The 10 greatest recruits in LSU history
The LSU Tigers have a history of winning in the SEC, but their true glory years have come in the 21st century. In fact, LSU had its most productive period from 2006-2015, where they amassed 64 conference wins, second in SEC history over a 10-year period.
Much of this success has come due to recruiting, as the Tigers have transitioned between three of the greatest recruiters in the SEC over the past 17 years: Nick Saban, Les Miles, and Ed Orgeron. Even with incomplete historical rankings, the Tigers were able to land 29 five-star recruits in the 18 recruiting cycles thanks to this leadership. These players would go on to form the foundation of four SEC championship teams and three BCS National Championship appearances.
Here is a look at the 10 greatest recruits in LSU history according to 247 Sports’ composite rankings, which date to 2000.
1. Leonard Fournette, 2014 – RB, 0.9996 247 Composite Score
The career of Leonard Fournette perfectly encapsulates the end of Les Miles’ tenure as LSU’s head coach.
Fournette came out of New Orleans with huge expectations. Widely listed as the best in the class, and regarded by many as a historically great talent, Fournette was supposed to be the stepping stool that boosted the Tigers over Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
As soon as Fournette suited up for the Tigers, it was clear that the hype was real. He was huge at 6-1, 230 pounds, muscular as a linebacker, and as fast as a scatback. Fournette was truly the whole package. He introduced himself to the college football world during two very different plays in his freshman season.
During the Tigers’ regular season finale in 2014, Fournette laid a hit on the Aggies’ Howard Matthews from which he may still be recovering.
In the next game, Fournette showed off his speed. Before the Heisman hype and the slew of injuries, the Tigers had no problem trotting their prized running back out for kickoffs, and this run gave fans hope of what was to come.
As is often the case with highly-touted recruits, however, Fournette couldn’t bring home the ultimate team prize. His stellar 2015 season, during which he ran for 1,953 yards, was deflated by three consecutive blowout losses to Alabama, Arkansas, and Ole Miss late in the season. Though he secured many personal accolades, including a consensus All-American selection, the highest win total that Fournette’s teams would see was nine in 2015. His teams never beat Alabama.
Injuries marred his junior year. Despite the limited play time in 2016, he still managed to make a second team All-SEC selection and set a then-school record with 284 yards against Ole Miss.
When he was on and healthy, he was perhaps the best player in LSU history. But those conditions were only met for a total of about 14 games, most of which came during the 2015 season.
What started as a national signing day that felt like the start of a national championship ended with a whimper. The battered Fournette ended the 2016 season, and his LSU career, with a DNP. As the Tigers defeated Louisville in the Citrus Bowl, the future first-round pick was focused on getting healthy and prepared for the NFL Draft.
2. Russell Shepard, 2009 – QB/WR/RB, 0.9985 247 Composite Score
Shepard’s story is similar to Fournette – a former No. 1 recruit and would-be savior who fell short of delivering a title. In Shepard’s case, he would never make it to the position that generated his considerable hype.
Going into the 2009 season, LSU was hurting at quarterback. The previous year had seen the unexpected dismissal of Ryan Perrilloux (more on him later) and a hodgepodge of underclassmen scrambling to make up for his absence. The 2008 season became infamous for its interceptions, as Jarrett Lee threw 16, seven of which were returned for touchdowns.
In the offseason, LSU fans were introduced to a potential remedy. Shepard was the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2009 class.
To the chagrin of many Tiger fans, however, he never attempted a single pass in purple and gold.
Almost instantly, Shepard was converted to a wide receiver. During Shepard’s four years at LSU, the Tigers never finished better than ninth in the SEC in passing, including a last-place finish of 155.5 yards per game in 2010. Though Shepard’s production at quarterback was far from guaranteed, it’s hard to argue that he would’ve been worse than last place.
As for Shepard the receiver, he was solid, but never reached the elite status of his high school ranking. Despite playing heavily for four seasons, he never finished above third on the team in receiving. Shepard would amass 570 receiving and 716 rushing yards during his career.
Shapard’s lack of production in college certainly wasn’t due to a lack of talent, as the 5-11 receiver has found a home in the NFL as a special teams captain with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
3. Early Doucet, 2004 – WR, 0.9980 247 Composite Score
— Retro Sports (@RetroSports411) December 30, 2015
A Nick Saban recruit who won a championship with Les Miles, Doucet was part of a considerable haul brought in after LSU’s 2003 national title. That class included three 5-stars and the core of talent that would win it all including Doucet, Glen Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Craig Steltz, Herman Johnson and Jacob Hester.
That class grew up together under Miles, offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, culminating in that title run in 2007. Doucet had seven catches for 51 yards and a touchdown in the title game.
Doucet finished with 1,943 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns over his four years. His best season came in 2006 when he hauled in 59 catches for 772 yards and 8 scores on the way to a second-team All-SEC selection.
Doucet was drafted 81st overall in the 2007 NFL Draft and played three years with the Arizona Cardinals before being waived.
4T. La’el Collins, 2011 – OT, 0.9976 247 Composite Score
The 2011 class was one of the deepest in Louisiana history, and the Tigers benefitted greatly. La’el Collins, Kenny Hilliard, Jermauria Rasco, Anthony Johnson, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. were among 17 in-state prospects to come to Baton Rouge. Collins and Johnson were top-five recruits in the nation that year, but the highest rated and most decorated Tiger was the left tackle.
Collins was the model of consistency, playing in 45 games with 38 starts over four seasons. He earned a starting spot at left guard during his sophomore season before protecting the blind side for his two upperclassman seasons. He earned numerous honors, including being named a Second Team All-American, Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner, and First Team All-SEC in 2014.
In one of the more bizarre situations in recent years, the top-10 projected pick went undrafted due to being named as a person of interest in the death of his girlfriend. He was never named a suspect, however. He signed a free agent deal with the Dallas Cowboys and quickly became their starter at left guard. Collins spent the majority of the 2016 season on injured reserve, but will be healthy and active for the Cowboys in 2017.
4T. Patrick Peterson, 2008 – CB, 0.9976 247 Composite Score
It’s always interesting to see where highly-rated players will finally be caught by the competition level as they move up the ranks. Peterson, now entering his seventh NFL season, still hasn’t stopped climbing.
He was the No. 6 recruit in a 2008 class that included the likes of Julio Jones, Terrelle Pryor and A.J. Green. He became a star at LSU, both as a corner and in the return game.
Peterson did it all at LSU, recording 135 tackles, seven interceptions, three touchdowns (two punt returns, one fumble recovery), and one Heisman pose against West Virginia that cemented his place in LSU lore.
As for the subjective awards, 2010 alone saw him take home the Bednarik Award (Nation’s Top Defender), the Thorpe Award (Nation’s Top Defensive Back), SEC Defensive Player of the Year, SEC Special Teams player of the year, a unanimous selection on both the All-American and All-SEC teams as a defensive back, and a selection on both teams as a returner. In 2009, he was also First-Team All-American selection by Sporting News, and on the Second-Team All-SEC team. Basically, Peterson was playing the game on easy in college.
In 2010, the shutdown corner had such a profound effect on LSU’s defense that opposing offenses were avoiding him by midseason. In Peterson’s freshman year, LSU was 11th in the 12-team SEC in pass yards allowed; by 2010, they were first.
Peterson was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the fifth overall pick and has made six consecutive Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro selections. Rated by the NFL players as No. 18 on their The Top 100 Players of 2016 list, Peterson makes a solid case as the best former Tiger in football right now.
Beyond his performance on the field, Peterson would also start the tradition of the jersey No. 7 being worn by a playmaker. After leaving for the NFL, it transferred to Tyrann Mathieu, then to Leonard Fournette two years later. D.J. Chark will wear No. 7 for LSU in 2017.
6. Anthony Johnson, 2011 – DT, 0.9973 247 Composite Score
Anthony Johnson was the Robin to La’el Collins’ Batman in the 2011 class, but his college career wasn’t nearly as decorated. In high school, however, the 6-2, 317-pound defensive tackle was borderline unstoppable.
Johnson’s high school career at O. Perry Walker saw him given the (admittedly not so original) nickname “The Freak.” He broke the Louisiana career sack record with 67.5 on the way to being named Mr. Football. In his senior year alone, he recorded 129 tackles, 31 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks, and was an All-American by seven scouting sites.
Unlike Peterson, however, Johnson’s stardom fizzled after high school. In his three years at LSU, he started 16 of his 40 games, recording seven sacks.
He skipped his senior year, went undrafted and is currently on the New York Jets practice squad after being signed and waived by the Dolphins and Patriots.
7. Ryan Perrilloux, 2005 – QB, 0.9968 247 Composite Score
— GAMEDAY TRIBUNE (@GamedayTribune) September 10, 2016
Perrilloux’s career as LSU’s quarterback could be described as meteoric. He was introduced to the average LSU fan at a time where his total and unmitigated failure would’ve been totally expected – instead, he soared.
Filling in for the injured Matt Flynn, Perrilloux earned his first career start in the 2007 SEC Championship Game amid a cloud of controversy. Defensive coordinator Bo Pelini had told his players before the game that he was “leaning toward” taking the Nebraska job. Additionally, the very morning of the game, Kirk Herbstreit incorrectly reported on College GameDay that “barring unforeseen events, Michigan would announce that (Les) Miles would accept their head coaching job.” The injury to Flynn and the draining three-overtime loss to Arkansas the previous week also didn’t help matters. That loss, the Tigers’ second of the year, made their future far from certain.
When the season seemed to be slipping away from the Tigers, Perrilloux stepped up, completing 20-of-30 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown as the Tigers defeated No. 14 Tennessee 21-14 in the SEC Championship Game.
After winning the 2007 BCS National Championship, LSU looked to be in contending position with Perrilloux returning. That was derailed, however, when the rising star quarterback was kicked off the team for reportedly failing a drug test. That infraction came after a laundry list of rules violations in Baton Rouge, and finally Miles decided he’d had enough.
After LSU, Perrilloux finished his career at Jacksonville State before stints at nearly every professional level of football.
His story is a cautionary tale for athletes everywhere who have taken their talent for granted. No one is above the law, not even the young phenom who helped the Tigers win a BCS title.
8. Rueben Randle, 2009 – WR, 0.9965 247 Composite Score
As a recruit, Randle had it all. He was a four-sport athlete and a 5-star football recruit, part of the 2009 class that makes a case to be the Tigers’ best under Miles.
The plan for the class was for Shepard to be the quarterback of the future and Randle to be his top option at receiver. Because Randle’s success was highly dependent on the Shepard’s, it’s easy to see why Randle never became a true Tiger great like Brandon LaFell or Odell Beckham Jr.. When Randle arrived, it would have been hard to imagine that Shepard would be competing for receptions with him instead of throwing completions to him.
Randle finished his career with 1,634 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
In 2011, when the offense became productive thanks to a rushing attack that ranked second in the SEC, Randle became a dynamic threat. LSU quarterbacks threw for 2,135 yards that year, and Randle was on the other end of nearly half of them, wracking up 917 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
That one season of success was enough to prove his worth to NFL teams, as the New York Giants selected Randle in the second round. In his four-year NFL career so far, the former Tiger has amassed 188 receptions for 2,644 yards and 20 touchdowns.
9T. Terrence Toliver, 2007 – WR 0.9964 247 Composite Score
— Dundas Tims (@TimsDundas) November 24, 2015
Toliver was listed as the No. 1 prospect in the 2007 class and had a productive career in Baton Rouge.
Historically, Toliver served a valuable role as a transitional piece between three corps of receivers. He came in during the last year of Early Doucet and his running mate Demetrius Byrd left a season later. Toliver spent a year opposite Brandon LaFell and then led the team in receiving when paired with Rueben Randle. Toliver was such a key was because he provided the glue that bonded these very different sets of pass catchers.
Though LSU was loaded at receiver throughout out his career, Toliver never really took the reins in the way that his recruiting rankings suggested. His senior year in 2010 was supposed to be his year to shine, but that was the year LSU finished last in the SEC in passing. In 2009, Toliver’s yardage total of 735 was only 57 short of the team-leading LaFell, but his numbers took a nosedive in 2010 with the offense, as 579 yards was enough to lead the team.
It was a bit surprising when Toliver didn’t get a deeper look in the NFL. The 6-5, 205-pound pass catcher went undrafted in 2011 and currently plays with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
9T. Marcus Spears, 2001 – DT 0.9964 247 Composite Score
— Tiger Fan 1974 (@usdriver74) January 6, 2017
Anyone who considers themselves an SEC football fan could tell you exactly how Spears spends his weekends these days, but once upon a time he was quite a recruit – and quite a player for the Tigers. The 2001 class was a huge one in Baton Rouge, featuring five 5-star prospects; Spears was the highest rated at seventh overall in the country. Other classmates included Andrew Whitworth, Joseph Addai and Michael Clayton.
Spears started as a tight end, where he made the SEC All-Freshman team in his first season. A position change turned the Baton Rouge native into one of the best edge rushers in the school’s history.
Spears had a storybook career at LSU. He helped LSU win a BCS National Championship in his junior season, and turned in one of the most dominant seasons ever by a Tiger defensive lineman as a senior.
That title game against Oklahoma was perhaps the best of his career, as he recorded a crucial sack and a game-sealing pick-six. Who would’ve thought those tight end skills would come in handy at such a crucial moment?
In 2004, Spears kicked it into a new gear. He registered nine sacks, still good for fifth on LSU’s single-season leaderboards, 17 tackles for loss, and a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown against Mississippi State. This led to him being named a consensus First-Team All-American. Spears is tied for sixth on LSU’s all-time leaderboard for sacks with 19.
After his senior season, Spears was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys with the 20th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. After an eight-year career with the Cowboys, he spent 2013 with the Baltimore Ravens before retiring.