LSU football: 4 biggest positions battles the reigning champs will face
LSU is going to have to replace a bunch of important players from its national championship team.
The Tigers have long known that seniors such as quarterback Joe Burrow, cornerback Kristian Fulton, linebacker Michael Divinity Jr., guards Damien Lewis and Adrian Magee, and defensive ends Rashard Lawrence and Breiden Fehoko were running out of eligibility in 2019.
Safety Grant Delpit, linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, wide receiver Justin Jefferson, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, center Lloyd Cushenberry III linebacker Patrick Queen have declared for the NFL Draft.
Several other underclassmen who aren’t as likely to be high draft choices will consider whether leaving early or coming back is the best move.
Additionally, coach Ed Orgeron and his revamped staff will put the finishing touches on their 2020 recruiting class and also keep an eye on the transfer portal to see which newcomers will be part of next year’s team.
It’s long way to preseason camp, but here are four position battles that figure to be key to the Tigers’ fortunes moving forward:
1. Running back
Edwards-Helaire’s departure leaves a hole not only as the leading rusher but also an important pass receiver and blocker.
Tyrion Davis-Price emerged as the primary backup to Edwards-Helaire as a true freshman last season, though when Edwards-Helaire was limited by a hamstring injury in the CFP semifinal win against Oklahoma, it was redshirt freshman Chris Curry who got the most work.
John Emery II, who arrived last year with presumably a slight lead on Davis-Price, is still very much in the mix to be a factor next season.
Additionally, the Tigers hope to land a top-flight freshman in this recruiting class – perhaps Zach Evans.
Orgeron planned to use a platoon system last season before Edwards-Helaire’s play demanded that he be the main guy.
So there will be plenty of competition to be his successor and it could be one player or multiple players that inherit that role.
2. Pass-rushing outside linebacker
Losing Divinity will take away the Tigers’ most versatile linebacker because he could play inside and outside. Chaisson’s departure means the defense must replace its 2 best pass-rushing linebackers.
That would leave significant competition to fill that role. Andre Anthony and Ray Thornton have experience, but it was Marcel Brooks who emerged the most this season. Desmond Little could also be in the mix.
3. Wide receiver
Both Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall Jr. are back, so that’s a great starting point.
But whoever replaces Joe Brady as passing game coordinator is going to want to use 3-plus wide receivers the way Brady did and Jefferson is headed to the NFL after becoming the first Tiger to catch 100 passes.
There are several good candidates waiting in the wings – Trey Palmer, Devonta Lee, Racey McMath and Jontre Kirklin, just among the holdovers.
The competition to replace Burrow won’t be as wide open as some other battles, but because of the nature of the position and the impact that Burrow had, it will be the most scrutinized position battle in the spring and summer.
Rising junior Myles Brennan is the clear-cut favorite but not the guaranteed successor.
If redshirt freshman Peter Parrish impresses in the spring he could push Brennan in preseason camp. Incoming freshmen Max Johnson and T.J. Finley are well regarded but unlike to push for playing time right away.
The competition will get a lot more interesting if a transfer shows up after in the spring or summer as Burrow did 2 years ago.