UPDATED: The Hayride’s National Signing Day Guide

This post is a bit early, seeing as though all the college football recruiting festivities get started on Wednesday, but given the ratcheting-up of interest in who Ed Orgeron will finish with in his first recruiting class as LSU’s head football coach we thought we’d get a bit of a jump on events.

Orgeron is known as an elite recruiter, which is one reason why the Powers That Be at LSU opted to upgrade him from interim head coach to the permanent gig after the 2016 regular season ended. He’s done a pretty good job of defending that reputation since that promotion over the Thanksgiving weekend, solidifying what was a very good recruiting class with early commitments, shoring up a few wayward and potentially-wayward commitments and then, in the month of January, broadening out into a pool of highly-rated uncommitted players to put LSU in position to take a truly elite class of prospects.

This has the potential to be one of the best recruiting hauls LSU has ever had, and it would be historic in a sense if Orgeron was able to finish with the additions being bandied about by the recruiting services. Since the modern era of recruiting coverage as a media industry dawned, we’re told that no school has ever taken a recruiting class ranked in the Top 10 in the same year as a coaching change, but as of this morning LSU is poised for a first. 247 Sports ranks the Tigers 6th, while Rivals.com and ESPN both have them 7th currently. And that’s with only 21 commitments for a class which is expected to be as large as 27 players, which means Orgeron could jump some of the teams ahead of him (for example Oklahoma, which Rivals has 5th and ESPN has 6th, has 27 commitments; Michigan, which is ranked 4th by all three services, has 26).

That’s an incredibly advantageous place to be for a “new” coaching staff – admittedly, Orgeron is less of a “new” coach than most of those he’d be compared to, since he was not only an assistant to Les Miles but he was LSU’s recruiting coordinator in the year before he ascended to Miles’ job.

So how does LSU get from 21 commitments to 27 by Wednesday? Here are the players the Tigers are still recruiting, and predictions on whether Orgeron can reel them in…

MARVIN WILSON, defensive tackle
5-star; 6-4, 325; Houston, TX/Episcopal HS

“Big Marv” is the biggest get on the board for LSU, as he’s rated the No. 6 recruit in the country by 247, No. 2 by Rivals and No. 4 by ESPN. It looks like it’s an LSU-Florida State battle to sign him on Wednesday, with both camps feeling confident he’ll ultimately fall their way. Outside of the Florida State camp, though, the consensus seems to be that Orgeron, who has put in an enormous amount of work to land Wilson and has formed very close relationships with his family and even some of his closest friends, has the inside track to land him – something the LSU coaching staff tried to put the finishing touches on over the weekend, as Orgeron, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and outside linebackers coach Dennis Johnson all made it into his home for the final pitch of his recruitment. A commitment from Wilson alone would appear to be enough to push LSU into the 247 Sports top five in team rankings.

PHIDARION MATHIS, defensive tackle
4-star; 6-4, 285; Monroe, LA/Neville HS

Mathis isn’t quite the national superstar that Wilson is, but he’s very much a blue-chip recruit in his own right – ESPN rates him the No. 37 player in the country, while Rivals ranks him No. 151 and 247 has him No. 99. Mathis visited TCU last weekend, but the word is he’s choosing between LSU and Alabama – and toward that end Orgeron and his staff pulled out all the stops on Thursday. Orgeron flew to Atlanta to see Mathis’ father, and then to Monroe where he and several of his assistants descended on the Mathis home amid much fanfare. Orgeron even put a call into the Monroe restaurant where Mathis’ grandmother is a cook, and locally the story became a social-media sensation. If Mathis were to spurn that, plus the relationship with former Neville teammate and current LSU defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence, to attend Alabama it won’t be for a lack of effort by the LSU coaching staff.

UPDATE: Mathis has reportedly committed to Alabama as of 4:15 on Tuesday afternoon.

JUSTIN HARRIS, defensive end
3-star; 6-6, 250; Gonzales, LA/East Ascension HS

Harris, who was formerly committed to Central Florida, is more or less a stand-by passenger at LSU at this point; he’s waiting on a scholarship to come available in the event Wilson or Mathis opt to go elsewhere. If that doesn’t happen, he might sign with Baylor, where he visited last weekend, or look for some other options. Harris was recruited lightly by the previous iteration of LSU’s coaching staff last year, but as a tight end. He changed that thinking with a breakout senior season which included 62 tackles, 15 sacks, one touchdown, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three passes broken up, which wasn’t bad for only his second year playing organized football. Harris’ academics aren’t yet in order, though, and one item to watch might be for LSU to offer him an opportunity to take his time and straighten up those grades as a grayshirt, while enrolling in January to count against the 2018 class. We’ll see if that’s in the cards when Harris announces his choice Wednesday.

NEIL FARRELL, defensive tackle
3-star; 6-4, 295; Mobile, AL/Murphy HS

Farrell wouldn’t be on this list normally, as he’s an LSU commitment. But that being said, Florida State is doing everything they can to poach the beefy defensive lineman, rated the No. 17 player in Alabama and No. 380 overall by 247, away from LSU’s class, and the word seems to be that should LSU land both Wilson and Mathis it might well be at the cost of Farrell. That’s a trade most in the LSU camp would make, though they’d like to hold on to all three.

K’LAVON CHAISSON, outside linebacker
4-star; 6-4, 211; Houston, TX/North Shore HS

Chaisson’s stock skyrocketed at the Under Armour All-Star game, in which he emerged as the most dangerous outside pass rusher on hand. He’s a smaller and perhaps quicker version of Arden Key, and none of the offensive tackles were able to consistently hold him in check. As you might imagine Chaisson is one of the most highly-sought-after prospects in the country as a result, and that shows up in the national rankings – he’s the No. 37 player in the country according to 247, No. 34 according to ESPN and No. 110 by Rivals. Texas has been considered his leader for most of the last couple of months, but there have been rumors that’s changing thanks to the push Orgeron put on last week – which included a visit with Chaisson at 5 a.m. on Friday that continued all the way to the airport in Houston before Chaisson boarded a flight to visit Florida. This one is down to the wire as an LSU-Texas battle.

MARKAVIEST BRYANT, outside linebacker
4-star; 6-4, 225; Cordele, GA/Crisp County HS

It’s been said that Chaisson and Bryant, who was also impressive at the Under Armour All-Star game as a pass rusher, might be an either-or proposition. But after Bryant visited Auburn over the weekend, he’s a three-way battle for Orgeron with Auburn and home-star Georgia that will go down to the wire. LSU would find a way to take both Bryant and Chaisson, as you might imagine; when a player rated No. 181 by 247 and No. 100 by ESPN wants in, you make room for him. Orgeron has been involved with “Big Cat” for a while, and the lanky edge player is also an Arden Key clone who would fit perfectly in that Buck Linebacker role Ky currently plays.

WILLIE GAY, linebacker
4-star; 6-1, 215; Starkville, MS/Starkville HS

Gay, a former Ole Miss commitment, saw his stock shoot up after a big senior season; he’s now rated the No. 73 player in the country by Rivals, No. 73 by 247 and No. 211 by ESPN. He also raised a lot of interest from LSU fans with comments he made in early January about the excellent opportunity the Tiger depth chart at linebacker afforded. “Tell ’em Willie Gay is on his way,” he said. A successful visit to LSU’s campus followed, and many thought his commitment was impending. However, it’s known that Gay’s mother wants him to go to hometown Mississippi State, and thus the dynamic to play out over the final 48 hours is an interesting one (Michigan is also involved). LSU needs one more inside linebacker in the 2017 class and would happily take two; Gay, who has a close relationship with Tiger linebacker commitments Jacob Phillips and Patrick Queen, would be a perfect fit for the Rover position team MVP Duke Riley played in 2016. No one really knows what he’s going to do on Wednesday.

TYLER TAYLOR, inside linebacker
4-star; 6-2, 230; Buford, GA/Lanier HS

LSU had Taylor in for a visit on the Jan. 20 weekend, and at the time the Tigers were running third for his services behind Auburn and Oklahoma. The visit changed all that, and the word is he’s been on a commitment watch for LSU since Thursday of last week. The Tiger staff feels confident about landing the hard-hitting linebacker, who on film looks an awful lot like Kendall Beckwith. Taylor can play either the Mike linebacker or the Rover in LSU’s defense, though he might be the best fit at the Mike given his physical style of play. His stock had been depressed a little due to a 5.0 40 he’d run at a combine last summer, but watching him on film Taylor seems to have considerably better speed than that. Also, he shortens the distance to the football with outstanding ability to read a play and seek out the ball carrier, something LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda prizes highly. Taylor is ranked No. 251 by 247, No. 204 by ESPN and No. 217 by ESPN.

ELLIS BROOKS, inside linebacker
4-star; 6-2, 235; Richmond, VA/Benedictine HS

Brooks, like Taylor, is a linebacker reminiscent of Beckwith; he’s relatively tall, he’s already thick enough to be an inside linebacker in the SEC, he runs well if not possessing sprinter’s speed, and he has a nose for the football. Brooks, after a strong performance at the Under Armour All-Star game, reached out to LSU upon hearing of the Monty Rice decommitment and the Tigers began recruiting him – but with Phillips flipping, Gay’s interest and Taylor’s swinging LSU’s way there might not be room for Brooks after all – something that a month ago wouldn’t have seemed possible. He’s considering a number of other schools, perhaps most prominently Penn State as of now, but there’s a chance if Gay and Taylor were to vanish to other schools that Orgeron might reel Brooks in at the last minute. He’s ranked No. 269 by 247, No. 201 by Rivals and No 215 by ESPN.

UPDATE: Brooks committed to Penn State Monday afternoon.

TODD HARRIS, defensive back
4-star; 6-1, 185; Plaquemine, LA/Plaquemine HS

Harris is one of three uncommitted Louisiana stars seen by many to be as LSU-Alabama battles, and he’s perhaps the most interesting of the bunch given his somewhat reticent attitude about discussing his recruitment. That said, an interesting development on Monday could be a signal that LSU is about to reel Harris in on Wednesday – namely, that Thibodaux defensive back Amik Robertson, to whom Orgeron had extended a late scholarship offer contingent on availability, re-committed to Louisiana Tech. The experts at the recruiting services had surmised LSU would have room for either Harris or Robertson but not likely both, so if Robertson was told there was no room it would be an indication the top uncommitted player in the Baton Rouge area would be staying close to home. If LSU were to land Harris they’d unquestionably be taking the best class of safeties in the country given the early enrollments of Jacoby Stevens and Grant Delpit; Harris’ role in LSU’s defense would likely be that of a nickel back given that he has better coverage skills than a typical safety. Harris is ranked the No. 86 player in the country by 247, No. 166 by Rivals and No. 83 by ESPN.

DEVONTA SMITH, wide receiver
4-star; 6-1, 165; Amite, LA/Amite HS

Smith, who had a gigantic week at the U.S. Army All-American game, is rated the top player in Louisiana by NOLA.com, and he’s at a position LSU typically recruits quite well despite not featuring wide receivers in its offense. As a result of the run-heavy emphasis during Miles’ tenure Smith never had an enormous interest in the Tigers, first committing to Georgia and then spending most of last year as a lean to Alabama. But a number of events recently have caused a big shift in his recruitment and there now appears to be a good chance he might swing to LSU after all. First was the hiring of Matt Canada as the offensive coordinator; Canada’s offense at Pittsburgh made excellent use of a quick waterbug wide receiver in Quadree Henderson who had nowhere near Smith’s talent but was electrifying running jet sweeps and other plays designed to get him the ball in space. Second was the tireless work by LSU wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig to sell the coming changes to LSU’s offense. Third was the charm offense put on Smith by Lowell Narcisse and Myles Brennan, who would be his likely quarterbacks should he come to LSU. Fourth was Orgeron’s work to get Smith’s family on his side. And fifth was the news over the weekend that Billy Napier, Alabama’s wide receivers coach, is leaving to become offensive coordinator at Arizona State, which puts Smith’s recruitment in flux. Over the weekend the rumor mill had Smith expressing disgust with Alabama, perhaps over Napier’s departure, and he was reported as “trending” to LSU. He was supposed to make a visit to Miami over the weekend, but chose not to – Florida State would be the other player in his recruitment. Smith is ranked the No. 64 player in the country by 247, No. 42 by Rivals and No. 227 by ESPN.

UPDATE: It turns out Smith took an unofficial visit to Alabama on Sunday, upon which some of the differences between the two may have been smoothed over. If that’s true, he may not be “trending” to LSU after all.

NICO COLLINS, wide receiver
4-star; 6-5, 195; Pinson, AL/Clay-Chalkville HS

Collins was considered a likely Georgia signee by National Signing Day, but he seems very much up in the air at present and if Smith doesn’t come to LSU it’s not impossible Collins might replace him. After all, the lanky pass-catcher ranked No. 120 by Rivals, No. 136 by 247 and No. 150 by ESPN not only made an official visit to LSU in December, just before Matt Canada was hired, but came back on his own dime for an unofficial visit in January to hear the offensive coordinator’s pitch. It’s beginning to look like Michigan has the inside track for Collins, though, with Alabama also still in the mix for him.

MARLON WILLIAMS, wide receiver
3-star; 6-0, 180; Mobile, AL/McGill-Toolen HS

Williams, who visited LSU on the Jan. 20 weekend, is probably not going to find room in LSU’s recruiting class given the way things are shaping up – but the LSU staff wouldn’t be upset if they did have an opening he could fill. A former USC commitment, Williams looks an awful lot like Jarvis Landry on film – he’s not that big and he’s not that fast, but he nevertheless seems a lot more physical than his size would indicate and nobody ever catches him from behind. The recruiting services seem to think he’s headed for Central Florida, though he has an offer on the table from Tennessee as well. A lot would have to happen for LSU to give him the go-ahead to commit.

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