it would probably be in LSU’s interest to get him on the field in one or two blowout games this year so he’s not starting completely from scratch in 2016.

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