Who's Next in Line at LSU?

While the Tigers do have La'el Collins and several other key underclassmen returning in 2014, there are at least seven draft-eligible non-seniors heading to the NFL. TSD's Ben Love and Hunter Paniagua tell you which players will replace them.

With three weeks left until National Signing Day, there's still a decent amount of time for LSU to finalize just who it will add to its roster for 2014. The window to learn which players the Tigers will retain, however, closes shut on Wednesday, the final day for draft-eligible players to announce their pro intentions.

The Tigers got a big shot in the arm in that regard Tuesday afternoon, when starting left tackle La'el Collins announced he would return for his senior season, joined by defensive ends Jermauria Rasco and Jordan Allen as well as running back Kenny Hilliard and center Elliott Porter.

The announcement, presided over by head coach Les Miles, came as a statement of sorts on who the new regime of leaders will be for the 2014 Bayou Bengals, without seven productive underclassmen that have already declared for the NFL Draft.

Below, TSD's Ben Love and Hunter Paniagua take a position-by-position look at which players will backfill for the seven departed starters and contributors, not as much in terms of leadership as on-field role and playing time.


Who's leaving: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry

Dural has a huge opportunity beginning this spring
Overview: This duo accounted for 2,345 of LSU's 3,263 receiving yards this season. That's 72 percent of the passing game gone to the NFL with a lot of unproven talent waiting in the wings. Aside from graduating senior Kadron Boone, Travin Dural was the only LSU receiver that had multiple receptions in 2013. His seven catches tied him with Connor Neighbors, the fullback. Outside of that group, Quantavius Leslie had one catch in garbage time in his first season in Baton Rouge, while the three freshmen all took redshirts.

John Diarse, Kevin Spears and Avery Peterson will have expectations of competing for playing time in their second years, while there's also an opening for the new batch of receivers that will hit campus this summer. If LSU lands Malachi Dupre, the nation's No. 1 WR for 2014, he could certainly factor into the offense immediately. So what LSU lacks in experience it makes up for in talent, and it will be a matter of who shines most in practice to determine who steps in for the departed.

The next guys up: The surest pick to click, and play, if he can remain healthy is Dural. LSU's offensive staff has raved about his abilities since he arrived on campus two years ago, and the whispers about big efforts and production from him grew loud in Fall Camp scrimmages this past August. Dural is yet to translate it to game play on a consistent basis, but he's the starting ‘X' receiver for this team when healthy. After that, the player that drew the most consistent praise from camp (the last time he really saw a field) was Diarse. He's got a big frame and is a very instinctual football player with good athleticism. Consider Diarse and Dural the leaders in the clubhouse heading into this spring. Next is a grouping of four receivers – Leslie, Spears, Dupre and Quinn – that will compete for the starting third receiver spot. Whoever emerges stands a chance to make a nice contribution in 2014, and the expectation from many is that Dupre has the tools to possibly be that guy right away out of high school. Falling in line after these players is Peterson.


Who's leaving: Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue

How much of a load can Fournette handle in 2014?
Overview: Though LSU fans had brief dreams of returning Hill to the RB stable, he ultimately made the wise decision to go pro while Blue never intended to return despite the added season of eligibility at his disposal. Most programs would have a hard time finding another back to replace a 1,000-yard rusher, but LSU did just that when it landed a commitment from Leonard Fournette, the consensus No. 1 RB in the country. The Tigers also return Terrence Magee, who had a breakout season in 2013 with 626 rushing yards, good for a 7.3 yards-per-carry average. Kenny Hilliard also comes back, and he proved to be a go-to in short yardage as he totaled seven touchdowns on just 68 carries.

So LSU still has plenty of horses in its RB stable with the new toy in Fournette joining the mix this summer. LSU has prided itself on a by-committee approach, even with a feature back like Hill on the roster. That won't change in 2014 as Frank Wilson and the offensive coaches will have plenty of options to choose from.

The next guys up: The majority of the touches and time will go to Fournette and Magee. Both are exceptional pass-catchers while Magee is a bit more fast-twitch and Fournette more overpowering while toting the rock, providing a nice contrast and one-two punch for Wilson to deploy. There will also be room for Hilliard in short-yardage and goal-line situations as well as at fullback, where the Patterson, La., native can help spell starter Connor Neighbors. Fourth in line is another true freshman – Darrel Williams from John Ehret HS. He's a big, physical back that likely would've been redshirt-bound had Hill stuck around. Now, for depth concerns, expect Williams to be part of the plan, though near the back of it, in the Tigers' rotation.


Who's leaving: Trai Turner

Could Pocic really out to guard as a sophomore?
Overview: Though Turner may have surprised many by his decision to go pro, he was probably LSU's most steady linemen over the last two seasons. After entering the starting lineup midway through last season, Turner held on to that spot at right guard through all 13 starts in 2013, and was a key cog in the LSU running game. Turner was particularly adept at pulling to the opposite side and leading the gaps for the LSU tailbacks. That's a skill set that doesn't come easy for a lot of linemen and it will be the primary challenge in finding his replacement.

Fehoko Fanaika was listed as Turner's backup throughout the season, and he would serve as an experienced option as he'll enter his fourth season of collegiate football in 2014. Jonah Austin and Evan Washington are a pair of veteran backups that do lack in playing experience, though Washington did get significant playing time at tackle this past season. LSU also has some younger options in Ethan Pocic, who was LSU's backup center as a freshman but has the versatility to play multiple positions, and Josh Boutte, who was listed as a tackle but received rave reviews for his power during camp. Like with the other position, LSU has some talent to choose from but their options are mostly limited to some inexperienced players.

The next guy up: This is the most difficult one to project because there are a minimum of four legitimate replacement options. In a very early stab, before a position coach has even been named, I'll say either Austin or Boutte sounds the most plausible. Austin (6-6, 324) was the backup left guard all season while Boutte (6-4, 333) was probably the best-looking freshman linemen after Pocic (and just ahead of Andy Dodd, also a consideration for Turner's vacated spot). What's interesting is that with Collins and Jerald Hawkins back at the two tackle spots, and Porter back at center, LSU will be seeking somewhere to find time for the talented Pocic. He seems best fit for tackle and out of place at guard, but there may end up being no denying that he belongs in LSU's best five offensive linemen, regardless of position, in 2014. Fanaika (6-6, 348) fits the ‘big' quotient Miles & Co. like for a right guard, but he's not nearly quick enough to do all the pulling they like. It's hard to get a read on the staff's plan for Washington, who primarily filled in at tackle, but he currently projects as (an experienced) backup tackle. Finally, don't forget about the two incoming freshmen – Garrett Brumfield and Will Clapp. Brumfield probably deserves the early nod of the two.


Who's leaving: Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson

LSU needs LaCouture to make the leap at defensive tackle
Overview: One of LSU's thinnest positions got even thinner when Johnson and Ferguson announced they'd leave for the NFL. Those two received an overwhelming majority of the snaps this season, though Quentin Thomas and freshman Christian Lacouture did factor into the rotation. LSU will have much higher expectations for those two as they have a legitimate crack at the starting lineup in 2014. Behind them is a pair of unproven DTs in Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain, who both redshirted in 2013. Mickey Johnson's still on the roster for now, but based on how his career has panned out thus far, it doesn't seem likely he'll be much of an impact moving forward. The Tigers don't currently have any true tackles committed in the 2014 class, and that remains a major focus moving forward in recruiting. LSU will have to restock the depth chart at this position and need its young stable of DTs to mature in a hurry.

The next guy up: Barring a major shock or injury, it will be LaCouture and Thomas in the starting lineup when LSU laces it up against Wisconsin in Reliant Stadium. But they'll need at least two more bodies to play regularly, providing some depth and a legitimate, SEC-ready rotation for position coach Brick Haley. Heading into camp Bain and Gilmore enter neck-and-neck as the next two in line, but there's certainly a chance for a talented newcomer to step in and overtake one of these two, both of whom are unknowns on the collegiate level. One final note: for attrition sake, or to add to the competition on the inside, LSU could also throw redshirt freshman end Frank Herron into the mix, sliding him inside. At 6-5, 275, Herron fits the profile, and the Tigers now have more experienced depth at end with Allen and Rasco back (along with Danielle Hunter).

Discuss LSU's next wave of starters with the TSD crew


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