LSU football: Analyzing the Tigers’ projected starting lineup
LSU has a new passing game coordinator (Joe Brady) and two incoming, highly-touted running backs as well as 8 starters returning on a really good defense.
The Tigers expect to be a more balanced team not only between the run and the pass, but also between the offense as a whole and the defense.
If Brady, the former New Orleans Saints assistant, breathes life into the passing game, if John Emery Jr. and Tyrion Davis-Price join incumbent running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire to lead a stable of productive running backs and the defense stays healthier than it did last season, LSU just might be balanced – and a Playoff contender.
But there is uncertainty. Brady is new to his job, the wide receivers underperformed last year, the offensive line is a work in progress, freshmen are freshmen and players do get hurt over the course of a season.
Nonetheless, the Tigers are talented across the board and deep enough match or surpass the 10 wins they had last season.
Here’s a projected starting lineup and some observations about what we might expect in 2019.
QB: Joe Burrow
RB: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Skinny: Burrow was solid last season and played his best late in the season. He’ll have more RPO opportunities in Brady’s scheme. He’s not the flashiest quarterback, but he is smart, tough and secure with the football. There is some concern about the readiness of Myles Brennan should Burrow get injured amid his expanded rushing opportunities.
Freshmen Emery and Davis-Price will have opportunities, but it’s unlikely that either unseats Edwards-Helaire. This could a have a running-back-by-committee look that is familiar to followers of LSU.
LT: Saahdiq Charles
LG: Adrian Magee
C: Lloyd Cushenberry
RG: Damien Lewis
RT: Austin Deculus
Skinny: LSU hopes Charles plays more like he did 2 years ago than he did during a disappointing season last year. Cushenberry and Lewis are studs, but the other 2 spots are uncertain. Magee is adequate and versatile, but Chasen Hines has more potential and LSU hopes he realizes that at some point during the year. Badara Traore was a disappointment as a JUCO transfer last season, but could still surpass Deculus. Highly regarded 4-star freshman Anthony Bradford could be an option if neither Deculus or Traore gets the job done.
Wide receivers/tight end
WR: Justin Jefferson
WR: Ja’Marr Chase
WR: Terrace Marshall
TE: Stephen Sullivan
Skinny: Jefferson was a revelation last season and should have another big year. Chase and Marshall showed glimpses late in their freshman seasons last year of why they were so widely recruited. But they and other young receivers have to be significantly improved if the revamped passing game is going to be significantly better. Derrick Dillon, Dee Anderson and freshman Trey Palmer are also contenders for playing time. As a former wideout, Sullivan is the most talented pass catcher but perhaps the weakest blocker among 4 tight ends in the mix. LSU will use a lot of 2 tight-end formations, providing opportunities for Jamal Pettigrew, Thaddeus Moss and newcomer T.K. McLendon.
DE: Rashard Lawrence
NT: Breiden Fehoko
DE: Glen Logan
Skinny: There are a lot of options, but this is the best trio. Fehoko’s ability to slide outside could allow Tyler Shelvin or freshman Apu Ika to start at the nose, but that would require moving Logan or Fehoko out of the starting lineup. Regardless of which 3 play the first snap of a given game, coordinator Dave Aranda has depth and versatility that will provide a series of viable combinations.
OLB: Michael Divinity Jr.
ILB: Jacob Phillips
ILB: Patrick Queen
OLB: K’Lavon Chaisson
Skinny: The linebackers have similar versatility to the line. Divinity played inside during the spring and likely will see time there, but his playmaking ability might be best utilized from the outside. Chaisson, who looked prime for a standout season before tearing an ACL in the opener last season, like Divinity is an excellent pass rusher. Phillips and Queen might not make as many big plays as their colleagues on the outside, but they’re both solid. If Divinity starts on the inside, it likely would be at Queen’s expense and Ray Thornton or Andre Anthony would start on the outside.
CB: Kristian Fulton
CB: Derek Stingley Jr.
S: Grant Delpit
S: JaCoby Stevens
Skinny: This should be an exceptional unit, especially when you throw in nickelback Kary Vincent Jr., which Aranda will do quite a bit. Head coach Ed Orgeron has said it’s the best secondary he has been around. Delpit is one of the best players in the country at any position and Stingley looked like one of the best DBs on the team when he enrolled early as a freshman and participated in a couple of practices before the Fiesta Bowl. Fulton, who’s back from a foot injury suffered late last season, Stevens and Vincent, who likely could play more snaps than one of the starting linebackers, likely will be overshadowed by Delpit and Stingley, but they’re top playmakers as well. Injuries are a concern because much of the depth is inexperienced though talented.
K: Cade York
P: Zach Von Rosenberg
KO returner: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
P returner: Derek Stingley Jr.
Skinny: York was highly regarded coming out of high school, but he’s just a freshman. Von Rosenberg is solid, as is Edwards-Helaire, who averaged 24.5 yards per return last season. The expectation is that Stingley will significantly upgrade what was an unproductive area last season. He had 15 touchdowns on kick and punt returns in high school and could wind up returning kicks as well.
Final thought …
The defense is exceptional from the front end through the back end and should once again set the tone for the team.
The skill players and Brady’s arrival bring hope for a significant upgrade to the offense, but the key will be whether the line emerges as an exceptional group or is average as it was last season.
LSU averaged 24.5 points per game in regulation against the SEC last season. The hope is that number climbs closer to 30 in 2019.