30 days, 30 topics inside the world of LSU football.
TSD is previewing and analyzing the 2014 edition of the Tigers from every angle, bringing you a daily dose of "Summer Session" each weekday through June 11, three days before the unofficial kickoff to football season at SEC Media Days.
TODAY'S SESSION: TOP 10 IMPACT FRESHMEN
At LSU playing true freshmen isn't just some recruiting gimmick or ploy, it's a way of life Les Miles and the Tiger staff have adopted in order to compensate for all the underclassmen bolting Baton Rouge for the NFL draft in the past six or seven years.
Consider that in each of the last two seasons LSU has brought 15 true freshmen to the field.
And it's not just for depth purposes. By the end of the 2013 campaign, first-year players were starting at both cornerback positions (Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White) and at quarterback (Anthony Jennings).
So, as the crop of 2014 signees report to campus today and throughout the weekend for the first time, I'm counting down my top 10 LSU impact freshmen for the season ahead. Keep in mind this isn't my assessment of how the players will shake out long-term, more the order I think they can and will help in year one.
1. QB Brandon Harris – – Any time a true freshman might be your starting quarterback, from day one no less, he's the most important impact newbie on the field. The guy checking in at No. 2 may be the better all-around player and as SEC-ready as a freshman gets, so it's fair to say there's some positional consideration here. Still, Harris has shown he's going nowhere in the QB battle and will figure in prominently to the offensive plans in 2014.
2. RB Leonard Fournette – – The most hyped freshman to ever enter the LSU football program comes in second on this list. Harris has a fellow youngster he's competing with in Anthony Jennings; Fournette, however, has Terrence Magee, a battle-tested senior with experience and production, as his obstacle. Do I think that will keep Fournette from the field? Absolutely not, but I do believe it will prevent him from being the bell-cow back right away.
3. WR Malachi Dupre – – It's no surprise LSU's three All-American offensive signees top this list, not only because of their prodigious talents but because of all the room the Tigers have for these guys to play immediately. That's definitely the case at receiver, where Travin Dural is the only proven entity. Dupre has a very real chance of starting from day one. His numbers may not pan out to be great given the youth at quarterback, but I expect he'll leave his imprint on the offense this fall.
4. CB Edward Paris – – I had difficulty separating Paris and the next player up but ultimately was swayed by the fact that it's just plain hard for a defensive tackle to play, and play often, as a freshman. Cornerback, particularly given LSU's need for versatile nickel and dime backs, is a different story. Paris, who excels in press coverage, is in prime position to not only compete on special teams off the bat but also to be one of those coverage guys in the slot.
5. DT Travonte Valentine – – In terms of size and potential, Valentine is right up there with almost anyone LSU signed in this class. At 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds, the man-child from Florida projects as a monster in the Tigers' future defensive lines. But as a freshman he'll have an uphill climb to see significant snaps behind starters Christian Lacouture and Quentin Thomas. A trio of redshirt freshmen will also serve as competition for the second team. His time is coming. It's just a matter of how soon.
6. WR Tony Upchurch – – Some may prefer Quinn to Upchurch, and it could turn out that way, but I'll make the argument the latter brings more value with his positional flexibility. The playmaker from Texas is listed at receiver, but don't be surprised if you see him at H-back, in the slot and in any other way Cam Cameron can imagine. The other thing important to remember: Upchurch is 6-foot-2, 228 pounds. If last year taught us anything, Cameron will find ways to use his most gifted athletes.
7. WR Trey Quinn – – Everything that applied to Dupre, applies to Quinn. There's a serious opportunity for P.T. and touches in this 2014 receiving corps. What Quinn has going for him: He's more accustomed to catching balls than any player that's ever come into LSU (or into any school for that matter). He's polished, he's consistent and he's a gamer. Quinn isn't as big as Dupre or Upchurch, but his overall craft makes him a potential impact player this season.
8. S Jamal Adams – – This is among the most difficult rankings to slap on one of LSU's freshmen, but the reality is there is a whole lot of competition at safety. Jalen Mills is entrenched as the starter at free safety, and no less than three returning players (Jefferson, Martin and Thompson) begin Fall Camp ahead of Adams at strong safety. He should be higher on this list, but the depth chart is a bit stacked against him.
9. RB Darrel Williams – – Speaking of the depth chart, last time I checked it only had four scholarship names at tailback. And Williams is one of them. With the way Frank Wilson likes to spread the love in his backfield, I expect Williams will play and get some experience no matter what in 2014. However, should injury strike Fournette, Magee or Kenny Hilliard, Williams is suddenly a very important freshman on offense.
10. LB Clifton Garrett – – It just felt wrong to make a top 10 and not include the top middle linebacker in the country from last year's class. LSU has a lot of experienced ‘backers returning (Welter, Alexander, Louis, Jones and Beckwith), so it won't be easy for Garrett to play in a non-special teams role. It's not unthinkable, though, and like Kendell Beckwith a year ago, Garrett may prove to be too talented to entirely keep off the field for John Chavis.
- Felt I should mention the other names I had under consideration for this list: OG Garrett Brumfield, DT Trey Lealaimatafao, LB Donnie Alexander, S John Battle and TE Jacory Washington. In fact they would be my picks for the other five to see limited action in 2014, which would put the Tigers right back at that 15 number.